For those who may not know, Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” and grew out of the natural tendency of people to recognize and honor those who have died, especially with the first flowers of spring. After the Civil War, people both in the North and South spontaneously decorated the graves of those who had died in the war. In 1868 General John A. Logan issued an order that military units were to take time on May 30th to honor those who had fallen. Gradually, the holiday grew to expand to honoring all those who had served in any war, and was made a national holiday in 1971. A short history of the day can be found here.
The Memorial Day ceremony I attended was here in Wausau on Saturday. The parade started at Marathon Park and ended at the VFW Hall on River Drive. After the parade there was a ceremony where Senator Russ Decker, Mayor Tipple and others spoke. The ceremony ended with the raising of the flag and the playing of taps.
On Sunday I had the privledge to be able to attend a Decoration Day ceremony at Old World Wisconsin. The ceremony was a re-enactment of the type of ceremony that would have been held in 1917, in a town called Pleasant Ridge, Wisconsin. Although Pleasant Ridge is no longer a town, in the late 1800s and early 1900s it was an integrated village where many African-Americans had settled both before the Civil War as a result of the Underground Railroad and after the war.
As would have actually happened in 1917, the ceremony focused on Civil War veterans, both living and dead. Naturally, in 1917 Civil War veterans would have been elderly, but still part of society. Many moving speeches and poems were read about the soliders, both black and white giving the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. One of the most moving moments was when the entire crowd recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
I was told that this was the first Decoration Day ceremony they have done at Old World Wisconsin, and I think everyone involved did a spectacular job. From the period costumes and instruments to the moving portrayals by the re-enators, made for a wonderful event. I hope it will become an annual tradition at Old World Wisconsin.
I took a few snaps (not one of my strong points) at both ceremonies and put them on the Flickr site (remember there is an actual photo page for the blog!)