Back in Time: Labor Day in 1913 marked by racing, dance contests

What was Labor Day weekend like nearly 100 years ago? The weekly Back in Time feature takes a look.

It was Labor Day — Monday, Sept. 1, 1913 — and James Glenn and Minnie McCarthy were working in Schenectady.

G.M. Miller and Joe Knight were on the job in Saratoga Springs. Trolley car conductors were at their posts in Amsterdam.

It seemed like everyone was on the move. Communities all over the greater Capital Region were celebrating the unofficial end of summer with dances, picnics, parades and sports.

Glenn and McCarthy were on their feet at the Labor Temple Association’s annual picnic at Electric City Park, which had started during the early afternoon. By 9 p.m., more than 1,000 people were on the grounds.

That’s when temple officials decided to start the waltz contest. Sixty people gathered on a dance floor, and judges Louis Hayner, William Chism and Joseph Robinson began tapping shoulders and removing couples from competition. Eventually, only four dancers remained.

“Interest among the friends of the waltzers was at high pitch by this time and the task of the judges was not a light one,” the Schenectady Gazette reported. “Finally, one of the couples displayed some minor faults and the prizes were awarded to James Glenn and Miss Minnie McCarthy.”

All that dancing scored Jim and Minnie a trophy cup and hat pin, respectively.

Running at Saratoga

G.M. Miller and Joe Knight spent part of the day running. Both were thoroughbred horses on the six-race card at Saratoga Race Course.

Twenty thousand people were in the stands and at the rail, watching as Saratoga wrapped up its summer meet. Joe was in the first race and finished out of the money. Mr. Miller won the fourth race, the Labor Day Handicap.

“It was the greatest outpouring of turf followers in recent years and only emphasized the fact that the people want racing as a means of recreation,” the Gazette reported. “The village was jammed with people and in the afternoon at the gate there was such a crowd that the police had difficulty in preserving order.”

Amsterdam day

Cops didn’t have that problem in Amsterdam. The city sponsored its first “Amsterdam Day,” and 20,000 people were in Crescent Park by day’s end.

“From early morning and all through the day, the cars bound for the park were jammed with humanity, the railroad company being overwhelmed by the thousands who tried to ride to the resort,” the Gazette reported. “Every car that the company could possibly put into commission was run . . . a large force of men labored all day to accommodate the people.”

Some people hitched a ride to the park in an automobile or farm wagon. Others just walked.

Athletic turners

Schenectady’s Polish Turners began the day at the city’s former St. Mary’s Polish Catholic Church at Eastern Avenue and Irving Street. The athletic turners then paraded to Brandywine Park, which was off Albany Street opposite Elm Street, where a picnic continued into the night. Feats of gymnastics were on the schedule.

But not for everyone.

“According to custom, none of the Schenectady members was allowed to compete in the events, as the entertaining members never contest against their guests,” the Gazette observed.

Categories: Life and Arts

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