As an adult, I still enjoy reading children’s books. Indeed, now that I am an adult, I probably read more children’s books than I did as a kid–when I was trying to persuade the authorities to let me read adult biographies of the Tudor monarchs. One of the reasons I enjoy reading children’s books so much is that I pick up a lot of odds and ends of information. One example is Emily of Deep Valley, by one of my favorite authors, Maud Hart Lovelace. The story takes place between 1912-13, beginning and ending around Decoration Day. The day before the holiday, Emily and her fellow citizens decorated the graves at the local cemetery–while the day itself is marked by a parade with the veterans from the Civil and Spanish-American wars. But what, I wondered, was Decoration Day?
The specific origins of Decoration Day seem to be in dispute; however, 1868 marked the first national observance with ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. During the succeeding years, various states designated May 30th as a legal holiday. In 1894, Congress designated the thirtieth day of May as a legal public holiday (28 Stat. 96). And in 1950, it passed a law calling upon the President to issue a yearly proclamation “each May 30th, Memorial Day, by praying, each in accordance with his religious faith, for permanent peace.” (64 Stat. 158). In 1968 Congress passed Public Law 90-363, which established “the uniform annual observance of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” Under this law, Memorial Day observed was designated as the last Monday in May. The current law can be found in Title 36 of the United States Code, section 116. However, a colleague who lived in the southern United States pointed out that Memorial Day was originally a holiday to honor the Union dead. Since states designate the days which they will recognize as legal public holidays, and these may vary, I decided to check the Alabama Code as an example. Alabama recognizes national Memorial Day, but it also designates the fourth Monday in April as Confederate Memorial Day (Ala. Code §1-3-8).
This helps me to understand the importance of Decoration Day in Emily of Deep Valley as Emily lives with her grandfather who is a veteran of the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment which fought at Gettysburg.