Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Is St. Louis still celebrating May Day?

Plus: The story behind Donau Park’s German Cultural Society of St. Louis’ maypole.

To answer that question, we must ask another: Which May Day–the violet crowns-and-maypole dancing one, or the workers-marching-through-the-town-square-with-red-flags one?

Let’s begin with the springtime flower festival. These May flowers are deeply rooted in the Celtic holiday of Beltane, and the Romans Floralia. The National Museum of American History says that May Day was first celebrated in the United States in late 19th century. This is when reformers started advocating for healthy play, including May Day celebrations at schools. Local newspapers were flooded with stories about classroom flowers and playground maypoles.

Labor leaders had other ideas and had nothing to do daisy chains. An 1939 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article from 1939 claimed that May 1 festivities began in 1888, when the American Federation of Labor held their convention here. The Marxist International Socialist Congress (Paris) officially codified May 1 in 1889 as a way to commemorate both the May 1 protests in Paris for the eight-hour working day and Chicago’s Haymarket Square Incident. St. Louis was home to the influential socialist publication The National Rip-Saw, and was often a lecture stop for Emma Goldman, anarchist and writer.

However, in 1929, the St. Louis Star declared that “Today’s May Day” was established in 1929. May 1 is often a bombing day for communists and anarchists around the world. It also marks the end of labor demonstrations with passionate intensity all over the globe. The meaning of America’s May Day is quiet enjoyment and a return to the old May Day celebrations with the children – that is its meaning.

Twenty years later, Mayor Joseph Darst completed the job by issuing a proclamation declaring May 1 Loyalty Day. This observance arose out of the national holiday Americanization Day which was specifically created to cancel May Day. It did, and it became an official federal holiday under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Some cities still celebrate it. Other places, such as St. Louis, May Day got toned down and moved to September. It was renamed Labor Day.

The Annie Malone May Day Parade is St. Louis’ main May Day celebration. It doesn’t usually land on May 1, and it has nothing to do the maypoles or workers’ parades of old. It’s a tradition that has been going strong for 132 years and grew naturally from St. Louis culture and history. It will stream live online this year on May 16th, and be led by Congresswoman Cori Bush, who is also the virtual parade marshal.

Der Maibaum

Peter Moszyk fled Eastern Germany during the 1950s and moved to the United States in the mid-’60s. He was a trained woodcarver and worked as a cabinetmaker for many years. He used his woodcarving skills in the early 2000s to build a German maibaum or maypole.

The Post stated in 2004 that it won’t be a small one like the ones used for small festivals. It will be a 30-foot-tall version like the ones used to mark almost every German and Austrian village, town, and city. “The pole will feature 16 hand-carved emblems from 16 organizations that preserve German culture.

The German Cultural Society of St. Louis was one of these organizations. It oversees Donau Park in House Springs where the maibaum was placed. Moszyk suggested that they make a maypole at a German American Committee meeting a few years prior. They said, “Great idea. Why don’t we make one?” So I stuck with it.

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