CPD remembers officers killed in Haymarket riot

May 4, 2011 3:43:55 PM PDT
For most Americans, the day that will live in infamy is December 7, 1941. And for the Chicago Police Department, another infamous date is May 4, 1886.

At Chicago police headquarters, it was a day to remember officers killed in the line of duty -- a day to go back in time 125 years.

"The place: Chicago's Haymarket Square near the intersection of Randolph and Des Plaines. The date: May 4th, 1886. It is the most devastating day in the history of the Chicago Police Department," said Dennis Bingham, Chicago police historian.

It was the tragic Haymarket riot that was kicked off by labor protests. Workers were asking for better conditions, more pay and fewer hours. It was a time bomb ready to explode.

"There was about 200 uniformed officers about a block away just to preserve the peace. They got word that the rally was going to turn violent. They took a sworn oath to protect life and property. They marched there. Then the bomb was thrown," said Bingham.

Eight officers died from the effects of the bomb and/or gunfire. One of them was Mathias Degan, a 34-year-old widower and father of one son. His great granddaughter Geraldine Docekal, who attended the event, says her family still feels the pain.

"It's a deep wound because you wish you would have known him. Like when they announced his name, it did hurt. I wish I could have known him," said Docekal.

The eight stars are on display at police headquarters on the Wall of Honor. Eight officers were killed and 59 wounded. The bomber was never found.

The famous Haymarket statue was dedicated three years after the incident and it has had a troubled past. It was painted once by protesters, hit by a streetcar and in the late 1960s during Vietnam protests it was bombed twice. A few years ago it was totally restored and stands now at police headquarters.