By the early part of the 20th Century, Labor Day had come to be a recognized part of American life. Columbus, Ohio was no exception to this general trend. To some people – in particular those people who were members of labor unions – the day recognized the long hard struggle of organized labor to seek recognition and a place in American life.
To many others it simply permitted the first Monday in September to become part of three-day weekend. In any case, the holiday marked the end of the summer and was often viewed as an event with little competition. Such, however, was not to be the case in Columbus, Ohio in 1912. Amid a large number of public events of all sorts, Labor Day organizers had to struggle mightily to be noticed at all. For more than a week prior to Labor Day, Columbus had been quite actively marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city.
The Columbus Centennial celebrated the city’s birthday with a daily series of parades, parties and public events. The Centennial Queen and her Court had been announced, President Taft had stopped in for a visit and military veterans from every conflict since the Civil War had been on parade.
The entire week ended with an outdoor religious service that drew more than 5,000 people. One might imagine that a Labor Day holiday might be a nice way to conclude several days of furious celebratory activity in a summer every bit as hot as the summer of 2012 would be 100 years later. But more was to follow on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 1912. The authors of Ohio’s Constitution had more than a little distrust of concentrated power. To insure that power stayed with the people, the Constitution demanded that the people be asked every 20 years whether they desired a Constitutional Convention.
And every 20 years since 1851, the people had been asked. In most cases they had decided a convention was not needed. In 1911, at the high tide of the Progressive Period, the people of Ohio decided they wanted a Constitutional Convention after all. Through the year, the Convention had met and any number of citizens had lobbied for their favorite issues. Now, on Tuesday Sept. 3, these issues would be voted on across the state. Frenzied final efforts to persuade people continued throughout the Centennial Celebration and on Labor Day itself.
Against a background of all of this activity, it might not be too surprising to see Labor Day pushed aside as the race to the ballot box continued. But that did not happen. Labor Day would be remembered – in all of the usual ways. The American Federation of Labor had been founded in Columbus in 1886. Now, in 1912, Samuel Gompers, the legendary president of the AFL returned to Columbus on Labor Day. A parade of somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people welcomed him by marching down High Street accompanied by floats, brass bands, and vendors of various sorts of food and frivolities.
After the parade was over, the marchers and their families traveled by street car to Indianola Park and Nineteenth Avenue and North Fourth Street for the annual Labor Day picnic and a rousing speech by Gompers urging “friends of labor” to vote “yes” on all of the constitutional amendments on the Tuesday ballot. In the evening, he gave a similar speech from the steps of the Statehouse to another large crowd.
Some people left Indianola Park to travel downtown to hear Gompers. Others stayed. Indianola Park was second only to nearby Olentangy Park in the number of attractions it offered to its guests. And it was second to none in having the largest swimming pool in the state of Ohio. The park is gone now. But one can still see how large the pool once was. Travel to Nineteenth and North Fourth and look at the parking lot located there.
The big building was once the bathhouse and all of the asphalt in the lower parking lot was once the swimming pool. While many of the “friends of labor” were celebrating in Columbus, many other people used the long weekend as a great excuse to get out of town. Some people visited distant friends or relatives.
Others went to nearby parks and attractions. But for hundreds of people from central Ohio, Labor Day for many years had been the weekend to go to Buckeye Lake. The local yacht club staged boat races on Labor Day which were usually well-attended. And Buckeye Lake by 1912 was as much an amusement park as a series of summer homes by the lake. On Tuesday, Sept. 3, 1912, the people of Ohio went to the polls.
They approved of the Initiative and Referendum as well Home Rule for Ohio’s cities and towns as well as several other important reforms. They rejected statewide woman suffrage and women would not get the vote until 1920 when an amendment to the Federal constitution was approved. All in all, it had been a rather hectic few weeks in the late summer of 1912. Local historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek.