Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Celebrating Decoration Day

Celebrating Decoration Day

The exhibit, "Harvey County On the Homefront" opened at the museum in 2011.  To add to understanding about what was happening in Harvey County during WWI (1917-1919), several blog articles will focus on this time period in the coming year.  

This coming weekend we will celebrate Memorial Day - for many this is the start of summer and involves a trip to the lake.   However, Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it was first called, started as a day of remembrance of those who have died in our nation's service specifically Union soldiers during the Civil War.  Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  

Parade, Newton Kansas,
ca. 1918

With the start of America's involvement in the Great War in 1917, Decoration Day/Memorial Day took on a new meaning in Harvey County.  In 1917, Registration Day on June 5 closely followed Decoration Day on May 30. Businesses were closed and patriotic parades planned on both days. Registration Day was the day that all young men 21 through 31 years old "regardless of any circumstance" in the county were required to register for the draft.  The June 6, 1917 Evening Kansan Republican reported that 1807 men registered for conscription.

By Decoration Day 1918, many Harvey County families had young men in France with the AFE, and concern was evident in newspapers. People were eager to show their patriotism and support.  The Evening Kansan Republican noted that businesses would be closed on May 30 and that the "Memorial Day Program is filled with Patriotic Interest."  The day included a morning parade and afternoon parade.  

The W.R. C. (Women's Relief Corp) met at the courthouse in the morning to make wreaths for the graves.  People had been asked to bring their flowers to the courthouse in advance so that they would be available for the decoration squads to use.  There were 8 groups consisting of 8 women and girls that decorated the roughly 220 graves in Newton.   

The day's activities also included singing by various groups, reading of the Gettysburg Address and the Hon. Robert Stone as a speaker.  The May 31, 1918 Evening Kansan Republican provided a detailed report of the festivities, including Stone's full speech. 
Charles Riley, 1918

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May.

How do you celebrate the holiday today?

To learn more about Harvey County during the Great War, visit our exhibit, Harvey County on the Homefront."

The Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives is one of seven local attractions participating in the Blue Star Program which invites all active duty military personnel and their families to visit free of charge from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  In its' third year, Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment of the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and over 1,500 museums across America.  For a complete list of participants visit  www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums

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