Memorial Day in the Finger Lakes took on national significance when the little village of Waterloo, NY was recognized in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the birthplace of Memorial Day. President Johnson signed a congressional proclamation which declared Waterloo, NY as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. The first Memorial Day celebration in Waterloo was on May 5, 1866 (click here). It was proposed by Henry C. Welles and General John B. Murray to honor both the living veterans and those who died in the Civil War. The village was decorated with flags at half mast and the graves of the patriotic dead who fought in the Civil War were decorated with flowers. Two years later in 1868 the celebration was moved to May 30th where it has since remained.
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Penn Yan is one of the most beautiful Civil War monuments that I have seen. It is set in the lovely Court House Park on Main Street in Penn Yan. The figures of an infantryman, artilleryman, cavalryman, and a sailor stand guard on each of the four sides of the granite monument with a soldier standing at the top of the granite monument. I stopped at the Historical Society of Penn Yan and asked if the soldier at the top of the monument had a name, but as far as they knew, he just represented one of the Civil War soldiers.
The monument was constructed to honor the men from Yates County who “fought to save their country.” On the left side of the monument, it tells about the population of Yates County which was 20,290 and the number enlisted was 2,109 to fight in the “war of the rebellion’. In other words, ten percent of the population of Yates (and some from the surrounding counties) volunteered to fight in the Civil War! (And that equates to 20% of the male population.)
I have a hard time trying to understand about the civil wars that are right now being fought in this world – like in Syria. And what motivated over 10% of the 1860 Yates population to engage in the bloodiest war every fought on American soil? They all had their reasons: to end slavery, to save our country, to put down the rebellion, to protect their way of life.
So on this Memorial Day, LET US NOT FORGET those who paved the way to keep our county together and all those who fought and died to protect our country from those who seek to divide and conquer us.