Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day 1871

No burgers, brats or beer were enjoyed in backyards to mark the Memorial Day holiday in 1871 in Kalamazoo. Memorial Day had recently been recommended by a resolution of Congress as a day to honor the “dead who fell in our great civil war.” Michigan was possibly the first to declare it a state holiday in 1871. The Civil War had been over for a mere five years. Everyone had sacrificed and been touched in some way by the war between the states, so far from a day to welcome summer, Decoration Day was a more somber occasion. Another difference from what we see today is that Memorial Day was truly a community affair.

In Kalamazoo, the day began in the early morning as “the good people of the village began to bring to Corporation Hall their floral offerings. . . And especially attractive was the sight of little girls coming in from almost every street, carrying in their hands, fresh and fragrant bouquets or upon their arms beautiful floral wreaths. During the forenoon the ladies of the Decoration Committee and other patriotic ladies were actively engaged in arranging the flowers – culling the choicest and collecting them tastefully into bouquets and chaplets.
At one o'clock the business houses were closed, and the citizens began to assemble at the places appointed for the forming of the procession.”

Those in the procession lined up and consisted of the: “Silver Cornet Band, Knights Templar, Odd Fellows, Typographical Union, German Harmonia Society, German Workingmen's Society, Holland Workingmen's Society, German Band, school children in the band wagon and on foot, citizens and soldiers, officers of the day (in carriages), Decoration Committee and young ladies to decorate the graves (in carriages), and President and trustees” of Kalamazoo (in carriages).

“The line moved down Main Street. The walks on either side were crowded with people; many of whom, in spite of the oppressive heat, accompanied the procession on foot to Riverside, where the principle exercises of the day were held. The procession was nearly a mile in length.”

Many people had already assembled at the cemetery for the solemn occasion. The band played, a prayer was offered and the names of the honored dead buried in both Riverside and Mountain Home cemeteries were read. There were fifty in all. The band played “the exceedingly appropriate and touching piece entitled 'Sleeping for the Flag,' which was followed by an address by the Honorable Charles S. May. In his speech, May stated “We feel this service to be a public duty. These men and their memory now belong to us; they form hereafter a part, the most glorious part, indeed, of our local history.” “To be remembered after death – this is one of the dearest wishes of the human heart. These men were as humble as patriotic. They did not expect great rewards of honors or riches for the service they so freely gave. But they did expect that we would remember them. This thought was everywhere with them to sustain and uphold them. On the weary march, in the hospital or prison pen, in the day of battle, their minds turned back to their far-off Northern homes, and they said, 'Do they think of us? Will they remember us if we fall.'” May continued, discussing the reasons we must not forget the fallen and their sacrifices for our country. I won't elaborate as the same reasons are given today.

Following the oration, the young ladies in white, escorted by the Odd Fellows and the Knights Templar prepared to decorate the graves of the fallen. Those fulfilling this duty at Mountain Home Cemetery left in carriages, while those engaged at Riverside passed “from grave to grave, strewing flowers, fresh and fragrant, over the resting places of our patriotic dead.”

I hope we all took a moment to really remember those in our families who served their country, and not just by eating a hot dog.

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 5-31-1871, p4.

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