Sandburg's Hometown

July 22, 2013

Haymarket Riot engraving 1886

John Peter Altgeld - Part I

By Barbara Schock 

Carl Sandburg listened to a campaign speech by John Peter Altgeld at the Galesburg Opera House in 1892. Altgeld spoke for an hour and a half with almost no gestures. He just stood and explained his reasons for running for governor.

During the campaign Altgeld visited small towns as well as farmers across the state. He was supported by labor unions in Chicago and ran on the Democratic and the Labor Party tickets. He was the first governor in Illinois history to be elected from Chicago.

Six years earlier the so-called Haymarket Riot had occurred on May 4th in Chicago in Haymarket Square on Desplaines Street near Randolph Street. A group of outspoken labor leaders had been speaking to a crowd of several thousand people. Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison had spoken earlier in the evening. As it was getting dark and a storm was approaching, the crowd was breaking up. Police Inspector John Bonfield, who was well-known to be virulently anti-labor, had sent 186 policemen to the Square. They arrived at the meeting’s end. Somewhat unnecessarily, Police Captain William Ward commanded the crowd “In the name of the people of the State of Illinois to immediately and peacefully to disperse.” Then, a bomb was thrown by an unknown person and the police started shooting. Seven policemen were fatally wounded and 67 were injured. More than 250 shots had been fired within two minutes. Many people in the crowd were injured. Some of them didn’t get medical attention for fear the police would find out and they would be arrested.

Hysteria, created by the Chicago newspapers, claiming the speakers at the Haymarket were anarchists and communists, swept through the city and the state. Eight men were arrested and put on trial. The jury was packed with men who already believed the defendents were guilty.

Sandburg, like thousands of others, read the Chicago newspapers to learn details about the trial. The decision of the jury finally came: six were to be hanged. Subsequently, Governor Richard Oglesby commuted the sentences of two of the men to life imprisonment. One man was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

On November 11, 1887, four men were hanged at the Cook County Jail. One had committed suicide while in jail. Before being hung, each man stated he was willing to give his life for the eight-hour day and the rights of workers. The other three went to the state penitentiary in Joliet.

That day Carl Sandburg and his pals were walking home from school in the afternoon. They heard a railroad man call to another man across the street: “Well, they hanged ‘em!” The railroader seemed to be glad the hanging had been done. The boys talked among themselves and declared they were happy it was over. There was a sense of relief among the boys as they had been reading and talking about Haymarket for the past year and a half.

*** The story of John Peter Altgeld will be continued next week. ***

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity