(Editor's Note: This is a special 'Labor Day Homecoming' edition of 'Pioneer History,' a week before the 1993 celebration.)
This story is about a different kind of pioneer, the men who pioneered the Lowell Labor Day celebrations soon after World War I.
The following item is a news item from The Lowell Tribune of Sept. 2, 1920: "Next Monday will be the big time in Lowell, when the American Legion Boys of Post 101 give their annual Home Coming and Field Day Celebration. The program is one that will keep the visitors entertained from the time they get here in the morning."
The program on that Labor Day started with the Rensselaer Band marching down Commercial Ave. on their way to Oakland Park. They were followed by a parade of buggies and automobiles and marchers on foot. The band gave a concert in the park at the end of the parade. Several thousand people then listened for an hour to Congressman Will R. Wood, who talked on the heroic work of the American Soldier during the war.
A baseball game between Lowell and Beecher teams resulted in a victory for Beecher by a score of 7-4. The Hebron Legion Post beat the Crown Point Post in a tug-of -war, and Lowell Post 101 beat the Hebron team in a relay race.
Glen Surprise won the barrel race, and the pony race was won by Gerald Dickinson. Picnic lunches filled the woods at the park, while some people purchased lunch at the Legion food stand, where the homemade sandwiches were made by the mothers of the veterans.
In the evening, the band played on the street in downtown Lowell, and the Legion Post sponsored a fine dance at the Opera House at the corner of Mill and Commercial. The Tribune editor had this to say about the event: "The day will long be remembered by our people as one of the most pleasant affairs ever pulled off. We hope the boys will have some big event of this kind every year."
And so they did.
On Labor Day, 1921, it was the Milford, Ill., 40-piece brass band that led the parade to Oakland Park, and after a concert by the band, the crowd listened to a speech by Edward Jackson, then Secretary of State.
After the picnic lunches were over, the crowd listened again to the brass band and to instrumentals by quartets and soloists. New that year were the vaudeville acts by a group from Chicago. "No expense has been spared to get the best talent," it was reported.
Once again ball games and field races were on the program, along with the tug of war. A dancing pavilion was set up in the park, with dancing all afternoon and evening. Early in the evening , another vaudeville show was given, followed by several exciting boxing bouts.
This was the first year that an automobile was given as a prize. The day closed with "an elegant display of fireworks."
Labor Day 1924: The program included some of the same events as in past years, but in the morning and afternoon, the Amateur Baseball Championship of Northern Indiana was featured. After the ball games, the airplane circus was on the program, with Rainbow Flyer Art Chester and Morton Frenck, daredevil, who were to put on aerial fireworks. This was the headline in The Lowell Tribune soon after: "Flyer Meets Fate In Plane** Bomb Explodes** Morton Frenck Dies** Arthur Chester Is Injured** Were Thrilling Huge Crowd At Labor Day Celebration."
It was about 4:30 p.m. when Morton Frenck, a stunt man, received the injuries which caused his death at 7:15 p.m. He was in the plane with pilot Art Chester at 2,000 feet, dropping aerial bombs, and had lit the fuse for the last bomb, a large one. The large bomb stuck in the firing tube and blew up in the plane, injuring both men. The pilot was able to glide to the landing field, even though the gas tank had exploded and the engine had quit. He made a perfect landing, even though he was badly injured. The landing field was near the site of the present Trinity Lutheran Church, and being a curious eight-year-old boy, the Old Timer went out to see the remains of that bloody World War One "Jenny," a sad mistake. The scene was a horrifying one.
Legion Posts from Lowell and Crown Point participated in the funeral rites for Morton Frenck, age 21, who was from Hammond.
Just two weeks before, the daredevil had made a drop from his parachute into Fancher Lake during the Lake County Fair.
Labor Day 1925: "The Annual Labor Day Celebration given by the American Legion promises to be the biggest event in this part of the country." The day began with a huge parade with prizes for Best Decorated Car; Most Comical Car; Best Pony; and Most Original Makeup, Clown or Character. That year, the parade formed on Mill St., went north to Main St., east on Main to Burnham Ave., south on Burnham to Commercial Ave., west on Commercial to Liberty St., and south on Liberty to the High School (now Lowell Middle School). That year the ball games were played by Lowell and Griffith, and Fowler and Calumet City. There were the usual band concerts, aeroplanes (a novelty in those years) vaudeville, boxing, fireworks, and the awarding of an automobile to a lucky ticket holder.
Headline after Labor Day 1926: "Big Crowd Here on Labor Day." "The celebration was a success in every way," said The Tribune report. The day started out cloudy and it looked like rain, but at about 10 a.m. the sun came out to stay for the day. The program was opened with concerts by the Hebron and Williamport bands on the street. The bands led the parade to the park, where Lowell soon beat Chesterton in an exciting baseball game, but the Lowell nine was defeated by Grant Park (Illinois) in a later game.
From the Tribune: "Labor Day in Lowell has developed into a regular Home Coming Day for former residents and they were here in large numbers from many states,"
The usual program ended with a giant fireworks display. "The day was an ideal one in every way, and so far as we can learn, everything passed off per schedule, and best of all there were no serious accidents," ended the report.
The program for the 1927 version of the Lowell Labor Day Celebration included concerts by the Dewey Biggs Legion Band of Rensselaer, regarded as one of the best. Ball games featured Lake Village and Grant Park teams, and then Rensselaer and Wheatfield, with boxing bouts and fireworks in the evening.
The men of Post 101 and the ladies of the Auxiliary in the 1920's were laying the groundwork for more recent Labor Day celebrations, which have been sponsored by the Labor Day Committee, Inc., comprised of hard-working representatives and clubs in the Lowell area. They meet monthly, and sometimes weekly, to plan another exciting weekend in the history of Lowell's Labor Day Homecoming.
This year's edition, Sept. 3-6, promises to be another memorable holiday weekend.
[NOTE: Someone wrote that the early Labor Day celebrations took place on Main St. across from the old school, known as "McNay's pasture." This is not true! The very first Labor Day celebrations were at Oakland Park, and they were held there until Oak Hill School was built.
Tent shows were held at the pasture, as well as the "Gordon players" drama, Chautauqua tent events, and a small circus.]
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