Originally posted 5/27/13
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was first officially celebrated on May 30, 1868, when flowers were used to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. It was considered a day to honor Civil War soldiers until after the First World War when it became a day to honor all war dead. It was not standardized as the last Monday in May until 1971 with the passage of the National Holiday Act. So as you celebrate this weekend with family gatherings and a day off from work, what will you do to remember the origins and purpose of this holiday? I found this news story on the web site Genealogy Bank and like the messages of the speakers. Remember not only those who put their lives on the line for us, but remember the principles for which they fought. Examine your own life and ask yourself what you can do to to advance those American ideals.
From the Portland Daily Press, June 4, 1881, comes this description of Memorial Day (Decoration Day) events held in Bethel on May 30th.
Decoration Day at Bethel
May 30th, as has been the custom for several years past, was appointed as the day on which to strew with flowers the widely scattered graves of our patriotic dead. About 2 o'clock Bethel Post, No. 8, formed in front of the Elm House, where they were soon joined by a large number of citizens. From there they marched down Mill hill to Greenwood cemetery, where the exercises were held. Bethel Band furnished music for the occasion. After visiting the graves of Major Frye, acting marshal of the day, called people to order, and after appropriate remarks, introduced Rev. Mr. Pease, pastor of the M.E. society, who made the prayer, thanking God that the care and suffering of the great struggle were past, that peace once more smiled upon us. He prayed that we might not forget the sacrifices of the living and the dead, but cherish not only the memories of our heroes but the principles for which they contested.
After this, Dr. George M. Twitchell, of Fairfield, delivered the address. Strife and blood, pain and death, these are the terrible characters in which all truth is written on the world. The price of truth is the best surety of its might. The object of the day and the lessons it brings were the first thoughts of the speaker. The works of the heroic dead and living were fully presented, and then the question was taken up as to the claims which they have upon us today as citizens. Society, temperance, education, and politics were the leading points brought out and enlarged upon. The work of the hour and importance of early training was urges as the surest safeguard against the dangers which threaten. In closing he addressed fitting words to the members of the Grand Army boys, and to those who have lost dear ones who were soldiers.