Things To Know About Memorial Day
Updated: Nov 23, 2019
Red Poppy is the official flower of remembrance for the special day.
It was originally called Decoration Day
Memorial Day has its roots dating back to the Civil War when communities would hold a similar holiday called “Decoration Day.” According to the book ‘Don’t Know Much About History,’ it started in 1865 when northern abolitionist James Redpath organized schools for freed slaves in South Carolina to scatter flowers on the graves of Union soldiers. The tradition carried to the South for Confederate soldiers’ graves and Decoration Day became an annual tradition.
Waterloo, New York is recognized for holding the first observance of Memorial Day
Several towns claim they were the first to hold Memorial Day services, but the government officially recognizes Waterloo at the birthplace of the holiday. The town claims that local druggist Henry C. Welles suggested organizing a remembrance service at a social event. Plans were made with Welles and Civil War Gen. John B. Murray for the following year and the tradition continued. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation honoring Waterloo as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day” in 1966.
The wearing of the Buddy Poppies came from a poem written by a Canadian general
Another solemn tradition of Memorial Day is the wearing of a red flower nicknamed the “Buddy Poppy.” According to the book ‘The Decoration/Memorial Day War,” the tradition actually came from a poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae of the Canadian Army during WWI who worked as a surgeon during the war. During the Second Battle of Ypres, one of his students was killed by artillery shell burst and the loss affected him greatly. He was moved to write a poem titled “In Flanders Fields,” but rejected it before trying to get it published. Another officer read the crumpled poem and published it for him in a London magazine.
A few years later, Moina Michael, an American native working in Scotland for the YMCA’s Overseas War Secretaries headquarters, read McCrae’s poem and was so moved by the line, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row” that she vowed to wear a red poppy in honor of the fallen soldiers. She began selling poppies when she returned to the States a couple of years later on what she called “Poppy Day.” Meanwhile, Anna E. Guerin of France had heard of Michael’s work and formed a partnership to sell Michael’s poppies in their respective countries while donating the proceeds to charity. Soon, demand grew as the Veterans of Foreign Wars established the red flower as the official memorial flower and a factory was built in Pittsburgh in 1924 to produce the fake red flowers. The US Patent Office registered the “Buddy Poppy” and it became the official flower of remembrance for the special day.