ASHLAND -- On May 30, 1868, Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, was first officially celebrated in the United States. The day was originally set aside to honor the more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War.
The date was proposed by General John Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, apparently because May 30 was a date that did not fall on the anniversary of any Civil War battle.
Society in general also felt an official remembrance of soldiers had become more culturally significant in the United States during this time period. Some historians also suggest May 30 was chosen because the flowers used to decorate soldiers’ graves would be in bloom throughout the country’s 37 states and other territories.
By the 1900’s Decoration Day became a day to remember and honor all of our American soldiers who died during while serving in the military. In 1967, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day and in 1971, the last Monday in May was chosen to recognize Memorial Day as a Federal Holiday.
As was typical of many cities and towns throughout our nation, Ashland and surrounding communities in the county have long celebrated Memorial Day with a parade to the cemetery. Ashland first celebrated in 1868.
A typical parade in 1908 was led by Ashland’s Band, with Harry Smith as the drum major. Soldiers from the Spanish-American War as well as the Civil War followed as did other groups such as school children and ladies carrying bouquets and wreaths, the Junior Order United American Mechanics, the Uniformed Rank of the Knights of Pythias, and the International Order of Odd Fellows.
Homes and local businesses along the parade route were proudly decorated with flags and bunting and hundreds of people always lined the streets to honor the veterans. The streets were swept and members and friends of the Woman’s Relief Corps met early morning to prepare the flower arrangements to be placed on the graves. Orations from public officials or war veterans often preceded the parade and were held in the Ashland County area at the opera house, on the court house lawn, in auditoriums, town halls, and churches.
Over the years, many monuments were erected in cemeteries and along street corners to honor the veterans who have served in various wars and conflicts. Eventually, high school bands took over for city bands and cars pulling parade floats replaced the horse and carriage. Families decorated the graves of all their loved ones with flowers, and special markers were placed at the graves of our Veterans.
Police escorts, local civic organizations, fair queens, fire departments, entertainment groups, public officials and others starting walking and riding in Memorial Day parades to acknowledge the meaning of the day.
The traditions of Memorial Day have changed somewhat since it was first recognized but the meaning and importance of Memorial Day remains engrained in American and local history and this year, as always, we salute the memories and service of all our war heroes.