humanitarian or scoundrel – cycling history

We did a bit of urban cycling the other day, down the CALsag trail in it’s newly paved beauty along the canal, and then through Blue Isle ( not sure how a landlocked town gets that name ) and through Roseland to Pullman. Roseland is the hard hit neighborhood where many of the stores are boarded up or converted to Churches or Mosques or bars. When the jobs have left a place, then people look to find hope in one place or another. Just beyond is Pullman, a town of historical contradictions.

Of the Pullman factory – the engine of opportunity where luxury rail-road cars were made little remains.

Pullman cars became popular after one was used in the train that took the body of assassinated President Lincoln across the country

Pullman cars became popular after one was used in the train that took the body of assassinated President Lincoln across the country

Factories need people, and George W. Pullman envisioned a city for his workers, designed by architects with clean air, good schools manned by trained teachers, and indoor plumbing in every house. It was his idea of Utopia. In 1870, he was a visionary humanitarian – and his city was considered the finest in the world. Today, you can ride past the grand hotel, or magnificent church and the row houses and boarding houses in which his workers lived and worshiped.

Housing still used almost 200 years later

Housing still used almost 200 years later

The company maintained every building, and the workers paid rent. The workers shopped at the company store, banked at the company bank – and even the ministers rented the church for services provided their sermon’s aligned with the Pullman beliefs.

The "company" church

The “company” church

In 1874 there was a recession, and Pullman cut the worker’s wages by 30% but refused to reduce the rents. The factory workers struck, and Pullman crushed the strike. Then railroad workers across the country refused to work any passenger train that had a Pullman car on it. The Pullman name was reviled, and his utopia called un-American and despicable in every way. The Federal Government then broke the rail strike.

Pullman died shortly after the strike of a heart-attack. The scoundrel had tons of cement poured over his grave so that no-one could desecrate his body, and the humanitarian left a bequeath to fund a million dollar endowment to educate the children of the workers at his factory.

As we rode back to wrap up our 50 mile ride I pondered this complex man, and his vision while words of John Goodman’s ‘City of New Orleans’ played in my mind…

And the sons of Pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpet made of steel

PS – if you ever played the video game Bioshock – with it’s visionary madman and failed utopia – it has to be modeled after this time and place