Decoration Day and Dinner on the Ground

Nourishing Death

Amidst the department store sales and barbecues that are now a hallmark of Memorial Day in the US, a fascinating origin story of this day for honoring the dead and the tradition of dining with them is has been forgotten by most.


In the years following the American Civil War the act of decorating graves with flowers began on different days and different places around the South. The first formal act of memorialization of the dead took place in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865.

When the Union soldiers finally moved into Charleston, the remaining Confederates evacuated the city, leaving the newly freed behind. These former slaves and soldiers began organizing themselves among the ruins left them.

During the war, Confederate soldiers had converted the Washington Race Track into a jail for Union soldiers. Here, approximately 260 Union soldiers died from disease and exposure and were buried in a…

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