Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thurber's Holy Day

By Cameron Mitchell
We all know Labor Day in the United States is the last big celebration as the unofficial end of summer. Officials supervising Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company's town of Thurber, Texas, made sure all of its residents had a great time in the summertime jubilee. Instead of loading the train cars at 6 am for work in the difficult conditions the mines had to offer until 5 pm, workers had this annual three-day weekend off full of rest and recreation. Known as one of the most important days in Thurber, the company's Labor Day festivities acknowledged the hard work and accomplishments of the miners, brick workers, and company staff over the prior year.

Group of men posed beside a union float in Thurber
Thurber's United Mine Workers of America union members
pose for a photo with their Labor Day Float.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
A grand parade was the biggest Labor Day tradition in Thurber. The Labor Day “Queen of Festivities,” usually a beautiful local girl and her “Maids of Honor” led this opening event. There were many decorated parade floats, especially from the local unions. Thousands of spectators lined the street for a view of the fun. The parade route started from the quadrangle, otherwise known as downtown, and continued east on Park Row to the pavilion. Once reaching the pavilion, the area was the scene to a massive community picnic.

Although the area did not have any trees to shade away the Texas summer sun, picnickers of all kinds flocked to the grounds. It seemed like the whole town was in attendance, including: miners and their families, families from nearby counties, and even Texas & Pacific superintendent W. K. Gordon and his wife were getting in on the fun. According to former resident Lilly Gibson, the picnic even hosted air balloon rides in which the balloon would ascend then the wind would "blow 'em across the to...the big mountain where they got the clay for the brick."

Men posed on float in Thurber Labor Day Parade
The parade was a highlight of the Labor Day festivities in Thurber.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
Since it seldom rained in September, the summer heat was great for business because sweltering picnickers were met by barrels of soda pop and pink lemonade for sale with salesmen hawking, "Sweet as honey dew, and cold as ice could make it!” Alcoholic beverages could not be sold at the picnic grounds since the picnic grounds were located in dry Erath County. Barbecue was also sold for those who did not bring a picnic basket. After the picnic, the all-American celebration included baseball exhibition games between Thurber's amateur club and a visiting amateur team.

Carnivals, another Labor Day tradition, also entertained the spectators in Thurber. Company advertisements seeking amusement attractions would fill the classified sections in regional newspapers weeks leading up to the event. This gave the company enough time to book the best acts. According to former resident John Spratt, "crowds flocked to a full array of sideshows filled with freaks, strange animals, and animals." Devices for testing strength flanked shooting galleries and games of chance where carnival barkers called out for the crowd to try their luck.
Crowds of people in downtown Thurber for Labor Day
People flocked to Thurber to participate in Labor Day festivities.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center 




A firework display lit up the West Texas skyline once dusk arrived. Afterwards, a dance ended the day's festivities. Frequently held at the pavilion, the dance featured local and travelling bands ready to play the night away. Overall, Labor Day was the perfect opportunity for the company to encourage its diverse population to engage in these patriotic and Americanizing events. The company intended these festivities would unify the town's residents in order to promote loyalty, safety, and satisfaction among employees.