The Museum of Ventura County wishes this Memorial Day to honor service men and women who have died in service to their country. It is unclear where exactly the tradition of decorating graves of fallen soldiers originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. Records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
The gatherings were known as Decoration Day starting in 1868 and in 1971 it became an official federal holiday, a holiday to honor the sacrifice of others. Locally, Decoration Day became an official holiday in Oxnard in 1914, when the Oxnard Board of Trade adopted it as one of seven official holidays.
Coming on the heels of the 1918 flu, which lasted into 1919, and directly after the cessation of World War I, the Decoration Day of 1919 held strong emotion for many. On May 29, 1919, the Oxnard Daily Courier printed this short ode to the day that would become Memorial Day. The article is transcribed as it appears in the newspaper below:
Just as the family lot in the cemetery gathers names to its circle, and the record of births and deaths and weddings lengthens little by little in the family Bible, so, as the years roll around, Decoration Day gathers itself new reasons for being. We decorate this year the graves of the solders of four great wars – the Revolution, the Civil War, the Spanish War, and this last great conflict, which took no notice of boundaries or oceans, but spread throughout the world.
We cannot choose among our heroes. All fought for the same great principles and died for the same ideals. Each has made his supreme contribution to the good of his fellow men, and all deserve alike our flowers and our tears.
It is a day in which the living gives in loving memory of the dead. But the living receive far more than any tribute they can pay, for what lessons in history and patriotism are here!
Who, whether or not he goes to the cemetery or attends any public ceremony, can fail to feel the tides of a deep love for his country rise within him if he gives even a passing thought to the day?
Our flowers and our thots will be of little worth, our dead indeed will have died in vain, if this Decoration Day does not make better, braver citizens and patriots of us all.
Clipping: Oxnard Daily Courier, May 29, 1919
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