Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909)
From Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels & Stories
On May 30, 1868—149 years ago—Americans marked the first national Decoration Day, established by General John A. Logan “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.” Logan was inspired by the scattered localities that had honored their war dead in similar fashion after the end of the Civil War—and which community hosted the “first” such day is still hotly contested.
We now call it Memorial Day and often have to remind ourselves that the occasion means something more than the unofficial start of summer. Yet even a quarter century after the first Decoration Day, Americans were concerned that the holiday was losing its meaning. Living in Maine, Sarah Orne Jewett complained that “nothing is done here except to put the pathetic little flags about the burying-grounds,” and she was heartened to learn that the local veterans were resuscitating “a parade in honor of the day.” That parade inspired her to write “Decoration Day,” a nearly forgotten story that was one of her most popular tales during her lifetime.