Nothing is more divisive than a civil war. On April 9, 1865, when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia the Civil War was over. More than a 500,000 died from combat injuries or disease. They were all Americans regardless of which side they fought on. Thousands were injured. People felt the need to do something to honor those who served. In the summer of 1865, a prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles in Waterloo, NY, mentioned to some of his friends that besides praising the living veterans of the Civil War people should remember those who died by placing flowers on their graves. He enlisted the aid of General John B. Murray. Plans were developed by a local citizens' committee headed by Welles and Murray, and on May 5, 1866 the first Memorial Day was held. The Village of Waterloo was decorated with flags. Veterans, civic societies and residents, led by General Murray, marched to the three village cemeteries where ceremonies were held and soldiers' graves decorated. Waterloo has held memorial celebrations annually ever since. On March 7, 1966, the State of New York recognized Waterloo, NY as the birthplace of Memorial Day by a proclamation signed by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. This was followed by recognition from the U.S. Congress when the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a resolution that reads in part: "Resolved that the Congress of the United States, in recognition of the patriotic tradition set in motion one hundred years ago in the Village of Waterloo, NY, does hereby officially recognize Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day..." The resolution was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Today Memorial Day is remembered at the Memorial Day Museum on Main Street, in Waterloo.
May 23, 2014