Memorial Day was just one week ago. One of the great things about this community is the way we celebrate this patriotic holiday. I’ve written about the origins of Memorial Day before, but there’s new research that suggests a different beginning to this annual celebration. Now, there’s documentation that the women in Savannah, Georgia, decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers as early as 1862. In the north, local historians in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claim that local women decorated the graves of Union soldiers on July 4, 1864. Boalsburg, therefore, claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, but it seems to belong to Savannah.
It is interesting to note that decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is actually a very ancient custom. In this country, soldiers’ graves were decorated with flowers before and during the Civil War. As recently as 1966, President Johnson signed a presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day. The point, I believe, is that there are several claimants, both in the north and south, to the distinction of having started Memorial Day. To add to the dispute, in 1868 the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was the main veterans’ organization for Union army veterans of the Civil War, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for a “Decoration Day” to be observed nationwide every year on May 30th. Some claim the date was chosen because it wasn’t the date of any particular Civil War battle. Others say the 30th was selected because that was the time of year when most flowers would be blooming. Nevertheless, the GAR seems to have copied the annual Confederate Memorial Day observance which had begun in 1866. In the states of the former Confederacy, different dates were selected for the observance of Memorial Day. None were on May 30th as they were in the north.