“I recently found out that one of my relatives fought in the Civil War. How do I make sure that he gets a flag on his grave for Memorial Day?”
Our patron’s relative was not buried in Newton Falls, but we were able to easily locate the rules and regulations for the cemetery where they were buried on the internet. The rules stated that the Memorial Day flags were property of the township and would be displayed for “a reasonable time.” We decided that our most straightforward option would be to contact the township directly, so we called the cemetery sexton, who had listed his phone number on the website, and he was able to solve the problem. We also could have called the local chapter of the American Legion.
According to Holiday Symbols and Customs, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson, Memorial Day, first called “Decoration Day,” originated as a day to honor Civil War soldiers. The first official observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, though other towns were decorating soldiers’ graves before then, including women in Columbus, Mississippi, who gathered on April 25, 1866 to decorate the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
The first nationwide Decoration Day was held by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Army veterans’ group, on May 30, 1868. As Union Army veterans were the first to mark the day, several southern states felt that it was only for them, so states instituted their own Confederate Memorial Days on different dates ranging from late April to early June. This custom mostly ended after World War I, when the American Legion took over planning the holiday.