John A Logan, commander of the Civil War veteran's group, the Grand Army of the Republic, issued the following order in calling the land to observe the first Memorial Day:
"WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868 -- This 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 the late rebellion, and those [whose] bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet church yard in the land. In this observance 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."
Among the many paragraphs in the order the Commander wrote: "It is the purpose of the commander in chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades."
In Lowell the Civil War veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post (Burnham Post 376) obeyed the order, and plans were made every year to honor their departed comrades. Year after year they remembered them at the cemetery with special services, and the graves were decorated. Some years, a part of the ceremonies was held indoors.
In May 1918, before the end of World War I, the Burnham Post of the GAR presented the Decoration Day services in the Grand Theatre, a large building north of the Lowell Tribune Office at the southeast corner of Clark and Jefferson Sts. Demolished in the 1930s, it had a large seating capacity, with balcony and box seats, and was filled to the doors a half hour before the start of the program, which opened with a song by a choir composed of singers from all the churches in Lowell.
Rev. Henry Horstsman, then pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church, gave the invocation and read the Memorial Day proclamation of the President of the United States.
Vera Smith (Mrs. Fred Minninger) read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Gladys Brown (Linton) gave a reading, followed with a song by the choir. Earl Yates gave a declamation (speech), and L.W. Ragon read a roster of the soldiers still living in the Three Creek and Hanover Townships:
From Lowell - John M. Castle, Oliver Surprise, James Chitwood, Samuel Nichols, R.C. Wood, Patrick Buckley, Sylvester Bartram, James Kelsey, Benjamin Laybourn, J.P. Spaulding, William Zartman, Lewis Purchase, David Bruckman, Amos Thompson, P.A. McNay, B.S. Durkee, Willis Worley and Nathan Worley.
From Eagle Creek Township: O.V. Servis.
From Hanover Township: John A. Hoffman, John Rosenbauer and Mark Webber.
During the past year, 10 old soldiers had passed away: Frank Berg, Thomas Dickinson, H.H. Purdy, Yates Vosburg, Irenus Shortridge, George Haskell, C.J. Hill, W.F. Brabrook, Henry H. Ragon and Richard Fuller.
The names of 97 men who had left for the fighting in World War I were also read.
On Nov. 11, 1918, the news of the end of World War I came to Lowell early in the morning, and bells were soon ringing while the streets filled with people shouting for joy! Singing and shouting around huge bonfires proclaimed the good news throughout the day.
Soon the soldiers were returning home from the war, and on Mar. 13, 1919, thirty veterans met at the Knights of Pythian Hall (second floor of the building at the northeast corner of Clark St. and Commercial Ave.) with the purpose of organizing a veterans club. Plans were made and officers were elected to head a "temporary organization" - President Dr. John Iddings, Vice President William Surprise, Treasurer Claude Craft, and Secretary Harold Strickland. The group called themselves the "Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Club," and they marched in uniform in the 1919 Decoration Day parade sponsored by the Civil War Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, Lowell Burnham Post 376.
From this group evolved American Legion Post 101 of Lowell, organized at a meeting on Sept. 18, 1919. The elected charter officers were: William Surprise, commander; Harold Strickland, adjutant; and Joe Little finance officer. Members of the Executive Committee were: Raymond Johnson, Cordie Kenney and Leon Bailey. The charter for the post, dated Oct. 20, 1919, included the following names: William Surprise, Harold Strickland, Joseph Little, Raymond Johnson, Cordie Kenney, Leon Bailey, John Iddings, Floyd Vinnedge, Harold Brownell, Edward Minninger, Fay Vandercar, Kenneth Sheets, Claude Craft, Chester Ruley, Herman Hass, Robert Edgerton, Fred Minninger, John Hepp, Delbert Hayden, Harry Petrie, George Hayden, and Arthur Heiser. The majority of the veterans were members of pioneer families in the south Lake County area.
Soon after the organization of Lowell Post 101 of the American Legion, the members of the Burnham Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, most of them in their late 70's or older, decided it was time for their group to pass the task of honoring the war dead to a younger group, and asked the Legion boys to do the honors on Decoration Day. Since that time, Legion Post 101 has been sponsoring the Memorial Day program. It has been joined by Lowell Memorial Post 6841, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, since soon after World War II.
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