Memorial Day weekend rolls around every year with family barbeques, baseball games, and the unofficial opening of the summer vacation season. This special weekend has roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, with a holiday called “Decoration Day” commemorating the Union soldiers who died in that conflict.
President Ulysses Grant at Decoration Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, 1873. (Library of Congress)
In the 20th century, the holiday became known as Memorial Day and became an officially recognized national holiday. Here in Frederick County, our communities offer many opportunities for reflection to go along with your picnics this Memorial Day weekend.
A perfect place to start a reflective Memorial Day journey is on the region’s hallowed ground. Frederick County is home to two major Civil War battlefields. At Monocacy National Battlefield and South Mountain State Battlefield, monuments on the battlegrounds memorialize units, soldiers, and officers from across the country that fought (and died) in the battles of South Mountain (1862) and Monocacy (1864). At Monocacy National Battlefield, a Memorial Day event provides an opportunity for reflection on the battlefield with patriotic music selections.
At Gathland State Park on South Mountain near Burkittsville, a battlefield became home to the National War Correspondents Memorial Arch. Constructed by journalist George Alfred Townsend in the 1890s, the towering monument recognizes Townsend’s fellow reporters who covered the Civil War for the era’s newspapers. In 2003, additional names were added for American journalists killed in modern conflicts.
The National War Correspondent's Memorial Arch stands in Gathland State Park, one of the areas that saw heavy fighting during the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. The Appalachian Trail passes directly beneath the arch.
In northern Frederick County, Emmitsburg is home to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. This moving tribute includes the names of firefighters killed in the line of duty. The memorial is housed on the grounds of the National Emergency Training Center. Additionally, the site is home to a monument dedicated to the firefighters killed in New York City on September 11, 2001.
"To Lift a Nation" is a 40 ft. bronze monument dedicated to those who served during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The City of Frederick is home to many of the county’s war memorials. At Memorial Park on Bentz Street, monuments honor the Frederick County residents who served in conflicts from the French and Indian War to the First Gulf War. At Memorial Park, and at local monuments and memorial sites throughout Frederick County, special programs take place on Memorial Day as well.
Frederick County's World War I memorial stands at the center of Memorial Park at the intersection of Bentz and 2nd streets.
In the earliest iterations of Memorial Day, a central event was the laying of flowers on soldiers' graves. One of the most powerful ways to reflect on Memorial Day weekend is to visit Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick. Here, thousands of American service members from nearly every American conflict are laid to rest. Seeing their graves decorated with American flags is a moving way to reflect on their service to the nation.
Mount Olivet Cemetery is also home to the grave of Francis Scott Key, author of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
Take time on Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served and paid the ultimate price.