History: Celebrating Decoration Day

By Mary Lou Egan

Decoration Day originated after the end of the Civil War in the spring of 1865.

The tremendous loss of life required the establishment of numerous national cemeteries, and the need to formally grieve called for some form of commemoration. In the following decades, towns and cities began holding springtime tributes to fallen soldiers, decorating graves and reciting prayers.

After World War I, the holiday included American military personnel from all wars, and was gradually referred to as Memorial Day.

For many Globeville families, churches and fraternal orders, the day was once centered on family, ceremony and remembrance.

A Riverside Cemetery veteran’s memorial. Photo by Mary Lou Egan

Lydia Heck was born in 1906 and recalled, “Years ago when we were kids, on Memorial Day — and they didn’t call it Memorial Day — they called it Decoration Day — we would take our lunch and go over to Riverside Cemetery. A lot of our family are buried there.”

Lydia’s sister, Pauline Rodie, continued, “It was like a family reunion. People would gather, pray, reminisce, clean the graves and plant flowers. We young folks would hear stories about our ancestors.”

The celebration at Riverside Cemetery might also include military bands, orators and political speeches. Many of Globeville’s Catholic families would visit their relatives at Mount Olivet Cemetery. June Jackson remembers going with her father, Andy Jackson, and the Knights of Columbus.

“While they were praying, I would walk around the monuments and gravestones. Then we would visit our family members and lay wreaths on the graves. It’s what people did in those days.”

Memorial Day has come to mean the official start of summer fun with backyard barbecues, outdoor activities and three days off from work and school.

Before heading into a busy summer, families might want to schedule an outing that includes a visit with and reminiscences about those who came before us.

Free history tour from 10- 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 21, at 5201 Brighton Blvd. Your guide, Ray Thal, will entertain you with lots of stories and interesting tidbits!

Memorial Day Mass at Mount Olivet Cemetery will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 29, at Gallagher Memorial Chapel, 12801 W. 44th Ave. in Wheat Ridge.

Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history. You can reach her at maryloudesign@ comcast.net.

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