What we know as Memorial Day began in a New York state community by the name of Waterloo. Ir was apparently first celebrated there on May 5, 1866, a date which was chosen because Waterloo already hosted an annual day when businesses closed and the graves of soldiers were decorated with flowers and flags. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan who led a group of Northern Civil War veterans called for a national day of remembrance later in that month. General Logan proclaimed the “3oth day of May 1868 for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country”. This is how “Decoration Day” came to be the name for this day of remembrance.
On that first Decoration Day some 5,000 people came to Arlington National Cemetary and decorated the graves of the some 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. So it was truly a national day of celebration bringing North and South together officially after the bruising Civil War.
We gradually adopted the name Memorial Day and it commemorated those whose lives were lost in fighting the Civil War. May 30th continued to be the accepted date for the celebration. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which established Memorial Day as occurring on the last Monday in May supposedly to provide federal government employees with a three-day weekend and that went into effect in 1971.
Parades and visits to cemeteries are still found in communities all across our country, although, as with many things of this nature, the original meaning has probably been lost to many people who simply see it as a 3-day weekend.