Memorial Day.It may not be generally known throughout the North that the custom of placing flowers upon the graves of soldiers who served in the great Civil war originated with a Southern woman near the close of that conflict, it is claimed, on apparently good authority, that this beautiful and touching memorial observance originated with Mrs. Mary A. Williams, of Columbus, Ga. Her husband, Col. C. J. Williams, of the First Georgia regiment (Confederate), died in the spring of 1862 and was buried in the cemetery at Columbus. Mrs. Williams, accompanied by her little daughter, was accustomed to visit her husband's grave at frequent intervals and place fresh flowers upon it. Upon one of these occasions the child asked her mother's permission to put some flowers on the graves of other soldiers near by, and this incident suggested to the mother the idea of having one day in each year consecrated to the work of decorating, with appropriate ceremonies, the graves of those who had died in military service.
In the spring of 1865, several ladies of Columbus joined Mrs. Williams in the decoration of the soldiers' graves in the local cemetery, and a year later, at a meeting of these women, Mrs. Williams was appointed to write a letter to the public on the subject of a memorial day. In her letter, which was dated March 12, 1866, and widely published through the South, she said: "We cannot raise monumental shafts and inscribe thereon their many deeds of heroism, but we can keep alive the memory of the debt we owe them by dedicating at least one day in each year to embellishing their humble graves with flowers. Therefore, we beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to aid us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe the graves of our martyred dead with flowers; and we propose the 26th of April as the day."
The proposal of Mrs. Williams and her associates found favor with the people of the North as well as those of the South, and the ceremony, if not the date, is now observed in every state of the Union. Several of the Southern states, by legislative enactment, set apart the day suggested by Mrs. Williams and declared it a legal holiday, but in the North, the season being some weeks later, May 30 is the day generally observed.
By the act of the Kansas legislature, approved by Gov. Martin on Feb. 19, 1860, May 30 is made a legal holiday. The custom of placing flowers on the graves of soldiers was observed by the people of the state for years before the passage of the law, especially in the larger towns where there are a number of soldiers interred in the cemeteries. Music of a patriotic character, and orations calculated to keep alive the memory of the gallant deeds of "the boys of '61" usually comprise the ceremonies in connection with the decoration of the graves. In the archives of the Kansas Historical Society there are a large number of Memorial Day addresses, delivered by citizens of the state at various times and places.
On May 30, 1904, the people of Topeka, in addition to the usual ceremonies of the day, celebrated the semi-centennial of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which organized Kansas and Nebraska as territories of the United States. The program for the day was arranged by the Grand Army of the Republic and the pioneers of the city, and William H. Taft, then secretary of war, and later president of the United States, was the orator of the day. His address on that occasion may be found in volume six of the Kansas Historical Collections.Pages 267-268 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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