Monday, May 30, 2011

Decoration Day

Decoration Day
Photo & Text © 2011 Kim- Seattle Daily Photo. All rights reserved; no use, alteration, reproduction or republishing in any media.

Today is Memorial Day, the American holiday commemorating members of the armed services who lost their lives in war. It is observed on the last Monday of May and had its roots in America's Civil War days. It began officially as Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 and was observed by the decoration of graves by families and civic groups. I found these stone hearts and vase of fresh Peonies adorning a headstone while walking in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. However, it is Seattle's Washeli Cemetery that is home to The Veterans Memorial Cemetery the resting place of hundreds who were buried with military honors. Known as "The Arlington of the West," it will be awash in the national colors today. (Photo of Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Washeli below © 2009 by Ben Benschnieder, used here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.)

Veterans Memorial Cemetery


Kate said...

Always good to get background information included with posts. The flowers are a brilliant hue.

stephen matlock said...

Found it interesting that the first unofficial remembrance day was in Charleston SC.

"But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city's official surrender. Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.

The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city's Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery.

They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course." The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy's bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before." The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song "John Brown's Body." Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses." [More at the link]

H/T to Ta-Nehisi Coates, quoting David Blight in the New York Times.

I did not know this until I read this today. I had always assumed it was something to honor the Civil War dead, but did not look any further.

Kim said...

Thanks Kate!

Steve, thank you very much for sharing these two articles. I had read that the decorating tradition sprang up in the south, in the middle years of the Civil War, but references were vage, implying Southern ladies groups had begun the practice and no mention at all of the African Americans and the martyred Union soldiers. These two articles are invaluable. May the reconciliation of all our sad divisions as a nation keep growing with our deepening understanding of our history.

Lnoelle said...

I really like this photo. Nice job.

Steffe said...

Interesting read. Your second private flickr photo is stunning.

Kim said...

Stunning, yes. That's such a great shot, especially with the moon and clouds behind. I'm sure the photographer is very proud of that one, Steffe.

Online Home Inspector said...

Memorial Day is to honor the people that did the job required by men of limited honor. This isn't the time or place to run down anyone but to say thanks to men and women who, sometimes against their own interests followed orders and did what needed to be done. I hope every generation has such people but that we spend them with more common sense.