Memorial Day, 2011
Memorial Day has an awful lot going for it.
For one thing, it signals the start of the summerish things.
Plus, like Labor Day which brackets the summer on the other end, it’s one of those blessed holidays when there’s nothing that you have to do. Now, some of those have-to-do’s are not especially onerous. What’s so hard about turning on the Pops 4th of July Concert, then opening the blinds so we can watch the fireworks when the concert’s over?
Still, Memorial Day is mercifully free of obligation.
I do get up to the cemetery to plant geraniums and make sure that the Vets stuck a flag on my father’s grave, but this year that will have to wait. I was unable to get up to Leicester before Memorial Day – that darned vacation! – so my cousin Barbara and I have to figure out a time when we can get the job done. We do plant tulips on our parents’ graves in the fall, so there’ll be something there. (Dead tulips, unless Babs made a dash out there without me…)
This year, Memorial Day has special resonance, in that we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which begat Decoration Day, which begat the latter day Memorial Day.
Civil War: what a name for something so brutal, gruesome and uncivil.
Living in New England, it’s easy to see that our war was the Revolutionary, not the Civil. George Washington slept here, not Abraham Lincoln. (Metaphorically speaking, Abe. I know you did visit here.)
Every day, I walk past the site of the Boston Massacre, and the Old State House, which was once a the seat of the British Royal Government in Boston. It still sports the lion and the unicorn, symbols of The Crown.
I’m not a far walking piece from Bunker Hill, or Boston Harbor (of Tea Party fame), or Old North one-if-by-day Church and Paul Revere’s House. And I’m not a far driving piece from Lexington and Concord.
Revolutionary War ‘R Us.
Civil War, not so much.
Other than the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial – he of Glory fame, for leading the African-American troops in battle – there’s not a lot of Civil War “stuff” in these parts.
Other than in the cemeteries, where even in the Irish immigrant cemeteries where my people lay a-mouldering in their graves there are a few Civil War vets. And, of course, there’s Memorial Hall at Harvard University. I know, I know, the rich and privileged men during Civil War could buy their way out of the military. (Sounds kinda-sorta familiar doesn’t it? Although these days there’s not an out and out buy…) But a lot of rich and privileged men didn’t, as a stroll through Mem Hall will tell you.
This memorial space boasts a 2,600 square foot marble floor, a sixty foot high wooden gothic vault, two stained glass windows spanning 708 square feet each, black walnut paneling, stenciled walls and 28 white marble tablets bearing the names of 136 Harvard associates who fell on behalf of the Union cause during the Civil War. The youngest, Sumner Paine, class of 1865, fell at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, two years before his intended graduation. The Paul Joseph Revere listed is the grandson of the famous Paul Revere. (Source: Fair Harvard)
They died at Wilderness, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Antietam. Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Fort Wagner – which is where Robert Gould Shaw fell.
So, here’s to those who have died in our wars, especially those who fought in the Civil War. And here’s hoping we never go there again….
Earlier Memorial Day posts: