This Monday is Memorial Day, which for most marks the beginning of Summer, cookouts, and a long weekend spent with friends and family. But among the festivities, let us not forget what this holiday actually stands for. Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember and honor those who have given their lives to protect the freedoms of the American people. In honor of these men and women, Picture Keeper would like to remember the origin of Memorial Day.
- Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day. After the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1864, women in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania began decorating the graves of the soldiers who died during the battle. In the three years following the Civil War, communities around the United States would organize parades and decorate cemeteries to honor the approximately 620,000 who gave their lives in service. General John Logan declared May 30th, 1868 to be “Decoration Day,” a day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.” This tradition began to grow each year in communities around the United States, and after World War I, became a day to commemorate the fallen of all America’s wars. The day did not officially become referred to as Memorial Day until 1967.
- Memorial Day originally fell on May 30th. General John Logan gave his General Order No. 11 on May 5th, 1868. He set aside May 30th to be a day to decorate with flowers, flags, and other decorations to honor the dead after the Civil War. He chose May 30th because it was not the anniversary of any battle, and was late enough in the season to allow the flowers to bloom. Many confederate states refused to acknowledge the holiday, choosing instead to honor their fallen on a different day that some call Confederate Memorial Day. Some southern states still observe an additional day to honor the fallen Confederate soldiers. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which went into effect in 1971, moved Memorial Day to the last Monday of May.
- Waterloo, New York is credited with being the “Birthplace of Memorial Day”. Many communities have claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Carbondale, Illinois held one of the first community-wide, organized marches through town to honor the fallen in 1866. In the same year, women in Mississippi laid flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. On May 5th, 1866, President Lyndon B. Johnson named Waterloo, New York as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day” due to it observing an annual, community-wide Memorial Day event.
- The National Moment of Remembrance is at 3:00pm local time. In 1966, a push to put more “memorial” in Memorial Day grew, and by the year 2000, inspired Congress to designate a “moment” at 3:00pm, local time, for the American people to stop and reflect on the true meaning of the day. People are encouraged to take a moment of silence or listen to Taps and remember those who have given their lives in service during the National Moment of Remembrance.
- The President or Vice President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In addition to the National Moment of Remembrance, many cities close shops and businesses for the day, some throw parades or memorial services, and others wear red poppies in honor of the dead. The Arlington National Cemetery, where General James Garfield gave his speech on the very first Decoration Day, holds a memorial service on Memorial Day. During the ceremony, flags are placed on each grave. Usually the President or Vice President attends to give a speech commemorating the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Usually over 5,000 people attend the event each year.
This Memorial Day, enjoy the long weekend, get some sun, and spend time with friends and family, but do not forget about the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to allow you to do so. It can be as simple as taking a moment of silence during the National Moment of Remembrance, or attending a Memorial Day parade, but join us at Picture Keeper in honoring the fallen.