By Jolene Hawkins
As we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, do you find yourself wondering how Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) got started and what it meant?
On May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, N.Y., they celebrated by closing businesses and the residents decorated the graves of the fallen soldiers with flowers and flags.
After the war, Americans in various towns and cities began having tributes to the countless fallen soldiers by decorating their graves. It is unclear where and when this tradition originated. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, a leader of GAR, called for a nationwide day of remembrance to be on May 30, for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. This day was called Decoration Day.
So how did our little Village of Springville celebrate it? In 1883, the GAR was making arrangements for flowers (these were grown by the local ladies and used upon this day) to be gathered for the graves of the fallen as well as having music and a small parade consisting of the Marshall of the day, George H. Barker, the Yorkshire band, Crary Post GAR, carrying the wreaths and flowers, the Fountain Hose Fire Department Company all in uniform, Citizens in Carriages. They met at the Log Cabin and marched to Maplewood Cemetery, where there was a ceremony and the flowers along with wreaths were laid on the graves.
In 1901, they met on Academy Street, then marched down Franklin Street, stopping to decorate the Soldiers Monument, then up Main Street to the Cemetery, where a ceremony was held with a speaker, and then the decoration of the graves, before all coming back down for a meal.
In 1905, the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway sold excursion tickets for $1 (Springville to Buffalo and back or Buffalo to Springville and back). Among the entertaining was to be great military and civic parades, championship ball games, forenoon and afternoon, and special performances at theaters. Return tickets could be used the same day or the following day.
In 1919, the American Legion was formed with the Auxiliary being formed the following year in 1920.
On May 30, 1919, the Memorial Day parade was headed by a line of 54 returning soldiers in khaki, then came the bands, followed by the Fountain Hose Fire Department Company, Scouts, Flower girls (carrying the flowers for the graves), Drum Corp, Crary Camp Sons of Veterans, then the surviving vets from the Civil War (14 in all) the Women’s Relief Corps, then the clergymen. After a ceremony and speech, they decorated about 200 graves, and then went back to a great dinner served by the Grand Army and the Women’s Relief Corps.
Now we see little poppies for sale during the time, but do you know the history of the poppies? A poem was written in 1915 by Lt. Col. John McCrae called “In Flanders Fields.” He was inspired to write the poem after losing a friend and seeing a battle scarred field, filled with poppies growing. In 1921, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance of those who died in War.
In 1944, the parade route was much the same as when it started, except it was being formed on South Buffalo Street, and proceeded down to Franklin Street to the Soldiers Monument and Honor Roll, where a wreath was placed, then west on Main Street to place a wreath on the World War Monument before it continued up to Maplewood cemetery for the ceremony and decoration of graves.
In 1950, there was an addition of the strewing of flowers by the Women’s Relief Corp. on the Springville pond for the unknown soldiers that had died and for those who loss their life at sea. I believe the pond they are talking about was located behind the GAR log cabin, where the parking lot is now.
On June 28, 1968 Congress passed a bill changing Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday in May.
We remember those that have died, have been in the service or still are today. We remember the sacrifices they made, as well as their families and friends so we can have our freedom. This weekend, it is not just the start of our “summer.” Memorial Day was created after the Civil War to remember the fallen, and now we remember the fallen and those that have passed. We can go and place flowers and flags on the graves, and pass on to the next generation their stories.
If you want to learn more, you can come down to the Lucy Bensley Center and read our old records, visit the Civil War Museum, Echoes Through Time, or talk to someone in the Legion, VFW, in the Service, or show up for the parade that still goes on and talk to some of our Veterans.