Honoring Civil War Veterans: Memorial Day 1889

In the small towns of Williams Valley in Central Pennsylvania, Memorial Day has always held an important place on the calendar marked by parades, public commemorations, and patriotic speeches.

But how did they mark the occasion in the nineteenth century? The archives of the  Harrisburg Telegraph help fill us in on the details of Memorial Day commemorations in 1889. A correspondent from Lykens detailed that year’s events:


Wiconisco and Lykens

The Observance of Decoration Day Was General

Special Correspondence of the TELEGRAPH                                                           

Lykens, May 31 –

There seemed to be an increased personal interest shown this year in the observance of Memorial Day in Wiconisco and Lykens. The order of exercises, so well arranged, was carried out to the letter.

The weather was very favorable. Flags and bunting were displayed. The arch, nicely and suitably arranged at the entrance of Church Street, was prettily decorated. A pleasing incident here was the number of small girls dressed in white, with baskets filled with bouquets. They gave to each Grand Army man who was not already provided a nice bouquet of flowers.

The second division of Lykens organizations met the Wiconisco parties[,] a procession was formed and moved up to Pottsville Street and out to the cemetery.

After the beautiful and impressive ceremonies were gone through, Howard L. Calder, Esq., of Harrisburg, delivered an eloquent oration, which was well received. A large number of people were present and all listened quietly and with attention. Those who did not hear Mr. Calder failed to hear a good speech. The organizations were not as full as they should have been, but were well represented, and all did well. The Wesquenesque Tribe of Red Men were dressed with the war paint [and] like warlike Indians.

They made a novel and striking appearance. Capt. John Murphy, of the Good Will Hose Company, of Wiconisco, kept his promise good. Their hose carriage was mounted with a miniature [Summit Branch] locomotive on wheels, under a full head of steam crossing a bridge, with its builder and Engineer Samuel Wehy in charge.

At about 12 o’clock the post returned to their quarters, where they were met by the Women’s Relief Corps, who had taken charge of their hall for the day, and served them with a grand dinner. A detail from the post went down the valley and decorated the graves of soldiers in the cemeteries at and around Elizabethville. The memorial services held in the evening in the G.A.R. Hall by the Women’s Relief Corps was attended by a large audience. The interesting programme was very effectively and appropriately rendered.

The most beautiful part was given by 43 little girls dressed in white and who represented various States. Each one carried a flag, and after repeating a stanza of poetry formed a very pretty pyramid in the center of the stage with flowers. Addresses were delivered by Senator [A.F.] Thompson, Rev. Kroh, of the Lutheran Church, and Rev. Evans, of the M.E. Church.

Miss Annie Zerby recited “The Old Canteen;” Miss Carrie Fox sang “The Vacant Chair,” and Misses Bueck and Alvord sang a pretty duet. The choir furnished some very fine choruses during the evening and closed with “Marching Through Georgia.”


And here is Jay Ungar talking a bit about that famous military tune, “Marching Through Georgia.”

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