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MEMORIAL DAY: THEN & NOW

The History Of Memorial Day We all have moments when we need to be reminded that our holidays aren’t just about time off to spend with family. Today’s traditions on...

The History Of Memorial Day

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Children wave flags during a Memorial Day parade in Ashland, Maine, in 1943. Photo: John Collier / Library of Congress.

We all have moments when we need to be reminded that our holidays aren’t just about time off to spend with family. Today’s traditions on Memorial Day involve baseball, cookouts and time spent with friends and neighbors, but how much do you know about where the holiday came from?

How Memorial Day Began

While there is a lot of discussion regarding when and where the holiday began, two things are clear: that Memorial Day started during the Civil War and was made official on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, and that it was originally known as Decoration Day. The name originated due to the fact that Decoration Day was a time for decorating the graves of soldiers whose lives were lost in combat.

General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on the first official Decoration Day, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. During World War I, the holiday extended from honoring the fallen of the Civil War to the remembrance of fallen soldiers of all US wars and became known as Memorial Day.

Daisies Gathered for Decoration Day, May 1899. Credit: Library of Congress.
Daisies Gathered for Decoration Day, May 1899. Credit: Library of Congress.

An Old Tradition of Memorial Day

For many years, one of the biggest traditions of Memorial Day was the wearing of Red Poppies. Wearing red poppies on the holiday began in the early 1900s and has been commemorated in US stamps, poems, and artwork over the years.

See More Vintage Photos of Decoration Days Past

Photos Courtesy of The Library of Congress and New York Daily News Archive. See more vintage images of Memorial Day at The Daily Beast here. 

Tomas Gregson, 10, and William Rush, 8, both Boy Scouts of Brooklyn, decorate graves in the Cypress Hills National Cemetery. According to this photo's original caption, more than 500 Boy Scouts and their leaders particpated in the annual ceremony of decorating 19,000 graves.
Tomas Gregson, 10, and William Rush, 8, both Boy Scouts of Brooklyn, decorate graves in the Cypress Hills National Cemetery. According to this photo’s original caption, more than 500 Boy Scouts and their leaders particpated in the annual ceremony of decorating 19,000 graves. Ed Clarity, New York Daily News Archive / Getty

Learn more about the history and observance of Memorial Day here.

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