6. It was a long road from Decoration Day to an official Memorial Day.
Although the term Memorial Day was used beginning in the 1880s, the holiday was officially known as Decoration Day for more than a century, when it was changed by federal law. Four years later, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 finally went into effect, moving Memorial Day from its traditional observance on May 30 (regardless of the day of the week), to a set day—the last Monday in May. The move has not been without controversy, though. Veterans groups, concerned that more Americans associate the holiday with first long weekend of the summer and not its intended purpose to honor the nation’s war dead, continue to lobby for a return to the May 30 observances. For more than 20 years, their cause was championed by Hawaiian Senator—and decorated World War II veteran—Daniel Inouye, who until his 2012 death reintroduced legislation in support of the change at the start of every Congressional term.
7. More than 20 towns claim to be the holiday’s “birthplace”—but only one has federal recognition.
For almost as long as there’s been a holiday, there’s been a rivalry about who celebrated it first. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, bases its claim on an 1864 gathering of women to mourn those recently killed at Gettysburg. In Carbondale, Illinois, they’re certain that they were first, thanks to an 1866 parade led, in part, by John Logan who two years later would lead the charge for an official holiday. There are even two dueling Columbus challengers (one in Mississippi, the other in Georgia) who have battled it out for Memorial Day supremacy for decades. Only one town, however, has received the official seal of approval from the U.S. government. In 1966, 100 years after the town of Waterloo, New York, shuttered its businesses and took to the streets for the first of many continuous, community-wide celebrations, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation, recently passed by the U.S. Congress, declaring the tiny upstate village the “official” birthplace of Memorial Day.
A massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the “Great Emigration,” the expedition came two years after the first modest party of settlers made the long, overland journey to Oregon.
Follow us over the Memorial Holidays to learn 8 things you may not have known about Memorial Day….
For nearly 150 years, Americans have gathered in late spring to honor the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in service to their country. What began with dozens of informal commemorations of those killed in the Civil War has grown to become one of the nation’s most solemn and hallowed holidays. From its earliest incarnation as “Decoration Day” to its modern-day observances, check out some surprising facts about the history of Memorial Day.
In Washington, D.C., humanitarians Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons found the American National Red Cross, an organization established to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross.
Barton, born in Massachusetts in 1821, worked with the sick and wounded during the American Civil War and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless dedication. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned her to search for lost prisoners of war, and with the extensive records she had compiled during the war she succeeded in identifying thousands of the Union dead at the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp. Read more…
On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which opens government-owned land to small family farmers (“homesteaders”). The act gave “any person” who was the head of a family 160 acres to try his hand at farming for five years. The individual had to be at least 21 years old and was required to build a house on the property. Farmers were also offered an alternative to the five-year homesteading plan. They could opt to buy the 160 acres after only 6 months at the reasonable rate of $1.25 an acre. Many homesteaders could not handle the hardships of frontier life and gave up before completing five years of farming. If a homesteader quit or failed to make a go of farming, his or her land reverted back to the government and was offered to the public again. Ultimately, these lands often ended up as government property or in the hands of land speculators. If, after five years, the farmer could prove his (or her) homestead successful, then he paid an $18 filing fee for a “proved” certificate and received a deed to the land.
On this day in 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt set a date for the cross-Channel landing that would become D-Day—May 1, 1944. That date will prove a bit premature, as bad weather becomes a factor.
Addressing a joint session of Congress, Churchill warned that the real danger at present was the “dragging-out of the war at enormous expense” because of the risk that the Allies would become “tired or bored or split”—and play into the hands of Germany and Japan. He pushed for an early and massive attack on the “underbelly of the Axis.” And so, to “speed” things up, the British prime minister and President Roosevelt set a date for a cross-Channel invasion of Normandy, in northern France, for May 1, 1944, regardless of the problems presented by the invasion of Italy, which was underway. It would be carried out by 29 divisions, including a Free French division, if possible.
Abraham Lincoln, a one-time U.S. representative from Illinois, is nominated for the U.S. presidency by the Republican National Convention meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was nominated for the vice presidency.
Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and former Whig representative to Congress, first gained national stature during his campaign against Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois for a U.S. Senate seat in 1858. The senatorial campaign featured a remarkable series of public encounters on the slavery issue, known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, in which Lincoln argued against the spread of slavery while Douglas maintained that each territory should have the right to decide whether it would become free or slave. Lincoln lost the Senate race, but his campaign brought national attention to the young Republican Party. In 1860, Lincoln won the party’s presidential nomination.
In the November election, Lincoln again faced Douglas, who represented the Northern faction of a heavily divided Democratic Party, as well as Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge and Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. On November 6, 1860, Lincoln defeated his opponents with only 40 percent of the popular vote, becoming the first Republican to win the presidency. The announcement of Lincoln’s victory signaled the secession of the Southern states, which since the beginning of the year had been publicly threatening secession if the Republicans gained the White House.
By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861, seven states had seceded, and the Confederate States of America had been formally established, with Jefferson Davis as its elected president. One month later, the American Civil War began when Confederate forces under General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
The #Wakulla County Historical Society program on Tuesday, March 11 (7:00 PM) will be held in Saint Marks at the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park Museum. The presentation #“Wakulla County River Town, 1835-1865” will feature speaker Alva T. Stone describing the lives of her great, great grandfather, Dr. James M. Madden and other relatives who lived in Saint Marks, Port Leon, and New Port during the territorial and early statehood era. Ms. Stone, from Jacksonville, earned her bachelors and masters degrees at FSU. Upon retirement from libraries at FSU she remains in Tallahassee. There is no admission fee. For more information contact the WCHS at firstname.lastname@example.org, 850-926-1110, or visit the Museum at 24 High Drive on Courthouse Square in Crawfordville during business hours—Thursday and Friday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM or Saturday 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.