Memorial Day is a holiday that has changed over time. Today, we tend to associate it with barbeques, sales at the mall, a race on TV and a downtown parade. We often miss the original intention of the holiday, to remember and celebrate those brave men and women who’ve given their lives to protect the United States.
A book in our Shaw Childhood in Poetry collection, Dick’s Festival Reciter, by William B. Dick c1892, gives us a unique look at the holiday following the Civil War and its emphasis on re-uniting the country. Here are instructions for how to decorate and what should be on the schedule for a Memorial Day program circa 1892:
The hall or school assembly room should be profusely adorned with all the accessories emblematic of the occasion, the red, white, and blue being conspicuously represented by flags, shields, and other contrivances easily prepared with pasteboard and gilt and colored paper. Portraits of dead heroes, nicely draped, old military relics and accoutrements, and flowers lavishly displayed, add greatly to the appearance of the hall and the interest of the exercises. The platform for the speakers should especially be rendered as bright and attractive as possible, and to this end everything obtainable should be called into requisition for its adornment.
- Opening Chorus “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”
- Oration “Decoration Day”
- Recitation “Them Yankee Blankits”
- Solo and Chorus “Viva l’America”
- Oration “Tribute to Our Honored Dead”
- Recitation “Memorial Day”
- Solo and Chorus “Marching through Georgia”
- Recitation “Brothers Once More”
- Oration “Sherman on the Veterans”
- Solo and Chorus “John Brown’s Body”
- Recitation “The Day’s Oration is in Flowers”
- Reading “Patriotic Sentiments”
- Recitation “For Decoration Day”
- Recitation “Our Dead Heroes”
- Chorus “God Save the State”
The book then very helpfully also provides the text for all the recommended songs, orations, recitations and readings. In case you feel the need to recite this Memorial Day, here is “The Day’s Oration is in Flowers” by E.L. Hall:
The day’s oration is in flowers;
Sing, ye gardens! Speak, ye bowers!
Let Flora’s rarest banners wave
And fold about the solder’s grave.
Lo! June in red, and May in white,
Their hands will clasp, their brows unite
Above the mounds spread far and wide;
In vales and on the mountain-side;
Round monuments that speak and breathe,
The floral paragraphs we wreathe,
Will emblem glories that entwine
About their brows in climes divine.
Then sing, ye bowers, ye gardens, vie–
In silent eloquence reply.
While incense floats from sea to sea
On winds that sigh, “Let all be free!”
Special Collections & Archives will be closed today, May 25th, in observance of Memorial Day. We will resume our normal operating hours on Tuesday, May 26th.