I am re-posting an article from three years ago, about my hometown, and Memorial Day 

 

Forty-five years ago, Memorial Day became a national holiday.

But in Waterloo, NY, my hometown, this year will be 150th observance of Memorial Day.

Often called “Decoration Day” in some parts of the U.S., it was conceived after the Civil War, as a call to remembrance of the soldiers who died in the war.

 

 

It now commemorates the soldiers who have died during all of America’s wars.

 

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The residents of Waterloo first held the ceremony in 1866, and have never failed to mark the event since then.

Fifty-eight villagers had died fighting for the Union Army.

Many of them fell on the same day, holding the line at Gettysburg.

Some were draftees. A good number of them were immigrants. German, English, Irish, Canadian, they died along with the native-born.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1966, for the centennial of the event, the village was recognized by gubernatorial, Congressional and Presidential proclamations as

The Birthplace of Memorial Day.”

Waterloo’s ceremonies were not the earliest memorial services, nor were they the sole inspiration for our national day of commemoration.  Nonetheless, the village should be recognized as a “birthplace,” because it was the first community to institute a non-sectarian, community-wide, official event.  All businesses in the village closed that day, and the commemorations have been consistently observed, in peacetime and wartime, each and every year since 1866.

 

 

In Waterloo, it was never “Decoration Day;” it has always been called “Memorial Day.”

 

Civil War pictures

 

In 1866 the entire country was already in mourning, and trying to come to terms with the loss of hundreds of thousands of citizens.

It was a nation of widows, orphans, bereaved parents, lost families, and countless veterans left maimed physically and mentally, and sometimes, shipped home only to continue dying from wartime injuries, diseases, and drug addictions.

 

 

There was a common impulse, North and South, to pay tribute to the dead, by formal observances, floral tributes, speeches, parades and poetry.

From Maryland to New Mexico, Florida to Pennsylvania, soldiers’ remains were gathered from shallow graves near battlefields, camps, prisons, and hospital yards, and re-buried in orderly plots, some of them laid out uniformly in huge federal cemeteries, and some designed as beautiful community parks .

A new industry was born, as sculptors began to create thousands of monuments.

Robert E. Lee’s “Arlington” estate was transformed into a vast necropolis.

 

It was at Arlington National Cemetery, in 1868, that General John “Black Jack” Logan and the G.A.R. (which became the largest Union veteran’s group) initiated the ceremony which became the national Memorial Day.

Logan began his political career as a pro-slavery racist, but during the course of the war, was transformed not only into one of the best of the politician-generals, but also into a “Radical Republican,” supporting the freed slaves.

 

 

My favorite story is from Columbus, Georgia, also during the spring of 1866, because the townsfolk there decorated both Confederate and Union graves.

 

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1915 G.A.R. parade. Library of Congress

 

“Decoration Day” had long existed as a custom in many communities, when the grass at burial grounds was trimmed, and evergreen boughs and flowers were brought graveside.

 

 

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Gettysburg

 

The association of greenery and flowers with memorial services long predates the Civil War, or even the existence of the United States.  Flowers and garlands have been found in Neolithic graves and Pharaohs’ tombs.

 

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For many people, especially in English-speaking countries, poppies are now associated with the First World War and remembrance of “Flanders fields”.  But for many centuries before that, they served as a symbol of sleep, death, oblivion, ease of pain, and for some, resurrection.  Poppies are mentioned in this way by Roman poets and Shakespeare, and you’ll see them carved on old tombstones and monuments from the Civil War.

 

On Boston Commons, there is a beautiful bronze sculpture by Saint-Gaudens, portraying Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment, comprised of free blacks and escaped slaves.

Above the soldiers, hundreds of whom died in a hopeless assault at Fort Wagner, is the figure of a woman, not a Winged Victory, I think, but a gentle-looking angel of death, carrying an olive branch and poppies.

 

Detail from Saint-Gaudens beautiful monument to the 54th. If you look in the crook of the angel's arm, you'll see poppies.

Detail from Saint-Gaudens’ beautiful monument to the 54th Regiment. This is the plaster cast in the Nat’l Gallery of Art. If you look in the crook of the angel’s arm, you’ll see poppies.

 

In a sense, Memorial Day is “kept evergreen,” as the old folks used to say, because generation after generation has produced a new crop of fatalities to mourn.

 

 

 

A few years ago, another shrub and another piece of granite were added to our village green.

A “Rose of Sharon,” the national flower of South Korea, was planted as a remembrance of what some call “The Forgotten War”.

I don’t think our climate will allow a pool of lotus flowers for Vietnam, but we can grow hardy varieties of roses (Iraq) and certainly tulips (Afghanistan).

And so it goes.

 

Dogtags

Dog tags.  Afghanistan memorial at Old North Church, Boston

 

Reminders are everywhere.

The bronze Napoleons on our village green are from the Civil War.  The most popular cannons of the war, they could shoot a twelve-pound iron ball for nearly a mile, or shred infantrymen with grapeshot and canister.

The V.F.W. has a “Huey Cobra” helicopter on their lawn, to evoke Vietnam.  Over 3,300 of them went down during the war.

The American Legion sports a 37mm M3, a little antitank cannon, from WWII.  It’s shells proved effective against lightly-armored Japanese tanks, but bounced off the Nazi panzers like marbles.

Driving around this area, you’ll find a Revolutionary cannon, a Korean War jet, an armored car…it will just be a matter of time before they ship us a Humvee or a Bradley in desert paint.

 

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Winslow Homer’s sketch of a Napoleon. LOC

 

It would be nice to have more flowers around here, too.

There are poppies in the garden at home.

They blossom this time of year, but last a very short time, before the petals fall to the ground.

 

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row, 

That mark our place;  and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

 

 

 

Civil War, Decoration Day, First World War, FLX, History, Memorial Day, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Waterloo, WWI

The 150th Memorial Day ~~ Waterloo, NY ~ May 1866

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Johnny Reb & Billy Yank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civil War, Decoration Day, First World War, History, Memorial Day, Waterloo, WWI

Memorial Day Postcards VII ~ ~ 1900 – 1945 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ” There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim”

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The “Flags on Parade” stamp was first issued on May 30, 1991 in Waterloo, NY, for the 125th anniversary of the village’s Memorial Day observances.

 

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c. 1900-1910

 

 

1908

 

1908  Grand Army of the Republic. Membership in the G.A.R. peaked at 490,000 in 1890. Their last “encampment” was held in Indianapolis in 1949, and it’s last member died seven years later.

 

1908

 

 

 

Decoration Day, History, Memorial Day, Uncategorized, Waterloo

Memorial Day Postcards V ~ ~ ~ 1900 – 1910 ~ ~ ~ Old Glory

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The Spanish-American War provided another opportunity for reconciliation between Civil War vets. “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, the Confederate general, later commanded the U.S. cavalry fighting in Cuba. (Although while watching the Spanish troops retreat, he forgot himself and yelled “Let’s go, boys! We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run!”)

 

An odd juxtaposition — a solemn admonition “Lest we forget” with pretty women in uniform.

 

I count 46 stars, so 1908-1912. Until the Spanish-American War, soldiers wore blue wool, winter or summer, and even after khaki was adopted, the blue survived as the dress uniform. I thought this hat was fanciful, but other than the gaudy gold trim, it’s actually the correct style of dress cap for that era.

 

1908. Horrifyingly indiscreet, but at least the young lady isn’t revealing any ankle.

 

In the 1890’s, this became a day for hugely popular bicycle races, followed in 1911 by the Indy 500. It’s a neat poster, but again, it seems like a strange partnering of soldiers, aged vets, and bicyclists. Library of Congress

 

This one puzzles me — has he enlisted to escape his formidable-looking wife? Or was he shooting at that hat by mistake, hoping to have pheasant for dinner?

Civil War, Decoration Day, Memorial Day, Uncategorized

Memorial Day Postcards IV ~ ~ ~ A Bit Less Serious

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c. 1900-1910 Even as the number of surviving Civil War soldiers dwindled over the years, cards continues to display the emblem of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), a fraternal organization, and a powerful lobby for the interests of Union veterans and war widows. In later years, you also see the emblem of an offshoot, the S.U.V. (Sons of Union Veterans), which was formed in the 1880’s.

 

c. 1900-1910

 

c. 1899 “To My Comrade” A Spanish-American war uniform, however, with the G.A.R. insignia and badge

 

This postkarte, like a lot of the ones I’m posting, was printed in Germany, which may explain the unusual two-finger salute. As far as I know, it’s used in the U.S. only by the Cub Scouts, but hasn’t been used by our military. It was apparently more customary in the German and Polish armies.

 

c. 1917

 

illustration from a 1917 “Youth’s Companion”

 

 

 

Decoration Day, First World War, History, Memorial Day, Uncategorized, WWI

Memorial Day Postcards III ~ ~ ~ 1900 – 1918 ~ ~ ~ Passing the Torch

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c. 1917-1918.   Even after Veteran’s Day (originally called Armistice Day) was instituted in 1919, Memorial Day has continued to be an opportunity to honor not only those lost in the wars, but also the surviving veterans, and those currently serving in the military.

 

 

c. 1900-1910 Some historians estimate that 70,000 soldiers lost a limb during the Civil War. It has often been noted, that in 1866, the state of Mississippi spent more that half it’s annual budget on artificial limbs.

 

One of the philanthropists supporting this writing contest for one-armed veterans, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (Teddy’s father), had also supported the war effort, but did not serve in the army. Instead, he avoided the draft by hiring a substitute to take his place in the ranks.  LOC

 

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I just read that Hanger, Inc., a company providing prosthetic limbs, was founded by a one-legged Confederate veteran. J. E. Hanger enlisted at 18, and two days later, was hit by a cannonball. He may have had the honor of becoming the first known amputee of the Civil War. An engineering student, he developed a lighter, superior wooden leg made from barrel staves, and supplied them to the Confederate Army. He lived long enough to see his inventions used by another generation of soldiers, wounded in the First World War.

 

James Edward Hanger, from his company’s website

 

c. 1900 – 1914

 

When I looked at this particular portrait, I wondered if he survived the war.

 

1883 Reunion of Union veterans. LOC

 

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“A Grateful Land Remembers All Her Promises Today”

 

 

Civil War, Decoration Day, History, Memorial Day, Waterloo

Memorial Day Postcards II ~ ~ ~ 1900 – 1918 ~ ~ ~ Veterans

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Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some pre-WWI postcards from Memorial Day, which used to be called Decoration Day in some parts of the country. My hometown, Waterloo, NY, was the first in the country to begin an official, community-wide, non-sectarian observance of Memorial Day, starting in 1866. Two years later, General John “Black Jack” Logan, head of the largest organization of Union veterans, the G.A.R., began observances at Arlington National Cemetery. After World War I, when it became a day to remember the dead from all our wars, most southern states began participating. The cards were at first sentimental portrayals of old vets, children and widows remembering the fallen, then later scenes of reconciliation, and over time, sometimes show the day becoming a less solemn, springtime holiday, until the losses of the First World War.

 

 

Tuck's 1900-1910

 

This one isn’t a postcard, but rather a c. 1893 pictorial premium from a coffee company. A bit clumsy – the artist probably didn’t intend to make it look like a geriatric quoits tournament.

 

Tuck's 1900-1910

 

1912.

 

 

 

Memorial Day cover of the 1894 “Youth’s Companion”

Civil War, Decoration Day, History, Memorial Day, NY, Uncategorized, Waterloo

Memorial Day Postcards I ~ ~ ~ 1893 – 1912 ~ ~ ~ Remembrance, Reconciliation, Floral Tributes

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