Memorial Day (Decoration Day) parade held in Nome, Alaska, sometime between 1900 and 1910
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday for the purpose of honoring and remembering those who have died while serving in the armed forces. It is celebrated annually on the last Monday in May.
The first concept of Memorial Day began in the years following the American Civil War. Where it began is unknown, as many places in both Northern and Southern states held their own remembrances individually and collectively. Despite its unclear origins, a congressional proclamation in 1966 declared Waterloo, New York, to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.
In 1868, General John A. Logan, commander in chief of a Union veterans organization called the Grand Army of the Republic, promoted the designation of May 30th as a national “Decoration Day.” This date, set aside for mass gatherings to honor fallen soldiers and decorate their graves, was chosen because it didn’t coincide with any battle anniversaries. Southern states held their own separate day of remembrance for Confederate soldiers until after World War I, and some states continue to do so today.
After World War I, Decoration Day expanded to include those killed during all U.S. wars. This now includes World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1971 Memorial Day, as Decoration Day came to be known, became a federal holiday, and the date was changed to the last Monday in May to allow for a 3-day long weekend for federal employees.
Observances and Traditions
Each Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Cities throughout the country hold parades, religious services, and commemorative events, and a national moment of remembrance is observed at 3 p.m. local time. Families and friends gather at cemeteries to lay flags, flowers, and tokens on graves. Parties and barbecues are also often held on Memorial Day, which acts as an unofficial mark of summer in the U.S.
Learn more about Memorial Day through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about Memorial Day
The Grand Army of the Republic founded in 1866 for protection of soldiers and their interests Thu, Nov 8, 1866 – 4 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comHow Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, was observed throughout the nation in 1877 Thu, May 31, 1877 – Page 1 · The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comMemorial Day 1887 saw military exercises, grave decorations, tributes to John A. Logan Mon, May 30, 1887 – Page 1 · Evening Star (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.com1912 article ponders on the meaning of Memorial Day and its ties to the Civil War Fri, May 24, 1912 – 6 · The McLouth Times (McLouth, Kansas) · Newspapers.comOrigin of Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) in May credited to John A. Logan from 1868 Tue, May 30, 1916 – Page 6 · Fort Scott Tribune and The Fort Scott Monitor (Fort Scott, Kansas) · Newspapers.comAccount of first formal Memorial Day celebration in 1869 Pittsburgh, including prize poem Mon, Jun 9, 1924 – Page 20 · Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1966: Congress proclaims Waterloo, New York, birthplace of Memorial Day Fri, May 20, 1966 – Page 1 · Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) · Newspapers.com"Traditional Parades to Mark Memorial Day" in New Jersey, 4 years after Monday date change Fri, May 23, 1975 – 23 · The Herald-News (Passaic, New Jersey) · Newspapers.comSummary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from 1976 including detail of Memorial Day wreath Fri, May 28, 1976 – 6 · The Hill Top Times (Hill Air Force Base, Utah) · Newspapers.comGirl Scout lays flowers at veterans graves as Memorial Day observance, 1992 Wed, May 27, 1992 – 1 · The Dunn County News (Menomonie, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.comFirst nationwide Moment of Remembrance held in May 2000 for Memorial Day Thu, May 25, 2000 – 26 · Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comMemorial Day 3 pm Moment of Remembrance began in 2000 through efforts by Carmella LaSpada Mon, May 28, 2001 – Page 8 · Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Nevada) · Newspapers.com