Labor Day: 1882-2019

Labor Day started with a Knights of Labor meeting in New York City. Or maybe American Federation of Labor vice president Peter J. McGuire thought of it.

Either way, the American holiday was launched around 1882. Oregon made it an official public holiday in 1887. It became a Federal holiday in 1894.

Quite a few countries celebrate Labour Day, either with or as International Worker’s Day. Their celebrations are often around the first of May.1

America’s labor holiday might have been then, too; if 1880s politics and my country’s cultural history had been different.


America was going to Hell in a handbasket in the 1880s and 90s.

Or, from another viewpoint, developing a little common sense.

“The Obferation of Christmas having been deemed a Sacrilege, the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings, dreffing in Fine Clothing, Feafting and similar Satanical Practices are hereby FORBIDDEN”
(Public notice deeming Christmas illegal. Boston (1659))

“…They deserve to be cast into Hell….”
“…The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you….”
(“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” pp. 6, 15; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))

“What the Puritans gave the world was not thought, but action.”
(“The Pilgrims” speech, Wendell Phillips (1855))

“…You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
(“A Cross of Gold,” William Jennings Bryan (July 8, 1896))

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
(“A Mencken Chrestomathy,” H. L. Menken (1949))

As I see it, H. L. Menken was a tad unfair in his description of Puritanism. And I’m very glad that the ‘good old days’ aren’t coming back.

Nice Weather and “Satanical Practices”

I’ve read that America’s Labor Day is the first Monday in September because we’re more likely to have nice weather then. That makes sense.

I also suspect Labor Day promoters wanted to avoid tangling with stalwart defenders of yesteryear. Bygone days as seen through rose-colored glasses, at any rate.

And that’s almost another topic.

Let’s see. Where was I? Labor Day. Trade unions. “Satanical Practices.” Loathsome insects. Right.

America’s sometimes-grudging tolerance for folks who aren’t Puritans or at least Calvinist may account for our historically lax attitude toward May Day.

Or maybe Boston banned Maypoles and suchlike “heathenish vanity” along with Christmas. If so, I haven’t found documentation for that blue law.

England’s Cromwell and company were more proactive. Under their guidance, Parliament outlawed the observance of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. And, of course, banned maypoles.

“The Puritans detested May Day because it was rooted in paganism and reminded them of idolatry. Maypoles were banned by parliament on 8 April 1644:

‘And because the profanation of the Lords Day hath been heretofore greatly occasioned by May-poles (a heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness), the Lords and Commons do further order and obtain, that all and singular Maypoles, that are, or shall be erected, shall be taken down and removed.'”
(“The Romantics and the May Day Tradition,” Essaka Joshua (2007) via Google Books)

But all good — and not-so-good — things pass. After killing Charles I, establishing a Commonwealth and then The Protectorate, the Interregnum lost steam.2

Good grief. I’m wandering off-topic again.

May Day

I’m not particularly upset that some folks celebrate May Day and dance around maypoles.

I’m okay with Easter eggs and Christmas trees, too. Maybe I’ll talk about that, and why jack-0′-lanterns don’t horrify me, around Halloween. Then again, maybe not.

My guess is that America’s Labor Day — I’m back to that, finally — isn’t near May Day partly because of the Haymarket affair.

And partly because of May Day’s “heathenish” associations. Maybe.

The Haymarket affair started in Chicago on May 4, 1886.

The Haymarket Affair

The Haymarket affair started when peaceful rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square took a bad turn.

Methodist preacher, socialist, anarchist and labor activist Samuel Fielden — that’s quite a portfolio — had just finished his speech when police showed up.

Lots of police.

They were dispersing the crowd when someone threw a bomb. We don’t know who.

Throwing the bomb may or may not have had something to do with the police killing eight workers the previous day.

The bomb killed policeman Mathias J. Degan and six other officers. Then the police opened fire on the crowd. Understandably, I suppose.

The New York Times and others said folks at the rally started shooting at the police.

What’s more certain is that Chicago’s police scored four kills and winged at least 70 other folks. The exact numbers are uncertain. Some folks probably got friends and neighbors to treat their wounds.

Remember, this was 1886. Folks wounded at the rally might have thought they’d be arrested if they went to a doctor or hospital. And Americans were still getting used to doctors who occasionally washed their hands. (October 30, 2016; October 14, 2016)

Newspapers, business leaders and the judicial system leaped into action. Citizens were told that anarchists caused the “riot.”

The powers that be suspended legal inconveniences like search warrants. Law enforcement collected dozens of suspects. Eight were tried and convicted.

Five were German-born immigrants. One was born in America, with German ancestors. One was a British-American, another was British. Some were hanged, slowly. One committed suicide. Opinion’s divided on whether and how justice was served.3

Living in the 21st Century

More than a century has passed since the Haymarket affair and W. J. Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech.

I figure that many folks know Labor Day honors the labor movement. And for most of us it’s also the unofficial end of summer.

Working eight hours a day, five days a week, became widely accepted. Workers, blue-collar and otherwise, often get medical insurance and other benefits besides their paycheck.

I think life in America is better for many folks now, compared to the 19th century. I’m also quite sure this isn’t a perfect society. We have real issues and bogeymen, and folks with more zeal than sense.

But as I’ve said before, I’m glad the ‘good old days’ aren’t coming back.

There’s more to say about work, social justice and the common good. A great deal more. But that will wait for another day.

Besides — I’ve talked about some of that, and natural law, before:

1 A holiday by any other name…:

2 Cracking down on “heathenish vanity” and all that:

3 Remembering Haymarket:

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“Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story”

Nancy H. C. Ward’s “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” has been in print and available on since April, 2019.

Back cover blurbs include Lisa Hendey’s “an enjoyable template for the challenge of evangelization” and Gary Zimak’s “a book that needed to be written.”

“Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” is a big deal for me, too. It’s the first time I’ve had a byline in print since I wrote articles for the Red River Valley Historical Society’s Heritage Press. That was in the 1970s.

Evangelizing: Tools, Tips and Why it Matters.

Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story: Tools, Tips, and TestimoniesSharing Your Catholic Faith Story: Tools, Tips, and Testimonies by Nancy H.C. Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title says, Nancy H. C. Ward’s book gives you “tools, tips and testimonies.”

The first half opens with a definition of “faith story” and discussion of why evangelizing matters, and ends with an “Ask Yourself” section. So do the rest of Part 1’s chapters.

‘Tools and tips’ start with Chapter 4, “Start with Your Spiritual Journal.” This chapter has two “Ask Yourself” sections, one at the end and another before the “Best Practices for Keeping a Spiritual Journal” section.

I’m one of those folks who hasn’t kept a journal: spiritual or otherwise. Journaling seems like a very good idea. That’s why I’ve tried keeping a journal. “Tried” being the key word. So far, journaling is something that I haven’t been able to do.

That’s a tad frustrating, since Spiritual Journal is the first of five points covered in Chapter 7, “Five Tools for Stirring the Waters of Christian Testimony”. The other four are Timeline of Faith Events, Faith Biography, Formal Testimony and Elevator Speech.

But it’s not all that frustrating, since Ward explains why the five tools are important. Basically, they’re — for most folks — pretty good ways of organizing ideas.

As she says: “…You don’t need to memorize word-for-word the facts of your faith story or your elevator speech. Just spontaneously give the highlights of how you became a Catholic, or why you returned to or remain in the Church. Be ready to elaborate….”

A 10-Point List

We run into another list in Chapter 9, “Gentleness and Reverence: Tips for Sharing Your Faith Story:”

  1. Be specific, not vague
  2. Speak in the listener’s language
  3. Speak with substance, not just emotion
  4. Speak the truth
  5. Keep focused
  6. Avoid self-righteousness
  7. Don’t pick apart other people, churches, or ministries
  8. Stick to your part of the story
  9. Discretely avoid sordid details
  10. Relax. Speak matter-of-factly

Those ten points make sense to me: not just for sharing why I’m a Catholic, but in almost any sort of conversation.

I’ve run into Catholics, and others, who did pretty much the opposite of what’s recommended here. And that’s another topic.

“Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story’s” Part 2 is thirty “testimonies:” including mine.

A Motley Gallimaufry

We’re a motley bunch: an atheist-turned-Catholic, cradle Catholics, a former Mormon and previously-Protestant Catholics. I’m in the last category.

A few of the other 29 folks have a “faith story” that’s a bit like mine, more intellectual than emotional.

Others are, by my standards, brimming with bubbly effervescence.

Like I said, we’re a motley bunch. What we have in common is a love for and acceptance of Jesus.

I plan on reviewing “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” after what I’ll call a cooling-off period. Who knows? I might even start a spiritual journal: and stick with it.

(Adapted from my GoodReads review. View all my reviews)

“Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story:” Contributor Links

Each testimony in “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” ends with a biographical sketch; maybe a hundred words. Some sketches include the person’s blog.

After a little checking, I found that 16 contributors have blogs or other online content. 17, counting the one you’re reading, my A Catholic Citizen in America:

And here are the inevitable links to more A Catholic Citizen in America posts:

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Death Came to Dayton

Saturday night had been Sunday morning for just over an hour when death came to a street in Dayton, Ohio.

A young man killed eight folks who had been outside a bar.

He’s dead. too. Probably killed by police.

One of the killer’s victims was his sister.

Maybe she was an intended victim.

Maybe she’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She had been a student at Wright State University. Another student also died. So did a machinist, a mother of two and a father of four.1

Looking for Answers

We know who, how, where and how many were killed.

The crime’s “why” is another matter. The killer is dead, so investigators can’t ask him.

One of the biggest puzzles is why he killed his sister. They’d been together earlier in the evening, along with another young man.

A USA Today article says that the killer hit his first victim in an alley before moving on to the street where he killed his sister and other folks.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl says it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t have recognized his own sister — and hard to believe that he’d deliberately kill her.

Maybe he shot first and noticed his victim’s faces later.

Maybe recognizing his sister’s body filled him with remorse, and that’s why he killed himself. Assuming that reports of his being shot by police were wrong. That’s not such a wild assumption, given what happened at last week’s Garlic Festival.

We’re also reading the familiar expressions of grief, and accounts of the killer’s fascination with violence.2

Placing Blame

I’ve seen several explanations for last weekend’s killings in Dayton.

Some blame technology: video games or guns. Apparently nobody’s blaming cars, although the killer used an automobile.

Others say gay marriage advocates caused the killings. Or that the true villain is the American president.

I’ve yet to see Ned Peppers Bar fingered as the culprit.

Which is odd, considering America’s bluenose traditions. Or maybe not so much.

Times change. As more Americans realized what Prohibition was really like, slogans like “The Saloon Must Go” lost their power.

the Anti-Saloon League repackaged itself as the American Council on Alcohol Problems, and that’s another topic.3

I’m pretty sure what America needs is not tougher video game control laws or a crackdown on political activists. And that nobody forced a young man to kill folks in Dayton.

I also think that what he did was wrong, and that he is at least partly responsible for pulling the trigger.

My views are somewhat countercultural. As a complete set, at any rate.

Taking Responsibility

I think murder is wrong. Most folks would almost certainly agree.

But I’m not sure how much agreement there is on why it’s a bad idea.

I see murder as deliberately killing an innocent human being. It’s wrong because human life is sacred, a gift from God. Each of our lives matters. Age or health isn’t a factor. Being human is. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258, 2261, 2268-2283)

Seeing the killer as a person whose life is precious isn’t easy. Not for me, anyway.

But easy or not: I must remember that the young killer is as human as I am.

What we do, who we are and where we live don’t change that. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 19321933, 1935)

Acknowledging responsibility matters.

I decide what I do with my life. I can try helping or hurting others. We all can. (Catechism, 17011709, 2258)

I’m happy that more folks weren’t killed outside that bar. Relieved might be a better word. But, assuming that early reports that the killer was in turn killed by police are accurate, I’m glad that he was stopped before ending more lives.

Ideally, police could use technology filling the gap between words and bullets. Stun guns made the transition from science fiction to commercial production a few decades back, and that’s yet another topic.4

I don’t envy those who must decide whether to use lethal force or let a killer continue ending innocent lives.

I’d like living in a world where violent individuals could be stopped without killing them. Or, ideally, in a world where some folks never decided to commit murder.

This isn’t an ideal world, so I think that defending innocent lives, using the least force necessary, is okay: even if that action results in the attacker’s death. (Catechism, 22632267)

Remembering Love

The last I heard, we don’t know why a young man decided to kill folks in Dayton.

Motives for mass murders in an El Paso Walmart and the Gilroy Garlic Festival seem a bit clearer.5

Possibly because those mass murders fit currently-accepted expectations. That’s a can of worms I’ll leave for another day.

Motives matter. So do circumstances. But some things are wrong, no matter what. “I meant well” doesn’t make bad ideas okay. (Catechism, 17351736, 17501754, 1759)

And some things are right, no matter what.

I should love God and my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism, 1789)


1 Saturday night death:

2 Facts, puzzles and questions:

3 Attitudes and opinions:

4 Less-than-lethal force:

5 Death in Dayton:

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“One Small Step” in a Long Journey

“A journey of a thousand li starts with a single step.”
(Tao Te Ching,” Laozi)

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
(Neil Armstrong)

I figure the journey to Earth’s moon began when someone looked up and wondered what this world’s “lesser light” might be. Uncounted ages, most likely, before folks like Laozi and Thales of Miletus added their thoughts to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge.

Thales of Miletus gets credit for figuring out that Earth’s moon is roughly spherical. So does Anaximander, depending on who’s talking. Those two lived about two and a half millennia back.

A century later, Anaxagoras said Earth’s moon was earthy, made of the same sort of stuff we stand on. He was right about that. Other details in his cosmology, not so much.

Anaxagoras was born in Klazomenai, Ionia: part of the Persian Empire. He was in Athens when Socrates lived there. Maybe they knew each other, maybe not.

Anaxagoras had a long and successful academic career in Athens until he was charged with impiety and sentenced to death. I can see the Athenian court’s point. Anaxagoras had said that natural phenomena weren’t supernatural.

My guess is that his legal trouble came from associating with the wrong sort: from the court’s viewpoint. Pericles, a friend and former student of Anaxagoras, was plunging Athens into chaos and disorder — threatening the status quo, at any rate.

Being friends with Pericles may have earned Anaxagoras the death penalty. On the ‘up’ side, Pericles helped Anaxagoras get out of Dodge. Make that Athens.

I’m willing to think maybe the powers that be either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, legally exile someone for having the wrong friend: but could make an “impiety” charge stick. Sort of like Al Capone’s income tax evasion conviction, but not quite.1

Pericles, Plutarch and Politics

I gather that the Athenian establishment weren’t interested in Anxagoras, apart from his usefulness in their anti-Pericles efforts.

Athenian citizens knew that Pericles was a friend and former student of Anaxagoras.

Shaming Anxagoras should have discredited Pericles. Maybe it did, among defenders of yesteryear.

I’m not sure why guilt by association and ad hominem attacks are perennial favorites, and that’s another topic.

A few years after the Anaxagoras trial, protectors of Athenian heritage charged Pericles with misappropriation of public funds and imperiling private property.

They failed.

The Delian League became an Athenian empire. Athens became a center of wealth, influence and culture. Pericles got credit for ushering in a golden age.

That may help explain why Aristarchus of Samos didn’t get in trouble for saying that Earth might go around our sun. He also figured Anxagoras was right about the stars: that they were distant suns.

Aristotle’s cosmology put Earth in the center. At the bottom, more accurately. Maybe his ideas were more intuitive. Heliocentic cosmologies popped up occasionally, like Seleucus of Seleucia’s model: which we know about mainly because Plutarch mentioned it.2

A millennium after Plutarch’s day, Aristotle was a metaphorical rock star for many European academics. Being impressed with Aristotle’s logic and analysis was okay. Saying that Earth was the only world because Aristotle said so, not so much.

Proposition 27/219 of the Condemnation of 1277 has been rescinded, but the principle still holds. God’s God, Aristotle’s not.

Four and a half back, Copernicus delayed publication of his heliocentric hypothesis partly to avoid “babblers.” Can’t say that I blame him.

European politics boiled over a generation later. Natural philosophers started being called “scientists” after William Whewell coined the word in an 1834 book review, and I’m getting ahead of the story.3


Lucian wrote “A True Story” when the Five Good Emperors ruled Rome.

Lucian’s novel describes his voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules. After visiting a wildly improbable island, a whirlwind takes him and his companions to Earth’s moon.

An interplanetary conflict is in progress: complete with gargantuan war-spiders.

Peace breaks out, Lucian does some sight-seeing, and returns to Earth. Then he’s swallowed by a 200 mile long whale. Fish-people in the whale attack Lucian’s party, and the adventure continues.

“A True Story” is a novel, space opera and/or satire. I think literary types who say it doesn’t quite fit current genres are right. In any case, it’s the earliest tale involving travel to Earth’s moon that I’ve run across.

The earliest Wu Gang stories we have come from Tang Dynasy, our ninth century. Interestingly, the moon in these stories is a place, not a deity. Wu Gang is endlessly cutting down a lunar tree or forest, which endlessly grows back.

“The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” is another tale where the moon is a place, not a person. It’s a 10th-century Japanese story based on folklore. I can see it as myth or science fiction of the ‘alien among us’ variety.

Ludovico Ariosto’s 1516-1532 “Orlando Furioso” has Orlando riding Elijah’s flaming chariot to the Moon: which in this story is an attic of sorts, where lost things go.

Kepler’s 1608 “Somnium” and Francis Godwin’s “The Man in the Moone,” written in the 1620s, have their heroes fly to the moon via daemons in “Somnium,” a bird-powered craft in “…Moone.” Seeing them as early science fiction makes sense.4

I’m not so sure about “Olrando….” Seeing the moon as a land of lost things strikes me as mythical than legendary. And that’s yet another topic.

Cool Heads and Flying Gas Pipes

A concerned citizen’s 1920 op-ed in The New York Times warned against encouraging crackpots, or perhaps charlatans, like Robert Goddard.

The warning came too late.

Goddard had already patented a multi-stage rocket in 1914: U.S. Patent 1,102,653.

Smithsonian grants helped him develop and fly the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. Some officials in America’s Weather Bureau thought that launching instruments into the upper atmosphere made sense.

But for the most part, cooler heads prevailed. Apart from the Smithsonian grants and limited wartime research, few tax dollars were wasted on Goddard’s “absurd” research.

Guggenheim sponsorships in the 1930s helped Goddard set up a test range in New Mexico.

A European war was boiling over in 1940, when Goddard and others tried telling the Army and Navy what rockets could do.

They were ignored. Except for two young officers, who convinced Navy brass that developing jet-assisted take-off (JATO) was a good idea.

Germany’s V-2 warheads began arriving in Paris and London in 1944.

British leaders sprang into action, informing citizens that England was experiencing a rash of gas pipe explosions.

That story lasted until Englishmen noticed mangled rocket parts near the craters. I’m not sure when the things stopped being called “flying gas pipes.” The war ended in 1945. The Allies won.

When the dust settled, American forces grabbed enough parts to build about 80 V-2 missiles. Along with German engineers who could put them together.

The Soviet Union ended up with V-2 production facilities, which they moved farther into their territory.5

“This is a Wild Supposition”

Life goes on, even during wars. August of 1944 was no exception. National and entertainment news that month included a Philadelphia transit strike and Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Swinging on a Star.”

Amateur and professional astronomers might have noticed this item:

“There are many experts who believe … that the day may not be far distant when we shall be exploring outer space in person — possibly 500 years from now, possibly in 1,000 years. Some think it may come even sooner than that, after the war perhaps, when men’s minds will turn once more to the peacetime utility of rockets and rocket ships. Perhaps, they say, before some now alive have died, rocket-liner trips to the moon may be a common daily performance. This is wild supposition, not scientific statement. But there are those who believe it.”
(Marian Lockwood, Sky and Telescope (August 1944))

Seven and a half decades later, rocket-liner trips to the moon aren’t routine. On the other hand, today’s question isn’t whether we can reach the moon. It’s when we should return.

Folks like Tsiolkovsky, Hohmann, Oberth and Goddard had been discussing rockets and space travel since the late 19th century.6

So how come Marian Lockwood called the idea “wild supposition?”

Dreamers and Scientists

“…ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That’s because ninety percent of everything is crud….”
(attr. Theodore Sturgeon, Venture Science Fiction (March 1958))

I think folks who deplore science fiction’s intellectual wasteland have a point. So do those who praise the genre as an inspiration for tomorrow’s best minds.

For every cover featuring a Noordung space station and “The Black Cloud,” there’s a mercifully-forgotten mass of potboilers and bobble-head Martians.7

That’s probably why Collier’s carefully explained that their “conquest of space” articles were “serious fact.”

“…What you will read here is not science fiction. It is serious fact. Moreover, it is an urgent warning that the U.S. must immediately embark on a long-range development program to secure for the West ‘space superiority.’ If we do not, somebody else will. That somebody else very probably would be the Soviet Union….”
(“What are we Waiting For?” Editors, Colliers (March 22, 1952) via

Two thirds of a century later, terms like “conquest of space” and “space superiority” may seem quaint. At best.

Maybe, if America and the Soviet Union hadn’t seen public relations value in reaching the moon, someone would have followed the plan outlined in Collier’s. Eventually.

I still think it would have made more sense to build a semi-permanent low Earth orbit station first. Instead, American engineers designed and built the Saturn V.

And that’s yet again another topic, for another day.


I haven’t seen “space superiority” given as a reason to explore other worlds for some time.

These days, the Noah’s Ark scenario is more popular: giving humanity a chance for survival after a terrestrial catastrophe. Some folks say space exploration is good idea because it helps the economy. Or encourages technological innovation.

I figure they’ve got a point.

I’m also pretty sure we’ll keep exploring space because we’re human.

In a sense, the first step of our journey to Earth’s moon began when someone decided to see what’s over the next hill.

What’s changed in my lifetime is that “the next hills” are now on other worlds.

I don’t think exploring this universe will make us more — or less — likely to acknowledge God’s work and our nature.

But I don’t see a problem with looking at “the whole universe” from another angle.

“What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
“Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.”
(Psalms 8:5–6)

“Terrible and awesome are you,
stronger than the ancient mountains.”
(Psalms 76:5)

“Yours are the heavens, yours the earth;
you founded the world and everything in it.”
(Psalms 89:12)

“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance,
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
(Wisdom 11:22)

More of my take on humanity’s current horizon:

1 Early steps:

2 Philosophers and politics:

3 Two millennia, briefly:

4 Folklore, myth and stories:

5 20th century, mostly:

6 1944 retrospective:

7 Science and fiction:

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