On this day in Milwaukee County History: The Bay View Massacre, also know as the Bay View Tragedy, occurs on May 5, 1886.
May 5th, 1886 was one of the darkest days in Wisconsin labor history. The seeds of tragedy were planted five days earlier, when 7,000 buildings-trade workers joined with 5,000 Polish laborers at St. Stanislaus church in to demand an eight-hour work day. By May 3rd, the strikers’ numbers had increased to over 14,000, all of whom began gathering outside of the Milwaukee Iron Company. Republican Governor Jeremiah McLain Rusk ordered 250 National Guardsmen to monitor the situation and demanded that any individual that attempted to enter the factory be shot and killed on sight.
For two days, the laborers and the Guardsmen sat and stared at one another, each side hope the other would be the one to make the first mistake. On the morning of May 5th, the labors, whose ranks now included children, approached the rolling mill. The National Guard immediately and indiscriminately open fired upon the crowd. When the dust settled, seven were dead, including a 13-year-old, and many more were injured.
Commemoration of the Bay View Tragedy serves as a reminder of the sacrifice many of our ancestors made to ensure a better life for themselves and their children. Since 1986, local groups have held memorial events to honor those who gave their lives during the incident. Today, Sunday, May 5th, the Milwaukee Public Theatre, in conjunction with the Milwaukee Puppet and Mask Theatre, will host a re-enactment of the Massacre at the historic marker site at 3 p.m. For more information, please visit the event’s OnMilwaukee page.