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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday June 20th 2024

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

Covid-19 Postpones 162nd Memorial Day at the Cemetery

By SUE HUNTER WEIR, 176th in a Series

“Remember when”¦?”

Remembering Memorial Days Passed
We held off making this decision as long as we could hoping that we would not have to end a 162-year tradition, but we have no choice””this year”™s Memorial Day program will not take place as usual or as planned. These are unsettling times for everyone and the most important thing is to keep everyone safe.

Covid-19 is only one of many pandemics that have occurred throughout history. There have also been a number of smaller, local epidemics. In Minneapolis, in the mid-to-late 1900s, outbreaks of typhoid fever occurred every year in the late summer and early fall. Cholera infantum occurred around the same time. There were outbreaks of measles and whooping cough and smallpox. The leading cause of death among adults was tuberculosis (also known as consumption or phthisis pulmonary) which occurred any time of the year. It came to be known as the White Plague and continued to be a leading cause of death well into the twentieth century. The good news is that most of these diseases are now rare in the United States. Better sanitation, clean water, vaccinations, antibiotics, and other medications have saved countless lives.

Attendance at, and participation in, Memorial Day observances has waxed and waned over the years. Newspaper coverage was spottier some years than others so it”™s difficult to get a complete picture of what some of the programs were like and how many people attended. Memorial Day was also widely viewed as the official start of summer””beaches and amusement parks opened for the season. Newspapers advertised that it was time to buy new straw hats, summer dresses, seersucker suits, and spectator shoes to mark the occasion. It was both a somber day and a celebration.

Decoration Day was first formally observed on May 30, 1868, in response to General Logan”™s General Order #11. Interest was high at the time since the Civil War had only recently ended and the sacrifices made by veterans of the war and survivors of those who did not come home were still on everyone”™s mind. Shops and schools closed, business came to a halt, and in the following decades tens of thousands of people marched through downtown. Women”™s organizations made wreaths for every veteran buried in one of the city”™s cemeteries, the numbers of wreaths increasing each year as veterans passed away.On May 30, 1884, more than 30,000 people attended the program at Layman”™s and helped to place flowers and wreaths on graves throughout the cemetery. And Layman”™s was only one of the cemeteries where services were held that year.

Through good times and bad, observances were held every May. The pandemic of 1918 occurred in the fall of the year so there was no disruption that year. In May 1919 those who had died in World War I were among those who were honored. During World War II, veterans of World War I and Gold Star Mothers, women whose sons had died during World War II, led the parades through downtown streets.

This year we will need to break the tradition to keep people safe. When it can be done safely, we hope to offer a program””perhaps on Veterans Day. At this point we can only wait and see. In the meantime, stay safe and be well, and enjoy the photos from past Memorial Day observances.

Remembering the Seward Concert Band playing at the Cemetery”™s 2018 Memorial Day Celebration. Remembering that the idea for the Band, began in 1977, in the mind of Judy Wohlueter, a Seward Neighborhood oboist, who started talking to neighbors about making music together. Remembering that the Band”™s mission is to provide for the education and growth of members and audience through the public performance of music. 400 amateur musicians have played with the Band in the past 43 years and one current member of the band is an original founder.
Remembering that William Henry Seward, namesake of Seward Neighborhood, served as a New York senator–1830 to 1834, NY governor””1839 to 1842, and a U.S. senator””1849 to 1861. After failing a 1860 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Seward was appointed secretary of state by Abraham Lincoln—1861 and Andrew Johnson to 1869. He was one of Lincoln”™s closest advisers during the Civil War, helping to ensure that Europe did not recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign nation.
Russia offered to sell Alaska in 1859 because they were in debt from the Crimean War and believed the United States would off-set the designs of Great Britain, Russia”™s greatest rival, in the Pacific. Seward was laughed at for his purchase. People called it “Seward”™s ice box” or “Seward”™s Folly.” The strategic importance of Alaska was finally recognized in World War II. Alaska became a state on January 3, 1959.

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