The History of Memorial Day: 5 Facts


Happy Memorial Day! Today is a day to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our country. While many of us may know the meaning of today, here are some additional historical facts you may not know.

1. It was originally called Decoration Day

To honor the deceased, soldiers would decorate graves of their fallen comrades with flowers, flags and wreaths. Hence Decoration Day. Although Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s, the holiday wouldn’t legally become Memorial Day until 1967 (Source).

2. The red poppy is the symbol of the Memorial Day

The red poppy is a traditional symbol of Memorial Day (many veterans wear them to commemorate the day). The poppy was inspired by the World War I-era John McCrae poem “In Flanders Fields” (Source).

3. Waterloo, New York is considered the birthplace of Memorial Day

According to the town’s website, in 1966 Congress unanimously passed a resolution to officially recognize Waterloo as the birthplace of the holiday. However, it remains a contentious debate, with other towns, like Boalsburg, Pa., claiming the title of “Birthplace of Memorial Day” as well (Source).

4. Arlington Cemetery is guarded Memorial weekend

On the Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. This tradition, called “Flags In”, has been in place since 1948 (Source).

5. At 3:00pm local time every Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place. 

It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated. It is suspected that numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day (Source).

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