Memorial Day on Ohio Memory

1904 parade in Bowling Green, courtesy of the Wood County District Public Library via Ohio Memory.
1904 parade in Fayette, Ohio, courtesy of the Normal Memorial Library via Ohio Memory.

People around Ohio and around the country are preparing for Memorial Day weekend–a long weekend off work for many, and the unofficial kick-off to the summer season. What we sometimes forget over this holiday, though, is that Memorial Day is a national day of remembrance with deep roots, all the way back to the days following the Civil War.

Originally conceived as Decoration Day by the Union veterans who established the Grand Army of the Republic, it served as an annual time to remember those killed during the Civil War and decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers–hence “Decoration.” The name Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but began growing in popularity after the end of World War II. Federal law codified the name in 1967, and in 1971, moved the official date of the holiday from the traditional May 30th to the last Monday in May, regardless of date. This year, the two happen to coincide.

Memorial Day arch, 1898, courtesy of the University of Akron via Ohio Memory.
Memorial Day arch, 1898, courtesy of the University of Akron via Ohio Memory.

A number of images represent the observance of Memorial Day and Decoration Day in Ohio Memory, documenting the traditions of Ohioans around the state on this important holiday. The photograph at the head of the post shows a parade put on by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Fayette, Ohio, in 1904. Crowds line the streets to watch a procession featuring a military band, women bearing wreaths–possibly war widows–and men who are most likely veterans of the Civil War and Spanish American War. Numerous other towns and cities in Ohio have historically commemorated the day with similar parades, including Bowling Green, Perrysburg, Steubenville and more. Great information can be found online about events taking place this year on Memorial Day, so check to see what may be happening in your neck of the woods.

Some years, efforts were made for more elaborate celebrations, as with the memorial arch in downtown Akron in 1898, seen at right. U.S. involvement in the Spanish American War meant that citizens were even more enthusiastic in their efforts that year. Beneath the engraved message “In Honor of Our Nation’s Heroes” is the Latin phrase, “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum,” meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

1954 Memorial Day service held at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, via Ohio Memory.
1954 Memorial Day service held at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, via Ohio Memory.

Still others commemorate the holiday with services at military cemeteries. The Women’s Relief Corps had a tradition of decorating a local monument at Old Cemetery in Elmore, Ohio, as seen in this ca. 1914 photograph, while Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus regularly receives Memorial Day visitors. Seen at left is Charles Atkins, the descendant of a Confederate soldier who died while a prisoner at Camp Chase. The Confederate Cemetery remains today with 2,260 graves marking the Confederate dead.

As you are celebrating Memorial Day this weekend–whether through a community parade, a visit to your local cemetery, a barbecue with family and friends, or perhaps even by taking part in the opening events of the updated Ohio Village at the Ohio History Center–we hope you’ll take time to remember the meaning of this holiday and explore some of the historical reminders on Ohio Memory.

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!


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