Monday, September 7, 2015

September 7, 2015 Labor Day & Steelworkers Park

The dogs and I started our day a Calumet Park on Chicago's South Side. We took a dip in Lake Michigan to cool down on an already very warm and humid morning.

Oslo looking through a window on the steel breakwall to see the rest of Lake Michigan.

We relaxed on the hill next to the Coast Guard station because there was a cool breeze blowing off the lake. Then we headed to a new park I noticed while driving down the newest section of Lake Shore Drive. I only saw the entrance and I knew it was on the old US Steel South Works property. I also knew that there is a grand plan to build a new neighborhood here but I haven't heard much lately about the progress of that plan. I did see a sign for a future Mariano's Supermarket at the entrance to the park. Which seems strange because there are no residential areas anywhere near here. So I drove into the park.

This is the first sign I saw after parking my car. It lays out the plan to redevelop this as Chicago's newest and most ecologically efficient neighborhood. My first thought was cynical...this will be a place for rich people.

Just past that was a bench with a somewhat less majestic sign. This was when I found out that this was called Steelworkers Memorial Park. Today being Labor Day, I figured it had to be more than an accidental happenstance that I decided to check this place out today.
This statue greeted me as I entered the park. A tribute to all those immigrants and Chicagoans who worked at the steel plants located here for well over 100 years.

Now I am feeling better about my trip here. I am a strong believer in the labor movement's history in this country. The union jobs at this south side mill created a middle class neighborhood here in the first half of the 1900's. When those jobs were taken away, the people who prospered by those jobs moved away and the neighborhood's economy disappeared with those good jobs. A story that occurred all over this country but especially here in the midwest "Rust Belt" the factories that built this country and won two world wars closed during the 1970's and Eighties. Yes, these are the thoughts going through my head as I wandered around the park.

I have always had a ton of respect for what Daniel Burnham did for the people of Chicago...all the people, not just the wealthy ones.

You rarely hear anyone make statements like this anymore. Maybe that is exactly what is wrong with this country nowadays. The time has come for our voices to be heard by the politicians, the people who make land development deals behind closed doors without any public input and the banks that supply the money to both of them. The attack on the middle class during this century has been amazing to me. It used to surprise me that working class people would vote for anti union politicians. Anyone that knows the true version of American history, should already understand that access to good paying jobs is what made the United States of America a great country. It was wave after wave of poor immigrants looking for a better life and finding one through working hard and fighting for workers rights to collective bargaining, 8 hours a day & 40 hour work weeks, vacation pay, worker's safety and overtime pay. Now I wonder why so many people are so quick to give that all back to those currently in charge. I refuse to forget all the battles my immigrant ancestors fought so I could have all the things they dreamed about. And I am disgusted by all those people who have forgotten the unbelievable conditions our ancestors were forced to work under. This is what I am thinking about as I walk through this park on Labor Day.  

The park was almost empty during my time here. I did exchange pleasantries with an older man that walked by and said hello to a younger lady jogging in the park.

A construction barge on Lake Michigan.

Nola always checking the tall grass for squirrels. There were a ton of grasshoppers and they were not shy about jumping onto the dogs. At one point, it looked like Nola was trying to swat them away from her face. It made me laugh as she jumped up to swing her paw in front of her face.

The signs were very interesting. I hope all this does get built. I also hope that everyone can afford to live here whenever it is completed. I was happy to see that park land is an important part of this new plan.

In order to get a natural area to grow on an old steel mill site, this area was covered with a layer of river sludge. 
It must be working because there were several signs of beauty returning to this area.

As much as I love open park lands, I also love repurposing America's industrial past. The last time I was in the South Works plant was in the late eighties or early nineties. We had a call to work on a gas pump here for one of the demolition companies. It was an extremely foggy morning and you really could not see 10 feet in from of you. At one point, I got out and walked ahead of  my boss's van just to make sure we didn't drive into the lake. I remember being mad because I wanted to see what this incredible place looked like on the inside. So as I walked toward the remains of the ore walls, the historical importance of this place was overwhelming to me. Depending on where you read about South Works, as many as 20,000 or possibly 30,000 worked here at it's production peak. So how many worked here over 100 years of operation. And how many buildings and bridges have I seen that were built with steel from this place. Yes, the history geek in me was excited to be walking on this ground.

I read later that this structure was a half mile long. It was where the iron ore was off loaded from barges and ships traveling on the Great Lakes.

Mother nature has reclaimed the land without human help here too.

Oslo & Nola looking to go for a swim again.

Lots of warning signs about trespassing, climbing and fishing. All of them with the development company and US Steel listed as property owners. This is the largest undeveloped parcel of land in the city of Chicago. 

I had to keep these two away from the edge, they kept looking down like they were gonna jump in.

These were the only structures I saw that were still partially standing.

I took this on the way out because the sun was right behind it on the way in. It is an interesting tribute to those that worked here. 

These signs were out in the parking lot. They are worth reading. If you click on the picture it will reopen full size.

This is part of the above sign. It glosses over many contributing factors to the closing of the steel mill but maybe that is left to history. My only problem with that is...

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir Winston Churchill

...I think we are repeating it now.


  1. Thank you for the insight and pictures on this Labor Day. We forget what Labor Day is all about and we stand on the shoulders of the hard workers before us. My dad was one of those union steel workers that would work around furnaces blazing at 2500 degrees to melt steel. He did this to provide a better life for his family and he succeeded. I will forever be grateful and take pride in his work ethic and him. Great way you and the dogs got to spend this day.

  2. Marilyn, I'm glad you thought about your father today. I was thinking about all those that fought so we would have better working conditions. I am sure they would be pretty pissed off at those politicians trying to undo all their hard fought battles.