Friday, May 27, 2005
Mystic chords of memory: Early 20th-century Memorial Days in Carlisle
Now associated with beaches and barbecues, Memorial Day was once a hallowed holiday dedicated solely to remembering and honoring the nation's war dead. Not long after the surrender was signed, Memorial Day observances spontaneously began taking place in various cities and towns (although Waterloo, New York, claims credit as the holiday's birthplace). But it was not until 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) began sponsoring Memorial Day events, that the holiday was formalized. Within a year 31 states had made it a legal holiday and it quickly became a national tradition.
In Carlisle the holiday was observed with parades, speeches, and solemn ceremonies. The day began with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by a Memorial Day address, and a parade to Green Cemetery. Soldiers, veterans, Scout troops, and other Carlisle citizens marched to the cemetery accompanied by the music of the Carlisle Community Band. Each year Daniel Webster Robbins called the roll of those who had served, while Everett Lapham carried the G.A.R. flag. They were Carlisle's oldest surviving Civil War veterans. Daniel Webster Robbins served throughout the entire four years of the conflict. He was so young when he enlisted with the Sixteenth Massachusetts Regiment that when he returned home he was still not yet 21 years old. The day ended with a dinner and refreshments for the children.
Over the years, a number of Carlisle's native sons and daughters delivered the Memorial Day Address. On May 30, 1900, the address was given by Dr. Francis Mansfield. A Civil War veteran himself, Dr. Mansfield had served as a chaplain in a New York regiment. Born and raised in Carlisle, Dr. Mansfield spent most of his life as a teacher and minister far from his hometown. Elizabeth Robbins Berry grew up in Carlisle, a member of the extensive Robbins clan, but she spent most of her adult life living and working in Boston. An accomplished writer and editor, Mrs. Berry delivered the address several times in the early decades of the twentieth century. Written in her careful, beautiful prose, she praised the soldiers who served their country and remembered those who gave their lives:
Following are excerpts from the Memorial Day Address given by Elizabeth Robbins Berry, May 30, 1904:
"During the past year, all over our land, the ranks of the veterans have been greatly depleted by death. You are especially fortunate that in this place the same men are here to respond to the roll-call as a year ago. May your little group remain complete for many years to come.
Today Memory rolls away its curtain, which overhangs the past, and we are carried back to the days of 1861-65. Many of us who are here remember the boyish faces of those who went out from Carlisle homes, to take part in that terrible struggle for principle and for preservation of our country. Mere striplings they were; yet there were none braver or truer.
From this little town went out thirty-three young men, some of them boys, but activated by a spirit of patriotic devotion. Fourteen of those boys fell upon the battlefields, or died of wounds or disease contracted in the service. Some heard the roll-call at the monument as we came here today. How few responded. True, some survive, in other localities, but the majority have laid down life's burdens, and we are here to place the fairest flowers of the spring on their resting places."
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito