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Public Holidays

Arbor Day originated in Nebraska in 1872, when the State Board of Agriculture adopted J. Sterling Morton's resolution that April 10 of that year be set aside for tree planting. The board awarded premiums for the greatest number of trees, cuttings, and seeds planted. More than a million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. In 1874 Governor Robert W. Furnas issued the first proclamation designating Arbor Day. The day became a legal holiday in 1885 when the Legislature set aside April 22, Morton's birthday, as Arbor Day.

However, not all Nebraskans believed that the state needed any more public holidays or that they should be so faithfully observed. A reporter for the Lincoln Daily Call, while covering news from the state legislature on April 22, 1890, gave the opinion of one disappointed Nebraskan:

"'Public holidays are public nuisances,' said a gentleman from out in the central part of the state this morning as he emerged from the west entrance of the state capitol building. 'Here I have come over 100 miles to transact some business and the offices I wished to enter are closed.'

"'I knew before hand that this was Arbor day but I did not dream that the state officers and the chiefs of departments were going to go out personally and with spade and shovel celebrate the day in planting trees. I presumed that if they had any lots they wanted to beautify that they would have arranged with a man before hand and have him put the trees in the ground for them in a way which would make them sure to grow. What do these fellows know about planting trees anyway? I'm disgusted.'

"'All the offices are not closed, are they?' queried the World Herald man. 'No, not all of them, but the very ones I wanted to enter. And now I have got to go home without attending to my business or stay over a day. I repeat it again, that Nebraska has too many public holidays and they are too faithfully observed.'"

Only the year before, on January 17, 1889, the Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln had expressed the same ambivalent view of public holidays (in this instance, Labor Day) as the Call: "Just exactly what a 'labor day' is wanted for does not appear, but there is no particular objection so far as THE JOURNAL perceives to the request if any large number of citizens really desire another legal holiday. The women suffragists may next demand a 'woman's day,' the saloons a 'whisky day' and the prohibs a 'temperance day,' and so on until every organization in the land shall have a legal holiday all to itself. . . . But it would soon become fatiguing to keep the run of all our legal holidays if every society demanded one for itself."

(April 2007)



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