"Pullman Story" (Irina Mirskaya )
Pullman, Ill. 1894 — — "Mommy, why are we moving?" Sally asked. "Don't you like where we live?"
Her mother fixed the bow on Sally's braids. "Well, Sally, for one thing we can't pay the rent anymore."
"But, Mommy, Papa works for Mr. Pullman's factory, doesn't he?"
Her mother nodded. "But not for long."
Sally's grandfather interrupted. "The big bully has cut wages and increased working hours. And for what? So he can make more money! I ask you, is that fair?"
Sally knew that her grandfather didn't like Mr. Pullman very much and she wondered why. He seemed like a nice man and looked much like her grandfather with his white beard and gray hair. She had seen him once when she was playing on Praire Avenue, near where he lived.
With her friend, Mary, they spent many afternoons in the Pullman library looking at the stacks of new books. And sometimes they would peek in the Florence Hotel and look at all the rich people. "He named the hotel after his daughter, you know," Mary said.
It seemed that everything was new in Pullman, Ill. The shops, bank, theater, parks and library were shining clean all the time. The town of Pullman was always clean. Pullman was a pleasant and healthy place to live. So why were they moving?
As they packed up their belongings, Sally's papa came into the house shouting something.
"Quiet down," her grandfather said. "Catch your breath."
"They're striking!" her papa gasped. "Everyone at the factory is angry. They've had enough and refuse to work. They have walked out."
"Oh, my," her mother gasped.
"Good, it's about time!" said her grandfather. "Something has to be done. The man owns the town and everyone in it! So he built a beautiful place for his workers to live, with banks and churches and stuff, but he cut the pay and raised the rent! That's no way to win friends!"
Sally had learned about George Mortimer Pullman in school. He was best known for inventing the sleeping car on trains. They were called a "hotel on wheels" or "Palace Cars." These special sleeping cars had a fine dining car with first class service and porters to help with bags. The porters also acted as waiters and entertainers. Sally wished she could ride and sleep on one of those trains, but her mother said the tickets were five times more than a regular seat. Sally had only been on a train once and that was only to look, not to ride.
"The strike has caused riots," her father said. "We had better stay put until it's over."
In a way, Sally felt sorry for Mr. Pullman. He was a good man to start with. He arranged to have the dead body of President Abraham Lincoln carried from Washington D.C., to Springfield, Ill., by sleeper car.
The strike continued for weeks. There was no mail delivery and no milk delivery. Sally and Mary were sad because everyone was so angry. Then one day, her papa reported, "It's over! The strike is over! President Cleveland sent in troops to break it up."
"Bah!" her grandfather said. "Now what?"
"Now we go back to work. All the employees signed an agreement with the Pullman Co."
"Does that mean, we won't have to move?" Sally asked. "Papa, is it really over?"
Her papa nodded and patted her head. "Yes, I'll be going back to the factory and for now, we can stay here."
"Where's my hoop?" Sally said running out the door. "I'm going to find Mary and go play in the park."
The Pullman Co. employed and trained former house slaves from plantations of the South. George Pullman was the biggest single employer of African Americans in post-Civil War America.
Special thanks to Irina Mirskaya for this week's illustration. To see more of her work, visit IMillustration.com.
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