RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – Waterloo, N.Y., claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country (as well as the unofficial kickoff to summer).
So does Boalsburg, Pennsylvania.
And Knoxville, Jackson, Memphis, Arlington, Charlestown, Richmond, Carbondale, Ill., Columbus, Mississippi, and Columbus, Georgia.
And they hall have some valid claims.
But as far as the official designation of a national holiday, you must come to the Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg and a young founding member of the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg.
“We have a lovely lady (buried) here, Nora Davidson,” said Pat Rowland, current president of that same Ladies Memorial Association. “She had a girls’ school during the Civil War.”
Reportedly, Miss Davidson and her students decorated the graves of the men and boys who died on both sides of the deadly June 9, 1864 battle for Petersburg.
During the second anniversary of that fateful engagement, “Mrs. John Logan, whose husband was the chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, was out here visiting and she observed Nora and her girls doing this,” Pat Rowland explained as she stood near Miss Davidson’s gravesite in Blandford Cemetery.
Mary Logan was so touched by the June 9, 1866, ceremony, she urged her husband, General John A. Logan, to encourage the practice all across the nation.
And thus was born General Order 11, which, in essence, was the official beginning of a National Memorial Day.
But this was an era with so many widows and daughters honoring the 618,000 or so soldiers who died during the Civil War. (That was about one-55th of the total population at the time.)
A community cemetery in little Boalsburg, Penn., has a similar story, starring a teen-age girl, Emma Hunter, her friend Sophie and an older woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer, who all met to decorate the graves of loved ones.
And so it goes in many other places, Savannah, Gettysburg, Warrenton, Virginia – all have similar stories and claims.
So, to resolve all this, President Lyndon Johnson signed a 1966 presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, N.Y. as the real-deal birthplace. Which hasn’t really ended the mild controversy.
But it’s certainly much more civil now.
After the Civil War, for a long time, there were sharp divisions about Memorial Day (which was then called Decoration Day) – divisions between the North and the South. Different states and regions celebrated it on different days.
It wasn’t until after World War I – when we fought and died together as a nation – that the wounds healed up and we came to a greater consensus on Memorial Day.
Now, it fosters and sense of unity, honor and collective debt.
Where it was born seems rather trivial now.
Especially since it also signals the opening of pools, grills and hot summer fun.