Community Events

Decoration Day in 19th Century McHenry

Following the Civil War, the nation was looking for various way to heal itself and deal with the carnage it had just gone through. Decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers became the tradition that we now call Memorial Day. Declared by General John Logan in 1868, Decoration Day (or what is now called Memorial Day) called for placing flowers on the graves at Arlington Cemetery on May 30. During the years of 1869-1911 more and more Northern communities celebrated their Civil War fallen in this manner on May 30 to remember their sacrifice and to honor their memory.

The establishment of Decoration Day as a national holiday was mainly the work of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). Founded in Springfield in 1866, the G.A.R. was comprised of former union soldiers and sailors, assembled to defend the interests of veterans and their families, promote patriotic education as well as many other things. The G.A.R. was organized into Departments at the state level and Posts at the community level. On September 22, 1887 McHenry’s post was formed and became G.A.R. Post 643.

Program list from May 25, 1892 edition of the McHenry Plaindealer.

Before the founding of Post 643, McHenry celebrations of Decoration Day were sporadic, casual affairs with little planning. Other nearby communities such as Woodstock and Richmond had already assembled Posts, so for a few years people from McHenry could go to celebrations in those towns. However when McHenry’s G.A.R. Post was established in 1887, Decoration Day became a far more organized affair, often forming committees that would implement different aspects of the event. Marking Graves, vocal music and arrangements were the main committees that Post 643 utilized.

Section of Plat Map from 1893 showing prominent areas during the Decoration Day festivities.

The order and location of events varied from time to time. However, the Decoration Day events usually started at the McHenry City Hall. There was then a parade to the village cemetery where the ceremonial flowers were laid on the soldiers’ graves. The parades were led by a band, such as the Ringwood Cornet Band. Flowers were acquired ahead of time by the young ladies of McHenry and came from a variety of places, some were wildflowers, some were from home, while others were donated. After the service, attendees would then go to another location to hear singing and usually a patriotic speaker. The location of this part of the day varied from year to year. The city park (now Veteran’s Memorial Park), the G.A.R. headquarters, the Riverside Hotel all hosted the program at some point.

In 1885, there were 9 civil war veterans buried at Woodland Cemetery and three of those didn’t have stones. It was noted that the ladies of the city would look into getting stones for these graves. In 1896, an article appeared in the McHenry Plaindealer appealing to the citizens of McHenry to keep in the spirit of Memorial Day and not play games or lounge about all day. That to partake in activities such as baseball or picnics would ruin the solemnity of the day and likened it to dancing after a funeral. Even by the 1890s, Decoration Day was becoming known as Memorial Day. By the 1910s, Memorial Day became a holiday to honor those who had fallen during all of our nation’s conflicts.

Sources

Sources

“Memorial Day.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 22 May 1889: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day Has Arrived.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 6 June 1888: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 30 May 1888: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day has become the one day of the year for all.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 23 May 1888: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Exercises Were Held.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 1 June 1887: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day Was Observed.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 3 June 1886: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 3 June 1885: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 31 May 1893: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“G.A.R. Post Of This Village.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 30 May 1894: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day, May 30.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 30 May 1894: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Day.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 29 May 1895: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Day Services In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 29 May 1895: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 28 May 1890: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Day.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 27 May 1896: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Want Memorial Day Held Sacred.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 27 May 1896: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Day In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 26 May 1897: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“The Following Is The Programme For Decoration Day Services.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 25 May 1892: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Decoration Day In McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 24 May 1893: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Day.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 22 May 1895: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.
“Memorial Day Exercises.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 5 June 1895: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 May 2019.

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