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Nyack People & Places: Labor Day 1918

Nyack Photographer Norman Burke’s photo of the Labor Day parade in 1918. The view is north up Broadway from the intersection with Cedar Hill. Note the sparse crowds attending the parade. The men holding the flag were collecting donations thrown onto the flag.

The first Monday of September was declared a national holiday in 1894. But Labor Day 1918, at which point Americans were used to their three-day weekend, was different. The German army was retreating from the Somme as newly arrived American soldiers tipped the scales toward the Allies. Women were voting in a primary for the first time in New York, as well as running for local office. A National Temperance law was passed by the Senate, prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol starting in June 1919. The Orangeburg fair was in full swing. Nyack was host to a convention of the New York chapter of the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America over the holiday.

Nyack on Labor Day 100 years ago

  • Harrison & Dalley, Nyack’s largest department store, announced a promotion for a Liberty Peach Stone Barrel in their store to collect peach and plum pits, shells from walnuts, hickory nuts and butternuts from villagers. The pits and shells were used in the manufacture of gas masks.
  • Nyack men were asked to wear straw hats for six months of the year to save on felt and fur used in the war effort.
  • Eggs were $.49 a dozen and nut butter $.31 a pound at the New York Butter & Egg Store in Nyack.
  • Sunday driving was restricted to essential vehicles to the detriment of local businesses catering to Sunday tourists from the city.
  • Signal lights were seen between Hook Mountain and a large boat in the middle of the Hudson River on Wednesday night by the captain of the Hastings Guard who gave chase in their provisioned launch. The large boat was never found, and the mystery of the signal lights was never solved.
  • The Broadway Theater in Nyack was showing silent comedies three times a day over the holiday featuring Douglas Fairbanks in The Metromoniac and Mack Sennett’s, Love Loops the Loop.

Former Nyack resident Lieutenant Conrad Crawford killed in battle before Labor Day

Conrad Crawford’s sister, a Red Cross nurse in France, received notice of her 24-year old brother’s death just before Labor Day. Crawford, who grew up in Nyack, died leading an attack on an enemy position on Hill 220 near the Somme in France. Just as his platoon reached the crest, Lieutenant Crawford, who had been urging his men forward, was felled by a machine gun bullet. Crawford had written his parents only a month before that he was under fire for the first time in what he described as a “sound like the end of everything.” Crawford’s brother, Captain Gilbert Crawford, was stationed not far away at the time of his death. Conrad was later memorialized in Nyack’s Memorial Park with one of the ten trees planted for the men from Nyack who lost their lives in WWI.

The next day, women vote for the first time in New York 

Electioneering was hot and heavy over the Labor Day weekend. New York State had passed women’s suffrage on November 6, 1917, some three years before women’s suffrage became the law of the land. The primary was the day after Labor Day. Two women were on the Republican ballot for state representative from Rockland and Richmond counties. Mary Brewer gave a speech at the Orangeburg Fair. Helen F. McKelvey of Monsey was the eventual winner as women came out in droves to vote for her over her Staten Island foe. McKelvey later lost the general election to a Democrat, John A. Lynch.

Labor Day and the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America Parade

Three hundred members of the New York chapter of the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America paraded the streets of Nyack on the first day of their 23rd annual convention. The Patriotic Order was one of the many fraternal, nativist organizations started just before the Civil War, in the wake of the anti-alien riots of 1845-46.  The national organization espoused patriotic causes but was known to be politically similar to the Know Nothings–anti-immigrant, anti-Irish, and anti-Catholic. Members in the late 19th century commonly dressed in military-style uniforms similar to the Knights Templar.
At 10a on Labor Day, a group picture was taken in front of the National Bank in Nyack by local photographer Norman Burke. In the afternoon, several state camps of the organization participated in the parade, some in military uniform. A delegation of the Nyack camp carried a large American flag upon which people tossed nickels and dimes to buy tobacco for soldiers.
Separate from the men, 100 women marched in the parade wearing red, white, and blue dresses with stars upon their heads. The Nyack Evening Journal, in a relatively subdued article the next day, reported the women received wild cheers for their marching and appearance. However, several photos by Norman Burke of the parade show more marchers than viewers, at least from the vantage point at the corner of Broadway and Cedar Hill, where the parade turned toward the Nyack railroad station.

Norman Bruke photo of the Patriotic Order Sons of America parade on Labor Day 1918. The view is looking north on Broadway at Cedar Hill.

Following the parade, on the land known as the government plot where the Nyack Post Office was eventually built, a Red Cross representative gave a speech. A restaurant was set up for conventioneers at no. 3 Broadway by local members. The convention kicked into high gear on Labor Day evening with speeches by organization executives at a meeting in the Fluhr building on Main Street.
It was an unusual Labor Day in wartime Nyack. Politics was in the air. Women were soon to vote and run for office. To cap it off, a patriotic but anti-immigrant organization proudly paraded through mostly empty village streets.
Photo credits: Norman Burke parade photo courtesy of the Nyack Library. The photo of Conrad Crawford courtesy of Jim Leiner.
Michael Hays is a 30-year resident of the Nyacks. He grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has recently retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. He is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

HRHCare Community Health logoNyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by HRHCare and Weld Realty.

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