Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day - History

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.
John A. Logan, (Library of Congress)

Click the title to see the History Channel's website on the history of this holiday . I remember my grandparents referring to it as Decoration Day. It dates back to the bloody Civil War days.
"Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee." (

Some people feel that changing the original day to just make a long weekend dilutes the meaning of it. It's probably true - with people heading out of town on the first extended weekend of the summer season, there's little time to "decorate" the graves. Of course, as much as I appreciate remembering the dead and feel an eternal connection to them (I'm an avid family history buff), I also believe that they are not there so it is merely a rite we have assumed in our grieving. I enjoy knowing that my loved ones who have gone on are busy and happy in another realm; not lurking in graveyards. So, no disrespect intended - I usually prefer to remember in other ways.

Speaking of which.... I sure would love to get photos of some of my deceased relatives. It is imperative that photos be preserved properly, copied and saved to disks, etc. because they deteriorate quickly. The more people who have copies, the safer they will be because there will always be backups in case of loss, theft, natural disaster or improper storage. According to the Library of Congress, "Avoid and/or remove materials such as acidic paper or cardboard, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, rubber bands, paper clips, and pressure-sensitive tapes and rubber cement. Suitable storage materials should be made of plastic or paper, and free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides. Paper enclosures must be acid-free, lignin-free, and are available in both buffered (alkaline, pH 8.5) and unbuffered (neutral, pH 7) stock. Storage materials must pass the ANSI Photographic Activity Test (PAT) which is noted in supplier's catalogs." So, we need to get rid of the PVC, the "magnetic" photo albums, plastic slide sleeves, cardboard, etc. and "store all prints and negatives that are matted or placed in paper or plastic enclosures in acid-free boxes."

We do know that nothing will last forever so care must be taken to replace the items periodically - even those saved to disks. There's much more to be said on this topic but for now, maybe we can start to make some headway before it is too late.

So, hopefully we can all enjoy the holiday while doing something to remember the Veterans and our ancestors. Mine will be another work weekend mostly but it's always nice to get another day off work!

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