Labor Day history and memories

Labor Day dates back to a Tuesday, September 5, 1882, with a celebration of labor by the Central Labor Union in New York City. After it was held again in 1883, the day was moved to Monday in 1884. By 1894, the day was adopted by a number of states and on June 28 of that year Congress passed a law making the first Monday in September a national holiday. It may well be our first Monday holiday, followed later by some other holidays being moved to Mondays.

What a bittersweet day it is. A three-day weekend holiday, it also marks the end of summer life (without another holiday in sight for months). Has it really been three months since we celebrated the beginning of summer on Memorial Day? Yes, always the fastest three months of the year.

Seasoned folks like me remember how we always went back to school the day after Labor Day (with new corduroy pants whistling as we walked). Now the young people start school in August, but then they do seem to get more days off during the year than we did. Maybe getting a long weekend so soon after starting takes some of the sting out of Labor Day for them.

Labor Day is also marked for me by the Cleveland Air Races, family picnics and an annual political event.

Our annual Air Show is great but the Annual Cleveland Air Races were really special, always drawing national attention as competitors raced around pylons in Lake Erie in view of large crowds on shore. Eventually tragedy stuck when one flyer hit a house causing injury and death, ending the races here forever.

My dad, a sales engineer, had a part-time business – The Filt-Air Company – in our basement, making custom size air filters for furnaces and air conditioners. It did enough business that relatives in other towns also had subsidiary shops in their basements. My parents’ annual Filt-Air Company Picnic in our back yard on Labor Day was always a neat event that brought family to our house for good times. (My first beer probably came from the keg when no one was looking.)

Other significant memories of the day came later when I went with my dad to the Annual Democratic Steer Roast at Euclid Beach. We shared a love of politics and enjoyed seeing local politicians up close doing their thing. We first saw John F. Kennedy and his wife there in the ballroom where Kennedy gave a short but enthusiastic talk while Jackie sat close by. At age 20, I was impressed with him but thought his speech needed more substance. I’ll always regret standing a few feet from him later in the park that I didn’t ask to shake his hand.

As created and initially celebrated, Labor Day was meant to “exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Now it honors all those who work or who did in any endeavor. As the U.S. Department of Labor puts it: "The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker."

As each holiday came this year, I could not help but think of those willing and able to work without jobs, reminding those of us with work to how lucky we are, and how much we should try to help the unemployed in any way we can. As we attend parades or picnics attended by politicians let’s ask them for specifics on what they are doing to create jobs and maybe next year, those now unemployed will be with us, looking forward to a three-day weekend.

Have a great holiday!

Mel Maurer

Mel Maurer lives in Westlake.

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Volume 3, Issue 17, Posted 2:59 PM, 08.23.2011