Memorial Day helped reunify North and South

Memorial Day was first widely observed in 1868 after this proclamation from General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic:

"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization of former sailors and soldiers similar to today’s VFW organization. Membership was limited to those who had served in the Civil War.

The Civil War had ended in 1865 and many cities began a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers in April or May, probably around the 1st anniversary of the peace declaration. There is some evidence that women in the South began decorating soldiers’ graves in an organized fashion before the war ended.

The holiday was formalized and became national in 1868. On that Memorial Day, General James Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. (At the time, Garfield was a celebrated Army General. He was elected President twelve years later and assassinated in 1881, serving only a few months in office.) After the speech, over 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 soldiers — both Union and Confederate. It was one step in reunifying the country after the divisive war.


Many Southern states did not observe Memorial Day, preferring their own Confederate Memorial Days scheduled throughout the year. Some Southern states still celebrate a Confederate Day. Most began widely observing Memorial Day after World War I, when the holiday expanded from honoring only fallen Civil War soldiers to soldiers killed in any war.

President Lyndon Johnson worked with Congress to name Waterloo, N.Y., as the official birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966. Waterloo was chosen over many cities claiming the distinction including Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg, Penn.; and Carbondale, Ill. Waterloo was selected because its annual celebration was a community-wide event, observed by all businesses closing and residents decorating graves with flowers and flags.

Memorial Day was not declared a national holiday until 1971, after more than 100 years of observance. (Another national holiday, Veteran’s Day, celebrates all veterans, living and dead, on November 11.)

Memorials 2008

These memorials were given to the Hormel Historic Home in 2008. Please remember the HHH in your giving and in your will.

In Memory of Mary E. Bissen given by Connie Olson.

"Key Society" for piano maintenance in memory of Adelaide Holton given by Karen & Mahlon Schneider.

Laura Helle is the director of the Hormel Historic Home, 208 Fourth Ave. N.W., Austin.

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