To give a brief history of Memorial Day:
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead." (There is also evidence that these ladies also decorated the graves of the northern dead as well). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
(Taken from the web site "Memorial Day History" - http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html)
Greenfield Village continues the tradition of decorating the graves of our fallen soldiers by the laying of wreaths by women, dressed in Civil War era mourning attire, at the Garden of the Leavened Heart in front of the Martha-Mary Chapel.
And this is, perhaps, the most touching part of the entire three day weekend for the visitors. It is solely a tribute to our Nation's veterans, and those in attendance who served in the armed forces are asked to walk out onto the Village Green to be acknowledged as a group. It is truly a heart-felt scene - much more so than, say, a local parade with clowns, decorated bikes, fire engines, and local politicians. This is strictly for all American military veterans - past and present.
But, this is only part of the tribute. The whole Village plays a role in the holiday, and is turned into an 1860's town come alive by way of over 500 Civil War era reenactors, both military and civilian, camped out on the streets around the historic buildings situated there. On the east side of the Village Green, members of the cavalry, artillery, and infantry of both the north and south can be found in their respective camps, marching, drilling, and teaching the public about the life of a CW soldier. One can peak inside of a soldier's dog tent, learn the details about the muskets, hear the commands of an army from the mid-19th century, learn about eating hard tack, and, of course, watch a battle between the two sides.
There are times when the military will present different scenarios of camp life, sometimes showing the disciplining of a "drunken" soldier, for instance. Also, camp entertainment, with fiddles, guitars, and bones, can be heard at various locations.
Young patrons to the Village can "sign up" for the military at the Phoenixville Post Office and then learn how to march & drill and the manual of arms.
As for the actual reenactors in their authentic uniforms, it is truly an impressive sight to see the line of blue and/or gray along the street, ready for battle.
Women on the home front had to earn money while their men were off fighting. Here, a laundress and her helper earn pennies washing and mending clothing.
On the other side of the Village is the civilian encampment, where the visitor can see first hand how folks of the 1860's lived on the homefront. Now, it must be explained here that people at 'home' during this war did not live in tents, nor were there hundreds of camp followers all camped together. What is being shown is the way life was if these reenactors were able to use a house. Because the houses inside Greenfield Village are museums all in themselves, the living historians are, understandably not able to use the structures, so the visitor must imagine the tents as wood-framed homes.
It is in the civilian camp where the visitor will find cooking over an open fire, the women writing letters to their boys fighting in a far-off land, parlor games to keep the families left behind entertained, and the many differing occupations of the time.
One will also find the Christian Commission, Soldiers Aid Societies, and a Temperance Society. In other words, a typical group of people living in a 19th century village.
The patrons visiting Greenfield Village are always welcome to step up to the camps to observe and ask questions.
Aside from the reenactors, Greenfield Village provides entertainment by various musicians such as Camp Chase Fife & Drum and the Dodworth Saxhorn Band.
A period fashion show always draws a large audience, and the "Off to Prison Camp" at the Smiths Creek Depot gives an accurate presentation of life on the home front, with the women preparing packages for their men while the soldiers bring prisoners of war through the depot..
A mourning presentation at Adams Family Home shows how folks dealt with death during the Victorian era, and the Susquehanna Plantation gives visitors an idea of what it was like when a regiment took over a plantation home in the south.
There is so much to see and do on this weekend that the number of visitors to this event continue to rise, and I do not believe there is a bigger weekend for Greenfield Village.
With the 150 anniversary of the Civil War at hand, this Remembrance Weekend can only grow in size and scope.