Decoration Days of Yore
To start research on this week’s column on Memorial Day celebrations before the end of WWII, I first had to remember that our grandparents called it “Decoration Day,” and that its primary focus — whatever the pomp, parades and festivities — was a solemn cemetery visit to decorate the graves of veterans.Bill McGarvey plays echo taps from atop the Margaretville cemetery on May 30, 1950. The history of Decoration Day began shortly after the Civil War to honor the dead of that bloody conflict, whose graves were liberally scattered throughout every community in America. However, certain Southern states resisted the holiday until sometime around WWI, when the holiday’s portent was shifted to honor the fallen veterans of any war. It is interesting to note that here, even before WWI had begun, Catskills denizens used Decoration Day to honor veterans of all previous conflicts. Decoration Day back then was solemn and ceremonial; it all crescendoed at the graveyard, with “Taps,” and a sermon or benediction of some sort by the clergy.