Above: 1914 Labor Day photograph of workers in front of Maverick Building on Alamo Plaza provided by Connie Fuller to Paula Allen for The History Column appearing in the November 7, 2013, issue of the San Antonio Express-News
Labor Day was the only national holiday between July 4 and Christmas.”
With a dearth of holidays, it should come as no surprise that more than 50 unions turned out for San Antonio’s Labor Day Parade in 1911. A crowd of 5,000 gathered at the fairgrounds. “Colonel” Otto Wahrmund, vice president of the San Antonio Brewing Association which produced Pearl Beer, remarks in An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and Yes, She Shot Him Dead, that there they encountered the excitement of the beer drivers’ union striving to have their candidate crowned queen; sporting events such as the fat men racing for 75 yards or the old men (50 years and up, how insulting!) crawling 50 yards to win a purse of $2; and fiery political speeches.
Racism was not only entrenched, but there appeared little shame in embracing it openly in print. Ways were found to prevent Black men from affecting elections: poll taxes to discourage participation and refusal to allow Blacks to vote in the Democrats’ primaries. If no Blacks could vote in primaries, Black candidates would not be listed on the ballot. Mainstream white Democrat candidates boasted about this practice on the campaign trail. But that is all so minor compared to the accepted bias in the system of justice.
The truthful novel opens with the very public hanging of Leon Johnson for killing Dr. Augustus Maverick (1885-1913), an example clearly illustrating to Hedda Burgemeister what could happen to someone found guilty of shooting a powerful man in San Antonio, as she had done to brewery owner Otto Koehler (1855-1914). Executions attracted large crowds downtown.
Andy draws open the heavy drapes and, despite the crisp winter day, cracks two of the windows. He hauls a heavy brass ashtray stand out of the depths of the closet and places it between the two chairs in front of Mr. Koehler’s massive walnut desk. Both his older brother, John, and Mr. Wahrmund are right-handed though, so he fetches another.
He does not want to have to answer to Mrs. Koehler if one of the men carelessly allows a burning ember to drop from his cigar onto the Oriental carpet. But, if the men are drinking, which they will be, they might smoke with their left hands. One more stand is in order. Mrs. K terms them hideous, hence the closet hide-away, but the elegant Meissner ashtrays she brought back from Germany are far too shallow-bowled to serve any purpose aside from collecting dust.