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The GAR would reach its peak membership near the end of the 19th century, as a younger generation who hardly remembered the Civil War was coming into its own — and yet Memorial Day lived on.By then, it was well entrenched in American social life and it didn’t need a direct connection to the Civil War to be meaningful.

By the time the first Indianapolis 500 race was held on May 30, 1911, it wasn’t a hotly contested or unusual event.

And, ironically, it turned out that the movement of Memorial Day away from its Civil War origins would help the holiday endure for decades to come.

“Passions were cooling” by the 1880s, historian James Mc Pherson has written about the history of Memorial Day, and gloomy songs such as “Strew Blossoms on Their Graves” and “Cheers or Tears,” were replaced with more “spirited tunes” like “Rally ‘Round the Flag,” “Marching Through Georgia” or “Dixie.” The late 19th century context in which the holiday emerged contributed to the shift. In 1873, New York made Decoration Day one such holiday, with business suspended.

For one thing, there were only a handful of holidays on which workers got a day off, note historians Richard P. By 1890 all of the Northern states had followed New York, and in 1889 Congress made May 30 a national holiday.

The secular and sacred aspects of the day combined pleasure and recreation with mourning and ceremonies to express sorrow and unity.

For some people the day leaned more to one than the other, but when Warner was observing it in the 1940s and ’50s, Memorial Day — including its more somber aspects — was still a shared ritual for Americans.

The country had become fragmented about what it meant for an American soldier to die, and the purpose of war in general.

With the holiday’s move to Monday at the start of the 1970s, increasing commercialization also turned the weekend into an occasion for shopping, not just sports and vacations.

President Grover Cleveland made headlines in 1887 after he was accused of spending Memorial Day fishing. In 1898, one supporter of the GAR told the New York that the Grand Army “prays for a cessation of that open sport which detracts from the solemnity of the occasion.” By 1910, some members of the GAR even suggested ending Memorial Day altogether rather than have it continue as a day for parties.

In 1889 the Grand Army of the Republic noted the “growing tendency to make Memorial Day an occasion for festivity and indulgence in games and sports foreign to the purpose of the day and the sacred spirit which ought to characterize it” during their annual meeting, and decried the “indulgence in public sports, pastimes and all amusements on Memorial Day as inconsistent with the proper purposes of the day.” In Chicago in 1896, Rev. None of that naysaying seemed to have much effect on how people spent their Memorial Days.

(Confederate Memorial Day, which is still celebrated in a few places, was something different.) Blight quotes a handwritten missive from a newspaper correspondent who described an 1865 ceremony held by former slaves in Charleston, S.

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