Monday, May 29, 2017

In Memoriam

Memorial Day is a day to visit the graves not only of those who served in the military, but of loved ones, a day to place memorial flowers and remember departed ancestors and family members. During my recent visit to Homestead, my friend Joyce and I went to Homestead Cemetery (actually in Munhall), to look for the grave of my cousin Grace's father, whose father took part in the Battle as a striker. The cemetery--the Protestant side on the east, Catholic on the west--is the resting place of six strikers killed in the Battle of Homestead.

The Civil War soldiers' memorial and circle on the rise by the entrance to Homestead Cemetery.
An historical marker on 22nd Street declares:
 'Homestead Strike Victims. In these two adjoining cemeteries are buried six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers killed during the "Battle of Homestead" on July 6, 1892. The graves of Peter Ferris, Henry Striegel, and Thomas Weldon are here in St. Mary's Cemetery. The remains of John Morris, Joseph Sotak, and Silas Wain lie in Homestead Cemetery. The seventh victim, George Rutter, is buried in Verona.'

We didn't find Grace's father's marker, but in walking around the hill by the entrance, I accidentally happened upon the grave marker for William Williams, the open hearth superintendent from Wales who is a character in Darkness Visible. 
The south side of the Williams monument

One side of the monument is dedicated to Williams (1840-1905) and his wife, Mary. The west side of the monument bears the names of other members of the Williams family, in particular Lester Fix (Williams' grandson, 1900-1983) and Lester's wife, Tydfil Jones.(1904-1938). I was glad to find this because Lester and Tydfil's son Jack was the source of the stories about his great-grandfather's life and experiences during the Strike. But what took me aback is the name of Jack's mother: Tydfil (pronounced "tud-vil" in Welsh). This struck me because a) it's not a common Welsh name and b) Williams was from Merthyr Tydfil, an old iron and coal city in South Wales. There must be a story here.
The Fix-Jones side

It's a bit weird to see this granite marker to the real flesh-and-blood man who became a character in the book. There's no way of knowing for sure, but I hope the Wm. Williams in the novel is in some important way a reflection of the real Wm. Williams, who, judging by Jack's stories, was both a first-rate engineer and a man of conscience.
Looking down the steep slope on the northeast side of the cemetery to Anne Ashley Church
 If you ask the young people who work in the Waterfront complex today, you'll find that few of them even know that a mammoth steel mill sprawled along the banks of the Monongahela River where the current commercial development stands. But perhaps some have heard in the classroom about that terrible day in American history when a battle raged on the river bank between striking workers and company-hired Pinkerton guards.

"An Awful Battle at Homestead, Pa"  National Police Gazette, 23 July 1892
As we get further removed in time from the events of 1892, we need to keep reminding new generations of  those events. The Homestead Works is gone, but it lives on in the memories of those who worked there and lived in the community. And it lives on in the archives and buildings of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area (Website: 

On Memorial Day 2017, I remember--not from experience, but imagination--all of those who lived through and died during the Homestead Strike, now 125 years in the past. I have to go back two generations to my grandfather, George Washington Busch, to get to a person who actually was witness to the events of that summer and fall. By writing Darkness Visible, incorporating scholarship with stories of and by the workers and townspeople, I have tried to pay tribute to their lives and legacy. May they rest in peace and honor.
Carrie Furnace from Whitaker Hill, 1976 (Photo by Ed Busch) 

                          *                         *                         *                        *                         *
"I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator."--Mother Jones

No comments:

Post a Comment