That’s right, Memorial Day was first proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John A. Logan, National commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He called it “Decoration Day” when things like flowers should be put on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. He declared it was to be celebrated on May 30 of each year.1
2. All Americans are asked to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm on Memorial Day.
On May 2, 2000, Congress passed a resolution that asks Americans to pause “for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.”2 This was passed in an effort to remind Americans why we celebrate Memorial Day.
3. It is uncertain exactly where and when Memorial Day began.
As mentioned previously, John A. Logan was the first to declare a National “Decoration Day” or Memorial Day, but people began this tradition even before then. More than 5 cities have claimed to be the original beginnings of Memorial day including:
- Columbus, Georgia,
- Columbus, Miss.,
- Boalsburg, Pennsylvania,
- Carbondale, Illinois,
- and Charleston, South Carolina.3
It was in Charleston, South Carolina that on May 1, 1865 thousands of residents gathered to honor those men that had died at Planters’ Race Course—which had been converted into a Confederate prison and burial ground for more than 250 Union soldiers.4 This is one of the first Memorial Day Celebrations that we know of.
Despite the dissidence of where exactly it began, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the original birthplace of Memorial Day to be Waterloo, NY in May 1966. And it was there that they held the “centennial observance of Memorial Day.”5
4. It is tradition to wear a red poppy on Memorial Day.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the Crosses, row on row…
People caught on to the tradition and soon people were selling poppies to benefit war orphans in France and Belgium, or veterans of past wars. She also wrote her own poem in response to John McCrae’s:
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.7
Today, these traditions and historical facts seems to have faded so much that we tend to see Memorial Day as just another 3-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. But by knowing the history of Memorial day, we CAN remember why we celebrate it in the first place: to honor those who have lost their lives in service to their country and our own family members who made it possible for us to be here today.
1 “Memorial Day History.” USMemorialDay.org. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html>.
2 “Speeches.” USMemorialDay.org. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/Speeches/President/may0200.txt>.
3 Robertson, Campbell. “Birthplace of Memorial Day? That Depends Where You’re From.” New York Times. 26 May 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/us/many-claim-to-be-memorial-day-birthplace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
4 Fitzpatrick, Laura. “A Brief History of Memorial Day.”TIME Magazine. 24 May 2009. <http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1900454,00.html>.
5 Johnson, Lyndon B.. “242 – Proclamation 3727 – Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 1966.”Presidency.ucsb.edu. The American Presidency Project, 26 May 1966. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=27618#axzz1vzN2Ip9F>.
6 “Where did the idea to sell poppies come from?”news.bbc.co.uk. BBC News, 10 Nov 2006. Web. 24 May 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6133312.stm>.
7 “Memorial Day History.” USMemorialDay.org. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html>.
This headstone marks the final resting place of Herbert O. Morrison, who is buried in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. This talented radio announcer was most famous for his radio coverage of the Hindenburg Disaster on May 6, 1937 that killed 36 people. Morrison was not broadcasting live at the time of the explosion, but the recording was rushed back to Chicago where it was broadcast that night. It quickly became the most widely-known eyewitness account to the tragedy.
Morrison’s recording is detailed and descriptive but also captures the horror that everyone involved felt. His emotional reaction to the scene captured just how tragic this disaster was and his use of the phrase “Oh, the humanity” has become a catch-phrase throughout the world.
This You-Tube video dubs Morrison’s voice-over onto film footage of the explosion:
A big thank you to our Twitter follower, Zane Ermine, for pointing this out to us!
To take photos for BillionGraves, all you really need is you phone, right? True, but you won’t regret having a few extra items with you to make your trip to the cemetery as smooth as silk. We’ve compiled a list of suggestions for you to pack in a light backpack or bag. As long as you have your BillionGraves backpack, you’ll never have to leave the cemetery!
What to pack in your BillionGraves backpack (besides your phone, of course):
- Water for drinking
- Water for wetting down old stones for readability
- A hat
- Phone charger for your car (and be sure your phone is fully charged, too!)
- Work gloves for cleaning off headstones
- Small pad and pen, in case you want to note a hard-to-read stone and write down the transcription
- Broom and dustpan set for cleaning off headstones
- A sheet or umbrella to create shade over headstones
Any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!
Our records continue to grow, and we couldn’t be more appreciative of our volunteers! We hope you’re having a great month capturing and transcribing images.
Have you gone out to the cemetery with a group yet? As you know, we highly recommend it. Not only does the picture-taking go faster, but it’s great to spend time with others in a worthy cause.
One BillionGraves user, Michael McCormick, headed up an event with his university church group. He tells us that at the end of each school year, the group likes to have some kind of gathering to celebrate. “Traditionally, we get together and have a BBQ,” he says. “Someone mentioned that we should do a service project as part of the closing social. A few people suggested ideas, and I suggested BillionGraves.”
So the group, excited for this unique service project, headed to the cemetery on April 9.
Wow! We’ve had record uploads every day so far in May! Keep up the good work—we’ll still need thousands more images, so let’s make the weekends our highest uploading days. Keep watching that Leaderboard to see how you’re doing—if you are among the top 25 transcribers OR picture takers on May 31, you get your choice of a free BillionGraves t-shirt or one free year of our great BillionGraves Plus Account.
It’s more fun to head to the cemetery with other people—plus, you can photograph an entire cemetery in just a few hours if you join forces!
Create a Facebook event to help you get the word out to your friends and family. You’ll be able to set up a meeting time and location for everyone to meet up and take pictures.
Facebook’s instructions on how to create an event:
- Go to the Events tab on the left side of your home page
- Click Create Event in the upper-right corner of the page
From here, you can customize the event, edit its privacy settings and invite guests. Please note that you must include an event name and time. For more information about Facebook events, click here.
Here is a template you can use to tell your friends and family about your event and answer some of the questions they may have:
Come join me at the cemetery to clean, photograph and document grave markers!
We will be photographing the headstones using the free BillionGraves iPhone and Android application.
What should I bring?
Bring your iPhone, Android phone or tablet (must have GPS), or your 3G iPad2 or 3G iPad3 (the 3G internet versions have GPS, the WiFi only do not have GPS), fully charged with the BillionGraves app already installed (download links are down below). Bring your car charger if you have one (GPS uses a lot of battery).
Register for an account and/or log in to the app before coming.
Do I need an iPhone or Android phone?
No. Many times the vital information on the grave markers are covered with grass clippings, leaves, flowers, pinwheels, or other decorations. We could use help clearing the markers of these items, so a photograph can be taken, then put the decorations back as they were.
If you do not have a device to take pictures with:
- Bring a soft broom or car snow brush to clean off grass and leaves.
- Bring a pair of gloves just in case a headstone has mud covering parts of it and needs the mud/dirt cleared off by hand.
- Bring a blanket to cast a shadow on gravestones that are facing the sun. The picture taker’s shadow and the reflection of the sunlight can make it difficult to read the vital information on the headstone.
- Bring your children. This is an excellent opportunity to help your children develop an appreciation for family history.
- You can also borrow a device from a willing friend or family member.
Can I use my digital camera?
Not to take pictures of the headstones, but you can bring one to document our activity and your family’s participation in this great work. There are other grave-finding websites that accept photos taken without GPS coordinates, but BillionGraves is the only service that has that important information.
More about BillionGraves
The BillionGraves apps are easy to use and free to install on your iOS and Android devices. The app geotags each picture you take with the exact GPS coordinates of the gravestone, making it a valuable resource for genealogy and family history enthusiasts searching for their ancestors. After taking the photos, you will upload the pictures to the BillionGraves.com website where thousands of volunteers are transcribing the images almost as quickly as they are added. Transcribing is also free. Once the records are transcribed, they are available to be searched, for free of course, by anybody who visits the BillionGraves.com website. Users can also find the exact, physical locations of their ancestors’ final resting places, and the app will actually direct them to their locations.
We hope to see as many people as possible attend. With enough participants, we can easily photograph the entire cemetery. Thank you!