Posted by Museum Customer Service Representative and Volunteer Diana Stanley
Barbecues by the lakeside, spending time with one’s family, and taking a break from work- all trademarks of a good Memorial Day. But what is Memorial Day? When did it begin? Why should we care beyond that the bank is closed?
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Decoration Day was started in May 1868, three years after the Civil war ended, by an organization of Union veterans. It was meant to take place every year on May 30. Decoration Day was a way of commemorating fallen soldiers by laying flowers and American flags on their graves. Despite some dispute over the matter, the official birthplace of Decoration Day was declared by President Lyndon Johnson as Waterloo, New York. Decoration Day remained unchanged until the end of WWI, when it became a day commemorating all American wars and fallen soldiers. The name change to Memorial Day happened gradually, but picked up popularity after WWII, until it was given its official name by law in 1967. The date was changed from May 30 to the nearest Monday in 1968.
Memorial Day was one of the first of its kind of remembrance for America. Why did the country feel the need to make such a day? Over 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, and hundred of thousands more were wounded, captured, or missing, making it America’s bloodiest war by far. If the numbers were converted into today’s population statistics it would equal six million soldiers dying alone. More Americans died than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, and World War I combined. There were 23,000 causalities at the Battle of Shiloh alone. Due to how recruiting and regiments worked at the time, there were entire small towns that lost almost every man between the ages of 18 and 40. Everyone lost someone or at least knew someone who did.
Memorial Day weekend is a great time to visit the Museum. Our second floor offers exhibits on the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I and II, and Vietnam and Korea. Military admission discounts are available. Please visit our website or contact the Museum at 316.263.1311 for more information.