Memorial Day marks the cultural beginning of summer, the start of the warm months. The picnics and the parties and the celebration of the impending summer have sort of become the point of Memorial Day for many, a kind of superimposition of recreation over the intention of the holiday.
We love beer and hot dogs as much as the next guy, but for those interested in the history and meaning (or, in destination 5 below, the traditional pageantry) of Memorial Day, here are five destinations for Monday that might prompt greater reflection on the holiday itself.
1. Charleston, South Carolina. Hampton Park in Charleston was once the site of the Washington Race Course, which served as prison camp for Union soldiers in the last year of the Civil War. Here, in 1865, former slaves provided a proper burial and commemoration of fallen Union soldiers, followed by sermons, prayer, and picnics, under the name of Decoration Day. Yale history professor David W. Blight has championed this event as the first ever Memorial Day celebration.
2. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. About five miles from State College, Boalsburg is one of a number of other locations claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Tiny Boalsburg is also home to the Pennsylvania Military Museum.
3. Waterloo, New York. Waterloo, in the Finger Lakes region, hosts the National Memorial Day Museum. Waterloo was recognized by the federal government as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, one hundred years after the city first celebrated the event.
4. Arlington, Virginia. Arlington National Cemetery is the arguably the best-known cemetery in the US. Administered by the Department of the Army, the cemetery hosts a National Memorial Day Observance open to the general public on a first-come first-seated basis. Admission is free.
5. Speedway, Indiana or Concord, North Carolina. While stock car racing can’t be tied to the history of Memorial Day, these two iconic races (the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway) have coincided with the holiday for decades, and have in turn become Memorial Day tradition. The Indianapolis 500 was first held on Memorial Day in 1911, and the Coca Cola 600 dates back to 1960.