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Memorial Day: Which War?


Memorial Day was not universally recognized as a shared American Holiday until after World War I. But that’s not how it started in the United States. When did it begin?

Civil War

Following the American Civil War or the War Between the States as it was known in the South, various locations began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags, as I’ve written previously. This began in the mid to late 1860s across the country, as almost every community had been touched by loss from the country-wide conflagration. Over 600,000 men and women had died, more than any American war, including the combined losses suffered in WWI and WWII — we were both sides of the war.

In 1866 the secretary of the Ladies Memorial Association in the city of Columbus, Georgia wanted to erect a memorial to those fallen during the Civil War but did not have the funds. They recognized, however,  that flowers were readily available to decorate graves. Secretary Mary Ann Williams wrote a letter that was published in March and April in more than two dozen newspapers across the US to:

“beg the assistance of the Press and the Ladies throughout the South to aid us in our efforts to set apart a certain day to be observed from the Potomac to the Rio Grande and be handed down through time a religious custom of the country to wreathe the graves of our martyred dead with flowers.”   

decoration-dayIn 1868, by the proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (Union), these decoration services were unified on May 30 as Decoration Day. 5,000 mourners met at Arlington National Cemetery to place flowers and ribbons on the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Union veteran Generals and future Presidents James Garfield and Ulysses S. Grant were in attendance.

At least twenty five cities in America claim that they are the birthplace of this practice and this holiday. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, an American village on the National Historic Register makes this claims on a sign at the entrance to the village near State College, PA.

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History of Star Wars — 41 Year Anniversary


Coinciding with the opening of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

In 1976 I picked up a new science fiction novel called Star Wars by George Lucas. I did not know at the time that it was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, a popular sci-fi writer. The following May, the movie debuted in only 40 theaters around the country, with little of the advanced fanfare we’re used to today. But word of mouth spread fast, and when I heard it was showing at the Coronet Theater in San Francisco, I went with my buddies. The line to get in stretched around the block, even during the first week. When I saw the Star Destroyer come across the screen after the title scroll, I yelled out “I’m impressed!”

On my way out of the theater, a reporter stopped me for a radio interview. “Did you think it was fun?” I replied “Yes” but it was so much more. I would return several times to see it again. Star Wars ran there at the Coronet for 29 weeks. The new Star Wars movie opens in over 10,000 theaters in the US. How times have changed.

Star Wars

The original Star Wars was not expected to be a success, far from it. The studio was not optimistic, hence only 40 opening theaters. The head of 20th Century Fox at the time was Alan Ladd, Jr. He agreed to produce the film with an initial $8M budget because he was impressed with George Lucas’ 1973 American Graffiti. Even Lucas was not hopeful. Instead of going to the opening he went to Kauai, Hawaii with his friend Stephen Spielberg to commiserate. While there, they conceived of Indiana Jones, named after Lucas’ dog, which was subsequently filmed there, and would make Harrison Ford a much bigger star than he would have been as just Han Solo.

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History of Mother’s Day

History of Mother's DayHISTORY OF MOTHER’S DAY

The person most active initially in opposing the celebration of Mother’s Day is the very person who started this holiday in the US. How did that happen?

Anna Jarvis’ mother died in 1905 and in her honor, Anna held a memorial in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia. She continued to campaign for national recognition of this day for all mothers through the assistance of John Wanamaker and the efforts of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The first state to recognize Mother’s Day was her own West Virginia in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the “second Sunday in May” as Mother’s Day in 1914. The spelling was significant: Anna Jarvis did not spell it “Mothers’ Day” because she intended, as she said it should “be singular possessive, for each family to honor its mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.” Nevertheless, in more modern times both “Mothers’ Day” and “Mother’s Day” appear as names for this holiday.

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History of Cinco de Mayo

History of Cinco de MayoHISTORY OF CINCO DE MAYO

Cinco de Mayo is frequently regarded as the Mexican equivalent of the United States 4th of July. This is incorrect: it is the equivalent of the “5th of May” in the Spanish language. Another misconception is that this has something to do with Mayonnaise. That too is a bum spread, as the condiment had its origin with the French, who will come into our story later. Nor does it have to do with County Mayo in Ireland, though we’ll make sure the Irish get into this story at some point. Rather, the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo” or specifically the Battle of Puebla, occurred on May 5, 1862.


JuarezPresident Benito Juarez, who had been Zapotec Indian Minister of Justice in Juan Alvarez‘ cabinet in the 1850’s, entered Mexico City on January 11, 1861, and promptly expelled the Spanish minister, the papal legate, and members of the episcopate. Additionally, he took steps to enforce the decrees of 1859, dis-endowing and disestablishing the church. He could not have known then that almost a century later, “antidisestablishmentarianism” would become the longest word in the English dictionary. Although Juarez was recognized by the United States and had received both moral and military aid from the US, there were over $80,000,000 in debts at that time to Europe alone. The Mexican Congress on July 17, 1861, decreed the suspension for two years of interest payments on the external national debt, and three months later a convention occurred between Great Britain, France, and Spain calling for joint intervention in Mexico.
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History of May the Fourth (Be With You): Star Wars Day

May the fourth be with youHISTORY OF MAY THE FOURTH

May 4th or May the Fourth is a geek holiday that has gained popularity in recent years due to a popular film franchise. But where did it begin?


May the Fourth is taken from the benediction “May the Force be with you” made famous in the Star Wars film series. This pun intended holiday seems to have first been celebrated in the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. However, the use of this phrase predates this going back to the day in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister was elected. The Conservative party, upon the occasion of her officially becoming Prime Minister on May 4th, took out a half-page newspaper ad in the London Evening News that said:

“May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations.”

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Copyright © 1984-2018 · Bill Petro. All rights reserved, unless otherwise stated.
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