There was a time in Atlanta when Labor Day meant more than a long weekend marking the end of summer. One hundred years ago, the city virtually shut down to honor the skilled and unskilled laborers with parades, barbecues, sporting events, a grand ball and other entertainment.
Various local unions and labor groups staged a huge parade with bands and floats. Trade union mem-bers, 5,000 strong, marched and represented everything from horseshoers to carpenters, textile workers, telegraphers, those in the building trades and metalworkers. The governor, mayor, chief of police and other politicians took part as did various local bands, including the Fifth Regiment Band from Fort McPherson. There were also elaborate floats provided by local retailers.
The theme in 1914 was peace, perhaps because of the bitter fighting going on in Europe that summer as what was to be known as World War I began.
“While armies of war clashed in Europe, labor unions, the peace corps of America, united in a peace ju-bilee,” one writer commented.
Although there were certainly serious aspects to Atlanta’s 1914 Labor Day, most citizens devoted them-selves to food, celebrations and entertainment. All the theaters and playhouses remained open with silent mov-ies based on works by Jack London and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for 10 cents and 5 cents a seat at the Grand. The Atlanta Theater featured “Mutt and Jeff in Mexico,” billed as “One Big Cyclone of Laughter” suitable for the whole family. There were also plays and vaudeville acts at the Lyric, Bijou and Forsyth with extra Labor Day matinees and a “Ladies Free Monday.”
Naturally, participants played baseball. After the big parade, amateur teams matched up at Grant Park where the “laborers” held a huge barbecue. At Ponce de Leon Park, the minor-league team Atlanta Crack-ers hosted the Mobile Sea Gulls in a double header “to honor those who toil.” It was also part of a desper-ate last minute effort to win the pennant for 1914. The Crackers won both games but would lose the pen-nant to the Birmingham Barons.
The long day of revelry, sport, food and entertainments ended late at night with the grand ball in the City Auditorium. Dancing and music finalized the labor festivities as prizes were awarded to winning parade floats and unions with the largest turnout.