The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.
In 1884 Monday was selected for the celebration, and organizations in other cities were urged to follow the New York example and celebrate a working men's holiday on that date. The idea spread with the growth of the unions, and by 1885 the day was celebrated in many of the industrial centers of the country.
At first only cities adopted the plan, then a few states passed laws in 1887, and by 1894 twenty-three states adopted the holiday. In the same year, the U.S. Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday.
A format was recommended: a morning parade to show the strength and the ability of the unions, followed by a festival for the recreation and entertainment of the workers. Speeches were later added to the suggested program.
The World War I veterans of American Legion Post #101 pioneered the Lowell Labor Day Celebration soon after their return to civilian life. 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 Homecoming and Field Day Celebration. The program will keep the visitors entertained from the time they get here in the morning."
The Rensselaer Brass Band led the parade down Commercial Avenue, followed by buggies, automobiles and marchers. A band concert, a speech by Congressman Will R. Wood, a baseball game, barrel and pony races were on the program.
Picnic lunches filled the woods at Oakland Park, while sandwiches prepared by mothers of the veterans were offered for sale. With no lights in the park, the evening program was a band concert downtown, followed by a dance in the Opera House at the corner of Mill and Commercial (burned down in 1976 as Fry's Dept. Store).
On Labor Day 1921, the Milford Ill. Brass Band led the parade to the park, where the crowd listened to a long speech by Edward Jackson, then Secretary of State in Indiana. Vaudeville, concerts, ball games, dancing and boxing followed the talk. It was the first year that an automobile was given away. The day ended with fireworks.
The Labor Day program of 1924 featured a similar style, with the addition of the playoffs for the Northwest Indiana Amateur Baseball Championship, as well as an exciting "aerial circus." Rainbow flyer Arthur Chester and Morton Frenck were to put on aerial fireworks; at about 4:30 p.m. the two men were in a World War I "Jenny" airplane dropping bombs. As Frenck lit the last one, larger than the rest, it stuck in the firing tube, blew up and injured both men.
The pilot was able to land the plane near the present Lutheran Church with a perfect landing. Morton was rushed to the hospital, but died that evening. Chester survived. Morton had made a parachute jump at the Lake County Fair two weeks before.
The Old Timer, then a curious 8-year-old, made a sad mistake when he hurried to the field and saw the bloody plane.
Bill Peterson, current president of the Three Creeks Historical Association, jogged the memory of the Old Timer recently when he told how everyone in the area knew exactly when the parade started on Labor Day morning, since a very loud aerial bomb was fired from a makeshift mortar.
The parade followed several different routes through the years. In 1925 the lineup was on Mill Street, north to Main, east on Main to Burnham, then to Commercial Avenue, west to Liberty Street on the way to the park. For some years the parade began on West Commercial to Burnham Avenue, north on Burnham to Main Street, west to Mill Street, then south to Commercial where, as the parade became longer, marchers were forced to wait as the rear of the parade went east on the avenue.
In 1952, when six parades were featured in four days during the Centennial Celebration, the starting point was changed to the Lowell Cemetery area, with Viant Street and Prairie Street also used as part of the lineup areas. The big parade each morning went west on Commercial Avenue, west on Washington Street to Liberty Street, back to Commercial Avenue, and east to Globe Drive (Charlevoix Street in 1952) on the way to the festival grounds. The Centennial parades included about 60 horses pulling floats or with riders in period costumes. Remember the Fuller brothers, Paul and Dick, who for years proudly drove the miniature Caterpiller tractor sponsored by Hardings, Inc.?
A few may remember how the Labor Day Committee confused the Lake County Sheriff one year. It seems the new officer was intent on wiping out any kind of gambling, even from booths with "wheels." Fire trucks were stationed at both gates of Oakland Park, and when the officers arrived, sirens were blown, the stands quickly closed, and no gambling was found by the "task force."
Certainly, the Drum and Bugle Corps are well remembered by parade goers. They came to entertain at the parades, as well as take part in contests. In 1964 the top award went to the Cedar Lake AMVET Post 15 Drum Corps. That also was the year Republican vice-presidential candidate William E. Miller rode in the parade as 30,000 spectators watched.
Perhaps a reader remembers the name of the cowboy movie star who led the parade and entertained at the park a few decades ago.
The Old Timer enjoyed hearing Legionnaire Harry Clark, a WWI veteran, announce the parade:
"And now for your listening pleasure, Post 101 proudly presents the great Lowell High School Band; bring them on with a big hand!"
Down at the park on Labor Day in the 1920's: The Old Timer remembers putting down a dime to spin a big arrow which pointed to all sorts of interesting items which he hoped to win. If you did win a small prize, the man in the tent often encouraged the winner to "Put it back with a nickel and try again." Because school always began the day after Labor Day, many students went quickly to Oakland Park to search for leftover treasures early on Tuesday morning.
Because school started the following day, families often left the park early in the evening on Labor Day, though hundreds would stay to see who won the automobile, and to watch the fireworks. Sometimes the drawing of the winning ticket would be delayed to keep the crowd at the park a little longer.
From The Lowell Tribune years ago: "Labor Day has developed into a regular Homecoming Day for former residents, and they were here in large numbers from many states."
From the foundation laid by those Labor Day pioneers of the 1920's, the Lowell Labor Day Organization, Inc., comprised of hard-working representatives of local organizations and clubs , have sponsored the celebration for over a decade and have worked hard to present another exciting parade and program this fast-approaching Labor Day weekend. For several years, the parade has had its start at Lowell High School and the surrounding area, since more room was needed for the huge show witnessed by thousands of spectators.
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