On a much warmer spring day I drove down the Bishop Ford Freeway to see what progress has been made since the National Park Service moved in.
Decades before, to borrow a lyric from Elvis Costello, Chicago became a place "of swindlers who act like kings and brokers who break everything," the city on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan was an entrepreneurial center, as Detroit was in the 1910s and Silicon Valley was in the 1990s. A young engineer, George Pullman, who grew up along the Erie Canal in western New York, followed many other northeasterners to the city that was rapidly transforming from a frontier boomtown to an international economic colossus.
During the Civil War Pullman began building luxury rail passenger cars in based on the design of Erie Canal packet boats. Business was slow at first but Pullman managed to have one of his sleeper cars to be used to transport Abraham Lincoln's body during the long funeral procession from Washington to Springfield, Illinois.
Pictured above is an Indiana historical marker commemorating the arrival of the Lincoln funeral train in Indianapolis.
Two years later the new Chicago-based Pullman Palace Car Company introduced The President, a sleeping car with that came with an additional kitchen and dining car. He hired freed blacks, the now legendary Pullman porters, as servants for The President and subsequent luxury rail cars--these workers were relatively well-paid and they likely the best job a black man could have at the time. Best was not ideal. More on that in a bit.
But in the new National Park Service brochure we are told, "Pullman National Monument is a story of American opportunity. Some workers found success while others found opportunity limited by race, gender, economic status, or position."
Welcome to America's grievance era, courtesy of the NPS.
"I wish that I could go to America if only to see that Chicago," Germany's first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck said, probably around the time George Pullman planned his next move, building a company-owned town and factory 14 miles south of Chicago's Loop for the new Pullman Company in 1880. In the late 19th century millions of immigrants were flocking to the United States because the opportunities were better here than in the Old World.
And there was freedom.
And some Caribbean blacks emigrated to America in the 19th century for the same reason. Did they face racism? Of course they did. But they came anyway. The United States clearly was better than any other place in the world.
It still is in my opinion.
Pullman hired a young architect, Solon Spencer Beman, to design the rowhouses of the self-named town, which had amenities rare for the time: indoor plumbing and gas lighting. The homes were owned by the Pullman Company, workers paid rent to their employer.
Blacks did not live in Pullman.
Trouble came to the Pullman Company--and the town--with the Panic of 1893, the worst nationwide economic downturn between the Panic of 1837 and the Great Depression. Pullman workers had their wages cut--or they were laid off, but the rents remained the same in the townhomes.
In 1894 worker presented their grievances to George Pullman, who ignored him. So they went on strike. Future socialist presidential candidate, American Railways Union leader Eugene V. Debs, turned the work stoppage into a Chicago area rail strike, and since Chicago was the nation's rail hub at the time, the strike disrupted the entire nation. President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, responded forcibly, "If it takes the entire army and navy to deliver a postal card in Chicago, that card will be delivered." Cleveland wasn't bluffing--he sent troops to Chicago.
It is impossible to imagine Barack Obama reacting in such a manner.
Violence continued and reached a tragic peak when Illinois National Guardsmen fired into a crown of protesters--killing 30 of them.
The Pullman strikers got their jobs back--after they promised not to join a union. Pullman died in 1897 and the following year the US Supreme Court barred employers from being a landlord for their workers. By this time Pullman had been annexed by Chicago.
Back to the porters: About thirty years later a black socialist, A. Philip Randolph, was chosen to lead a new union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, at at time when many unions effectively barred black members. Oops, that fact didn't make it into the NPS brochure.
Throughout Pullman there are photos of historic figures in odd places. Pictured here is a Pullman porter, but placing such an image on a garage isn't such a great idea as you can see.
Yes, while the Pullman porters enjoyed decent pay and prestige within the black community, they were blocked from being promoted to conductor, they were forced to perform some tasks they weren't compensated for, and the porters weren't called by passengers by their first name--or even their last--but as "George," as in George Pullman. And while porter pay was good--much of it came from the unpredictable source of tips from passengers.
Pro-labor New Deal laws led to the Pullman Company to recognize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1937. Randolph remained an important civil rights figure for the rest of life--he died in 1979. In North Pullman there is an A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.
In the early 1960s the Roseland Chamber of Commerce--Roseland is the neighborhood on Pullman's western border--proposed razing Pullman and replacing it with an industrial park. The residents of Pullman fought back and won. By the end of the decade the first of many landmark designations graced Pullman--and the neighborhood wasn't torn apart by racial blockbusting. Rosleand, which the Marathon Pundit family moved from in 1968, wasn't so lucky. Contemporary Pullman is a successfully integrated community.
You will learn more about Roseland in a future post.
In 1981 the last Pullman sleeper car was produced.
In 1989 Republican governor James R. Thompson signed pension legislation with unsustainable cost of living increases, two years later as he was leaving office, he signed another bill that doubled his own pension. And round that time lame duck "Big Jim" arranged the purchase of the Hotel Florence, the Pullman Administration Building and Clock Tower, and what was left of the Pullman factory.
What do pensions have to do with Pullman? One quarter of Illinois' payments go to public-worker pensions. And the state's pension system is still the worst funded among the fifty states. The Land of Lincoln is functionally bankrupt.
The Democrats are far from innocent. Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) has been state House speaker for 31 of the last 33 years--he's also the chairman of the state Democratic Party. The pension alarm bills were ringing when current federal inmate Rod Blagojevich, another Chicago Democrat, skipped half of the state's pension fund payments for two years.
A 1998 arson fire nearly destroyed the Clock Tower and factory--and the following year a state, city, and neighborhood task force, made up of people "who know how to get things done" and led by--wait for it--Thompson, was organized to revitalize Pullman.
If you are familiar with Illinois politics, you should not be surprised. What was that Costello sang about again? Oh yeah, "of swindlers who act like kings and brokers who break everything,"
Although Pullman is now a NPS national monument. Illinois still owns the structures purchased during Thompson's tenure.
What do visitors--such as the Blogger Laureate of Illinois--see when they visit these historic buildings?
In the foreground is the Pullman factory. Remember--the state has owned it for twenty-five years.
Feel the love! Feel the openness! Come to Pullman!
Safety concerns are cited for fencing off the Clock Tower and the old factory. But the state also owns the Damen Silos--which are far more dangerous than the factory site. Anyone can walk right up to and into the silos.
The Queen Anne-style Hotel Florence looks much better--but has been closed for renovation for at least four years.
Tourists: If you were planning to change your vacation plans from Carlsbad Caverns to Pullman, please reconsider immediately. There are much better ways to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service than looking at buildings through chain link fences or peering into the windows of a locked and empty hotel.
Illinois couldn't successfully manage the Pullman district--and now the federal government through the National Park Service has come to the rescue. Yep, another bailout.
That was 15 months ago.
Pullman is government in inaction since 1991.
As soon as I arrived in Pullman I located its ugliest building. I correctly deduced that this was the Pullman visitor center, although the NPS says this is a temporary home.
On the back of the visitor center is a mural, in what is probably Obama's favorite style, socialist realism. If you stare at this wall long enough, I've been told, you'll hear Starship sing, "We Built This City."
"We built this city...we built this city...we built this city on rock and roll."
For a foolish moment I thought that Pullman might be a conservative enclave because many of its rowhouses are graced with Old Glory out front. But I also saw an equal number of Bernie Sanders signs on Pullman lawns and windows; the Vermont socialist who won nearly 49 percent of the vote in the Illinois Democratic Primary in March. Eugene V. Debs is proudly smiling in leftist heaven. A couple of studies have shown that American flag imagery benefits Republican candidates, which says much--none of it good--about the Democratic Party. But Pullman hasn't caught the GOP bug.
If you think I'm overly harsh about Democrats and flags, consider this: In 2007 then-Illinois Senator Obama told an Iowa television reporter that unlike the other presidential candidates at the time, he wasn't wearing a US flag pin because it didn't represent real patriotism. Obama has been the de facto leader of the Democrats for eight years.
Sanders doesn't wear a flag pin either.
Pullman, can you feel the Bern?
Visitors who decide to take the Metra Electric Line to Pullman have to disembark at this eyesore, the 111th Street Station.
As for Pullman, it sits amid government failure. Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the best friends taxpayers ever had in Congress, issued a report skewering the NPS for throwing away money on sites that few people visit while letting infrastructure at jewels such as Grand Canyon National Park crumble.
Two years ago when US Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and US Sen. Dick Durbn (D-IL) introduced legislation to make Pullman into a national monument, Kirk said, "According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the Pullman National Historic Park could bring 300,000 visitors each year and create 356 new jobs, providing $40 million annually to our community."
I wonder if Coburn was consulted on these absurd numbers.
Pullman is not NPS worthy.
And I was expecting to enjoy this place.
Not everything can be preserved. Money will always be a finite resource.
But Obama has his left-wing monument on the South Side.
Thanks to a co-worker who probably wishes to be anonymous and South Side Chicago blogger Levois Jenkins for inspiring me to visit and document Pullman.