Thursday, July 6, 2017

July 6, 1892 Excerpt "The Battle Begins"

125 years ago. In the middle of the night, the pickets downriver have alerted the workers in Homestead that two covered barges are coming up the river from Pittsburgh, and that could mean only one thing--the company was bringing in scabs or guards, or both. Townspeople rush down to the riverbank, carrying whatever they had that could be used as a weapon. A little after 4 a.m. the barges arrive in Homestead and make for the landing inside the works, now enclosed by a high fence. The workers break through the fence and run to the landing.

JULY 6, 1892  4:15 a.m. At the river landing below the Pump House for the mill.
EXCERPT from Darkness Visible. Note: The actions and words of O'Donnell and the other historical figures are taken directly from eyewitness reports.

     The crack of rifle shots came at random intervals. People on the bank cursed and hurled threats at the men arriving on the barges. More shots were fired.

     In the half-light Emlyn made out the shapes of two enormous covered barges being towed into position at the landing by a tugboat. Union leader Hugh O'Donnell was moving along the landing, speaking to the crowd, urging restraint. His words, however, seemed to have little effect on the incensed mob. More people, many carrying guns, were spreading out along the bank and taking up positions on the Pemikey railroad bridge overlooking the landing. It was apparent the situation was far beyond anyone's control.

     "Duw, there must be thousands of people on the bank," said Gwyn. "Whoever they are, how could they dare come ashore?"

     "We'll soon see," said Smith.

     The first light of dawn was glinting on the eastern horizon as the tug with Little Bill painted on its bow grounded the barge Iron Mountain on the bank. The men who had led the charge into the mill rushed up. As a man in a slouch hat came onto the deck, someone threw a stone at the barge. From the landing people were yelling, warning those on the barges not to land. As the minutes tickets away, the threats escalated.

     Tensions were reaching a fever pitch as Hugh O'Donnell made his way to the front of the crowd. He was shouting something...but Emlyn couldn't hear what he was saying. To Emlyn's surprise, the crowd quieted.

     O'Donnell came to the water and called out to the men on the barges. "On behalf of five thousand men, I beg you to leave here at once. I don't know who you are or where you came from, but I do know that you have no business here." He went on, entreating them not to risk violence by trying to come ashore. "Don't attempt to enter these works by force."

     At that, a man in a blue military coat with brass buttons stepped on the deck of the Iron Mountain. "We were sent to take possession of this property and guard it for this company," he said.

     "Damned if it ain't Pinkertons," said Duncan. "Look at them blue uniforms."

     "Ssh!" said Smith.

     "If you don't withdraw," continued the man on the barge, "we will mow every one of you down and enter in spite of you."

     "They will, will they? I don't think so," growled Duncan.

     "Hush, dammit," said Smith.

     O'Donnell was talking. "What you do here is at the risk of many lives. Before you enter those mills, you will trample over the dead bodies of three thousand honest workmen."

     For a moment, the crowd on the bank watched in silence.

     A group of men on the Iron Mountain brought out a gangplank and pushed it into the landing. The man who had spoken came to the top of the plank. Simultaneously, the leader of the militant strikers took a stand at the other end of the plank, the others behind him.

     "Who's the striker at the bottom of the plank?" whispered Gwyn.

     "It looks like Billy Foy, the feller from the Salvation Army," said Smith." And behind him, Martin Murray, the heater--he's Welsh," he added as an aside to Emlyn. "And next to him is Sotak, leader of them Slovaks."

        Emlyn watched in disbelief at the scene unfolding below. Men on the bank shouted warnings to the men in the barges. The Pinkertons hesitated. The officer at the front shouted out, "There are three hundred men behind me, and you can't stop us." Foy yelled something in reply.

     Emlyn strained forward to see what was going on, but fog blurred the details. It looked like the officer came forward and tried to hit Foy with something.

     In rapid succession, two gunshots rang out. The officer and Foy went down. Hugh O'Donnell threw up his hands and shouted something at the strikers.

     From the barge, someone shouted, "Fire!" and a volley of gunfire roared from the portholes. As if in slow motion, Emlyn saw several men on the riverbank crumple to the ground.

     Women started screaming. The people around Emlyn began jostling each other, shifting away from the exposed position on the bank. From the riverbank came more shots.

     "Take cover," Duncan yelled. Return fire from the strikers thudded into the sides of the barges as the Pinkertons continued firing.

     His heart in his throat, Emlyn sprinted toward the mill building behind them. He caught sight of a dinky engine and ran behind it. Gwyn, running behind him, tripped and went sprawling onto the tracks thirty feet away. His rifle flew out of his hands and clattered onto the tracks.

     Emlyn stood at the front of the engine, trying to decided if he should run out to help Gwyn. A bullet pinged sharply against metal, and a chip flew out of a pile of bricks beside the locomotive.

     "Ricochets!" yelled Gwyn, lowering his head. "Stay where you are."

     The firing continued unabated, punctuated by screams and shouts.

     "Are you hurt?" yelled Emlyn over the racket.

     "I don't think so. I'm going to make a run for it."

     "Stay there!" Emlyn shouted. "It's not safe."

     Another bullet slammed into the locomotive steam chamber with a reverberating thonk. Gwyn raised his head and glanced at Emlyn, measuring the distance. Swiftly, Gwyn pushed himself into a crouching position and dashed toward Emlyn. Ten feet short of his goal, Gwyn tucked his head down and rolled the rest of the way, coming to a rest against the wheels of the engine.

   "Bloody hell!" said Gwyn, taking in great gulps of air. "I thought I was going to get hit for sure."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 5, 1892 Excerpt "Waiting"

125 years ago. The idled steelworkers continue to be on high alert, on the lookout for the arrival of police or scabs. The town is rife with tension as the national and international press gathers at the Bost Building, strike headquarters for the union. The steelworks, surrounded by a high white fence, is dark and quiet.

EXCERPT from Darkness Visible

Dr. Oesterling sat at the table, his toast and poached egg growing cold as he pored over the Pittsburgh paper for any news about the situation in Homestead. It seemed that he already knew everything the reporters knew. He had decided it wasn't worthwhile holding office hours today, and he had posted a notice to call in case of emergency.

     The strike was dramatically affecting the entire town. Those who weren't on alert were keeping out of the way of the pickets. Everyone from striker to company management was on tenterhooks, waiting for something to happen.

     The telephone rang twice, the signal for their number on the party line. Oesterling pushed away from the table and went into the hallway to answer it. Expecting it to be a call from a patient, he was surprised to hear Carrie's voice on the other end.


     His heart contracted. "Yes? Is anything wrong? What's going on?"

     "Papa, you need to leave Homestead right away. You can come over here to Point Breeze for a few days."

     "For heaven's sake, why?"

     "Oliver just left for the office. He says that Philander Knox, the head corporate attorney, gave Sheriff McCleary the go-ahead to come to Homestead and post orders for the strikers to cease their occupation of company property."

     "That's ridiculous," said Osterling. "The workers are not even on company property."

     "Yes, but they're stopping others from entering it."

     "I don't understand why this situation calls for us to leave town."

     "Don't you see?" Carrie said. "There's going to be a confrontation soon. Oliver says it may get nasty."

     "Posting handbillls can get nasty?" Oesterling asked. "I doubt it."

     There was a pause.

     "Please, Papa, you must leave." Carrie's voice broke. "The Sheriff isn't the only one who will be coming."

     "What? Even if he brings a few deputies, it doesn't. . ."

     "I don't mean deputies."

     Oesterling was trying to figure out what Carrie meant by this, when a loud click came through the receiver, signaling that another on his party line had picked up.

     "I must go," said Carrie. "Think about what I've said." She hung up.

     Oesterling placed the receiver back on the hook, and walked out to the front porch. What did she mean, not deputies? Who was coming? His gaze moved over the mill and town, downriver toward Pittsburgh.

     Abruptly, it came to him: Pinkertons. He shuddered. Now it was more necessary than ever that he stay in town.

    He looked down at Cerberus. The dog cocked his head at Oesterling and wagged his tail.

Monday, July 3, 2017

July 4, 1892: Excerpt "When This World Comes to an End"

125 years ago on the evening of the Fourth of July, idled workers from Carnegie Steel's Homestead Works were patrolling the Monongahela River and roads into Homestead, on the lookout for strikebreakers or company-hired militia.
FROM Darkness Visible. . . .

     At McClure Street, a block before the whitewashed fence of Fort Frick, Emlyn turned toward the river landing. He heard the voices of the pickets before he saw them. As he walked down the grade to the river, Emlyn made out forms of men clustered together on the muddy shore. As he reached the open bank, several men on the landing turned to face him. One of them held a rifle; another, a lantern.
     "Who goes there?" shouted one of them.
     "A citizen of the town," said Emlyn.
     "Come over here and let us see you," said the one holding the lantern.
      As Emlyn got closer, one of the men drawled, "Well, if it ain't Em-Lyn, formerly of O.H.2."
     "The same," said Emlyn. "How is patrol going, Virgil?"
     "So far, so good," Virgil replied. "Ain't seen hide nor hair of any black sheep or police trying to come ashore--not that they won't try sooner or later." He spat in the mud, then added, "How are things up there in Fort Frick?"
     "I wouldn't know," said Emlyn. "They sent the office workers away last week. We have no idea what's going on with management. Your guess is as good as mine."
     "I'd guess," said the man with the rifle, "that right now Frick is scheming to bring in sheriff's deputies or Pinkertons to man the Fort. We aim to stop them." He shot the bolt on the rifle to emphasize his point. "The company broke the contract, and we're going to make damn sure they comply with the law. We ain't going to be whipped into submission by any hirelings sent by Frick."
     Emlyn looked out at the swiftly flowing river, where the outline of the strikers' steam launch was visible through the fog.
     "It looks like you have the river well covered," said Emlyn.
     "We do, and damn any mercenary who tries to come ashore," said the man with the gun. He lowered the rifle, and the group turned their attention back to the river.
     "Good night," Emlyn said, starting back toward town.
     "Hey, Em-Lyn," said Virgil. "I'd advise against any further nocturnal ramblings around these parts. In this soup, someone might take a pot shot at you, thinking you're a scab or Pinkerton."
     "I'll be careful," Emlyn said. He walked slowly up the ramp and onto McClure Street. As he passed by a tenement building, he thought he heard someone singing. He stopped and listened. A man's low baritone voice came from the yard of the building.
     I believe in being ready,
     I believe in being ready

     I believe in being ready,
     when this world comes to an end   
     Oh sinners do get ready,
     oh sinners do get ready
     Oh sinners do get ready,
     for the time is drawing near

     Oh there'll be signs and wonders,
     oh there'll be signs and wonders
     Oh there'll be signs and wonders,
     when this world comes to an end

      Emlyn crept closer to get a better view into the yard. In the shelter of a porch overhang, a black man was sitting on the stoop, singing, while another accompanied him on guitar.

      Oh the sun she will be darkened,
      oh the sun she will be darkened

      Oh the sun he will be darkened,
      when this world is at its end

      Oh the moon it will be bleeding,

      oh the moon it will be bleeding
      Oh the moon it will be bleeding,
      when this world comes to its end.


     Oh the stars they will be falling,
     oh the stars they will be falling
      Oh the stars they will be falling,
      when this world comes to its end

     Emlyn moved closer, stopping beside a tree on the edge of the yard.

     Brothers, sisters, do get ready,
     brothers, sisters, do get ready

     Mothers, fathers, do get ready,
     for the time is drawing near.

     Oh there'll be signs and wonders,
     oh there'll be signs and wonders
     Oh there'll be signs and wonders,
     when this world comes to an end

     "A-men, Brother," said the guitarist to the singer as they finished, raising his right hand. The other man slapped it, and they both stood up and went inside.

     As Emlyn walked the remaining blocks to the house, emotion roiled in him. He had never heard a song, or hymn, or whatever it was, like that before.

     Back in his room, he started to get into bed, but stopped. Instead, he lowered himself to his knees beside the bed, as he had done every night until the quarrel with his father.

      Head lowered, hands folded, he knelt there, but could not formulate his thoughts into prayer. Instead, the song kept running through his mind, over and over.

      Oh there'll be signs and wonders,
      when this world comes to an end 

 Tim O'Brien - When This World Comes To An End