By Kristi Kates
Contrary to the belief of thousands of happy three-day weekenders and
returning summer visitors, theres a lot more to Memorial Day weekend than
just picnics, parties, and retail sales.
Although all of those things do mark the official start of the summer
season Up North, the holiday that all of this frivolity is based on
sometimes gets lost in the yearly summer shuffle.
Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day, dedicated to honoring
the nations Civil War casualties -- more than 600,000 from 1861-65. On
Decoration Day, graves were decorated with flowers and other items, a
tradition that began in small towns across America after a proclamation
was made by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (an
organization of former soldiers and sailors.) On the first official
celebration of Decoration Day on May 5, 1868, General James Garfield
marked the occasion by making a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in
honor of the 20,000 soldiers buried there.
By the late 1800s, most of the country was celebrating what was now called
Memorial Day. It wouldnt be long before the holiday was expanded to
include those who had died in all of Americas wars, not just the Civil
In 1971, the U.S. Congress finally declared Memorial Day as an official
national holiday, and the date was changed to the last Monday in May;
Veterans Day had already been established 17 years earlier, dedicating
November 11 as a day to honor all veterans both gone and still living.
NATIONAL AND LOCAL
Today, the national effort is still going strong. Much like that very
first Decoration Day, there is a special ceremony at Arlington National
Cemetery on Memorial Day each year in which a small American flag is
placed on each grave. Also each year, the U.S. president or vice-president
gives a speech and places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at
Arlington, an event attended annually by around 5,000 people.
Locally, Petoskey is just one of many communities that honor the holiday
with special events and ceremonies.
Theres an organization in Petoskey that hosts a Memorial Day parade, and
we also have a nice wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial here in
Pennsylvania Park, says Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce President
Carlin Smith. Petoskeys ceremonies will also include the placing of a
memorial wreath in the Bear River, while neighboring communities will also
Traverse City will host similar events, while Mackinaw City will present
its annual Fort Michilimackinac Pageant, with 400 cast members re-creating
events that took place between the French and British and the Native
American tribes; and a road trip to slightly larger Michigan cities will
highlight more extensive recognition of our war heroes. The Great Lakes
Naval Memorial and Museums Lost Boat Ceremony in Muskegon on May 30,
honoring the 53 submarines and 3,000 men who lost their lives during World
War II, is one such Memorial Day event; but the larger-scale events are
quite few and far between given the scope of those who were lost.
REFLECTION AND HONOR
Part of the difficulty in keeping Memorial Days original meaning intact
is that visitors and residents alike may simply become forgetful regarding
what the holiday actually means during the busy weekend of Up North
I agree that theres definitely much more to the holiday, Smith says.
Im actually the son of a veteran - hes no longer with us - but we
always use Memorial weekend as a reflective time in our family to honor my
dad and his life with us.
As far as the community goes, dont get me wrong - we do enjoy the fact
that it serves as the kick off for summer, and its nice of course to have
the extra time off, Smith continues, but Memorial Day was created for a
reason, and I feel its important for all Americans to stop and pause
during the weekend to reflect on the real meaning of the holiday, the
lives lost, and the sacrifices that were made for our country.
To find out more about local Memorial Day activities, visit your towns