Memorial Day is a unique moment to honor a very specific type of Americans: those who have died, either in the service of our nation or after a career of military duty. Abraham Lincoln would characterize them, three years before the concept of Memorial Day came about, on a battlefield in northern Pennsylvania where sixty thousand Americans had been killed, as “these honored dead,” emphasizing that we must double our commitment to the “cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
The Day was first formally recognized in 1866, when Waterloo NY started a national trend of lowering flags to half staff, draping the village in black to represent mourning, and decorating the graves of soldiers lost during the War. This energy was propelled both by living veterans and loved ones of the dead.
Originally in the first week of May, the day was pushed back to later in the month as more communities began to acknowledge a day to memorialize their dead, likely to allow for more flowers to bloom before they were plucked by loved ones to place upon graves.