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HISTORIC ORIGINS OF PARK CITY MINERS’ DAY
New historical information puts first parade in 1896
On a June Saturday in 1896, a crowd of 450 Western Federation of Miners walked down from the union headquarters at the top of Park City’s main street in what is thought to be the first Miners Union Parade. On September 2 this year, Park City will celebrate what would be the 124th edition of the celebration that began in the heyday of the silver mining era in the Wasatch Mountains.
From the mining boom of the 1870s, through the early 1980s – more than a century later – it is estimated that around 300 local mines produced ore valued at more than $500 million at the time. There were over 1,000 miles of underground mine tunnels in Park City – which all still exist today.
Miners’ Day continues to be celebrated in Park City, with the local Park City Rotary Club organizing a daylong festival each year on what most call Labor Day.
Past records had put the date of the first celebration as 1898. But recent research by Park City historians, along with greater access to 19th century editions of the local Park Record newspaper, which began publishing in 1880 as the Park Mining Record, have unearthed new information about the origins of the annual festival.
“It is thrilling to be able to reach Park Record accounts of that era,” said historian Sally Elliott, whose leadership with the Friends of Park City Mining History has led to restoration of many old mining structures that dot the local ski resorts. “Through our research we were able to gain two more years of history for Miners’ Day.”
In a recently found June 6, 1896 edition, The Record reported: “The programme for next Saturday June 13th the day to be observed by the Western Federation of Miners will be carried out as outlined in last week’s Record and a most interesting program is promised. The exercise will begin with a parade of the Union and the athletic association starting from the association’s present quarters on upper Main street. Posters containing the official programme are being printed in The Record job office and will be circulated next Monday.”
The Western Federation of Miners, established in 1895, was one of the most impactful of many unions that organized over the years. In 1896, its efforts led to a new State of Utah law that limited miners’ time in the mine to eight hours a day. Muckers and miners of the time made around $2.75 to $3.00 per day and were paid monthly. They lived off credit with local merchants and spent much of their free time at the dozens of saloons dotting Main Street.
The Record reported that “The day’s exercises opened with a monster parade in which a full 400 miners wearing the Federation Badge and healed by the Park City brass took part. The number of men in line was a complete surprise to everybody, and as the stalwart lads marched down the street many were the compliments (sic) passed upon their appearance and numbers. The miners were followed by the painters’ and cigar makers unions, the two ball teams in full uniform and members of the Athletic association the whole making one of the most imposing parades ever witnessed in the camp.”
After the parade, a crowd gathered for an afternoon festival. Mine Manager O.L. Lawrence oversaw the first event, a 100-yard sprint won by miner Frank Foster in 10.25 seconds (the world record at the time was 9.8 seconds), claiming a prize of a fine pair of running shoes. There was a field of five.
Other events included a 100 yard free-for-all, boxing sparring contests, tug of war (won by the Athletic Association), high jump, and shot put. The union team won a football game.
The events at the Miners Union Day were held just two months after the first modern day Olympics in Athens that April.
A baseball game between two local teams drew a huge crowd.
The Miners Union Day continued over the years, eventually moving from its original June date to Labor Day (which had become a Federal holiday in 1894, pre-dating Miners’ Day).
“Park City is proud of its mining heritage,” said Elliott. “It’s a glorious way to celebrate our history today and to educate modern generations about the roots of our community.”
Much as was done in 1896, today’s Miners’ Day is centered around a parade from the top of historic Main Street down to City Park, with a day of fun for kids and families. The heritage of mining is showcased each year with the Mucking and Drilling competition in City Park.
While it’s been well over a century since the mining boom began, it’s image is alive and well. A walk down Main Street and a visit to the Park City Museum will give you a sense of what it looked like back then. And as you ski around Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain, you are reminded of those glory days when the Silver King, California-Comstock, Daly, Ontario, Quincy and many other mines dotted the landscape.