by Lynne Belluscio
The origin of Memorial Day is often debated. Many communities throughout the United States claim to be the first place where folks went to the cemetery to place flowers and flags on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. In 1865, in nearby Waterloo, New York, (which in 1966, was officially declared by Congress and President Lyndon Johnson to be the “Birthplace of Memorial Day”) the townspeople began planning for a commemoration of those men who had been killed in the recent war. On May 5, 1866, all the businesses in town closed and women prepared wreaths, crosses and bouquets of flowers to be placed on the graves of the fallen soldiers. The village was decorated with evergreen boughs and black streamers. Flags flew at half-mast. Groups of people joined processions to the village’s three cemeteries where martial music was played and services were held. The day was observed in a “solemn, patriotic manner.” The next year, the people in Waterloo gathered again, but in 1868, in accordance with the General Order of General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, the observance was held three weeks later on May 30. It was to be known as “Decoration Day” and the May 30 date was chosen because no Civil War battles had been fought on that day. By 1890, every northern state recognized Decoration Day, but this day was not popular in the south, where towns preferred to commemorate the fallen Confederate soldiers on Stonewall Jackson’s birthday or in tribute to General Lee. Today, Confederate Heroes Day is still celebrated in many southern communities.