Going to the Graves on Labor Day

I tend to avoid cemeteries. White marble slabs creep me out in a clown-like way.

But when I arrived in Chicago on Labor Day, my hostess suggested that I check out a piece of Chicago’s anarchist past. We traipsed down to Forest Home Cemetery to pay homage to the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument. She explained to me that this monument was erected in 1893 to honor the five men who were hung for their involvement in worker-led protests to demand an eight-hour workday. August Spies, Adolph Fischer, Aulbert Parsons, and George Engel, were hanged on November 11th, 1887, known as “Black Friday.” (Louis Lingg chose to kill himself in his cell by chomping down on a dynamite blasting cap.)

While the plaque praises these “martyrs,” my hostess pointed out that there’s no mention of the fact that the only labor leaders executed were anarchists, and that anarchists played a vital role in the formation of workers’ unions in the US. She then took me over to the neighboring socialist section, also dotted with anarchist graves—but again, no mention of that tainted word. The grave of Emma Goldman is its centerpiece, surrounded by her comrades Lucy Parsons and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (founder of the ACLU) who clamored to be buried next to her. Apparently not all of Emma is in Chicago. Bits of her were also buried in Russia.

These rejects found their final home at Forest Home Cemetery because it was a place that welcomed all comers. It would often bury people that weren’t allowed to go elsewhere.

A monument of the Ancient Order of Druids stands in the middle of rocky circles  bearing testimony to the Celtic presence that once inhabited this region.

Among the Chicago notables buried in this cemetery include baseball player turned traveling fire and brimstone preacher Billy Sunday who rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th century. Billy’s epitaph rings true for both the preacher and the protestors buried here. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (11 Tim 4:7)

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).