top of page
  • Mikah Meyer

You Get Labor Day Because of this National Park

Unit #33 / 413 - Pullman National Monument

School just started and you get no break till Thanksgiving. Summer's ending and there's no final bash at the beach. Your friend walks into the office wearing white and you have to exclaim, "Deborah, don't you know you can't wear white after the first Monday in September?" This is what life would be like sans Labor Day. Without that collective date when we say goodbye to summer with [insert your tradition here] and prepare for college football and pumpkin-spiced everything. It'd just be another manic Monday. But thank your lucky underwear we do not live in a world without an official day to recognize our labors, and thank the workers honored by Pullman National Monument for making it happen.

Now, if you're a millennial like me, you might assume that companies always consisted of campuses and open-floor workspaces, but if you were an immigrant of 19th century America, you'd be more likely to complain of your child dying in an accident than the bean bags being taken. However, for those who made it to an oasis in the prairie south of Chicago, work conditions almost seemed pleasant (even for your 12-year-old little sister on the assembly line). You'd be given a job and a home to rent nearby, all within walking distance of your church, your children's school, a 1,000 seat theater, and one of America's first indoor shopping malls.

All of that is thanks to George Pullman and his creation of the first model industrial community in America. Begun in 1880, this town-built-around-a-factory eventually housed up to 12,000 people in homes that included indoor plumbing, a rarity for the era.

If the 1/2 million gallon water tower wasn't enough to impress you, you'd soon be enthralled by the train cars which Mr. Pullman revolutionized. It was on his journey from the East Coast to Chicago (to raise skyscapers so modern conveniences could be installed) that Mr. Pullman yearned for a more comfortable way to travel by train. So he began a business creating Pullman Sleeping Cars that not only made train travel more pleasant, but set the standard for size and style of train cars.

This successful enterprise allowed his living/working community to thrive. If that wasn't enough to establish his place in history, his company was also the largest employer of African Americans at the time. This allowed for the creation of the first African American union: that for the workforce of former slaves Pullman specifically hired because they knew how to serve wealthy white people.

This Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters included in their ranks the Great Grandfather of future First Lady Michelle Obama, and is credited as having helped start the modern Civil Rights movement.

That union, and its leader A. Philip Randolph, are memorialized in a museum resting in the neighborhood that once made up this factory town (though sadly, African Americans were never allowed to live in Pullman's community).

Larger than its Monument name would presume, this national park consists of homes and workspaces ranging from the original clock tower to executive managers houses and basic laborers less-grand houses.

Though still in a rough neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, the area is being preserved more and more each day as this park site, established little over a year ago (in Feb. 2015), grows into its own.

Still an infant compared to many of the National Park Service sites, within the next 5 to 10 years I expect both these buildings and the surrounding neighborhood to take on a Renaissance--hopefully returning this land to the splendor and beauty it had before its eventual demise in the 1890s. Ultimately, that ruin was the result of what any investor would warn against: lack of diversification.

When a national depression hit in 1893, it led to decreased profits for the entire town. With Pullman keeping rent at the same price--to recoup his investment by 5% per year--it led to a strike from workers feeling the strain. When the National Guard was called in to keep the peace, it led to the death of 12 people, causing President Cleveland to create Labor Day as a band-aid to the problem. So as you sit on a boat, or stand over the grill this weekend, remember this place and the people who worked here. For without the history preserved by this national park, you'd be fighting for that bean bag at work.

Pullman Highlights (You Can Do)!

1. Visitor Center

Though still coming into its own as a park, the non-profit Historic Pullman Foundation has created a temporary Visitor Center while the Park Service renovates the iconic clock tower building to become the official NPS Visitor Center.

Open from 11 AM - 3 PM, Tuesdays - Sundays, it includes exhibits of historical artifacts and a comprehensive 20-minute film that sets up visitors well for a...

2. Car or Foot Tour!

As mentioned above, the neighborhood is still rough compared to what most NPS visitors may be used to. Depending on your desire to walk/drive, and likely the weather, you can get a map from the Visitor Center and travel around the neighborhood to see the preserved buildings and homes.

3. A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Currently open seasonally from April - Dec. 1, 11 AM - 3 PM on Thursday-Saturday, this museum ($5 entry fee) celebrates African Americans' role in U.S. labor history.

4. Explore Chicago

You'd be crazy to come to this national park and not experience America's "Second City."

While in the area I got to visit Rotary International's HQ in the suburb of Evanston, and be a guest on a number of radio shows. Check out my interview with WGN Radio, housed in the Tribune Tower, on the Brian Noonan Show (from 18:30 - 39:30).

We present United Airlines with a challenge, and I got to experience trying to focus while people walk by on Michigan Ave. waving through the glass windows!

Help Mikah keep inspiring people to follow their dreams: Donate Here

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)

Indiana to Michigan to Ohio to New York to Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine

-Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

-River Raisin National Battlefield Park

-Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial

-James A. Garfield National Historic Site

-Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site

-Women's Rights National Historical Park

-Fort Stanwix National Monument

-Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

-Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

-Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

-Appalachian National Scenic Trail

-Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument *New NPS site added 1 week ago*

-Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

-Acadia National Park

The journey thus far:

bottom of page