“Decoration Day” is the original name for the Memorial Day holiday celebrated in the United States. The Decoration Day tradition began in remembrance of soldiers who fell during American Civil War. Initiated by General John A. Logan, national commander the Grand Army of the Republic (a Union veterans organization), Decoration Day was first officially observed in 1868. Logan’s General Order No. 11 announced, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Some suggest that May 30 was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all around the country. Others believe that the date was considered neutral, as it did not fall on the start or end of any specific battle. Following a speech delivered by General James Garfield, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1873, New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday. By the turn of the 20th century, communities across the country observed Memorial Day, and following World War I, the tradition was expanded to commemorate the dead of all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress designated Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day traditions vary from community to community. Some gather to clean the cemeteries and decorate graves with flowers. Others employ flags instead of floral arrangements. Picnics, musical performances and parades are common. Baldwinsville still observes Decoration Day on May 30, the original date declared by General Logan. Baldwinsville’s Memorial Day exercises include a parade through the center of the village and over the Seneca River, culminating first at St. Mary’s Cemetery, and then at Riverview Cemetery.
For many generations, Baldwinsville’s parade was especially anticipated by children from across the village. Young processors dressed in white gathered at the start of the parade route, each bearing his or her own bouquet of flowers. When the children reached the bridge over the Seneca River, they tossed their bouquets into the water in memory of those who had gone.
Elizabeth “Liz” Bowers, Baldwinsville Resident and Parade Participant
Liz was born on Perry Road in rural Van Buren, and moved to the Village when she was two and a half years old. After graduating from Baldwinsville Academy, Liz studied stenography at Central City Business Institute in Syracuse. In early 1942, Liz began working at the New York State Ordinance Works as secretary to the purchasing agent, a post she kept until that faction of the Works closed in July 1944.
Liz served as Town Clerk for the Town of Van Buren from 1975 to 1991, and helped to computerize the office during her tenure. In 1995, she became Baldwinsville’s Supervisor. In this role she managed town affairs along with the town Board, including the installation of much needed lighting.
As a child, Liz was fond of participating in Baldwinsville’s Decoration Day ceremony. Donning a pretty dress, she collected her bouquet from her sister’s house on Downer Street, where there were flower boxes full of Lilies of the Valley. Liz’s father, who served as the sexton of the cemetery, told friends and neighbors that his daughter grew up in the cemetery. Liz still enjoys strolling there along the river. “It’s peaceful to walk through and visit with relatives in various places around the grounds,” she says.