Memorial Day History Facts

Instructor: Nicky Davis
While Memorial Day is observed as a federal holiday all across America, few know much about the history and origin of the day. Read on to learn historical facts about the tradition and celebration of Memorial Day.

Facts about the History of Memorial Day

  • Memorial Day Began to Memorialize The Soldiers of the Civil War: Founded in May of 1868, the day was originally known as Decoration Day, because it was intended as a day to adorn the graves of lost Civil War soldiers. General John A. Logan chose the original date, May 30th.
    • Logan proclaimed the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle. Some believe the date was also selected because it falls in the height of spring when the most flowers will be available and in bloom.
    • The first major celebration was held at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C. where President Garfield gave a speech honoring the dead. Celebrations are still held there annually.
    • Observance included laying flowers and small American flags at the graves of confederate and union soldiers alike. Prayers and hymns accompanied the ceremonies.
    • Want to learn more about the Civil War? Check out our Civil War History Course to help you understand everything about this era, from the political climate, to cultural movements, to key battles, and reconstruction.
  • Several Cities Claim to be the Origin Place of Memorial Day: Although Waterloo, NY was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day by President Johnson in 1966, there is much dispute over the true origination of the holiday. Many cities and towns in the South had springtime remembrance traditions before the official holiday was established. However, many southern states refused to acknowledge the holiday until after the end of World War I, when it broadened to honor soldiers who had died in any American War.
    • In 1873, the state legislature of New York became the first state to officially commemorate and recognize Memorial Day.
    • Some southern states still also celebrate a separate, confederate memorial day at other times of year, notably Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee.
  • Wearing Poppies on Memorial Day was First Inspired by a Poem: Moina Michael wrote a poem in 1915, which imagined the red poppy as a symbol for the blood of the soldiers on the battlefield. She then began the trend of wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day as a way of paying homage to the lives lost in battle, selling flowers to raise money for struggling veterans. This trend later spread to other countries, and became a recognized movement of observance.
    • In 1948, the US Postal Service recognized her efforts with a memorial red poppy postage stamp featuring her.
  • Memorial Day Didn't Become a Federal Holiday until 1971: With the passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971, Memorial Day became an official holiday observed on the final Monday in May. It is now recognized across the country.
    • In 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed. This resolution suggests that all Americans take a moment of voluntary silence and remembrance at 3pm local time.

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