The History and Beginnings of Memorial Day

Learn about how we celebrate memorial day and how it was formed in the United States.



Memorial Day's History



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The History of Memorial Day

  • The original name for the holiday was Decoration Day.
  • Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who died in our Nation's service.
  • Originally started to commemorate the deceased of the Civil War.
  • Waterloo, NY was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day by President Johnson in 1966.
  • Over two dozen towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.
  • Southern women are said to have started the tradition of decorating the graves of Confederate. Soldiers with flags and flowers.
  • Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868.
  • A General, not a President, declared Memorial Day.
  • Memorial Day was first observed on May 30th, 1868.
  • Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May.
  • The first state to recognize the day was NY.
  • On the first, official Memorial Day a large ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery and flowers were placed on the headstones.
  • Most southern states refused to recognize the day officially until after WWI.
  • After WWI the Day was adjusted to celebrate the deceased in all wars.
  • A National Holiday Act was signed by Congress in 1971, ensuring a three day weekend for the Federal Holiday.
  • Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee, all have separate days to honor the South's Civil War hero's.
  • Red poppies are the unofficial flower of Memorial Day.
  • The VFW was the first veterans' organization to sell poppies nationally.
  • The "Buddy" Poppy Program sells imitation poppies made by veterans.
  • Memorial Day parades were once a standard of the day.
  • In 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance was initiated.
  • The National Moment of remembrance asks that all Americans at 3:00 pm, pause from any action to somehow honor the deceased of our many wars.
  • In 1951 the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began the placement of 150,000 flags at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. This tradition still stands.
  • In 2004 Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
  • Memorial Day is the, unofficial, beginning of summer activities.
  • US death tolls for Memorial Weekend are higher than almost any other weekend.
  • On Memorial Day the flag should be flown at half staff until noon and full staff the rest of the day.
  • Hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists descend on Washington D.C. each Memorial Day in a parade of appreciation for fallen soldiers, MIA's, and POW's. This tradition started in 1988 with 2,500 motorcyclists.


  • We work hard to bring you insight to memorializing a loved one at In the Light Urns. Information provided through graphics can really help communicate the important points and we really enjoy using the infographic approach to discussing memorials. Visit our military urns page for more information on memorializing a veteran.