Top 8 Things You Did Not Know About Memorial Day. From its origins of the civil war to its modern-day traditions, find out more about the American holiday.
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The Memorial date and its customs can be traced back to ancient times.
While the first Memorial observances were not held in the United States until the end of the 19th century, the practice of honoring those who have fallen in battle dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans had annual festivals commemorating loved ones (including soldiers) each year, decorating their tombs with flowers and holding public ceremonies and festivals in honor of them. In Athens, civilian funerals were held for each of the fallen warriors, and the remains of the dead were watched by the mourners before the funeral procession took them to their cemetery in Kerameikos, one of the city’s most revered tombs. One of the earliest known civilizations of the war was in 431 BC when the Athenian general and governor Pericles delivered a funeral speech praising the sacrifices and bravery of those killed in the Peloponnese war – a speech that some likened to the voice of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
One of the first memorials was organized by Native Americans recently released.
Toward the end of the Civil War, thousands of Union soldiers, imprisoned as prisoners of war, were placed in a series of rapid-fire camps in Charleston, South Carolina. Conditions in one camp, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure, and they were buried in a mass grave along the main highway.
Three weeks after the Confederate commitment, an extraordinary procession entered the former camp: On May 1, 1865, more than a thousand people had just been liberated from slavery, along with the colored American military forces (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a few white Charlestonia rallies. The group sang hymns, gave readings and distributed flowers near the cemetery, dedicating themselves to the “Martyrs of the Race.”
The “founder” of the holiday had a long and distinguished career.
In May 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of a group of veterans of the Union Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that May 30 should be a day to remember more than 620,000 soldiers killed in a recent civil war. On Decoration Day, as Logan calls it, Americans are required to lay flowers and decorate the graves of war victims “their bodies are now in the cities, towns, and villages of the church in the country.”
Legend has it, Logan chose May 30 because it was an unusual day that did not fall on the anniversary of the Civil War, although some historians believe that the day was chosen to ensure that flowers throughout the country would bloom fully.
After the war Logan, who had served as a member of the American congress before resigning from the military, returned to his political career, eventually serving in the House and Senate, and became an unsuccessful member of the Republic in 1884. When he died two years later, Logan’s body was placed in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, making him one of only 33 to be honored. Today, Washington Logan Circle of Washington, D.C., and several townships around the country named in honor of this veteran warrior.
Logan may have changed this view from previous events in the South.
Even before the war ended, groups of women from all over the South gathered to adorn the tombs of the Confederate dead. In April 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia decided to commemorate those who fell once a year – a decision that seemed to influence John Logan to follow suit, according to his wife. However, southern monuments were rarely held on the same typical day, with a different view of the state and spread widely in the spring and early summer. It is a tradition that continues to this day: The nine southern states officially adopted the day of the Confederate Memorial, with events held on the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the day General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was assassinated, or commemorating other symbolic events.
It was not a state holiday until 1971.
The Americans accepted the idea of ”Decoration Day” immediately. In that first year, more than 27 countries hosted a special event, with over 5,000 people attending the Arlington National Cemetery. By 1890, all member states of the Union had recognized it as the official holiday. But for more than 50 years, this holiday was used to commemorate those killed in the Civil War, not in any other American war. It was not until American intervention in World War I that the practice was extended to include those killed in all wars, and Memorial Day was not officially recognized throughout the country until the 1970’s when the United States was deeply involved in the Vietnam War.
It was a long road from Decoration Day to the official day of the Memorial.
Although the name Memorial Day was used in the early 1880’s, the holiday was officially known as Decoration Day for over a hundred years, when it was changed by state law. Four years later, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 finally came into force, removing Memorial Day from its traditional celebration on May 30 (regardless of the day of the week), and setting it on a later date – last Monday in May. This move was undeniable, however. Groups of veterans, concerned that many Americans associate this holiday with the first weekend of the summer and not its purpose in honor of a dead national war, continue to ask to return to the festival on May 30. For more than 20 years, their case was backed by the Hawaiian Senator and World War II veterans – Daniel Inouye, who reintroduced his law until his death in 2012 to support the change in the origin of all DRM terms.
More than 20 cities claim to be the ‘birthplace’ of this holiday – but only one is officially recognized.
As long as there is a holiday, there is a dispute over who celebrated it first. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, backed up its claim to the 1864 Women’s Convention against the recent massacre in Gettysburg. In Carbondale, Illinois, they are convinced that they were the first, thanks to an 1866 exhibition led by, in part, by John Logan who two years later won the official holiday pay. There are even two opponents of Columbus (one in Mississippi, the other in Georgia) who have been fighting for the size of the Memorial for decades. Only one city, however, has received official recognition from the U.S. government. In 1966, 100 years after the city of Waterloo, New York, shut down its businesses and took to the streets for the first public celebration, President Lyndon Johnson signed a law, recently approved by the US Congress, declaring very little rural “official” birthplace for Memorial Day.
Wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day began with the poem World War I.
In the spring of 1915, bright red flowers began to appear in a war-torn country in northern France and in Flanders (northern Belgium). Lieutenant Colonel of Canada John McCrae, who served as a military surgeon in the Allied artillery unit, saw a group of popes shortly after serving as a military surgeon during World War II Ypres. The sight of bright red flowers during the war moved McCrae to write a poem, “EFlanders Field,” in which he presented soldiers who had been killed in battle and who slept under the poppy-covered territories. Later that year, a Georgian schoolteacher and volunteer soldier named Moina Michael read the poem in the Ladies’ Home Journal and wrote his own poem, “We Will Keep the Faith,” to start a poppy-making campaign to honor all who died in the war. Poppy remains a symbol of remembrance to this day.
The customs of the Memorial have changed over the years.
Despite the increasing celebration of the holiday as a summer passing service, there are certain official practices that are still on the books: The American flag should be hung on employers’ staff until noon on Memorial Day, and then hoisted on staff. And since 2000, when the U.S. Congress Passing the law, all Americans are encouraged to take a National Moment of Remembrance break at 3 p.m. local time. The provincial government also used the holiday to honor non-veterans – the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated to the 1922 Memorial Day.