Memorial Day is a well-known holiday in the United States. Almost everyone knows that it marks the unofficial start of summer and most people are aware that the holiday exists to celebrate those that died in the armed service. These basic facts about the holiday are generally public knowledge. But other facts, including the date of the holiday, tend to be less well-known to the public. If you have ever wanted to know more about the holiday, traditions surrounding it, or even just learn some interesting things that have happened on the holiday, note these five little-known facts about Memorial Day.
James Garfield’s Only Executive Order – James Garfield took the office of the Presidency on March 4, 1881. His tenure as President would be short, though, due to his assassination less than four months later. During his brief time as President he only issued one executive order. That order established May 30 as a federal holiday to honor those who died in the Civil War. At the time the holiday was called Decoration Day, though it would later be renamed Memorial Day.
Official Date – While James Garfield set the official date as May 30, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, passed by Congress in 1968, later changed the date to the last Monday in May, starting with Memorial Day holiday in 1971. This means that the date can now range anywhere from May 25 to May 31, and except when affect by a leap year, the holiday will be one day earlier than the previous it was in the previous year, unless it was May 25 in the previous year.
Indianapolis 500 – The first Indianapolis 500 ran on Memorial Day in 1911. Every year since then it has run on the Sunday just before Memorial Day. Even more than barbeques and trips to the beach, this is the longest running tradition associated with the holiday other than putting flowers on the grave of a soldier.
Memorial Day Massacre – At least one Memorial Day has a sour note associated with it. On Memorial Day in 1937, hundreds of steel workers engaged in a strike and gathered at union headquarters to protest. Police blocked the path of protesters and after some argument fired upon the crowd. Ten people were killed and no charges were ever brought on the police. On that day at least, the deaths of ten people were more important than death of millions before.
Surveyor 1 – A bright day in the history of Memorial Day occurred in 1966. On that day the United States launched the first unmanned space craft to land on the moon. This was the first step that would eventually lead to Neil Armstrong standing on the moon three years later.