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March Day: The Forgotten Holiday

by Alan Benson

Today (March 1, 2001) marks the 100th anniversary of the first March Day, which once ranked up with May Day, Arbor Day, and St. Clement's Day in the pantheon of great holidays. For March Day was the international day of management, the day when factory owners all over the globe celebrated the lack of workers rights and stood strong against unionization.

March Day grew out of the labor unpleasantness that wracked the early part of the 20th Century. Factory owners, made nervous by their workers' continuing attempts to unionize, wanted to show that they were united and more than willing to beat thousands of immigrant workers to death to prove it.

According to noted labor scholar Ephraim Zinn, the first managers' rally took place in 1900 in Worcester, Mass. It was originally April Day, but organizers realized that they could save money by collecting the previous year's May Day banners and reusing them. And so, with the "Y" in May covered with a proudly managemental "RCH," proud management activists took to the streets of a dozen cities on March 1, 1901.

Traditional March Day celebrations usually follow the procedure set down by Artemis Quentin Fielding in 1903:
MARCH DAY, as it is called in the environs 'round Boston town, begins with an early morning trek to Skid Row. The first celebrant to get one of the rabble to lick his boots clean for under a dollar is named "King of March" and serves as master of ceremonies for the rest of the day.

After the King is crowned, he leads the gathered in a happy parade to their waiting coaches, which are then drawn to State House lawn by impoverished immigrant children collected from local factories. The first carriage to arrive receives a handsome floral arrangement, and their pull-children (as they are called) can share half a croissant on their way back to work.

(The more magnanimous among us don't require the children to make up the time they spent pulling, but yrs truly thinks this is foolishly wasteful. The hour spent outside hauling a carriage up Beacon Hill is a fine rejuvinatory, and there's not one reason to waste a young one's labor.)

'Pon reaching the top of Beacon Hill, a magnificent luncheon is served. Each four-person table includes one empty seat. This empty seat, which reminds us of industrialists past, is served the same five-course meal the others enjoy. At the end of the meal, all of the excess food is collected and used to slop the hogs at the King of March's homestead. If he is a city dweller (as many of our great men now are), the food is fed to his dogs.

It is important to keep an eye on your plate at the luncheon, for dirty-faced crowds often gather 'round the pick-nick. The terrible squalling many of them put up, shoving babies into our finer ladies' laps and begging for alms, is hardly the worst thing they do. If at any time any of food is successfully stolen by the crowd, this signals seven years of labor unrest.

(In recent years, it must be said, it has become a tradition for many celebrants to encourage thefts. The inevitable beatings by our Pinkertons are quite a sight to behold.)

After lunch, the whole crowd gathers again for a singing. Truly, you have not lived 'til you've heard our best citizens' voices come together on such traditional management anthems as "Crawl Under My Boot Johnny Union, Johnny Union," "United Against Those Who Are United," "Thwack Thwack Thwack (Goes the Enforcer's Truncheon)," and "Busting Unions, Busting Heads, Lord Lord."

The final event of MARCH DAY is p'rhaps the finest event in all our great land. The entire crowd repairs to a specially-prepared site on the great Common. There, workers have prepared a two-foot-deep pit, 20 yards long by 20 feet wide, and filled it with effluents and manure collected from holdings of the previous year's King of March.

(The stench of the pit often proves quite more than our delicate ladies can bear, so of late, the pit has been overseen by a sealed balcony for the delicate ladies of Boston.)

At one end of the pit stand the good industrialists of Boston. At the other, 20 yards away, stand the rabble. Each MARCH DAY celebrant is given a length of twine, weighted at one end. They then attach a piece of paper money (the smaller denomination the better) to the weighted end and take turns flinging the weighted line and money into the pit. The sight of dozens of immigrant laborers wallowing in waste, scratching and clawing one another for a pittance, is truly a sight to warm the heart.
Of course, in modern years many of the grand old March Day traditions have been changed. No longer do children from factories haul carriages up Beacon Hill. Nowadays, the children are collected from local elementary schools in the less savory parts of town. And, thanks to the EPA, there is often not enough factory effluent to fill the pit, so manure from the Wonderland dog tracks is used to top off the pit.

And so, as you go about your daily lives today, spend a moment reflecting upon the thousands upon thousands of wealthy factory owners who gave up so much — in some cases, they devoted an entire DAY to leisure — to ensure that the capitalist fatcats of the future could still thrive. God bless America.

© copyright 2001 The Van Gogh-Goghs