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Out of the Past: Memorial Day

The first national Memorial Day of record was held on May 30, 1868, when more than 100 exercises took place honoring those who died in the Civil War. The most noteworthy ceremony was held at the National Cemetery at Arlington, Va. with General James Garfield as the main speaker. With the passage of time has come several changes in the observance. Most notable is the fact that Memorial Day has now become an occasion for honoring all those who have died in the service of our country in all our wars, civilian as well as military.

On Monday, May 26, Hamburg residents were asked, with other Americans, to pause in their busy lives to honor all those who have died in defense of our country. The tradition in the town of Hamburg dates back to the period just after the Civil War, and in the almost 150 years since then has had some different activities.

Visiting cemeteries to place flowers and flags on the graves of loved ones, attending religious services at local monuments and places of worship and of course, watching a local parade are all part of the Memorial Day tradition.

In the town of Hamburg, the traditional Memorial Day Parade was a longtime way of honoring our war heroes. However in 1924, besides a grand parade, local leaders decided to honor our war dead by planting trees along a one-mile stretch of Camp Road. The idea was to make Camp Road a “Road of Remembrance.” Nineteen of the finest trees were to be marked with bronze plates, each bearing the name of one of the 19 Hamburg boys who died in World War I.

Volunteers were asked to dig the holes for the trees, and at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday May 11, 1924, town school children assembled at the village park in Hamburg to be transported to the site of the planting of the last gold star tree. That last tree was to be planted on Camp Road or Athol Springs Road as it was sometimes known at that time, one mile west of the Erie Railroad tracks. Joining in the services were G.A.R. Veterans, American Legion posts, Boy Scouts, the Women’s Relief Corp and village and town officials.

It was May 30, 1959, when “The Kingsmen” led the annual Memorial Day Parade down Main Street, as village residents turned out in record numbers. The parade had been formed at the Odd Fellows Temple on Buffalo Street at 10 a.m., proceeded down Main Street to Lake where traditional military rites were held at the Village Memorial Park. The retiring minister at St. James United Church of Christ, the Rev P.W. Meisenheimer, was the principal speaker.

After the ceremonies, the combined veteran groups marched to Prospect Lawn Cemetery to pay tribute to veteran’s Jack Hahn and Everett Hunt at their grave sites.
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