Where Do You Fit In?

By Pastor Goede

This is a picture of my grandfather, Ralph Martensen, as a young man. He was 19 years old in 1919. He came to Chicago for three or four years before he was married, to work in a factory, because he could make a lot more money here than he could at home in Iowa.

He lived with relatives near the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and while I don’t know where he worked, I do know that when he applied for a job, the manager pointed at a metal stamping machine, asked if he knew how to operate it and suddenly young Ralph had a job for which he was slightly underqualified.

Working in a union here changed his life, motivating him to become a leader of his small union at Burlington’s Benner Tea Company. That union merged to become part of the Teamsters; when I recently found his union card, I was happy to pass it on to my son Rob, who is now a Teamster.

This is where my personal history intersects with the 1919 riots that are commemorated this year. Where does your history intersect with this marker in Chicago’s history? I don’t know what my grandfather made of the news he heard, or if he had any involvement; maybe you are lucky enough to know more about your family.

Over the next couple of months, I invite you to add your story to the timeline that will build in our worship space as part of the installation “Bloodlines.” Next week, the resonator boxes and wires will be mounted above the center aisle, and the taped lines on the floor will begin to look like a map of part of the city. Signs for the exhibit will be mounted in anticipation of the opening program and reception next Saturday. And the timeline will be ready for your contributions.

You can add historical events that point to or lead from the riots, and you can add notes and pictures detailing how your family history intersects the timeline. There are cards, markers and Velcro mounting tabs in baskets in the nave. You can also print or copy things at home and bring them to mount. The exhibit will remain up at least through October.

Next Saturday, July 27 marks to the day the start of the riots one hundred years ago. That evening at 7pm please come to hear that important day remembered in sound, with readers naming each of the people killed in the following week. There will be a reception, and a chance to talk with the artists who conceived this project.