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The Origin of Memorial Day

The Origin of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called ‘Decoration Day’, is a day of remembrance for those who have died while in our nation’s service, and to commemorate those who served and have passed on. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. A hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”¹ While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need to honor our dead. All these events contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in an official proclamation in 1868 establishing the holiday. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all for our great Nation.

Combined Honor Guard of Pennsylvania Volunteers

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the organization of Union veterans’ of the Civil War. He issued General Order No. 11 establishing the project of honoring the noble war dead of the nation. Accordingly, the day was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of the Union dead at Arlington National Cemetery and throughout the country. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died in any war, conflict or in service). It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays).

The first observance of Decoration Day in the Philadelphia area was on May 30, 1868 at historic Laurel Hill Cemetery on Ridge Ave. in the City. It was sponsored by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). This Holiday continues to be observed at Laurel Hill Cemetery every year, but on the Sunday before the national holiday, sponsored by the General Meade Society and American Legion Post 405 at the Union League. Below is information about this event.

 

Memorial Day Parade marches off to the grave of General Meade led by Captain Mike Peter (98th PV) at Laurel Hill

Annual Memorial Day Observed at Historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Recreating the Original G.A.R. Decoration Day Service of 1868: The traditional Decoration Day service of the Grand Army Meade Post #1 will be recreated at Historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Ave. Philadelphia on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at 12 noon. All are welcome to attend and participate in the ceremony.

Laurel Hill is the site of the first Memorial Day Observance in Philadelphia on this date in 1868.
Special veterans’ markers will be dedicated at the graves of veterans. Speakers, ceremonies and pageant will highlight this special ceremony. After, the entourage will gather at the grave of General Meade, hero of Gettysburg, to perform the traditional service to honor all veterans who fell defending the Nation. Wreath-laying, speeches, music and honor guards will enhance the ceremony.
Keynote Speaker: LTC Michael Rounds (USMA – Class of 1988)
Historical groups, veterans, and citizens are urged to participate. Wreaths, military contingents, color guards, music and period civilians are also encouraged.

Refreshments served after the ceremony. Tours of the historic cemetery available.

Andy Waskie, Master of Ceremonies addresses the crowd at the beginning of the annual Memorial Day Service at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

Co-sponsored by the General Meade Society of Philadelphia; Friends of Laurel Hill; American Legion Post #405
For information, call: 215-228-8200

 

Andy Waskie
WWII and Civil War Historian, professor, author, American Legion Member, & Starr Tour Director
¹ Source: Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Wipe Your Feet

As a Tour Director for Starr, there are many days and nights throughout our busy travel season that I, like my fellow Tour Directors and like our passengers, are away from our own homes.  I have to admit, passengers aren’t homesick for too long, especially when the tour includes visiting some pretty unique, historic, and even haunted houses.   All guests have to do is “wipe their feet” and they are welcomed into the private homes of rock stars, corporate executives, historical figures and sometimes homes of those who have left this world… or have they?  Below is a short list highlighting some of these intriguing homes that open their doors to Starr customers.

 

GRACELAND, Memphis, Tennessee—Available on the Memphis/Nashville Tour.

Home to Rock n’ Roll Legend, Elvis Presley, this colonial mansion has been frozen in time complete with original furnishings and shag carpeting.  You’ll be treated to a glimpse of the famous “jungle room,” and billiards room where a large tear can be seen on the pool table.  Culprit unknown.   You can pay respects to Elvis and his family members in the Meditation Garden which is adjacent to the house.

 

HEARST CASTLE, San Simeon, California—Available on the Cross Country by Bus Tour.

Sitting high on California’s Central Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is William Randolph Hearst’s Casa del Mar.  The media genius built his dream house in 1947.  It boasts 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens.  Actors, politicians, business executives, and newspaper moguls were often guests to his “Enchanted Hill.”  It was here that they would meet for cocktails, conversation and just plain fun surrounded by Renaissance and Baroque tapestries as well as masterpieces of paintings and sculptures.  The Neptune and Roman Pools are only two reasons to see for yourself what money and power looked like back then.

 

Photo by anoldent on Flickr

MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, Charleston, South Carolina—Available on the Savannah/Charleston Tour.

It’s easy to fall into the Southern expressions of “yes ma’m” and “bless your heart” after visiting these 70 acres dating back to the 1670s.  The primary crop was rice which eventually took a backseat to the beautiful gardens which were constantly being expanded deserving the title of “America’s Oldest Romantic Gardens.”  The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001.  The plantation bore witness to both the American Revolution and Civil Wars.  So its no wonder that stepping onto their grand porch gives you the feeling of being greeted like long lost relatives—much like in “Gone With the Wind.”

 

Photo by David B. King on Flickr

LIZZIE BORDEN HOUSE, Falls River, MA—Available on Ghosts of Providence, Rhode Island Tour.

Now a Bed and Breakfast Inn as well as a museum, this house is especially popular during the Halloween season.  Registered with the Fall River Historical Society as a tourist attraction, this three-story Victorian house is where the 1892 infamous axe murder of Abby and Andrew Jackson Borden occurred.  Their daughter, Lizzie Borden, was tried and acquitted.  Visitors can see most rooms in the house and then make their way over to the gift shop for some unique purchases.  In case you have a family gathering, wedding or need to schedule a seance, the entire house or individual floors are available to rent!

 

Photo by Christopher Hollis

MONTICELLO, Charlottesville, VA—Available on Presidential Homes of Virginia Tour.

Visiting the home of our third US President, Thomas Jefferson, gives you the opportunity to share in the interests of this Renaissance man.  The estate shows off his 43-room house that he designed in 1769 and finished in 1809.  His plantation was a source of food as well as a laboratory for plants from all over the world.  Jefferson’s parlor is one of the rooms where he would entertain his political peers.  On your visit, be sure to check out one of three house privies or as Jefferson called them his “air closets.”

 

STEGMAIER MANSION, Wilkes Barre, PA—Available on Pocono Fall Foliage Tour.

If you are fond of the Victorian Era,  then you will absolutely love the home of Frederick and Mary Steigmaier, founder of the Stegmaier Beer Company.  Said to be the aristocrats of Wilkes Barre, the Stegmaiers weren’t only highly regarded because of their world-renown “Gold Medal” beer, but for their philanthropy as well.   Restored by its present owner as a Bed & Breakfast and venue for special events, you are in for a real treat as each room is over the top Victorian—wallpaper, furniture, household furnishings.  Doesn’t matter if you have lunch in the Ladies or Gentlemen’s Parlors, you are transported back in Victorian time!

 

Photo by Jay Peterson

BEAUVOIR, Biloxi, MS—Available on Mississippi Gulf Coast Tour.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico from his large estate.   Willed to him by, Sarah Ellis Dorsey, Davis lived out his final years at Beauvoir.  With his passing, his second wife, Varina Howell Davis sold it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that it be used as a Confederate veterans home.  It is on the National Historic Landmark Registry.  Besides touring Davis’ home, visitors are treated to museum and library Civil War artifacts.  Be sure to ask about the Camel Corp—it is fascinating!

 

EDSEL AND ELEANOR FORD HOUSE, Grosse Pt. Shores, MI—Available on Agawa Canyon, Ontario Canada Tour.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen it all!  Although Edsel, the son of Henry Ford, had multiple houses, this one on Lake St. Clair was where he and his wife Eleanor raised their four children.  Built on 87 acres and designed by the premier landscape designer, Jens Jensen, this house tour is as much about the outside as the inside.  Jens managed to combine woodlands, meadows and wetlands in such a natural way that guests are mesmerized.  Each building on the estate is fashioned after English cottages including their daughter’s playhouse complete with plumbing and electricity!  The wood paneling, doors, fireplaces, and chimney piece come from various areas of England.  The kitchen counters made of sterling silver and a secret photography darkroom are more reasons not to miss this tour.

 

So, when you feel like “running away” from your own home for a at least a little while, consider taking a Starr bus tour and visiting one of these wonderful homes! You won’t be disappointed!

 

Happy travels,
Christine Durling, Starr Tour Director