Bradford Memorial Day In The Late 19th Century

The story of Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day begins in the summer of 1865, when a prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles of Waterloo, New York mentioned to some of his friends at a social gathering praising the living veterans of the Civil War that it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves. Nothing resulted from this suggestion until the next spring.

On May 5, 1866 the Village of Waterloo, New York was decorated with flags at half-mast. Veterans, civic societies and residents led by General John B. Murry conducted a procession to the three village cemeteries. The graves were decorated and ceremonies held. One year later on May 5, 1867, the ceremonies were repeated. In 1868, Waterloo joined with other communities in holding the observance on May 30th, in accordance with General Logan's orders. It has been held annually ever since. In 1966, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York State and the US Congress officially recognized Waterloo, New York as the birth of Memorial Day. On May 26, 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a Presidential Proclamation acknowledging the same.

The first observation of Decoration Day in Bradford was in 1876. By 1878 the route of march of the parade was as follows: The Grand Army and veterans assembled on Corydon St. The children of all schools assembled at the M.E. Church. Other organizations took their place in the line of march, and at 10:00 AM all proceeded to the Opera House for exercises. The route of march was up Main Street to Mechanic Street, out Mechanic Street to Railroad Street, out Railroad Street to the Cemetery (Bradford Cemetery on Kennedy Street, now the site of Hanley Park). The G.A.R. and veterans formed open ranks on either side of the graves. Young ladies representing the States put flowers on the graves at the end of the ceremonies. The ceremonies closed by firing of volley over the graves. The procession re-formed and marched to the Public Square, where ranks were broken and organizations dismissed.

Memorial Day exercises of 1883 were disrupted by rain and by noon the streets were muddy and not suitable for marching. The exercises were moved to the Opera House. It was noted in the memorial address "A few weeks ago during the memorial exercises in the South, the old soldiers of the Confederacy, while remembering their fallen comrades, did not forget the graves of the Union soldiers, but placed upon them as sweet and beautiful flowers as were scattered over their own."

The 1888 the exercises were under the direction of the Union Veteran Legion. The decoration of the graves in the morning, followed by exercises at the ballpark and further ceremonies at Public Square. Bouquets and baskets of cut flowers in memory of dead soldiers and friends were laid at the foot of the cenotaph (a monument).

The Public Square, now renamed Veterans Square, continues to be the focus of Memorial Day in Bradford.