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Labor Day history in NYC on display via walking tour

Crowds of people stand in the street, waiting

Crowds of people stand in the street, waiting to identify bodies of immigrant workers following the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City on March 25, 1911. The tragic event, which took the lives of 146 workers, changed labor laws in America. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The history of labor is woven deep into the fabric of New York City.

In 1882, more than 25,000 people rallied at Union Square for the first Labor Day parade.

In 1909, labor leader Samuel Gompers gave a rousing speech in Cooper Union’s Great Hall to garment workers weighing a strike. And the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, in which 146 workers were killed, forever changed the landscape of labor.

But the deep connections to labor don’t end at 14th Street.

Historian Miriam Berman is guiding a free walking tour on Sunday that examines the labor history in Flatiron. It‘s part of a continuing tour program Berman and two other guides lead for the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District.

“It’s important to remember that at one point in the history of our city, we fought for the rights of the worker and working conditions,” said Berman. “That’s why we are where we are today.”

The tour starts at 11 a.m. at the southwest corner of Madison Square Park, at 23rd Street and Broadway. The first stop will be 200 Fifth Ave., site of the old Fifth Avenue Hotel.

“There was a devastating fire in 1872 there,” Berman said. “About 22 hotel employees were trapped in the attic. This led to reforming some of the working conditions in hotels.”

The old Madison Square Garden, at Madison Avenue and 26th Street, was the scene of many labor rallies, she said.

“The suffragettes were marching through Madison Square Garden and rallied throughout the area,” she said.

The Paterson Strike Pageant, a re enactment of the brutal Paterson Silk Strike of 1913, was held at the garden.

“Labor Day may not be the celebration it was,” Berman said. “But there is nothing like remembering it, and remembering where we came from.”

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