By Shaun Delliskave|[email protected]
Labor Day, at one time, was so widely celebrated in Murray that it was
simply called Murray Day. This year, Murray will continue to host Labor Day
festivities by holding “A Race for all Ages.” The contest is an abbreviated
triathlon using the facilities within Murray Park, with various distances for
youth and adults of all ages.
To some, Labor Day is the official end of summer, but to others, like
Murray City Councilman and former President of the Utah AFL-CIO Dale Cox, the
day is “not just a holiday, but remembering that what makes America great is
its hard-working men and women.” Cox hopes that everyone celebrating on Labor
Day will take a moment to “remember working men and women, whether union or
not, and all they have done for our country.”
First observed in 1882 in New York as a festive day with a parade,
speeches, and picnics; Labor Day was first declared a national holiday in 1884.
The American Federation of Labor union asked all wage earners to observe it, as
“it should be as uncommon for a man to work on Labor Day as on the Fourth of
The prominence of Labor Day in Murray is tied to its history of
organized labor. Today, the Utah Education Association and Utah Public Employees
Association call Murray home, while the Utah Farm Bureau Federation hosts its
largest and oldest farmer’s market at Murray Park. In the early 20th century,
Murray had a large working-class population that supported the smelter
Workers first organized for better wages against the Cahoon
sawmill in June 1899. The Salt Lake Tribune reported, “A strike in this town is
something new… about twenty hands at Cahoon’s sawmill struck for five cents
more an hour… which was finally granted them.” However, the owners balked at
the demand for better hours. This incident stirred the local workforce, and days
later employees at the Highland Boy Smelter went on strike, demanding better
wages and hours, but to no avail.
The following spring at the Germania smelter, one of the
largest labor strikes Utah has ever seen happened, with 600 workers walking off
the job. Sherriff deputies were called to the site with drawn weapons to disperse
a relatively peaceful crowd. The Salt Lake Herald described, “The town of
Murray is clearly in sympathy with the strikers, and should any outbreak occur,
the houses of the people will be at their disposal.” While the strike ended up
failing, it did attract organized labor unions to Utah, including the International
Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW), which brought noted activist Joe Hill to a fateful visit to Murray.
Murray Labor Days going forward consisted of a parade of
thousands marching down State Street and picnics and rallies in Murray Park. In
1926, over 15,000 crammed the brand-new Murray Park for the dedication of a
swimming pool and baseball games.
Murray farmers also organized, under the Farm Bureau, and
held their gathering at Murray Park in 1929. The success of that meeting
persuaded the mayor and city council to declare Labor Day as also Murray Day
with hopes of attracting the farmers to continue to hold their meetings in
As crowds for Murray Day/Labor Day increased, the
organizers for the Salt Lake County Fair took notice and setup permanent fair
facilities within Murray Park, holding the fair concurrent with those days. By
1941, Murray’s Labor Day was part of what the Salt Lake Telegram called the “biggest
celebration in history,” as several labor unions combined to promote the day.
World War II dramatically changed those holidays, as the
smelters would soon shut down and the farms would recede from Murray.
Councilman Cox doesn’t foresee the return of the Labor Days of old, but he still
hopes that residents will reflect on the true value that is the American
More details on the “A Race for all Ages” can be found
online at https://www.murray.utah.gov.