Thursday, January 22, 2015

Was history your favorite subject?

They say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I've been delving into the history of Chicago in the Gilded Age (late nineteenth century) when capitalists got richer and richer and the working people toiled long hours at difficult work for substandard wages. Talk about class warfare! In Chicago one of the outcomes was the Haymarket Riot. Workers gathered peacefully to protest police brutality, specifically the deaths of several workers the day before. As police worked to control the crowd, someone threw a bomb into the police troops. In the resulting gunfire several police and civilians were killed. Later, the "anarchists" accused of inciting the riot were hanged. It was not Chicago's finest hour.
I'm a native of Chicago, which perhaps accounts for the fascination all this history holds for me. I grew up in a house built in the early 1890s for the Columbian Exposition (1893), and I learned to skate in the Midway left behind by that exposition. I shopped at Marshall Field's and while I never stayed at the Palmer House I certainly knew of that legendary hotel. My study delved into the stories of George Pullman (as in Pullman railway sleeping cars), the great meat packers like Augustus Swift, newspaper editor and publisher Joseph Medill--all the names associated with making Chicago one of the most powerful cities in the nation.
Today I see that history being repeated--the rich increasing their wealth on the backs of the poor, an increasing polarity of society between the haves and the have-nots. As Congress cuts backs on health care (or tries to), veterans' benefits, women's rights and health care, wage increases, I wonder how long it will be before some spark ignites riots.
A riot in the 1880s was to be feared; such an uprising today, with increased communication and the easy availability of all kinds of weapons, could be a major disaster. It's no secret that I'm not happy with the make-up of the new Congress, and I think there lies the blame. I wonder what Speaker Boehner would say if you asked him what he knew about the Haymarket Riot?
I want to say to him and his colleagues, "Quit trying to outsmart the President and go read your American history books."
Yes, I'm writing a novel about Chicago. More news on that to come.

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