United States and American History: 1886

About the history of the United States in 1886, strikes, labor, and union problems, the Haymarket affair, Grover Cleveland is married, pull a Brodie becomes an expression.


--"I can hire one half the working class to kill the other half."--Jay Gould, before the strike on his southwestern system.

Mar. 6 A strike broke out against Jay Gould's southwestern railroad system when a worker was fired for attending a union meeting. Despite opposition from the Knights of Labor, the strike was joined by shopmen, switchmen, trackmen, telegraph operators, firemen, and miners. Shops were occupied. The authorities countered with court injunctions, arrest warrants, and strikebreakers. The workers sabotaged the engines to prevent strikebreakers from running them. The railroad owners brought in the militia and hired vigilantes to run the engines.

On April 9, in St. Louis, deputies fired into a crowd of striking railroad workers, killing 9 and wounding many. The Knights of Labor tried to restrain the enraged crowd, who burned shops, the railroad yards, and the depot. The governor sent in 700 militia and put the city under military law.

May 4 Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago. (See: on the Way to the 8-Hour Day--the Haymarket Affair, Chap. 2.)

June 2 Grover Cleveland, the 2nd bachelor to be elected President (the other was James Buchanan), succumbed to matrimony and became the 1st Chief Executive to be married in the White House. In the Blue Room, he was wedded to his ward, the daughter of his deceased onetime law partner, 21-year-old Frances Folsom. Cleveland was 27 years older than his bride. The marriage lasted 22 years, until his death at the age of 71. The Clevelands had 5 children. Mrs. Cleveland lived to the age of 83, dying in 1947.

July 23 The expression "to pull a Brodie" or "to do a Brodie"--meaning to attempt a dangerous stunt--was born when a 23-year-old New York saloonkeeper, Steve Brodie, jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge 135' into the East River below to win a $200 wager. Many believed that Brodie did not actually leap but pushed a dummy off the bridge instead. The New York Times supported Brodie's claim, however, reporting that a friend in a rowboat fished him out of the water. And the police arrested him for perpetrating this suicidal stunt.

Later, heavyweight champion Jim Corbett's father met Brodie and said, "So you're the fellow who jumped over the Brooklyn Bridge." "No," said Brodie," "I jumped off it." "Oh," exclaimed the elder Corbett with disgust, "I thought you jumped over it. Any damn fool could jump off it."

Sept. 4 Geronimo agreed, for the last time, to quit the warpath. He and his fellow Chiricahuas were shipped to Fort Marion, Fla., where they found many other Apaches dying from the unaccustomed humidity. At least 100 died of consumption. The children were separated from their parents and sent to the Indian school in Carlisle, Pa., where more than 50 died. Some Apaches were eventually allowed to return to the San Carlos Reservation, but the people of Arizona refused to accept Geronimo and the Chiricahuas. When the Kiowas and Comanches learned of the plight of their old Apache enemies, they offered them part of their reservation and, in 1894, surviving exiles moved to Fort Still, Okla., where Geronimo died on February 17, 1909.

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