Footprints: 175 graves decorated for Memorial Day 1895

By: Iris Naylor
   "Bring flowers for the dead, strew them on every grave of him whose blood was shed, whose very life he gave for the old, old flag!"
   These were the words of an unnamed poet, written in 1895 and published in The Beacon that year. The words echo the true meaning of the observation of Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it often was called.
   It was the custom for flowers to be gathered by the ladies and deposited at the headquarters of GAR posts throughout the country. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic, all of whom were veterans of the Civil War, then would distribute the flowers Memorial Day at the various cemeteries in the area.
   In 1895, there still were veterans of the Civil War living in Lambertville. Benjamin H. Joiner and Israel F. Naylor, two of the veterans, had been placing small American flags at the graves of the soldiers and sailors for 30 years and still were doing it.
   The number of Civil War veterans thus honored in 1895 was Mt. Hope, 82; St. John’s, 26; Riverview, 17; Rosemont, 14; Johnson’s burying ground, one; Sandy Ridge, 15; New Hope, Dark Hollow and Solebury, 20. Altogether, 175 graves in the vicinity of Lambertville were decorated that year.
   Memorial Day in 1895 fell on a Thursday. It was an extremely warm day, the temperature rising to 94 degrees by 1:30 p.m., when the parade was scheduled to start. Marchers assembled at Church and Union, proceeded down Union to Swan to Franklin to Mt. Hope Cemetery to the soldiers monument overlooking the city.
   Carriages transported Mayor Stacy B. Bray, various other dignitaries and crippled veterans. Other veterans marched to the music of the Liberty Band. Thirteen young girls, representing the 13 original states, were dressed in white and carried flowers and a large American flag. A wagon filled with flowers held also six young girls who were dressed in white and wore crowns that were lettered Post 20, GAR. The line of march included a group of boys who were to assist the veterans in distributing the flowers.
   By the time the procession reached Mt. Hope Cemetery, the extreme heat and the blazing sun caused many to seek whatever shade they could find. even though it meant not being able to hear the orator. Old-timers said it was the hottest Memorial Day in 25 years, The veterans, in their 50s or close to it were grateful for the help in distributing the flowers. Spectators said the young boys assisting the veterans were an impressive sight. It was agreed the time was fast approaching when the veterans would no longer be able to carry out their duties.
   Post 20, GAR of Lambertville had about 80 members in 1895. Of these, only about 20 took part in the Memorial Day activities.
   The Beacon, published by a Civil War veteran, brought this matter to the attention of its readers, saying it had become "plainly apparent to everyone" some change had to be made in the way Memorial Day would be marked in the future. The veterans, who always had made all the arrangements for honoring their fallen comrades, had grown old, many in ill health, many crippled.
   Therefore, said The Beacon, "The time for parades and exposures to sun and the various changeable elements has come to an end."
   It remained for the sons and daughters to take over the obligation, and they did just that. The Sons of Veterans gradually assumed the duties and then the American Legion and then the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
   As more wars were fought, and more veterans were laid to rest, the task of marking each grave became more difficult. Still, every year, the American flag appears as if by magic on Memorial Day on every grave of every person who fought for our country.
   "Bring flowers for the brave, weave garlands for the dead, to crown each sleeper’s grave and mark the silent bed where the dead soldier lies."