Memorial Day: Did you know it did not originate with the Indy 500?

It’s another Memorial Day weekend — the pools are opening for the summer season, grills are on sale at Lowe’s, and we all get a day off from work today.

Yes, it’s yet another opportunity for Americans to take something solemn and serious, and turn it into a mindless party.

Indeed, try to wrap your head around this: with our economy in a shambles in large part because we are fighting 2 impossible wars, and with thousands of our soldiers dead because of those wars, our government has sent us an “economic stimulus” check  — which merchants nationwide are encouraging us to spend this weekend on things we really don’t need.

So not only will we ignore the meaning of this national holiday, we’ll do so in comfort and frivolity — with a party!

If you’ve read this blog much at all, you know I’m an anti-war, peace lovin’ librul. But I do respect and honor those who have had to stand and fight. So please join me today, and stop for just a moment to remember those who have gone before us. There is a nice history of Memorial Day over at Wikipedia. Please don’t let the crass commercialism that is our national mood take over this day, which has truly honorable and solemn origins:

According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. The freed slaves reinterred the dead Union soldiers from the mass grave to individual graves, fenced in the graveyard & built an entry arch declaring it a Union graveyard – a very daring thing to do in the South shortly after North’s victory. On May 30, 1887? the freed slaves returned to the graveyard with flowers they’d picked from the countryside & decorated the individual gravesites, thereby creating the 1st Decoration Day. A parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.

The official birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The village was credited with being the birthplace because it observed the day on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter, and because it is likely that the friendship of General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who led the call for the day to be observed each year and helped spread the event nationwide, was a key factor in its growth.

General Logan had been impressed by the way the South honored their dead with a special day and decided the Union needed a similar day. Reportedly, Logan said that it was most fitting; that the ancients, especially the Greeks, had honored their dead, particularly their heroes, by chaplets of laurel and flowers, and that he intended to issue an order designating a day for decorating the grave of every soldier in the land, and if he could he would have made it a holiday.

Read the rest of the Wikipedia entry here.



  1. Thanks, Donald, glad you enjoyed it! I am a bit of a history buff, and it so disappoints me when forget the story behind these events.

  2. It didn’t? But … but …I’m from Indiana! And for a few years I worked for the television station in Indianapolis that covered the race. And yes, I still cry when I hear Jim Nabors sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” … what can I say …

    Okay, I’ll go back and read the rest of the post now … I sort of got stopped at the headline … ha


  3. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for saying it so well. And thanks for the history lesson, too. I didn’t know that freed slaves had honored Union soldiers like that.

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