Upstate Village Claims Birthplace of Memorial Day
Waterloo, New York, in Upstate's Finger Lakes region, is the official U.S. birthplace of Memorial Day.
The declaration was issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in May of 1966. Although several other communities laid claim to the birthplace rights, Waterloo was designated as the first U.S. community to conduct an orderly, annual "decoration of the graves of the Civil War dead," thereby becoming the birthplace of Decoration Day, which later was changed to become known as Memorial Day.
Two local residents of Waterloo, a druggist and a general, are credited with coming up with the idea of decorating the graves as a way to break the cloud of grief that shrouded so many communities after the Civil War. Henry Welles, the druggist, thought it was fitting to honor the living veterans of the Civil War but also wanted to commemorate the dead. John B. Murray, the general and a Civil War veteran, took Welles' ideas and saw them through to fruition.
Today, the village of Waterloo is home to the Memorial Day Museum which tells the story of how this little community is now recognized as the birthplace of this very special American day.