Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago

By Colin Fisher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Nature of May Day
Green Space and Working-Class Chicago

Boom … boom … boom … We turned you into steel and iron.
Be ye permeated with our sombre music, make your muscles
into springs, and each movement of yours to fall in with the din.
Keep turning and twisting together with the wheels, adapt your
hand to our levers, become one of our component parts …
boom … boom … boom….

And the machines further say, You must become unfeeling,
unthinking. You must forget everything which is alien to us
machines. Never mind that in your soul is an unsubdued cry
about an intense desire to live, to take in the glitter of the day
and the glory of the fields; never mind that your heart is aching
with the gloom of years spent aimlessly, aching with the impulse
for freedom and with the despair over a wasted youth—pluck all
this from your breasts and turn into machines. That our clang
and scream may become your favorite music; a substitute for the
song of the bird and the murmur of the stream; that our
vibrating steel lustre may substitute the sun for you. Boom …
boom … boom….

—OTORMSKY, “Machines and Men,” Molodaya Rus,
December 31, 1915

On Saturday May 1, 1886, nearly one hundred thousand Chicago workers went on strike. They came from a variety of national backgrounds, industries, and skill levels, and their strike was so effective it paralyzed the rapidly industrializing city. As one reporter noted, “no smoke curled up from the tall chimneys of the factories and mills, and things had assumed a Sabbath-like appearance.” While soldiers, Pinkerton private police, and deputized citizens stationed on rooft ops trained their Winchester rifles on the streets below and hundreds of National Guardsmen mustered in nearby armories, eighty thousand working-class people paraded through Chicago and attended numerous open-air meetings. They were members of traditional trade unions, socialists, Knights of Labor, anarchists, and

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