Our low-expectation holiday

Sep 2, 2016 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

But if you want to stay busy, there's lots to do

I'm gearing up to celebrate Labor Day -- by doing absolutely nothing.

That's one thing that makes Monday's holiday so great. It's a day off without the added expectation of a big get-together or event.

Sure, there are barbecues and trips to parks and baseball games. But compared to Christmas? Thanksgiving? Easter? Labor Day is a walk in the park--in my case, literally, since I'll probably spend most of it outside in the sun on the unofficial last day of summer.

Labor Day has always seemed like quite a modern concept to me, so I was surprised to learn that the holiday has history as far back as the 1880s. First proposed in 1882 by workers in several American labor unions, the day was officially recognized by Oregon in 1887. For the next seven years, dozens more states adopted the holiday, and 1894 saw its recognition by the federal government as a national day off. Labor Day has been on the books for more than a century.

President Grover Cleveland signed that 1894 proposal into law, but he had conflicted reasons for doing it. That same year, two deaths during the national rail workers strike known as the Pullman Strike had caused an uproar; protesters were killed by U.S. military servicemen and U.S. marshals intervening in the strike, and Cleveland felt pressure to appease the unrest by recognizing the contributions that the ever-strengthening union and labor movements made to American life.

However, President Cleveland had another alternative day that he could have chosen: May Day. May 1 was already recognized by many worker unions as a day of protest and activism, and making that date Labor Day would have lent credence to their ideas and recognized their voices. But Cleveland worried that it would also inspire further protests like the Pullman Strike, and wanted to distance the government--and himself--from them at the same time he pacified those involved. So he went with the September date, officially the first Monday in September, instead.

Labor Day is not the end of summer. That date falls on the September Equinox, which comes later in the month--this year, it's on Sept. 22. If you see anybody saying that summer is "officially over," you can breathe a sign of relief. That day won't come for another three weeks.

But Labor Day is often thought of as the unofficial end of summer, because some many things we associate with colder months often begin around this time. Labor Day Weekend coincides generally with the beginning of multiple academic and professional sports seasons, especially football.

On my grad school campus, the University of Iowa plays its first home game Saturday (go Hawks), the Wyoming Cowboys host Northern Illinois in Laramie, and the Riverton Wolverines open at home Friday night. (My undergrad Yale Bulldogs don't play until Sept. 17.) NFL games begin next week. The Broncos have the season opener on Thursday.

Though school has been in session in Riverton for a week already, many districts around the country begin school within a week or so of Labor Day. And it doesn't hurt Labor Day's summer-killing reputation that the weekend outings and sunshine of this holiday feel like the last opportunity many of us will have to revel in summertime weather this year.

What will you do this weekend? There's a rodeo in Shoshoni and a scavenger hunt at South Pass, and the wonders of the Wyoming landscape are all a car ride away at most. The Rockies face the Diamondbacks and the Giants; temperatures are predicted to be in the 80s or 90s around home; the Ranger office, like many businesses, will be closed on Monday.

Head out and enjoy the sunshine on this holiday more than 100 years in the making.


Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Worlshop at the University of Iowa.