The Ancient and Esoteric Order of the Jackalope

The Great Railroad Strike

Railroad Strike of 1877: In July, unrest hit U.S. rail lines. Pennsylvania Railroad workers truck to resist wage and job cuts. Here, on July 21, militia fatally shot some 26 people. A battle followed: rail property was burned. The strike was finally broken by U.S. troops.

In the last episode I mentioned the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Well, turns out there’s a Pennsylvania historical marker commemorating it that just a few minutes off of my daily commute.

This otherwise unremarkable traffic median in Pittsburgh, where the Strip meets Polish Hill, also happens to be the where the Great Railroad Strike finally turned violent. At the time, this would have been a train yard as far as the eye can see. Today it’s all office parks, overpriced condos, and parking lots.

The violence started on July 21st, when the National Guard fired on strikers, killing twenty of them. The strikers responded by charging the guardsmen, forcing them to seek refuge in a nearby roundhouse. Then the strikers set fire to several dozen buildings, destroying a hundred locomotives and a thousand freight and passenger cars. The guardsmen eventually shot their way out of the city, killing twenty more strikers in the process, and abandoned the city. The fires and riots lasted for days.

A week later the National Guard retook the city with fresh reinforcements from Philadelphia (including our old pal John Ignatius Rogers) and the Trainman’s Union was in disarray (after throwing out our new friend Bob Ammon). That brought the strike to an end, at least in Pennsylvania.

(It’s also worth noting: there’s no legal way to get to this historical marker. The sidewalk on the outbound side of Liberty just kind of ends, and the median has low rails on all sides. Apparently to get over to the 28th Street Bridge there you’re expected to back up a block, cross the street, and then cross back after this intersection.)

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