Decoration Day, 1868

Numerous locations and groups have claimed to have created Decoration or Memorial Day, but the first event at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, seems to have trumped them over the years. And Julia Wilbur was there. She and several friends hired a carriage to take them across the Long Bridge to Arlington (although she is "vexed" that the carriage came at noon instead of at 11 a.m., as planned). She spends many pages of her diary describing the scene, complete with the military top brass "& other invited guests, including 54 orphans of soldiers & sailors." Somber music, flower-laying, and flags were the order of the day, as they remain today (minus the sales, "unofficial start of summer," and BBQs, of course). She worries that the elaborate bouquets laid on some graves meant that some graves had no flowers at all.

arlington cemetery
arlington cemetery

I need to make a return trip to Arlington to review its layout. In 1868 as Julia described it, the cemetery had a "principal" portion near Arlington House where the ceremony took place, and a smaller, older section in the northeast corner of the property. She wrote:

....The programme did not seem to apply to this portion of the Cemetery. But I understood that a few persons, white & colored had been there with flowers & a prayer had been offered. I was not satisfied to leave without going there. We drove there, & entered. The grass had not been cut, & it is very tall. A small part seemed to be allotted to colored soldiers & flags & flowers were on all these graves. Here I left my bouquet from the White House on the grave of an “unknown”& a few others, separating it for this purpose....

She and her friends ("Miss E. & Miss S.") returned home at 6 1/2 PM, tired and apparently no longer vexed at the late start.

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