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Memorial Day in Meeker County




Memorial Day and the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) have a long history. In fact, it was under the G.A.R. that Memorial Day was started. The first Memorial Day was on May 30, 1868, three years after the end of the US Civil War. May 30 was selected because there were no major Civil War battles on that day, so no one group of soldiers was singled out. The date remained May 30 until 1968 when the holiday was changed to the last Monday in May.


Decoration Day

Memorial Day was sometimes called Decoration Day because it was a day to decorate the graves of deceased soldiers and veterans. While the first Memorial Days centered around the Civil War soldiers, over time the holiday came to honor and remember all members of the military.

A Memorial Day Parade in Litchfield, MN around 1910 with men on horses and a marching band.
Memorial Day Parade in Litchfield, MN, c. 1910

Celebrations Through the Years

As for local celebrations, the first Memorial Day of significance was held in 1885. Just a couple of months earlier, construction had begun on Litchfield’s G.A.R. Hall and the cornerstone was laid on Memorial Day to great pomp and circumstance. This was followed by a ceremony in Central Park.   


Before long, Memorial Day had become a major holiday in Litchfield, said to be more popular than the Fourth of July. At first, it was just the Civil War Veterans who paraded to the Litchfield Cemetery but over the years other groups joined. The day’s festivities often continued with a program at Central Park.


Although each year varied slightly, most celebrations followed a similar pattern. As an example, here’s what happened in 1900. The day started with several G.A.R. members attending church. After the service, sixty G.A.R. members along with 52 young decorator girls marched to the Litchfield Cemetery. They were followed by members of the Women’s Relief Corp, an auxiliary to the G.A.R. The general public followed in about one hundred carriages. Once they arrived at the cemetery, the decorator girls placed flowers on the graves. In the afternoon was a ceremony in Litchfield’s Central Park with speeches, readings, several songs, the Gettysburg Address, and a prayer.


In 1899, veterans of the Spanish-American War were invited to join the parade with more veterans joining through the decades. The years following WWI were some of the best attended in Litchfield with thousands of people in attendance. The parade in 1921 was so long that the start of the parade reached the cemetery before the end had passed through Litchfield’s downtown.


Memorial Day Today

The Meeker County Museum is proud to be a part of the continued Memorial Day traditions. Volunteers will place G.A.R. markers at the Litchfield Cemetery and other cemeteries. On Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, following the community program at Litchfield Cemetery, we invite you to the Annual Memorial Day Picnic at the Litchfield Opera House. The picnic is presented by the Museum and G.A.R. with all proceeds supporting the Museum. Lunch is served from 11:00 to 1:30. Tickets are $10/adult and $5/kid and include the meal and dessert, plus admission to the Museum and G.A.R. Hall.  Visit www.meekercomuseum.org for details.

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