The origin of Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) remains in question to this day. Following the Civil War, springtime tributes to the Civil War dead were held in various places both North and South. Some claim that the first observance began in Pennsylvania or New York. Others believe that the custom originated down South by a group of women who placed flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers.
General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) selected May 30th as a special day to honor the graves of the Union dead in 1868. The first large Decoration Day observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery. Following the ceremony, orphan children and G A R members strew flowers on the soldiers' graves.
In 1966, the Federal government declared Waterloo, N.Y. the birthplace of Memorial Day. An Act of Congress in 1971 made Memorial Day a national holiday that would be observed on the last Monday in May.
In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the Decoration Day tradition continues. Following the Civil War, widow Philinda Humiston, headmistress of the orphanage in Gettysburg allowed the orphans to lay flowers at their fathers' graves in the National Cemetery. Included with the orphans were her three children, they placed flowers on the grave of their father, Amos Humiston, who was killed on the first day of battle.
Every year, on Memorial Day, a large parade is held in Gettysburg. At the end of the parade you will see a group of school children carrying fresh cut flowers. The parade ends at the National Cemetery where the children strew the flowers on the graves just as children did over 130 years ago.
"Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers:
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow