A brief Memorial Day history lesson

California Poppy

Poppy flowers are always popular on Memorial Day, from the McRae poem "In Flanders Field." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Good morning campers; it’s almost Memorial Day and some of you, no doubt, are wondering just exactly what is Memorial Day history. You may want to know how it came about, how it was made official, so on and so forth. So, in advance of packing up to camp out at the lake, go to Grandma’s house or just getting away from all the noise, here’s some of the dish on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day history starts with the Civil War

It wasn’t actually called Memorial Day at first. There are differing opinions as to when was the first observance, but what is clear is that days of remembrance were observed immediately after the end of the Civil War, and the graves of the fallen were decorated.  Initially, it was actually called Decoration Day, not the most imaginative of names.  (We give our holidays such uncolorful names in this country. Maybe some quick cash for a study group to come up with better names would be in order.)

Got the attention of veterans

The town of Waterloo, New York, on May 5, 1866, got the attention of two Army Generals, John Logan and John Murray. John Logan, as it turns out, was the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Civil War veterans. (Later it became the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.)  The group announced on May 5, 1868, that it would be observing a Decoration Day on May 30 that year.  Southern states, still reeling from a massive case of sour grapes, generally opposed it.

Memorial Day becomes official

The name Memorial Day didn’t become official until 1967. The next year, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Presidents Day (then Washington’s Birthday) from the traditional specified dates to designated Mondays to make the logistics easier for everyone. Since then, some veterans groups have petitioned regularly to move Memorial Day from its current position as the last Monday in May back to May 30.  Memorial Day 2010 will be May 31.