ISLE OF PALMS--Today is the last blast of summer. They'll shimmy into the swim suits, slather on the sunscreen, don the shades and head to the beach like they always do.

Where their holiday waits: Missing children, a dehydrated pregnant woman, a rash of jellyfish stings, a girl needing stitches after getting elbowed inadvertently in the surf -- all somewhere in the middle of a strip of sand swarming with people.

On Labor Day, lifeguards don't even get to dip their toe in the holiday fun all around them. They're working, sometimes nonstop. Cole Thomas, assistant manager at the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission's Isle of Palms County Park, pauses every now and then to take a breath and let it sink in.

"It can be tough not to be hanging out on the beach, chilling and doing whatever you want," she said. "But it's good to see people having fun and knowing you had a part in it."

That's the spirit. The holiday that ends the summer was created more than a century ago to honor the American worker. Naturally, there's a union fight over which worker actually did create it.

It's generally credited to Peter J. McGuire, Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners general secretary, according to a U.S. Labor Department website.

But others in the shop say the creator was machinist Matthew Maguire, not Peter. One "guire" or another, on Sept. 5, 1882, the union shops in New York City stayed out for the day. And held a parade.

By 1894, more than 20 states were celebrating Labor Day. So, to quiet the protests after workers were killed in the Pullman strike, President Grover Cleveland made the national holiday official.

In a caricature of managers everywhere, he did it because 1894 was, after all, an election year. And the declaration covered only the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Everybody else could just get back to work.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or bpetersen@postandcourier.com.