busy busy September. I had the honor of being one of the four keynote speakers at the Know Your Chicago Symposium on Wednesday and had the opportunity to discuss the history and future of historic preservation in Chicago before a large and appreciative audience. Next week is the Traditional Building Show and the History of Chicago Preservation Symposium on Saturday and the following week I have two tours to LaSalle, a Gaylord Building meeting and a speech for a preservation conference out in Wayne, Illinois. Right now I am out in Oxbow with my first year class and it has been raining all day, the distant northern edge of the hurricane hitting Texas. Actually the rain just stopped.
This week, my First Year Program Residential College Research Studio I class, which I call If These Streets Could Talk, took a walk through the Loop in the morning, visiting the pedway and the Field Building and the Miro and the Federal Plaza farmer’s market and then we had our orientation to the Burnham and Ryerson library. After lunch we walked west on Randolph to the Haymarket, to visit the statue put there in 2004 to commemorate the Haymarket Tragedy, which was once known at the Haymarket Riot, an 1886 clash between anarchist labor leaders and police that led to a trial where several anarchists were convicted based on their beliefs not their actions.
We were there to analyze and sketch the site, which includes Crane’s Alley where someone – no one knows who to this day – threw a bomb into the massive phalanx of 175 police who came at the end of the rally to disperse it. My students drew the 2004 statue, which appears to show workers building or perhaps unbuilding a cart like the one which stood on the same site for the speakers that fateful night of May 4 1886 and it has ambiguity, which is the essential precondition of art. The piece is by Mary Brogger and it looks like wood but it is metal, composed of almost Haringesque featureless figures (one student, Talya, put the features on in her sketches) handing or unhanding planks and wheels and boxes…
It also attracts graffiti, especially from the political and spiritual descendants of the German anarchists who spoke there, and those who were hung because of what happened there even if they weren’t there at all.
The site has always been evocative for me because the alley, the Crane Factory and Zepf’s Hall on Lake Street are still there, giving a reasonably coherent context for the event. One of my students Karina was actually sketching the incident – Mayor Harrison visiting on his white horse and the column of police advancing down DesPlaines Street. The site works like that. For years there was a police statue here to commemorate the 8 police who died, one by the bomb and seven in the aftermath as everyone started shooting every which way. The police statue was attacked by a streetcar driver in the 1920s and then the statue was moved but it was blown up in 1969 and 1970 before being finally moved inside of the police academy a mile away. The site then couldn’t be marked for years because of the conflict between the police impressions of the site and those of the labor historians but that changed in the 21st century and now we have the site for my students to study as an exercise in historic interpretation. But no matter how good your interpretation, you have to fight with the advertising hoardings that bedizen our environment, and I was really struck by those near the Haymarket, faux-Lichtenstein super-comicular ultragraphic billboards that were as beautiful as they were mercenary.
so what should I tell the students – fight the sign? hate the sign? outsign the sign?