Labor Day origin mystery

It’s Labor Day weekend — the unofficial end of summer. I’m not ready to give up summer but I’m sure ready for the thermometer to start acting like it’s fall.

Most of my life I’ve never had Labor Day or its bookend holiday Memorial Day off work. In the newspaper business we’ve always been expected to toil ahead. Sure, I got to write stories about people out having fun on Labor Day but my barbeques were squeezed into lunch hours.

The few jobs I’ve had over the years that offered me Labor Day off seemed to come with the caveat of working like a dog the Friday before and the Tuesday after.

Now in my position at the Chamber I will relish the holiday. It’s just a shame that when I was young and full of energy I didn’t have the holiday to water ski, hike or play softball. I think I can muster up the energy for a picnic though. Maybe even a nap.

The first Labor Day in the U.S. was celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882. The guy that came up with the idea was either a carpenter named McGuire or a machinist named Maguire. There was a parade in New York City and a lot of beer kegs afterward and evidently the next morning no one could remember for sure who came up with the idea.

Nothing I’ve read says exactly whether the workers told the bosses they weren’t coming in Monday, the bosses were feeling good and let everyone off or if the boss showed up to work and couldn’t figure out where everyone was until the parade went by.

Everyone had such a great time and productivity surged so much the rest of the week that all agreed to let it happen again the next year.

Individual states began recognizing the holiday and finally in September of 1894, President Grover Cleveland looked around the deserted White House and decided to go with the flow. The bill he signed created a federal holiday for everyone but farmers, newspaper people, convenience store workers and the White House chef.

It always struck me as odd that the two holidays that are fairly arbitrary as far as dates go, just happen to mark the opening bash of summer and the last hurah. Call me suspicious but wouldn’t Labor Day mean more to the laborer if it was tied to a date that means something.

The date these days that means the most to the American worker is probably what has become known as Tax Freedom Day, the day when we’ve earned enough to pay the taxes we owe. The problem here is that that date keeps changing over the years. In the year 1900, it was Jan. 22. Lately it’s been in April.

What we have to worry about with this line of thinking is that Congress and the President might just embrace the idea. Problem is they might figure they could kill two birds with one stone by moving Tax Freedom Day to the first Monday in September.

By laying a bigger tax burden on the worker they could solve the government’s debt crisis and at the same time give us a real reason to celebrate.

I’m sure Will Rogers is rolling over in his grave.