Memorial Day is synonymous with much of Americana: the start of summer, picnics – even one-day car sales. But it’s important to remember the true meaning of the day, which is honoring those who sacrificed their lives serving the US.
That’s why today we decided to take a break from our futuristic endeavors to take a look back at the history of Memorial Day. We hope you enjoy some of these buried facts, and will share them with your friends and family.
1. Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day.” Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of the Grand Army of Republic, an organization of Union Army veterans, instituted the holiday in 1868. The purpose was to decorate the graves of soldiers who had died fighting in the Civil War. From Maj. Gen. Logan’s official order: “If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.”
2. Approximately 5,000 people gathered to celebrate the first “official” Decoration Day celebration at Arlington National Ceremony in 1868. That’s about the same amount of observers that gather there today.
3. About 25 towns and cities, both in the North and the South, have been connected in some way to the origins of Memorial Day. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y. the birthplace of the holiday. The town claims that the holiday was the idea of a local druggist in 1865.
4. Yale Scholar, David W. Blight, claims that the first Memorial Day-style celebration was actually put on by African-Americans, mostly former slaves, at a mass burial site for Union soldiers in Charleston, S.C.
5. Memorial Day didn’t become an official national holiday until 1971, when a Congressional Act set it at the end of May.
6. To preserve the purpose of honoring veterans, in 2000 Congress passed the The National Moment of Remembrance Act, signed into law by President William Clinton. The law calls for a moment of silence from Americans at their local time of 3 p.m. every Memorial Day.