Happy Labor Day!
As you know, Labor Day is a federal holiday in the USA, which is traditionally regarded as the final day of summer and (in some circles) the last day on which you can tastefully wear either white or seersucker. The day is meant to celebrate the contributions made by workers to America’s economic and social well-being and was first celebrated as a public holiday by the state of Oregon in 1887. It became a federal holiday in 1894.
Labor Day, 1887 happens to be the day on which the picture above (from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery) was taken. The picture depicts the Fireman’s Parade in Union Square, the frequent site of labor rallies over the years. The first Labor Day celebration in New York took place in the square 5 years earlier when a parade of more than 10,000 workers marched up Broadway and past a reviewing stand in Union Square.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the name of the square has nothing to do with the labor movement (or with the Union army or the federal Union). It was named, as the NYC Parks Department website reminds us, for “its location at the intersection—or union—of two major roads in New York City, Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue).”
Like many professors, I associate Labor Day with the start of the school year. It’s the last day before classes begin at NYU and, before last year, a spent a decade’s worth of Labor Days right there in Union Square, since I was living one block away at NYU’s University Hall. This year (like last year), I’m spending Labor Day in Abu Dhabi, where the NYU fall term has already begun (classes began on Sunday since the work week in the UAE is Sunday to Thursday) and it most certainly doesn’t feel like the end of summer: hot and humid weather will continue here for at least another three weeks or so and even then it’ll still feel like summer throughout the months when New York marches through fall, winter, and spring.
I like the picture above because it makes me think of the double-vision with which I’m contemplating Labor Day today. If you’re wondering, however, why there are two pictures of what seems to be the same scene, it’s because the image actually shows us a stereoscopic card. (The picture’s details are available here. The NYPL has a collection of more than 72,000 such cards.) You’d put the card in a stereoscope, perhaps like the one below:
What you’d see is an early version of 3D. The stereoscope was invented in 1838 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, and in the 1850s Oliver Wendell Holmes devised the more economical version pictured above, variants of which remained in production for the next century.
I never had a stereoscope myself. What I had was a Viewmaster, which looked something like this:
You’d put in a round Viewmaster disk, which had 14 little slides at its perimeter. The viewer would then combine pairs of slides into images, seven per reel. You’d rotate the disk (and move from image to image) by pressing the lever on the left. My collection, as I remember it, had lots of travel scenes and a fair number of Disney items.
Sitting here, awash in nostalgia, I’m going to end this post and step away from the computer before I can click over to eBay …