Originally it was “Decoration Day.” After World War II, the preferred name became “Memorial Day.” At first it was always celebrated on May 30. Then, Congress stepped in and said the observance would be the last Monday in May, thus creating a convenient three-day weekend.
Whatever it was called and or what day it was observed, the holiday was a big thing in Carbondale when I was growing up. There generally was a parade and program at Memorial Park, many people went to cemeteries to decorate graves of their loved ones with flowers and, in the case of veterans, with small American flags.
In the early ’30s, the First World War was still fresh in people’s minds and there were still lots of veterans of that conflict around. Many were members of Albert H. Crane American Legion Post and Gerald Buckley Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Lots of them were in the line of march every year. The WWI vets weren’t the only former servicemen in the line of march, however.
Robert H. Tralles, whom I believe was the city’s last surviving Civil War vet, sometimes rode near the head of the parade.
So did three men who had served in the Spanish-American War. Frank P. Kelly, Daniel A. Scurry and a man whose name I always seem to forget were resplendent in their blue tunics, gray trousers and service caps as they rode past the reviewing stand.
Tralles, a German immigrant who settled in Honesdale before coming over the mountain and establishing a Main Street ice cream and candy store, was one of thousands of Pennsylvanians who responded to Gov. Andrew Curtin’s call to defend the state capital from Confederate troops that had crossed the Potomac and invaded the North in the summer of 1863. He died at the age of 98.
The tide was turned at Gettysburg and the hastily organized home militia was mustered out. Tralles served 37 days in Co. B, 35th Regiment of the Militia Infantry.
I remember Tralles sitting on a wire-back chair just inside the front door of the store that bore his family name as his son Frank and Angie Veratto dipped that delicious ice cream for which the establishment was famous.
The Spanish-American War began on April 25 and ended on Aug. 12, 1898, lasting three months, two weeks and four days. The conflagration marked the transformation of the United States from a developing nation into a global power.
Kelly was a naval veteran of that short-lived war and for many years was always referred to by the honorary title of “Colonel.” He was a pharmacist and served as the city’s postmaster for 13 years. He died in June, 1951 at the age of 77.
Dan Scurry was a member of one of the city’s prominent mercantile families. His three sisters, Lizzie Williams and Irene and Clara Scurry were our neighbors on Wyoming Street.
In addition to the vets, the Decoration Day parade usually included National Guardsmen, boy and girl scouts and other civic and service organizations.
Depending on the time period, music was furnished by the Mozart Band, Leon Bly’s Band and later the Benjamin Franklin High School Band of which Prof. Bly was the first director.
On one memorable year, Police Chief Frank O’Boyle and another patrolman, whose name escapes me, decided to lead the parade on horseback. The Chief had served in the U.S. Cavalry during the Mexican Border Campaign and later in the Philippines.
They sat tall in the saddles as they neared the reviewing stand opposite city hall. The rented steeds, however, apparently weren’t used to crowds or band music and the cops found it almost impossible to control them. I don’t believe they ever made it to the post office where the parade disbanded.
Chief O’Boyle died in October 1948 while still in charge of the city police force. He had held the post for 34 years.
The formal program usually featured a principal address by a prominent person and recitations of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Gen. John Logan’s proclamation establishing the first major Decoration Day observance in 1868. General Logan was leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War.
Traditionally the senior class presidents from the city’s two high schools did the recitations, alternating every year.
When Gen. Logan issued the order, he clearly designated the 30th day of May as the date for the observance; he said he hoped it would be kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades.
Carbondale’s last Civil War survivor died on May 8, 1943 while the nation was engaged in a second world war. The memorial observance continues even if the date is not that prescribed by Gen. Logan who undoubtedly never heard of a “convenient” three-day weekend.
Ed Rogers is a native of Carbondale and spent 70 years as a reporter and editor for regional newspapers. He frequently shares his memories of his home town with Advantage readers. He can be reached via email at EdERogers@aol.com.