Almost a century ago, 25,000 striking workers shut down Paterson’s silk industry for almost six months, from February to July 1913. When the workers were forbidden to gather in the city, they met across the town line in Haledon at the modest Victorian home of Pietro and Maria Botto, northern Italian immigrants who worked in Paterson’s silk mills. At one point, the author Upton Sinclair addressed 20,000 strikers from the Bottos’ balcony.
Today, the Bottos’ place is a national landmark and home to the American Labor Museum, where each year special events mark Labor Day weekend. “We begin with a parade on the Sunday before Labor Day,” says museum director Angelica M. Santomauro. “Speakers address the crowd from the balcony as they did in 1913.”
The museum will be open from 1 to 4 pm throughout Labor Day weekend. Rooms accessible to the public include the dining room where Maria Botto did piecework; you also can tour the gardens where she served meals to visitors and oversaw games of bocce. A gallery of photos from the 1913 strike is on view in a former library. Through December, the museum will also feature the exhibit, “The Shirts Off Our Backs: Union T-Shirt Quilts.”
The museum hosts more visitors on Labor Day than on any other day of the year. “When we consider how life would be without skilled craftsmen and women,” says Santomauro, “we realize why Labor Day matters.”
The 21st Annual Labor Day Parade steps off at 1:30 pm on September 2 at the American Labor Museum, 83 Norwood Street, Haledon; 973-595-7953, labormuseum.net.