November 7, 2005
CHICAGO—One of the nation’s most visited historic neighborhoods—Historic Pullman on Chicago’s South Side—will welcome holiday revelers once again with its annual Candlelight House Walk Saturday, Dec. 10, between 5 and 8 pm.
The tour, which costs $25 per person, includes hors d’oeuvres, desserts, entertainment by madrigal singers and a silent auction.
It also includes a big dose of labor history. Visitors can tour some of the restored classic brick town houses designed between 1880 and 1889 by famed Philadelphia architect Solon S. Beman. More than 1,500 of the handsome row houses were built by industrialist George M. Pullman to house the workers who built his famed sleeping cars in an adjacent factory complex. Pullman wanted his Town of Pullman, which at that time lay outside the Chicago city limits, to be a “model town” where workers and their families would live in clean, attractive housing instead of slums. An international sanitary exposition even awarded Pullman the title “World’s Most Perfect Town.”
“Unfortunately, when a financial panic hit the country and orders for Pullman cars dropped in late 1893, the company cut the employees’ paychecks 25 per cent but kept charging the same rent for its houses,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.
Pullman’s outraged workers responded by going on strike, and their local job action quickly snowballed into a watershed in the American rail labor movement. Eugene V. Debs, a locomotive fireman and labor activist from Terre Haute, Ind., made Pullman the centerpiece of his strategy to consolidate all U.S. railroad employees into what he called “one big union” that would give them enormous bargaining strength against what had become the nation’s largest and most powerful industry.
To support the Pullman strikers, Debs ordered railroad employees not to operate trains that had Pullman cars in their consists. Most operating employees complied, and hundreds of sleeping cars were set out on depot sidings before President Grover Cleveland ordered out the National Guard to put down the strike on grounds that the U.S. Mail was being delayed.
“Debs even did jail time as a result of the strike,” Szabo said.
“But he achieved another victory that may have been even more important: After George M. Pullman died in 1897, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers could not own an entire company town. The Town of Pullman was incorporated into the City of Chicago and became a regular neighborhood where workers owned their own homes instead of renting them from the company.
“Almost all of those homes are still there, owned and cared for by proud people who love to open them to visitors,” Szabo said. “I urge everyone who cherishes the heritage of the American labor movement, and particularly railroad employees, to visit Historic Pullman at least once. The holiday Candlelight House Walk is an ideal opportunity.”
Reservations for the House Walk can be made by calling (773) 785-8901 or by going to www.pullmanil.org.