Sunday, May 24, 2020

Observing Decoration/Memorial Day

Advertisement run by a local store in
the Zanesville Times Recorder, 1887 
On Monday, May 25, at 3:00 P.M. local time, Americans are asked to remember those men and women who gave their lives to the defense of the nation. During Memorial Day weekends, many Americans will decorate graves with flowers, and some readers will recall when this observance was known as Decoration Day.

Gen. John A. Logan
General John A. Logan, a retired Union army general and commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), issued a proclamation on May 5, 1868:

The 30th day of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the last rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city village and hamlet churchyard in the land.

Logan's proclamation was meant, of course, for the northern states. The general is said to have got the idea from the southern states, where the mothers, daughters, wives, and sweethearts of the Confederate dead had been decorating their loved ones graves annually since 1865, usually between April and June. (Some southern states still observe Confederate Memorial Day.) In another version of where Logan's inspiration originated, newly freed slaves in South Carolina re-interred hastily buried Union soldiers and covered the graves with flowers in April 1865. In 1966, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution naming Waterloo, New York as the official site of the first Decoration/Memorial Day observance. Waterloo druggist Henry C. Welles and county clerk John B. Murray were credited with founding the holiday, however, researchers have shown this is entirely mythological. In fact, there are so many competing claims as to how, when, and where America's Decoration Day began, there is actually a research center devoted to resolving these questions at Columbus (Georgia) State University. To date, there apparently are no definitive answers, except for the acknowledgement that placing flowers on military graves is a practice observed throughout time and across cultures.
Zanesville Times Recorder memorial to Union soldiers

The Decoration Day called for by Logan was observed in twenty-seven states and 127 cemeteries that first year, and each observance was entirely local and individual. In 1871, Michigan declared Decoration Day a state holiday, and other northern states followed suit over the next twenty years. Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day in 1967, and was declared a federal holiday in 1971, although throughout its (northern) history, the names were used interchangeably.

On May 30, 1884, in West Virginia and Maryland, both Union and Confederate veterans participated in the ceremonies of remembrance. As time moved on, more and more Decoration Day observances became joint ventures. It wasn't until World War I, however, that Decoration Day was expanded to honor those Americans who had fallen in any war. Up to that time, the day focused exclusively on the American Civil War.

Memorial Day tributes left at G.A.R. statue in Fultonham Cemetery

No comments:

Post a Comment