Dedicated on October 28, 2006, Illinois now has a powerful new labor history monument located in Virden. The marvelous bronze sculpture commemorates the Battle of Virden which occurred on October 12, 1898. Located in the town square, the sculpture is a six-foot by 12-foot bas-relief cast in bronze and mounted on a gray granite wall. It depicts people and events associated with the historic "shootout" between mine guards and miners.
Close by the site are the railroad tracks along which the action took place as armed miners stopped a train bringing strikebreakers into the compound of the Chicago-Virden Coal Company. Eight miners and five guards were killed. Another 40 miners were wounded. The train hurried on to Springfield without stopping at the mine. Governor John Tanner intervened on behalf of the miners and sent in the National Guard to restore order and prevent further attempts to bring in strikebreakers. A month later the mine owners yielded and the miners received their wage increase.
Sculpted by Seagrave
The sculptor is David Seagrave of Elizabeth, Illinois who was selected by the Virden Sesquicentennial Group. The Monument project grew out of the 2002 celebration of the town's founding in 1852. Business and civic leaders recognized the need for a proper recognition of its most important historical event and began a fundraising campaign for a proper monument.
More than $140,000 has been raised from the town and state governments, many labor organizations throughout the state, and residents of the community. Another $35,000 is needed to complete the lighting and landscaping of the area. Memorial bricks bearing the names of contributors are being placed around the Monument. Call John Alexander at 217-965-5443 to order your brick for $50-$100.
President Larry Spivack and Trustees Lisa Oppenheim, Katie Jordan and Joe Berry represented the ILHS at the dedication ceremony. Spivack was among the speakers at the unveiling. International President Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers gave a stirring main address. Labor songs were provided by Chicago folksinger Bucky Halker.
This memorial to the Battle of Virden is now firmly on the map of U.S. labor history sites. It stands alongside the Mother Jones Monument in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive; the Haymarket Memorial in Haymarket Square, Chicago; the Irish track layers burial site in Funk's Grove near Bloomington; and the plaque to the ten men who fell in a fusillade of police bullets at the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 on Chicago's Southeast Side.
According to Professor Rosemary Feurer of Northern Illinois University, Virden was the focal point of a huge demonstration each year, bringing coal mine veterans and their friends and families from all over the state to memorialize the event of 1898. These gatherings continued well into the Depression era. Professor Feuer is currently working on a video about Virden and another on Mother Jones is in the works.
Mother Jones was frequently the headline speaker. It was on one such occasion that Mother Jones emotionally declared her wish to be buried with her "boys" in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mt. Olive. That cemetery had been founded following the Battle of Virden to receive the remains of local miners who had gone to Virden in support of fellow union members on strike.
This new destination point is a fitting place to visit for all those who support the cause of working people. There they can contemplate struggles of the past with reverence and strengthen their spirit of dedication and determination.
Virden is twenty miles south of Springfield on Illinois Route 4.
Labor Beat has produced a documentary of the event. Click here to inquire about video copies.