Memorial Day Cards From the 1900's
Did you know? Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (on May 25 in 2009). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the civil war), it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action.
Did you know? Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. US Eastern time. Another tradition is to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers usually place an American flag upon each grave site located in a National Cemetery. Many Americans also use Memorial Day to honor other family members who have died. In Rochester, NY members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars take donations for "Buddy Poppies" in the days leading up to Memorial Day designed to act as a visual reminder of those who have sacrificed their lives for the United States. The poppy's significance to Memorial Day is a result of Canadian military physician Lt. Col. John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields".
Did you know? Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Sharpsburg, Maryland, located near Antietam Battlefield; Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days.
According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died in captivity. The freed slaves reinterred the dead Union soldiers from the mass grave to individual graves, fenced in the graveyard and built an entry arch declaring it a Union graveyard. This was a daring action for them to take in the South shortly after the North's victory. On May 30, 1868, the freed slaves returned to the graveyard with flowers they had picked from the countryside and decorated the individual gravesites, thereby creating the first Decoration Day. A parade by thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers from the area was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.
The official "birthplace" of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The village was credited with being the place of origin because it observed the day on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter. The friendship between General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who helped bring attention to the event nationwide, likely was a factor in the holiday's growth.
Did you know? The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967 . On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The holidays included Washington's Birthday, now celebrated as Presidents' Day; Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.
After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all fifty states adopted the measure within a few years. Veterans Day was eventually changed back to its traditional date. Ironically, most corporate businesses no longer close on Veterans Day, Columbus Day, or President's Day, with the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and/or New Years Eve often substituted as more convenient "holidays" for their employees. Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the beginning of the "summer vacation season." This role is filled in neighboring Canada by Victoria Day, which occurs either on May 24 or the last Monday before that date, placing it exactly one week before Memorial Day
In Flanders Fields
by Lt. Col. John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.