Many of you have requested another quiz. So, here goes. See if you can discern the identity of the famous person described below. I tried to give reasonable hints, although some may prove to be difficult.

1. Rapper and acting role in “Charlie’s Angels.” My real name is James Todd Smith.

a. Jay Z
b. Tupac Shakur
c. LL Cool J
d. Fitty Cent

2. Prussian statesman credited with unifying Germany.

a. Otto Von Bismarck
b. King Wilhelm I
c. Kaiser William I
d. Count Metternich

3. Renowned vaudeville straight-man from Asbury Park, NJ.

a. William Abbott
b. Dick Martin
c. Bob Hope
d. Bing Crosby

4. “I’d rather be in Philadelphia.

a. Charlie Chaplin
b. Lou Costello
c. Totie Fields
d. WC Fields

5. Fifteenth President of the US. Only bachelor, and only one from PA.

a. Andrew Jackson
b. James Buchanan
c. William Henry Harrison
d. Andrew Johnson

6. English monarch with longest reign.

a. Elizabeth I
b. Elizabeth II
c. Queen Victoria
d. King Henry VIII

7. Defeated Napolean at Waterloo.

a. Admiral Lord Nelson
b. Sir Walter Raleigh
c. Lord James
d. Lord Gladstone

8. The first horse to win the Triple Crown.

a. Silky Sullivan
b. Sir Barton
c. Citation
d. Much Macho Man

9. Member of “Rat Pack” from Steubenville, OH.

a. Sammy Davis, Jr.
b. Joey Bishop
c. Don Rickles
d. Dean Martin

10. Best selling author of horror and suspense novels from Maine. Also, a big Red Sox fan.

a. Stephen King
b. Dean Koontz
c. James Patterson
d. Brad Thor

11. Ne’er do well actress from Long Island.

a. Elizabeth Taylor
b. Lindsay Lohan
c. Sandra Bullock
d. Emma Watson

12. Entertainer known for frugality.

a. Jackie Gleason
b. George Burns
c. Jack Benny
d. Jackie Mason

13. TV personality best known as co-host of “Today Show.”

a. Norah O’Donnell
b. Hugh Downs
c. Regis Philbin
d. Brit Hume

14. AKA “The Merchant of Venom.”

a. Rodney Dangerfield
b. Jack E. Leonard
c. Alan King
d. Don Rickles

15. Best known as the “Lone Ranger.”

a. James Arness
b. Hoot Gibson
c. Clayton Moore
d. Chuck Connors

16. Only US President elected to two NON-CONSECUTIVE terms.

a. Grover Cleveland
b. James K. Polk
c. Teddy Roosevelt
d. Samuel Tilden

17. Late night TV host who got his start on “xxxxx Cellar.”

a. Jack Paar
b. Jay Leno
c. Johnny Carson
d. Steve Allen

18. “Casablanca” actor who frequently portrayed sinister characters.

a. Humphrey Bogart
b. Peter Lorre
c. Claude Raines
d. Lon Chaney, Jr.

19. Producer and director of films and tv shows who directed “Jaws” and “Duel.”

a. Ken Branagh
b. Robert Mandel
c. James Cameron
d. Steven Spielberg

20. Host of “GE Theatre” and “Death Valley Days.”

a. Garry Moore
b. Arthur Godfrey
c. Ronald Reagan
d. Ed McMahon

ANSWERS: 1. (c), 2 (a), 3. (a) (better known as “Bud.”), 4. (d), 5. (b), 6. (c), 7. (a), 8. (b), 9. (d), 10. (a), 11. (b), 12. (c), 13. (b),
14. (d), 15. (c), 16. (a), 17. (c), 18. (b), 19. (d), 20. (c)


Please let me know how you did.



Let’s get the easy part out of the way first. Most of us can agree that the actions of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Kevin Hardy, Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer, among others, were despicable, cowardly, very likely criminal, and have no place in our society. There are many aspects of these incidents, but in the interests of time and space I will focus on three of them: (1) the actions, or inactions, of Roger Goodell and the NFL, (2) what is the appropriate football-related penalty, and (3) how these incidents relate to how men, in general, treat women and children in our society.

Regarding the Ray Rice incident, as more and more evidence comes to light, there seems to be little doubt that the NFL and/or the Baltimore Ravens acted improperly. Ray Rice was a star and the face of the Ravens franchise. As such, he appears to have received “star” treatment. A marginal player might very well have been treated more harshly. Both the team and the league knew considerably more in February and in the intervening months than the public has been led to believe. We don’t know what Roger Goodell knew personally or what he merely suspected. I believe that he was shielded intentionally by subordinates to give him plausible deniability. The same is true for the owner of the Baltimore Ravens. This is a time-honored tactic among leaders everywhere. Former President Harry Truman famously declared “the buck stops here.” In reality, in most cases, the buck never even gets to the President’s Office.

According to “Outside the Lines,” which has done an extremely thorough job of reporting on this incident, Messrs. Goodell and Biscotti both assiduously avoided actually viewing the video or even obtaining firsthand information from those who did see it, such as Ray Rice’s lawyer or the mysterious NFL staff person who supposedly received it. Thus, Mr. Goodell had “cover” to impose only a two game penalty. In any event, I maintain that a leader should not and cannot ever use willful blindness as an excuse. It’s a leader’s responsibility to be cognizant of problems and potential problems, and if he is not, that is an indication of weakness, if not downright incompetence. That goes not only for Commissioner Goodell but also for any leader from President Obama on down to the shift supervisor on the assembly line.

There now seems little doubt that Mr. Goodell engaged in willful blindness to minimize the impact on a star player who had become the face of the Ravens franchise, hence the initial decision to impose only a two-week suspension. Mr. Biscotti was also close to Mr. Goodell and a strong supporter. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of us, the second video surfaced eventually.

Those who have been condemning Mr. Goodell for willful blindness and demanding he resign should be mindful that Mr. Obama has been using it as an excuse for six years. With respect to every scandal, including the IRS targeting certain groups for political reasons, the Benghazi massacre, NSA surveillance, and the Obamacare rollout, to name a few, his response has been “I didn’t know,” or “I heard about it on the news.” Ironic and inconsistent, but that’s a subject for another blog on another day. I especially have a bone to pick with women’s advocacy groups, such as NOW, that have been vociferous about these incidents but have heretofore been strangely silent on domestic violence as a whole, especially in the Muslim world. That inconsistency bothers me. Where has the outrage been before now?

Let’s all keep in mind that Mr. Goodell has taken corrective action. He (1) apologized, (2) launched an internal investigation, and (3) announced that the NFL would be implementing a new players’ personal conduct policy. One can argue that he didn’t go far enough or get specific enough, but I say give the NFL time to get it right. For one thing, they have to get the players’ union, whose job is to protect players’ rights, on board.

What would be the appropriate football-related penalty in these types of cases? I have heard many opinions ranging all the way up to a lifetime ban. It’s an emotional subject. To me, the main issue to iron out is that not all incidents are equal. Is it a first offense or part of a pattern? Has the player actually been indicted, convicted by a jury or merely accused? False accusations may not be the norm, but they do occur. Remember the Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, and Duke Lacrosse cases. It is not one size fits all. Take the time to get it right.

Most of us can agree that these incidents are not limited to the NFL, or even to athletes in general. Rather, they are indicative of and consistent with a broader domestic abuse problem in our society as a whole. Football is a violent game and the NFL can be a violent place. In addition, most players, in order to be successful, develop a violent, aggressive edge when they play that is not easily turned off when they leave the field. I am not making excuses, just stating the situation. I am not cognizant of any conclusive evidence that the issue is more prevalent in the NFL than in society as a whole. One can argue that the high profile of the league and its players has created the impression that it is. Additionally, much of the domestic abuse among lower profile persons is not reported to the authorities for various socio-economic reasons.


Mr. Goodell has stated he has not considered resigning. I don’t think that his actions or inactions to date have risen to the level where he should lose his job. He has the backing of the owners, who are his employers, including John Mara, Robert Klein, and Art Rooney, three of the more influential ones. He made a mistake, and he has apologized for it and commenced corrective actions. We have all made mistakes in our lives. Americans believe in second chances. Let’s wait and see what happens prospectively.

The only thing that could cause Mr. Goodell to lose his job would be a revolt by the sponsors. That would impact the league’s revenue stream. That is highly unlikely. So far, the sponsors have been willing to let the NFL work through this. Yes, a few like Anheuser Busch and Pepsi, have expressed concern, but there is very little chance that they or any other sponsor will cease advertising with the NFL. Can you imagine an executive of one of those companies having the temerity to recommend dropping the NFL to his boss? That would be a non-starter. There is too much money to be made, and a competitor would be perfectly willing to replace them. The NFL brand is too popular and too lucrative. People love to watch it, gamble on it and play fantasy football. After all, we all know it’s all about money in this world.

As long as the NFL is perceived to be working on a solution most people will be satisfied, and I predict they will reach a satisfactory resolution in due course. Also, my cynical side says that eventually some high-profile celebrity will do something stupid to attract the media, and the public will move on.


This story should come with a warning label. NOT reading it could be hazardous to your health, or even your life. It should scare the s**t out of every American who assumes that he is safe. Most of us live our lives in a law-abiding manner. We are honest, work hard, obey the law, raise our children, provide for our families as best we can, don’t bother anyone, and try to do the right thing in our daily lives. In return, we want and expect the government to protect us, to keep us safe from criminals and terrorists.

Probably, most of you have never heard off Brendan Tevlin. Who was he? By all accounts, he was a kid any parent would be proud of. He was a straight “A” student in high school, athletic, popular. He did all the right things that we hope and expect from our children. Friends referred to him as a “model citizen.” He only made one mistake in his life. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the night of June 25 Brendan, home on college break, was on his way home from a friend’s house when he was set upon and murdered by four men. He was shot eight times while sitting in his car at a stoplight in West Orange, NJ. The police, his family, his friends, and the community as a whole were unable to determine a motive. Finally, the Essex County prosecutor, unable or unwilling to characterize it differently, concluded that Brendan was targeted specifically. CBS news reported that conclusion. Was this a whitewash? Perhaps. The unmistakable implication was that either Brendan knew his murderers or it was a drug deal gone bad. Supposedly, we could now all rest easy. It was just another case of a middle class white kid associating with the wrong people, possibly buying drugs, and paying the ultimate price. Nothing for the rest of us to worry about. We could all go on with our lives.

But, not so fast. On July 18 West Orange police arrested Ali Muhammed Brown in connection with another crime. In the course of his interrogation he confessed not only to Tevlin’s murder but also to three others in Washington State. Mr. Brown, an American citizen and a Muslim, offered, as his motive, revenge for the US’s killing Muslims overseas. So, apparently, what we have is four documented cases of domestic terrorism committed in revenge.


Folks, we can no longer ignore the fact that, to paraphrase Reverend Wright, terrorism has come home to roost. We have seen several examples in the last few years: the Fort Hood shootings, the Boston marathon attack, and these murders, to name a few. The fact that law enforcement and the government have characterized them in more sanguine terms for whatever reasons is irrelevant and misleading. These crimes are frightening for their randomness. These victims were not people who knew they were putting themselves in harm’s way, such as a soldier or a journalist. They were normal, regular people, like you and me. Any marathon spectator could have been at the finish line when the bombs went off. Any one us could have been the person sitting in his car minding his own business and been brutally murdered.

I am not suggesting that we live our lives in constant fear, always looking over our shoulder, constantly suspicious of strangers, seeing terrorists under our bed and around every corner. We should be vigilant, but not paranoid. But, the main thing is we should demand that law enforcement and the government tell us the truth. The facts clearly demonstrate that domestic terrorism is no longer a hypothetical. Regardless of what the government is claiming, it is a fact, and the perpetrators are American citizens. Let me repeat, these terrorists, and let’s call them terrorists, not radicals, were born here, live here, look like us and speak like us. In many ways, they are us. That is what is so scary. That is why I said this story comes with a warning label. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, “Are you going to believe what [the government] tell[s] you or what you see with your own eyes?”


We all use and are familiar with certain odd-sounding phrases, such “an arm and a leg,” “one fell swoop,” and “nick of time,” to name a few. Many of the words that comprise these phrases make no literal sense individually, but, nevertheless, most of us comprehend their meaning collectively. I have often been curious as to their derivation and development. In some cases, the origination is fairly clear and logical; in others, it is murky and controversial. Often, the earliest usage could only be confirmed back to when the phrase first appeared in writing, such as in a newspaper, a poem or a novel. Other times, it could be traced back even further by a verbal history, such as oft-repeated legend or superstition. In any event, I have selected 20 of the more interesting ones for your reading pleasure.

1. “An arm and a leg” – A significant and, perhaps, exorbitant amount of money.

This phrase is of US origin coined shortly after WWII. One theory is that it was derived from the fact that during WWII many servicemen lost an arm or a leg on the battlefield, which would amount to a significant and, perhaps, excessive loss for them. Another explanation, which has more credence is that the phrase is descendant from two 19th century phrases: “I would give my right arm for…,” and “even if it takes a leg…”

2. “Bury the hatchet” – Final settlement of differences.

It was a tradition among American Indians that the chiefs of the two tribes would actually bury a hatchet in the ground to seal the resolution of a quarrel or difference of opinion.

3. “Close, but no cigar.” – Falling just short of one’s objective and getting nothing.

The prevailing thought is that this phrase is derived from the early to mid-20th century custom of concessions at fairgrounds to give cigars as prizes. There is no confirmation of this theory.

4. “Dead ringer” – Exact duplicate.

There are two sources. Another meaning for “dead” is exact or precise, such as “dead shot” or “dead heat.” “Ringer” is derived from horse racing whereby an inferior horse that closely resembled another is substituted for a better horse to deceive bettors.

5. “Getting out on the wrong side of the bed.” – Be in a bad mood.

The best theory is that it was derived from an ancient superstition that when first getting out of bed it was bad luck to touch the floor with one’s left foot first.

6. As dead as a doornail” – Finished with, unusable, devoid of life.

Traced back at least to the 14th century. At that time, in order to secure two pieces of wood to each other it was customary for workmen to hammer a doornail through them and then bend the protruding, or pointy, end. In this manner the nail would be rendered unusable, or dead.

7. “Easy as pie” – Very easy to accomplish.

This phrase has been traced back to the 19th century, although the origin is not what one might assume. It is not based on a pie being easy to make, but rather that a pie is easy, or pleasant, to eat. It goes down smoothly and nicely.

8. “Bring home the bacon” – earn money.

The actual origin is not definitive, but it was likely 12th century England. At that time, married couples that exhibited unusual devotion to their union were give a “flitch,” or side of bacon, in recognition. Over time, this phrase evolved to signify success.

9. “Bob’s your uncle” – All’s well.

This expression is used in England and other commonwealth countries, such as Canada. I was exposed to it when I worked for The Bank of Nova Scotia, a Toronto-based company. There are various theories as to its origin, but the most likely one is that it originated with a Lord Salisbury in late 19th century England. His first name was Robert, and he repeatedly used his influence to get his nephew appointed to various government posts. Interestingly, the word “nepotism” is derived from the word “nephew.”

10. “Fair and square” – Honest, straightforward.

This expression is traced back to 16th century England. “Square meant “fair and “honest,” so, over time, the expression evolved into “fair” and “square.”

11. “Once in a blue moon” – A very rare occurrence.

This is one of those murky and controversial ones. There are literary references to blue moons all the way back to medieval England. Also, the moon actually does appear to be blue at certain rare times such as following a volcanic eruption. Supposedly, this was documented following the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883. Most likely, however, the term blue moon refers to the extra full moon that occurs every three years. Since the lunar cycle differs slightly from the calendar, every three years there is a month with two full moons, making a yearly total of 13 full moons, not 12. This extra full moon is called a blue moon, a rare occurrence indeed. This phenomenon was first described in the Maine Farmers’ Almanac in the late 1800s.

12. “One fell swoop” – Suddenly in a single action.

The individual words do not make sense out of the context of the entire phrase. In this context “fell” is derived from its 13th century meaning of “savage,” “cruel” and “ruthless.” “Swoop” is derived from bird references. In Macbeth Shakespeare referred to a hunting bird’s “fell swoop.” Over the years, the meaning of this phrase has evolved from savagery to suddenness.

13. “To hell in a handbasket”- Rapidly deteriorating, heading for disaster.

This is another murky one. The best guess is that it was derived from when a person was guillotined. The head would be caught in a handbasket. Presumably, this person was going to hell. Any conveyance could have been used instead of handbasket, such as a wagon or wheelbarrow, but handbasket provided alliteration. So the phrase caught on with handbasket.

14. “Nick of time” – Just in time.

In 16th century England the word “nick” meant a notch or small cut in wood, for example, to connote precision. Originally, the phrase was “pudding time,” as pudding was the first course in a meal, and to arrive in “pudding time” was to make it just in time for the beginning of the meal. However, around his time pudding began to be served for dessert, so the wording of the phrase evolved into “nick of time,” or precisely on time.

15. “Keep a stiff upper lip” – To remain resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity.

This phrase is viewed as a personality trait characteristic of Englishmen, but actually it originated in the US in the early 19th century.

16. “Mad as a hatter” – crazy

Mercury, which was used in the manufacture of hats, affects the nervous system. It made people who came in repeated contact with it twitchy and nervous and induced mood swings and erratic behavior. In extreme cases, it drove people insane. Mercury poisoning became known as “mad hatters’ disease.”

17. “Murphy’s Law” – if anything can go wrong, it will.

Murphy was Captain Edward Murphy, an American aerospace engineer. In 1949 he conducted a study that concluded that if something could be done incorrectly, it would be.

18. “Raining cats and dogs” – Raining very heavily.

This is another controversial one. There are many theories and the actual derivation is not certain. There are two that appear to have the most credence. The first is that in medieval times serfs kept their pets on the thatch roofs of their huts. When it rained heavily the pets would literally fall off the roof. The novelist, Ken Follett, described this in one of his historical novels. The other theory is that during the same period the streets were filthy and full of debris, and in a heavy rain this debris as well as small animals, alive and dead, would be swept along. Either or both could be true. You decide.

19. “Wild goose chase” – Hopeless task.

This originated with Shakespeare in the 16th century. It is based on horseracing, not hunting. It refers to a chase in which horses followed a lead horse in formation, akin to geese flying. It evolved into the current meaning by the 19th century.

20. “Whole nine yards” – Everything

Again, there are many theories, none of which is certain. Most likely, the expression originated in the US in the early 20th century. It first appeared in print in 1907. Eventually, it came into colloquial use. The three most popular theories are (1) refers to the length of material used to make a suit, a sari or a kilt; (2) the length of machine gun belts on WWII era aircraft; and (3) the amount of yards on sailing ships. Again, the real answer could be all or none of these. You decide.


I hope you found reading this as interesting as I did researching it. As I said, the origination of many of these expressions is murky, controversial or lost in time. This is especially true for those which preceded the written record. Also, in some cases the expressions evolved in multiple places more or less concurrently.

Do you have any favorite expressions? I’d like to hear your comments.


Today, we all saddened by the passing of a comedic icon, Joan Rivers, in NY at the age of 81. The circumstances of her death are particularly troubling; she suffered complications, including cardiac arrest, during a procedure on her vocal cords, a procedure that one would not expect to be life-threatening. In fact, today, the NY State Health Department announced that it is investigating the matter.

Joan Alexandra Molinsky was born on June 8, 1933 in Brooklyn, NY to Jewish Russian immigrant parents. She had one older sister, Barbara, who pre-deceased her. Joan had a middle class upbringing. Her father was a physician. She was raised in Larchmont, an affluent community in Westchester County. She attended the Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn, Connecticut College and Barnard College, where she graduated in 1954 as a Phi Beta Kappa.

Before entering show business, one of her many jobs was as a “fashion consultant” (an ironic portent) at Bonds Clothing Stores where she met her first husband, James Sanger, a Merchandising Manager at Bonds. The marriage was annulled after six months on the grounds that Sanger did not want children and had neglected to inform Joan of that fact before their marriage. Her second marriage to Edgar Rosenberg was more successful. It lasted until his suicide in 1987.

Shortly after entering show business Joan’s agent suggested that she change her name to Joan Rivers. Why? Perhaps, because it was less ethnic than her real name. Name changes for performers were very common in those days. Why “Rivers?” Well, perhaps the fact that the agent’s name was Tony Rivers had something to do with it. In any event, Joan Rivers was the name by which we all came to know and love her.

Joan was more than just a comedian. She did everything. She was also an actress, writer, producer, and television host. She performed on television, on the stage, and in comedy clubs. She was nominated for six “Emmys” (winning once), one “Grammy,” and one “Tony.” At her peak, she seemed to be omnipresent on television. She sold fashion items on QVC; she was affiliated in some manner with no fewer than ten tv series; she appeared on quiz shows, such as “Hollywood Squares”; she was a “red carpet fashion cop” (“Who are you wearing?”); and, last but not least, she was a frequent guest on late night talk shows, most notably the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson (“Can we talk?”). Recently, while she was living in NY she would fly to LA on Thursdays, record “Fashion Police” at 4 am, and then return to NY that same day. Quite a schedule!

Most people agree that her big break came when she appeared on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1965. Her satirical, sarcastic, irreverent humor was a huge hit. She would poke fun not only at celebrities but also at herself and her husband, Edgar. Nothing was off-limits, even their personal life. I often wondered what Edgar thought of being skewered on national tv. I suspect he was laughing all the way to the bank. Johnny became her mentor. Joan referred to their relationship as “father-daughter.” In August 1983 she became a “guest host” on the show, and there was even speculation that she might replace Johnny when he retired. But, their association ended abruptly in 1986 when Fox lured Joan away to act as host of its newly-developed late night talk show, “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.” When Johnny found out about it, he viewed it as a huge betrayal, and he never spoke to her again.

Perhaps, most significantly, Joan was a pioneer. For example, in 1983 she became the first female comedian to perform at Carnegie Hall; in 1986 she became the first female to have her own talk show on a major network. As with any pioneer, she had to suffer petty and gratuitous indignities and criticisms. Many critics did not appreciate her style of humor. She was called “brash,” “abrasive,” and “too personal.” I believe that part of this was that she went outside the norms of what was considered “acceptable” female behavior at that time. Many were simply taken aback by her. Early in her career, she had a particularly rough time when she performed stand up in comedy clubs where people in the audience could be, and often were, vocal and offensive.


Joan would never apologize for her humor. If it offended you, too bad. She would say “I say what everyone else is thinking!” To her, such criticism was a natural outgrowth of her style of humor. Many people are overly sensitive and simply do not “get it.” Even in today’s era of “political correctness” Joan’s attitude was if you don’t like what I say, change the channel or turn off the tv. I wish more performers would adopt that attitude instead of running scared. Many Americans are way too sensitive. We need to lighten up and laugh more.

She was the inspiration and trail blazer for other female comics, such Ellen De Generis, Rosie O’Donnell and Roseanne Barr, to name a few. Each of these comics, as well as many others, freely acknowledges her contributions. For example, no less a personage than Bill Cosby called her “an intelligent girl without being a weirdo… a human being, not a ‘kook.'” Also, “Time magazine” compared her style of humor to Woody Allen’s.

Remember, it is not easy to be the “first.” For example, think of what Jackie Robinson went through. In my opinion, that is her greatest legacy.

Rest in peace, Joan. Your fans and fellow performers will miss you.


Today, September 1, is Labor Day (“LD”). As we all know, the holiday has always been celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is celebrated in various forms and at various dates in approximately 80 countries.

To most Americans LD merely symbolizes the unofficial end of summer and the impending beginning of the school year. They enjoy the day off from work. They spend the day with family and/or friends. They enjoy picnics, parades, vacations, shopping and barbecues. They lament, but grudgingly accept, holiday traffic and long lines at airports. Also, it is the reason why summer always seems to be so short. In our minds, we transfer approximately three weeks of the season to Autumn. But what is the meaning and purpose of LD? Why do we celebrate it? How did it come about? Good questions. Read on for the answers.

As the name implies, the purpose of LD is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American Labor movement. Whatever one’s political views and affiliations, I think it is important and appropriate to understand Labor’s contributions to the growth and development of the US. For one thing, cheap labor was an integral component of the Industrial Revolution. When all is said and one, someone had to build all the roads, railroads, and cars, and operate all the factories and steel mills. In addition, the labor movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely responsible for the relatively high wages and extensive benefits that are enjoyed by today’s US labor force.

The history of LD began in the 1870s in Canada. Labor Unions were illegal in Canada, and 26 members of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour work day. That action led to demonstrations and rallies and raising the profile of labor unrest in both Canada and the US. Two of the most outspoken leaders were Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an official of the AF of L, and Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY. Historical accounts differ, but one or both of these men are credited with being the first to propose a holiday to celebrate labor. In any event, the CLU planned and organized the first LD celebration in NYC on September 5, 1885. Approximately, 20,000 workers and their families participated. The concept spread. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to sanction the holiday.

The Pullman Labor Strike in 1893 provided the final impetus for a national labor holiday. The Pullman Company had been founded and was run by George Pullman. Pullman, IL, where the company operated was a classic company town. All the workers lived there and paid rent to the company, which was automatically deducted from their paychecks. Workers’ housing was segregated according to their jobs; everyone shopped at the Company Store. Many viewed such an arrangement as a form of slavery, because workers were, in actuality, trapped due to their omnipresent debt to the Company. (Think of the song “Sixteen Tons.”) In 1893 the country was in the midst of a recession, and the company laid off hundreds of workers and reduced the wages of the others. Of course, living expenses remained constant. These actions led to a strike. President Cleveland declared the strike to be illegal and broke it with Federal troops. Some striking workers were killed in the ensuing violence. This incensed many Americans and 1894 was an election year. So, Congress expeditiously passed a bill establishing LD as a national holiday, and the President promptly signed it into law. This entire process took only six days, so you can imagine the extent of the public outcry. Incidentally, this action failed to save President Cleveland’s political career; he was defeated anyway.

Eventually, the government settled on the first Monday in September as the official date. Many countries celebrate it on May 1 in conjunction with International Workers’ Day, but the Federal government did not want the association with that date for obvious reasons.


One of the supreme ironies of LD is that because it is such a big shopping day, many workers, especially retailers, are required to work. LD is considered to be one of the biggest retail sales days of the year. Some people use the day as a benchmark to change over their summer clothes to fall clothes. Fashion-minded people claim it the latest day when one should wear white clothes (although “winter white,” whatever that is, is still permissible.)

So now, as you celebrate today in whatever fashion you choose, at least you will have some appreciation of the meaning of LD beyond a day off from work, the unofficial last day of summer and the beginning of the school year. Have fun and enjoy.