Monday, September 3, 2012

remembering labor day

Widely accepted as the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire, (general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor) Labor Day is "dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers."

The first ever Labor Day celebration was scheduled in New York City on the first Monday in September of 1882 but, for one reason or another, was held off for a day (probably called on account of rain) and so the parade and picnic were held instead on Tuesday, September 5, 1882.

Held as an annual "workingmen's holiday", by 1884 labor organizations in other cities joined the celebration.

The first governmental recognition of Labor Day came through local municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886 and from them came a movement to secure state legislation. By 1894, 23 states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers.

In June of that year, in the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the US. military and US. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland made reconciliation with Labor a top
political priority.

Fearing further strikes and riots, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress and unanimously signed into law just six days after the
end of the strike.
Cleveland also signed a bill designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day while hoards of hungry unemployed were marching on Washington to demand relief.

But here in the Keys, the first Monday in September is notorious for only one event. . .
. . .The Labor Day hurricane of 1935.

On September 2, 1935 a category 5 storm made landfall in the upper keys at Islamorada bringing sustained winds of at least 160 mph and storm surge of 18 to 20 feet.

It would be the first of 3 category 5 storms to find their way to the United Sates in the 20th century (the other two being Camille in '69 and Andrew in '92)

Damage from the Labor Day Storm was estimated at $6 million (1935 dollars), it kicked the holy smoke out of Henry Flagler's Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway and took 408 souls. Those, ironically enough, mostly World War I veterans who were "workingmen" along the rail line.

So to close out this post for Labor Day, I'll borrow a line from local songwriter Terry Cassidy's tune,
"Henry and his Railroad". . .

". . .This morning we'll remember what not to forget."

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