Here are five things about Memorial Day that you may not have known, but should remember.
1) A Grieving Confederate Mother Started It. Memorial Day was started by a Confederate mother, who lost her sons in the Civil War. D. James Kennedy wrote a sermon that explains it all. During the Civil War, in Columbus, Mississippi, a woman laid flowers at the gravesites of her dead sons. Then she shocked the other ladies by heading over to the gravesites of Union soldiers outside the cemetery. When asked if she knew who was buried there, she explained “Yes, I know. I also know that somewhere in the North there are mothers and wives and children who mourn them just as we do.” The story was published in the local paper, spread to others, and eventually The New York Tribune. It is credited with starting the Memorial Day tradition.
2) Memorial Day Made Us Respect War. Scholars credit the Civil War in general, and Memorial Day in particular, with starting America’s affinity for war. In the Journal of Contemporary History, John Pettegrew argues that “the celebration of Memorial Day in the North and South – the annual commemoration of American soldiers killed in battle – and how veterans and government officials used the occasion to instill a new sense of duty to the state.” It explained how America was ready to fight the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and beyond, thanks to Memorial Day.
3) Is Memorial Day A Dangerous Holiday? Many claim that Memorial Day is the most dangerous for driving accidents. But a seven year study showed the homicide rates were higher on every major holiday, except Memorial Day, according to F. Stephen Bridges at the University of West Florida. If it is dangerous for anything, it’s a hot dog. That’s because seven billion hotdogs are eaten from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
4) The Poppy Is The Memorial Day Flower. The holiday was originally called “Decoration Day,” but it didn’t get a day of the week until 1968 and didn’t become a Federal holiday until 1971. According to Rebecca E. Klatch with the University of California at Santa Cruz, “poppies are worn on Memorial Day as a symbol of the blood sacrifice of soldier.” It’s because of the 1915 poem by John McCrae titled “In Flanders Fields,” which goes “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly….”
5) Remembering Workers Who Died Too. Memorial Day is also commemorated by labor unions for an event known as “The Memorial Day Massacre.” On that date in May of 1937, police fired shots into a group of striking steelworks marching on Republic Steel, killing at least ten. According to Carol Quireke’s article in the America Studies Association , it was the first time a strike and response by the police had been filmed, with footage and photos giving the event more attention, leading to labor rights reforms.