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Memorial Day Observance Championed by Publisher
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-05-24

            Every year we pause on Memorial Day to remember those who have died in our nation's service.  It was once called Decoration Day, and stories abound as to its actual beginnings.  We do know that General John Logan officially proclaimed it on May 5th, 1868. 

Town & Country newspaper publisher

Dr. Charles Q. Hillegass began advocating for a

proper observance in the community as early as

1900.  His persistence paid off in 1906.

            At that time he was the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).  Logan issued his General Order No. 11 which stated in part: "The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion … no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

            Throughout the end of the 19th century, many of the observances across the country were informal, not community-wide, or one-time events.  Many southern states kept their own days for honoring Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War.

            By the beginning of the 20th century many State legislatures passed proclamations designating May 30th as Memorial Day, and by the end of World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American Wars.

            In the Commonwealth of Pa, as well as the Upper Perkiomen Valley, it took a bit longer to recognize the meanings and obligations of the day.  It wasn't until 1917 that then Pa. Governor Martin Brumbaugh declared May 30th as the annual Memorial Day in the state.

            "Town & Country" newspaper publisher Dr. Charles Q. Hillegass took the local public to task in 1900 when an editorial appeared in the publication scolding them for ignoring the day.  He wrote, "Memorial Day has become one of the most popular and more generally observed of all the legal holidays … It is about time that an organization of some kind be formed for the purpose of visiting our cemeteries and in an appropriate manner decorate the graves of the departed veterans."

In 1906, Hillegass encouraged the Pennsburg Firemen to Decorate Graves for

Memorial Day.  In 1907, after Hillegass became Chief of the Pennsburg Fire

Company, a parade and celebration was held for Memorial Day with other groups

and guest speakers.

            Several more years went by and still there was still no observance.  With no Grand Army Post in the immediate community to take up the lead for Memorial Day services, Hillegass pleaded for a group to take up the cause.  In 1903 he wrote, "The old soldiers in our midst should so work upon the sympathies of their fellow citizens ... for want of leadership that no future Memorial Day can pass without due and appropriate ceremonies at the graves of our heroes." 

            In 1904, the persistent publisher reminded the local citizens that the "war survivors are becoming fewer with each passing year and the mounds in the cemetery are growing."  His frustration grew each year as his search for a group to carry on the loving work of scattering flowers over the graves of those who fought beneath the Stars and Stripes went unanswered.

            In 1905 Hillegass' frustration turned to rage.  His scathing editorial asked, "Why are the people of the Perkiomen Valley so lax in their duty as not to observe Memorial Day? … We have a number of civic organizations in our midst, any one of which would be justified in taking the lead and several of which should be almost duty bound to do so."

            In 1906, a week before Memorial Day, Hillegass' editorial suggested that the volunteers of the Pennsburg Fire Company take up the cause.  One week later, a headline in his newspaper declared "Pennsburg Firemen to Decorate Graves."  In 1907 Hillegass became Chief of the Pennsburg firefighters.  At his encouragement, a grand celebration was planned that included a parade and guest speakers.  Company officials invited local groups and organizations to participate in the affair.  In addition, members from the McClellan Post - GAR, of Schwenksville, would be on hand to take part in a proper observance.

            There were still a few rocky years ahead for the celebration.  Local territorial disputes that have haunted us throughout the years and perceptions of disrespect to some organizations clouded the reason for the lack of interest in the observance.  In 1908 the newspaper blasted several local groups for refusing to join in Memorial Day exercises. 

            The story reported that "Considerable surprise was expressed at what seemed to be an unpatriotic attitude of the Patriotic Orders."  Reasons for the snub spread from the usual range of groups protesting because they were not invited to help organize the event, to others who felt their communities were disrespected because some of their town's organizations were not invited.  The fact remains that up until one month before Memorial Day 1908, no group stepped forward to take steps toward a proper observance of the day. 

            Thankfully, by 1914 the observance found sound footing under the direction of the newly formed Lt. Thomas J. Lynch Camp 91, Sons of Veterans.

            Today the observance is capably and respectfully done under the direction of local groups that include our community veteran's organizations - American Legion Post 184, Tri-Boro Detachment 568 of the Marine Corps League, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5954.


 

 

 

 

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