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As It Were: Decoration Day parade in 1922 was one to remember

The Columbus Dispatch logo The Columbus Dispatch 5/23/2022 Ed Lentz
Ed Lentz © ThisWeek file photo Ed Lentz

When I was young, I knew that spring truly was with us when the peonies in our yard came into bloom and were gathered for Decoration Day.

Today, the official name is Memorial Day.

In my youth, Memorial Day was the one day of the year when families visited cemeteries, tidied up grave sites of forebears and friends and left flowers in remembrance.

It was there that you learned the names of predecessors and often were told stories about them by an older person. It continues to be a quiet and comforting tradition.

The story behind the creation of that tradition is a little more complicated.

The Civil War was the deadliest conflict in American history. By the time it was over after four years, more than 600,000 men had died in a country of about 30 million people. It was a devastating struggle.

During the war and shortly thereafter, groups of people in both the North and South began to decorate grave sites with spring flowers and hold memorial services in local cemeteries.

Shortly after the war, Union Gen. John Logan became the head of the Grand Army of the Republic – a Union Army veterans’ organization. Recognizing the importance of remembrance, Logan issued a general order setting forth May 30, 1868, as a Decoration Day to remember those who had died defending the Union. Over the years, the date became a significant national holiday with picnics and social gatherings to complement the decoration of cemeteries.

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It also became a day for parades.

By 1922, the parade in Columbus became something to see.

A local newspaper told the story:

“Impressive always is the annual appearance of the hoary-headed veterans of the Civil War as they gather to pay tribute to the nation’s honored dead, but Tuesday’s Memorial Day parade was by far the most spectacular of its kind ever seen in Columbus. The thinning ranks of the Grand Army, augmented by the sprightly, undaunted veterans of the world conflict and the Spanish War heroes, formed the greater part of the procession in which auxiliary organizations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, fraternal and patriotic organizations took part.

“The sun smiled down on the veterans of three wars as they formed the line of march and moved off to pay homage to those who had answered the final roll call and gone on before them. Until the hour of the parade, little activity was noted on the main streets. But when the procession got underway, hundreds of people thronged the sidewalks to get a glimpse of the nation’s heroes as they passed by.

“Commanded by Walton Weber with Col. Robert Haubrick as his chief of staff, the parade formed a line of march more than a mile in length. With the commanding officers at the head of the procession was a detachment of police, acting as escort. ... Members of the Grand Army posts and the Sons of Veterans comprised the first division. … A detachment of troops from Columbus Barracks (now Fort Hayes) formed the official escort for the gray-haired veterans. Conspicuous in this division was the Old Guard in uniform, aged but keeping perfect lines and exhibiting the same spirit which they displayed when they marched away in ’61. … The Ninth Infantry Band furnished music for the first division.

“Stepping with a quicker cadence than their comrades of previous wars, the World War veterans made up the second division. … Conspicuous in this group was the American Legion band in their new gray and red-trimmed uniforms, 75 strong, adding vivid color to the procession and making the most spirited music.

“In the third division … appeared the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and the Boy Scout band. Following this was the fourth division. … The 166th Infantry band and Cincione’s band appeared in the fourth division. Included in the list of organizations making up the final group were the Columbus Council of Boy Scouts; Girl Scouts; Patriarch’s Militant Independent Order of Odd Fellows; Capital Lodge #34, IOOF; Woodmen of the World Drum Corp; Woodmen Lodges; detachment of city firemen and the Columbus Romanian society.

“The parade moved from Broad and Third streets at 8:30 a.m. proceeding south on Fourth to State, west to High, north to Gay, east to Fourth, south to Broad and east to High, where the columns broke up and the veterans took autos to the cemeteries.

“At Greenlawn, Mount Calvary and St. Joseph’s cemeteries simple but impressive memorial services were carried out with the veterans and their auxiliaries participating. Graves of the soldiers dead were decorated early in the morning by flowers gathered by children of the public schools and fashioned into bouquets by a committee of 100 women of the veterans auxiliaries.

“Flowers were strewn on the waters of the Scioto River during the morning by the Women’s Relief Corp in honor of the sailors and marines who made the supreme sacrifice for their country.”

All in all, it was a memorable Memorial Day.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News and The Columbus Dispatch.

This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: As It Were: Decoration Day parade in 1922 was one to remember

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