What is now known as Memorial Day started out as Decoration Day in 1868, following the end of the Civil War. Major General John A. Logan, leader of a group of Union war veterans, proposed that May 30th be recognized as a day to remember and honor the 600,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War. The date is believed to have been chosen because no battle had taken place on that day during the war, and because it was the best time for flowers to be in bloom.
Memorial Day in New York
Waterloo, New York was officially recognized by congress in 1966 as the birthplace of Memorial Day, though other cities also claim this title. Following the end of the Civil War, there were many cities that held similar days of tribute to those who died, making it difficult to determine with any certainty where the holiday first originated. New York was also the first state to officially recognize Memorial Day as a legal holiday in 1873. By 1890, all of the northern states had designated Memorial Day a legal holiday.
Confederate Memorial Day
Memorial day was proposed by General Logan in response to similar customs that had been in practice in the south since 1866. Nine southern states, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, still hold a separate memorial day to honor Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.
Memorial Day Weekend
After a century of being held on the 30th of May, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday of May, in 1971, following the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The Act moved several federal holidays to Mondays to create more three-day weekends for federal employees.
In 2000, congress passed a law which designated 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to be a National Moment of Remembrance. The resolution asks that all Americans observe a moment of silence in honor of fallen soldiers. The time was chosen because 3 p.m. was considered to be when most people would be “enjoying their freedoms” on Memorial Day.
Memorial Day in D.C.
Each Memorial Day, at the Arlington National Cemetery, members of the armed services place more than 250,000 flags at the graves of the servicemen and women buried there. Washington, D.C. is also host to one of the largest Memorial Day parades in the country, but until 2004, D.C. hadn’t held a Memorial Day parade for nearly 70 years.
Beginning of Summer
Memorial Day is also seen as the unofficial start of summer. Together with the three-day weekend, this started the tradition of Memorial Day barbecues and picnics.