Baltimore's Forgotten Insurrection at Camden Yards Shows How We Are Disconnected from Our HistoryToday there are no hints of the 1877 rebellion. Nor are there any hints of the major events in the more recent past--such as the uprising of 1968 or the cataclysmic deindustrialization of the 1970s and early 1980s--that have shaped the Baltimore of today.
When the Guardsmen from the Sixth Regiment started their march to Camden Station, they were met with "a shower of stones" from a crowd that expressed a general "dissatisfaction with the use of the regiment in behalf of the railroad. There were cries and cheers for the strikers," The Baltimore Sun reported.
But things took a sudden turn for the worse. Panic-stricken soldiers began firing on the crowd. When the shooting stopped, 10 people lay dead; more than 20 others were wounded. Among the dead was 14-year-old William Haurand, a Sun newsboy working to support his mother and family. His "brains [were] blown out on the corner of Baltimore and Holliday streets," the Sun reported.
An enraged mob numbering about 15,000 converged on Camden Station and tore up track to prevent the soldiers from leaving the city. Part of the station's passenger platform was demolished, as were several engine cars. By 10 o'clock, the mob had started a fire that consumed the dispatcher's office, several sheds and a passenger car. Firefighters arriving on the scene were prevented from putting out the fire until soldiers and police dispersed the crowd with bullets.
Two days later, the Baltimore insurrection had been subdued with the help of federal troops dispatched by President Hayes. By then, however, other parts of the country were facing working-class revolts.
Signs of a Disconnect from History
But Oriole Park, as well as the Inner Harbor area in which it is ensconced, is notable for the way it is disconnected from the city's "mobtown," industrial past. There are no hints of the 1877 rebellion at Camden Yards. Nor are there any hints of the major events in the more recent past--such as the uprising of 1968 or the cataclysmic deindustrialization of the 1970s and early 1980s--that have shaped the Baltimore of today.
Set amid an agglomeration of corporate-owned hotels and chain stores, which in turn are surrounded by decaying neighborhoods whose residents face declining opportunities for good jobs, Oriole Park offers a decontextualized, aesthetic experience of the city's blue-collar past.
Why Baltimoreans Supported the 1877 Strike
A leader of the Baltimore strikers summed up the popular mood for a reporter: "The working people everywhere are with us. They know what it is to bring up a family on ninety cents a day, to live on beans and corn meal week in and week out, to run a debt at the stores until you cannot get trusted any longer, to see the wife breaking down under privation and distress, and the children growing sharp and fierce like wolves day after day because they don't get enough to eat."
The railroad workers, strike and attendant unrest spread quickly from Baltimore to other large cities, including Chicago, New York and Pittsburgh. In St. Louis, working people ruled the city for three days before authorities regained power. A wave of reaction would follow the rebellions. The government built new National Guard Armories all over the nation so that troops could serve as strikebreakers and police the homeland during times of popular insurrection.
In Maryland, Gov. John Carroll taxed Baltimoreans to pay off the costs of deploying troops. He also offered a bit of advice to workers: "No political platforms can be of any use to the working man or furnish him with work. In a free country like ours, the relations of capital and labor must always adjust themselves, and are regulated by conditions which politicians cannot control."
The Myth of Market Forces Continues
But even as this brand of fundamentalism was regaining ascendancy in the 1980s, the federal, state, and city governments were intervening in Baltimore's economy to help along market forces for the benefit of powerful private interests. The result of more than $2 billion in public subsidies and tax breaks has been a "revitalized" downtown that stands as a monument to the appropriation of public funds for creation of private wealth.
And at the jewel of that renovated downtown, Camden Yards, crowds assemble to fulfill their roles as consumers and spectators, rather than as citizens and participants in history. These days the most notable labor-management conflict at the site of the 1877 working-class revolt involves employees who earn millions of dollars a year to hit, throw and chase a ball.
Such is the evolution of an all-American city.
Rick Mercier is a columnist for The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va. He was born and raised in Baltimore. He can be reached at email@example.com.
"The following were invaluable sources of information on the revolt of 1877," says Mr. Mercier:
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This story was published on August 7, 2002.