A look back at Memorial Day in 19th century Hudson

By Tom Vince | Guest Column Published:

Although stories about Hudson's celebrated Memorial Day Parade often mention its origin in the World War II years of the 1940s, few recall that the tradition of marking the graves of the fallen actually began right after the Civil War.

Because so many Hudson men marched off to serve in the Civil War (1861-1865), Hudson early on had an active chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the veterans' group made up of men who had served with the Union during the conflict between the states.

The first home of the GAR, where the meetings were and memorabilia was stored, was in the quarters above Edgar Birge Ellsworth's store on East Main Street, an 1841 building that has long been the office of a local dentist and associates. It is the same store where a young James W. Ellsworth helped out his busy father, and he probably was present when the GAR gathered for what was then called the Decoration Day parade on May 30. It was the Sherman Post #68, Department of Ohio, that occupied the quarters on the second floor of this building on East Main Street.

The Sherman Post of the GAR was organized April 1, 1870 with James H. Seymour as post commander. His vice-commanders were L. E. Hanna and George W. Church. The post was named in honor of Civil War Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, himself an Ohio native. Interesting enough, a chapter of the Womans' Relief Corps was also active in Hudson, and the wife of Commander Seymour was active in it.

For Decoration Day in May 1870, Hudson saw its first parade "under the auspices of the Sherman Post #68." An impressive poster was tacked up around town urging "the ladies of Hudson" to collect flowers to decorate the graves of soldiers and to deliver them to the Post Rooms "over E.B. Ellsworth's Store before 9 a.m. on Monday, May 30, 1870." The poster, signed by J. H. Seymour, Commander, notes that the flowers will be used to decorate "all the soldiers' graves in our vicinity."

By 1873 the Decoration Day Parade had become an elaborate tradition with a special program published by the Sherman Post that listed all the participants in the celebration. In 1873 the procession would line up in downtown Hudson at 1:30 p.m. in this order: The Hudson Cornet Band would step off at the head of the parade. They would be followed by veterans holding the colors, the orator (in 1873 it was the Hon. James Monroe, a member of Congress), the Mayor of Hudson with Council, the faculty and students of Western Reserve College & Preparatory School, the Hudson clergy, the Soldiers of the War of 1812, followed by members of the Sherman Post of the GAR. At the end of the parade would come children from Sunday schools, a gun squad, and finally citizens in carriages.

This parade would go up Aurora Street to College, turn north on College Street to the Chapel, where the participants would go into the Chapel to hear a prayer led by College President Henry L. Hitchcock and the address by the orator of the day, Congressman James Monroe. Afterward, the parade would proceed to the Chapel Street Cemetery for a special prayer and grave decoration of John C. Hart of the 18th U.S. Infantry, one of the many Hudson men who died during the Civil War.

The parade then went across the road to the "new cemetery" (Markillie) where graves were singled out and marked with flowers and a special prayer by the Rev. Thomas Hickling. Earlier in the day, starting at 9 a.m. the Sherman Post of the GAR held Decoration Day observances at Draper Cemetery on state Route 303, where Captain E. T. Curtiss was the speaker, and later at the Darrow Street Cemetery in Darrowville on state Route 91, where J.R. Carey was the speaker at 10:30 a.m. The Hudson Cornet Band also played at the Darrow Street Cemetery ceremony.

It was a very solemn and dignified Decoration Day in Hudson, but we are certain these solemnities were followed by picnic lunches at home while friends and neighbors recalled their fallen veterans but celebrated the living, much as we do in 21st century Hudson.

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