According to a history of Memorial Day provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in May 1868 the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic — established Decoration Day as a time to decorate the graves of the war dead.
Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
Local observances claiming to be the first springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Although there are cities in the north and south that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day , the official birthplace was declared in 1966, when Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day.
It was not until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day . It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.
Here are several area events planned to commemorate Memorial Day:
Memorial Day fundraiser
Chief Petty Officers Club in Elizabeth City will host a barbecue fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Event will include live music, raffles, bounce house, face painting. Proceeds benefit Albemarle Hopeline’s Women Shelter and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 64.
Memorial Day 5K Honor run
Memorial Day 5K Honor run will be held at Charles Creek Park at 10 a.m. Registrations starts at 8:30 a.m. Cost is $25 for adults, $15 for children 17 and under. Proceeds benefit Chapter 64 of the Disabled American Veterans and Albemarle Hopeline. Visit www.facebook.com/5KHonorRun or call 919-673-3035.
The Camden County Courthouse will host a Memorial Day observance at 7:30 a.m. Pastor Billy Royal will speak and a 21-gun salute will be rendered by Post 6060 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard.
Post 6060 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will hold a Memorial Day ceremony at New Hollywood Cemetery.
The Fleet Reserve Association Branch 293 will present 200 U.S. flags to adorn the gravesites of veterans at Westlawn Cemetery at 1 p.m. The Chief Petty Officers’ Club in Elizabeth City will give away hot dogs and soft drinks afterwards. Contact: Frank Gates at 335-9611 or Daniel Serik at 619-8524.
The Cpl. George D. Matthews Post 288 American Legion will host a Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Park in Coinjock at 11 a.m.
Dr. Alex Kehayes will be the keynote speaker for the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Chowan County Veterans Memorial in Edenton.