As it were

Labor Day typically hot, happy celebration

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The Columbus Labor Day parade in 1910.

Summer weather in Columbus is not always all that predictable. In some summers when we are supposed to have a lot of rain, we get next to none. In other years, we get a cold snap in August when the rest of the country is sweltering. But of one thing we can be almost certain. It will be hot on Labor Day Weekend.

Labor Day in 1913 was no exception. It was a wonderful clear summer day. And the temperature climbed to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But the heat did little to disparage the day.

Columbus is an interesting town with regard to organized labor. One hundred years ago it was a rather conservative Midwestern capital city that just happened to be the place where the American Federation of Labor was founded in 1886 and the United Mine Workers of America in 1890. Before one begins thinking that Columbus was a hot bed of labor, it should be pointed out that these unions were founded here primarily because Columbus was easy to reach by railroad in those days and many of the delegates to the conventions lived nearby.

By 1913, Columbus was a town with several of its major businesses unionized. Also these years marked the high tide of the Progressive Movement when a variety of reforms from Workman's Compensation to the City Manager form of government were being proposed. It was a time when change seemed to be in the air with advocates of woman's suffrage, the prohibition of the sale of alcohol and an end to child labor all vying for the attention of the public.

And so on Labor Day in 1913, the city proceeded to honor its working people.

The highlight of the day was Labor Day Parade. Local newspapers estimated the number of marchers to be as many as 9,000 persons dressed in clothing appropriate to their work. Butchers wore long leather aprons while carpenters wore tool belts and nail aprons. The stockyard workers wore long linen dusters while the printers of Columbus wore the square paper caps common to their trade. The men marched while the women participants in the parade rode in carriages. The parade was organized into seven divisions and each division was led by a marching band. The combined effect of all those marchers and all that music was impressive indeed.

At noon the parade stepped off and proceeded west along Spring Street from Fourth Street to High Street. The parade turned on High Street and marched to Statehouse Square where speeches were made. This was something of a change from previous years when the Labor Day Parade was followed by a trip by streetcar to a suburban park where the holiday was celebrated with a picnic and even more speeches.

Plans were changed in 1913 because Labor Day happened to fall on the opening day of the week long Ohio State Fair. The fair was held at the Fairgrounds north of Eleventh Avenue and many of the participants in the parade, despite the heat, waited to catch a streetcar to the fair. But many other people -- both participants and observers of the parade -- wanted to do other things.

Labor Day in 1913 was a general holiday for most of the city. Government offices were closed and most major businesses gave their workers the day off. However, a number of places stayed open. Hoping to capture some of the parade participants, most Downtown restaurants and theatres stayed open as did the great amusement parks -- Olentangy Park and Indianola Park.

Other people simply decided to have a good time on a day off from work. A local paper recorded one of those times. "A six year old hopeful who had never really become well-acquainted with his 'pa' because the latter is swallowed up every day in a buzzing factory and on Sunday is too tired to stay very long out of bed, led his elder proudly forth on Monday morning. The young American was clutching an all-day sucker and his father was smoking a long corn cob pipe."

"'After the parade we'll go the Statehouse yard for the speaking, then we'll have ice cream sodas and tonight we'll go the picture show,' the big man was saying. The kid danced a tattoo on the sidewalk, swinging on his father's arm."

"Then a bunch of little muckers came along armed with fishing tackle. The six year old dragged his progenitor into the middle of the sidewalk. 'This is my dad,' he volunteered, boastfully, confronting the gang. 'He's gonna be in the p'rade, 'cause it's Labor Day, and every other day he works.'"

"On Monday the man who is an essential to the machinery of industry, stopped every whirring wheel and stepping into the limelight of society, became introduced to his neighbors and the world. And then, like the kid with the all-day sucker, most people were proud of him."

It was for many people -- a hot but happy day.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.