TALE OF TAKOMA: Memorial Day

Few residents are aware of Takoma Park’s Veterans War Memorial, seen here in on Veteran’s Day, November 2015 with Cub Scout Pack 33. Photo by Lee Howard.


The traditions of Memorial Day trace back to the aftermath of the Civil War. Communities across America began honoring the fallen soldiers at local cemeteries, most often in springtime.

May 30, 1868, was the first attempt to organize a nationwide commemoration. Gen. John Logan, of a Northern veterans group, proposed that date for an annual tribute, “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.”

President Garfield addressed a crowd of 5,000 at Arlington Cemetery, where flowers were laid on the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Northern states joined in, eventually recognizing May 30 as official state holidays. The Southern states also honored their war dead, but chose different dates.

With the terrible toll of World War I, May 30 ceremonies evolved to include American military personnel who died in all wars. Although Takoma Park has no official festivities on Memorial Day, the city erected a three-arched Veterans War Memorial in 1958 at the intersection of Philadelphia and Maple Avenues.

Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1968. Enacted as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, the official celebration was moved to the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend. That, in turn, sparked its own tradition of family barbecues to mark the unofficial beginning of summer.

Whether you visit local cemeteries or gather with friends and family this Memorial Day, honor the traditions by joining the national moment of remembrance at 3 pm. local time.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.