So, how much do you actually know about the history of Memorial Day? Sure, it's often recognized as the symbolic start of the summer season and most of us know that it's a day to honor those who have died serving our country. Let's delve a little deeper and refresh our memories with a short history lesson about this national holiday, while also touching on some of the best and most powerful ways to honor the day right here on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina.
A lot of towns and cities lay claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. However, it's not really clear actually where it originated from and on what date. Despite not knowing its origins, there is a lot we do know about Memorial Day, which was first regarded as Decoration Day. It was born out of the Civil War era and from a desire to honor our dead who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The holiday was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. "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,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).
It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971. This helped ensure a three-day weekend for Federal holidays, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19th in Texas; April 26th in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10th in South Carolina; and June 3rd (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
In traditional Memorial Day observance, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all. Other traditional observances included wearing red poppies, visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes, and visiting memorials.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in December 2000. It asks that at 3p.m. local time all Americans "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”
If you're interested in learning more about the origins, history, meaning and observance of Memorial Day, follow the link for more insight into the day.
Now you know! Tell a friend.
Crystal Coast Memorial Day Destinations
Looking to make Memorial Day, or any day, a little more historical during your Crystal Coast vacation? That's easy! This area of coastal North Carolina is steeped in history around every turn. You just have to know where to look. We can help.
Check out these top recommendations for a living history lesson all along our shoreline and in our maritime towns that promise to make your Memorial Day holiday extra special and meaningful. It's just the short list but will give you plenty of options for what to do during your Memorial Day holiday or anytime you're here. Check them out.
Fort Macon in Atlantic Beach
If you know anything about Fort Macon and the surrounding state park, you know it is richly overflowing with history from the Colonial Period all the way through to the present day, but especially because of its role during the Civil War. Brush up on your Crystal Coast History 101 and read our Fort Macon feature to learn all about it. Also see why it was named North Carolina State Park of the Year in 2015.
It makes for the perfect day trip from your Emerald Isle beach vacation rental or from anywhere else on the Crystal Coast. Put it on your Memorial Day holiday itinerary!
Old Burying Grounds in Beaufort
Take a self-guided or guided tour of the Old Burying Grounds in historic Beaufort, part of the Beaufort Historic District on the 400 block of Ann Street in the downtown area of this locally-loved maritime town. The town's oldest cemetery tells stories through the grave markers that are part of the Beaufort's 300-year history. Established in the early 1700s, its weathered tombstones chronicle the heritage of North Carolina’s third-oldest town and the surrounding coastal region. Used for Anglican church services in nearby St. John’s Parish, the cemetery was later deeded to the town of Beaufort in 1731 by Nathaniel Taylor following the first survey of the town.
Surrounded by towering ancient oak trees and majestic magnolias, many graves in the Old Burying Grounds are marked with shell, brick, or wooden slabs because stone markers would have to have been brought from afar by wooden sailing vessels. Others have vaulted markers, which were covered in brick to protect them from high water and wild animals and are characteristic of many historic seaport towns.
Uncovered by an archaeological survey in 1992, the seemingly empty northwest corner of the cemetery is in fact its oldest section, with many unmarked graves dating from the early 18th century. A record from September 1711 notes the area had "been depopulated by the late Indian War and Massacre.” It is probable some of the unmarked graves were victims of the Indian wars whose skulls were cleft with tomahawks of hostile Coree and Neusiok Indians. Other inhabitants include a child who died at sea and was buried in a keg of rum, as well as the great privateer Captain Otway Burns and the crew of the Crissie Wright who died when their schooner went aground at Shackleford Banks during a January storm in 1886.
It's worth noting that both Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers are buried here. Oh, and rumor has it that it's haunted, but we'll let you decide. It's actually quite a beautiful setting, despite it being a cemetery and all.
Download a map of the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort and let the historical adventures begin.
Maritime Museum in Beaufort
The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort is located on the waterfront on Front Street in downtown and is home to coastal culture and maritime history of the Crystal Coast area. You'll find exhibits featuring the seafood industry, life-saving stations, lighthouses, sailboats and Blackbeard the Pirate, of course.
Stop in to see relics from the Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard's flagship, and learn more about the fascinating history and mystery of this region. There's some legend and lore thrown into the mix, too.
The History Museum of Carteret County in Morehead City
The name says it all, doesn't it? The History Museum of Carteret County resembles a cross between a train depot and a mariner's port. It houses a wealth of local Crystal Coast history within its and walls and is well worth a visit. It hosts everything from historical to modern-day information through its exhibits, artwork, seminars, luncheons, musical concerts and more—many of which are offered free of charge.
History fans who want to dive into the deeper regional story can stop by the renowned Jack Spencer Goodwin Research Library, which boasts more than 10,000 books and publications, an extensive local photo collection, and a wide range of other materials which document the history of Carteret County in impressive detail.
Don't forget to leave time and room for tea and a light lunch at the Infusion Cafe, right on the grounds.
North Carolina Highway Historical Markers
The North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program is one of the oldest continuous programs in existence in the United States and is operated by the Office of Archives and History, part of the NC Department of Cultural Resources. Why not take a driving tour of Carteret County and see what you can learn from the historical markers themselves? There are 25 historical highway markers in Carteret County alone!
In fact, there is so much you can learn from the markers, that we'll do a follow-up post on this very topic in one of our next Crystal Coast History 101 blog features. Stay tuned!
As you can see, you won't run out of options when it comes to fun and fascinating history lessons to be learned on Memorial Day or on any given day on the Crystal Coast. Don't be afraid to learn a little, grow a little, become a little more humble and be mindful of all we have to be thankful for this Memorial Day. Have a lot of fun, too.
Need some more Memorial Day holiday suggestions? Read this: Your Memorial Day Holiday Checklist for the Crystal Coast. May your Memorial Day be especially meaningful this year. Be safe and enjoy!
What meaningful Memorial Day traditions do you have to honor the holiday? We'd love to hear about it!