May Day, Kansas

by Neal Danielson, Editor

No this is not the normal May Day that is celebrated on May 1st each year, although we will talk about some of those customs. May Day is located in May Day Township in Riley County, Kansas (Figures 1 & 2). Riley County was organized in 1855 with Manhattan as its County Seat. One of the major factors about the County is its military post, Fort Riley, named in
honor of General Riley of the United States Army. It was originally built in 1853 to ward off Indians, and the name was then passed on to the county.

In January, 1872, May Day Township was organized, the territory having been taken from Jackson Township. It embraced a tract 8 x 12 miles in the northwest part of the county. Its name was suggested by Hon. A. S. Edgerton, who was postmaster of an office established there in 1869, and first called Stanton. The townspeople objected to the name as there were other post offices of that name in the state.

In the year 1857, Frank Droll and Rudolph Niehenke settled in the township. Peter Dick, A. S. Edgerton, O. E. Osborne, George Pickett and Fred Schartz came soon after. In 1871, Solomon Weichselbaum established a store at May Day. Farmer's Lodge, No. 166, was organized at May Day under a dispensation, January 15, 1876. G. T. Polson was chosen Worshipful Master; J. W. Smith, Senior Warden; Frank Coffie, Junior Warden; H. A. Freeman, Treasurer; Sol Weichselbaum, Secretary. It was organized under a charter October 18, 1876. The post office in May Day, Riley County, Kansas opened on April 13, 1871 and closed February 15, 1954.

Figure 3-May Day, Kansas patriotic cover postmarked May 1, 1942

The patriotic cover shown in Figure 3 is franked with a 1 Martha Washington stamp from the Presidential Series of 1938 (Scott #805) and is tied to the cover with a balloon CDS of 'May Day Kans. on May 1 1942'. The domestic postal rate in effect should have been 3 an ounce effective July 6 1932 to help with the depression and was in effect until Aug. 1, 1958. The cover was addressed to an Edie. U. Bedney, in Owatonna, Minnesota founded in 1854 in the southern part of the state. The cover may not have been mailed, as the name on the back indicates 'Comp. of Nona Warren' or purhaps James E. Cashman, postmaster (3/4/1940 to 9/30/1955) in Owatonna just didn't catch the error. The patriotic cover depicts a U. S. Marine out to avenge Pearl Harbor bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

The term 'May Day' has many meanings. One such is the gathering of people together on the first day of May to celebrate the coming of summer; this is sometimes referred to as a Spring Festival. Many customs abound around 'May Day' as part of some festivals. Some people gather flowers and put them by their doors and windows to keep out troublesome fairies. Others, go with the more popular custom of filling a May Basket with flowers and other goodies to give to friends and loved ones. Cutting down a tree and putting up a Maypole in the middle of the village was and still is today a popular custom in some cultures. However, man made poles are readily available rather than cutting down a tree. Ribbons are attached to the tree and are woven together by dancers. According to some customs the dancing and winding of the ribbons around the tree is a way to catch a mate.

Some people still celebrate the pagan festival of the Celtic holiday Beltaine, the "Return of the Sun", on the first of May. Many of the old customs are part of this celebration. May Day began as early as the 1600s as the pagans celebrated throughout Europe as the beginning of summer and a day of fertility. The Celts and Saxons celebrated it as a day of fire, in honor of the god of the sun.

In 1884 the U. S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions had passed a law declaring that, as of May 1, 1886, an eight hour workday would be the full and legal workday for all U. S. workers. However, this was not what business owners wanted and the end result was workers taking to the streets in a general strike throughout the entire country. Riots broke out in Chicago over the strike resulting in police opening fire on unarmed striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works. On May 1, 1890, the workers throughout Europe and America put forth the demands for an 8 hour working day and better health conditions. To alleviate the stigma of the Chicago martyrs, the US established Labor Day. Other countries still have demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and anarchist groups on the 1 st day May. Most Americans stick with the more costomary U. S. tradition of May Baskets of flowers and goodies, dancing around the Maypole and other fun things.

References:
World Book Encyclopedia,Field Enterprise Educational Corporation, Chicago, IL, 1969
Blue Skyways Website: http://skyways.lib.ks.us/
May Day Events: May Day

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Posted May, 2006 RR