by Shannon Butler

This Monday is Memorial Day! A.K.A Decoration Day, A.K.A the unofficial start of summer. Considering the strange new world that we live in, this memorial day will not look like the ones we are used to. Typically we would head over to a parade with marching bands, floats, and every organization taking to the streets to say thanks to all of our soldiers and sailors who died while serving in our armed forces. We might then head to any of our local cemeteries to place flags on their graves. And of course, as Americans, we then generally head to backyards, parks, or beaches for food and beer! Sadly, in the time of COVID-19, most parades and celebrations are canceled and our food consumption will be limited to our own personal households for the most part.

Given these odd circumstances we should take a look at how our area celebrated this day in the past. As you can see from the newspaper articles on the right, here in Poughkeepsie Memorial day was particularly important to the veterans who served in the American Civil War (they refer to it as, “the late war of the rebellion”). Members of the local G.A.R post (that’s the Grand Army of the Republic) would gather to pay tribute to those men who had died in the war beginning in the late 1860s. By the 1880s, everyone in the City of Poughkeepsie would show up to watch as Cadets of the Poughkeepsie Military Academy, National Guard regiments, and remaining veterans marched up Market Street down Main Street then over to Mansion St. and eventually find their way back to Market St. for a ceremony at the Soldier’s Memorial Fountain (paid for by none other than the famous Harvey Eastman).

By the time of World War I, the amount of veterans who had fought in the Civil War was quickly dwindling and the G.A.R. reached out to other local organizations that served the community to join in the parade, beginning with local firefighters. The Young American Hose Fire Company was the first to join in on marching in the parade in Poughkeepsie in 1917, the Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle wrote, “the company went on record as accepting most gladly the invitation to parade and expressed the hope that the other fire companies of the city will likewise participate in the Memorial Day parade since each year the veterans are becoming fewer and the opportunities to honor them are limited.” Today it is hard to imagine a Memorial Day parade without a firetruck!

Of course after 1917 more wars would come and more Americans would fight and die for their country. We have no shortage of war graves, memorials, and veterans. So, take a moment this weekend to say thanks to all of those who have served. Stay healthy and have a lovely Memorial Day!!