I am lucky enough to have grown up in an area of New York that is rich in history. I grew up and graduated from the town know for it being the Birth Place of Woman's Rights (for which i will write about this summer), and my neighboring town over is the Birth Place of Memorial Day. This is the town my mother grew up in, and the history of the start of Memorial Day, I share with you today.
The story of Memorial Day begins in the summer of 1865, when a prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles, mentioned to some of his friends at a social gathering that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves. Nothing resulted from this suggestion until he advanced the idea again the following spring to General John B. Murray. Murray, a civil war hero and intensely patriotic, supported the idea wholeheartedly and marshalled veterans' support. Plans were developed for a more complete celebration by a local citizens' committee headed by Welles and Murray.
On May 5, 1866, the Village was decorated with flags at half mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans, civic societies and residents, led by General Murray, marched to the strains of martial music to the three village cemeteries. There impressive ceremonies were held and soldiers' graves decorated. One year later, on May 5, 1867, the ceremonies were repeated. In 1868, Waterloo joined with other communities in holding their observance on May 30th, in accordance with General Logan's orders. It has been held annually ever since.
Waterloo held the first formal, village wide, annual observance of a day dedicated to honoring the war dead. On March 7, 1966, the State of New York recognized Waterloo by a proclamation signed by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. This was followed by recognition from Congress of the United States when the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 587 on May 17th and May 19th, 1966 respectively. This reads in part as follows: "Resolved that the Congress of the United States, in recognition of the patriotic tradition set in motion one hundred years ago in the Village of Waterloo, NY, does hereby officially recognize Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day..."
On May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing Waterloo as the Birthplace of Memorial Day.
Today, Waterloo, NY, like many communities, celebrate Memorial Day. There is usually a town wide celebration the last week of May, with reenactments (this year is the Civil War), past Presidents (along with other typical "fair" type things). Waterloo still however commemorates Memorial Day on May 30th, Memorial Day's official date, regardless of what day it falls on that year. Waterloo is also the host to The National Memorial Day Museum.
For all of you you may be reading my blog, I hope you take the time today (May 30th) to thank a veteran for their time in service, as well as pay tribute to our fallen soldiers, who gave the ultimate sacrifice that allow us the freedoms we enjoy today. Remember this day, a solemn day in deed.
history of Memorial Day from this website: Memorial Day History