Whole Train of Strike Breakers Riot
Clash Between Chicago and St. Louis Factions
Mounting costs of living, impatience with expensive arbitration proceedings, and demands for better work conditions pushed the railroad brotherhoods into a brief phase of militancy around World War I when the Federal government seized the railroads. Labor made significant gains in contract conditions during the period of government control.
In March 1916, the railroad brotherhoods submitted a proposal for an eight-hour workday to the railroad companies. The companies rejected the recommendations, and the brotherhoods set a strike deadline for September 4, 1916.
After realizing that a strike would stalemate war production, Congress passed a federal law on September 3, 1916, establishing an eight-hour workday for interstate railroad workers and time and a half for overtime.
The railroad managers were ready for a fight. Workers were called into offices and asked to stand with the companies. Companies opened recruiting offices for strikebreakers and placed ads in daily newspapers.
On September 4, 1916, a trainload of strikebreakers headed westward on the New York Central Railroad. Police searched them for weapons at a half-dozen cities after being arrested at various points for various offenses. They had been stoned at one station by strikers and had indulged in a food riot in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The troubles culminated in a riot as the train passed through Bratenahl. The railroad had inserted a car containing St. Louis men between two cars containing Chicago men. The Chicago men had to pass through the St. Louis car to go from one of their cars to another.
One story was that a Chicago man had won playing “craps.” He passed through the St. Louis car, counting his money, when a St. Louis man knocked it out of his hand. Another story was that two Chicago men passed through the St. Louis car after being ordered to stay out.
As well as police could patch together, several of the St. Louis men drew revolvers and began firing as the train neared the East 105th Street station. A passenger climbed to the car’s roof and went forward to the engine cab, where he told the engine crew what was happening and demanded that the train stop. The engine crew threatened to hit the informant with an iron bar if he did not get out of the cab.
The train stopped at the East 105th street depot for a couple of minutes. A passenger left the train, dashed to the Bratenahl police station, gave the alarm. He then ran back and caught the train as it was pulling out. He attempted to stop the fight and had been forced at gunpoint to back out onto the platform and shot through the heart. He fell, or someone dropped him between the cars, and the train’s wheels crushed his leg above the ankle.
Bratenahl police lieutenant Patrick Clarke was called from dinner. Clarke then drove his motorcycle to the East 105th street station, where he learned that the train had been stopped at Easy 79th Street. He hurried toward the stopping point.
A New York man stabbed a Massachusetts man under the heart. The man then took his gun and fired back, striking the man below the heart. He later died at Glenville Hospital. The man doing the stabbing was treated at Glenville Hospital and placed in police custody.
While the riot was at its height, knives were flashing, bottles were splintering against the seats, and bullets crashed throughout the train. The conductor, unable to cope with the situation, brought the train to a stop. A few minutes later, police from Bratenahl and Cleveland were converging on the train from all directions.
The train had barely stopped when a St. Louis man alighted and started running through Rockefeller Boulevard. Lieutenant Clarke took after him. A Cleveland police officer evidentially arrested him.
Cleveland police surrounded the train and rounded up all of the passengers who had participated in the affair. The detective department had no automobiles to respond quickly. Members made their way to the scene in borrowed machines and by streetcar.
Three men from St. Louis were charged with murder. Several others were held on charges of carrying concealed weapons, while about fifteen more were being held as witnesses.