Orphans, monuments and Memorial Hall: Local ties to the origin of Memorial Day


Highlights

Orphans at the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans Home paraded on campus to commemorate Memorial Day.

Local Civil War veterans devised plans to construct Memorial Hall in Dayton.

Soldiers who gave their lives on Civil War battle fields were the inspiration for Memorial Day. 

The holiday we observe today was originally called “Decoration Day” and was officially proclaimed by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of Republic in 1868. 

In the Miami Valley, there are numerous connections to the origins of this day of remembrance. 

Here are five details to know about local links to Memorial Day history: 

The National Home for Disabled Soldiers

» RELATED: Paying respect to America’s veterans

The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, now known as the Dayton VA Medical Center, was founded to care for Civil War veterans. At its peak in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Soldier’s Home housed more than 7,000 veterans

Civil War Soldier’s Home a tourist destination 

“The Home” served as a sanctuary for the veterans after suffering through the devastation of the Civil War. The elegant campus featured a conservatory of palm trees and a fountain named “Water Waifs.” Lilly-filled aquatic gardens were heated to 80 degrees by steam lines from the conservatory. The National Home and its amenities became a tourist attraction for the public. More than 660,000 visited the home at its peak in 1910. Railroads created special soldiers’ home picnic excursions. 

Memorial Hall a “palace of peace”

Local Civil War veterans devised the plan to construct Memorial Hall in downtown Dayton. The architect, William Earl Russ, was the son of a soldier who “had left an arm on one of the bloody fields.” The building was designed as a “palace of peace” and to also be a gathering place for the community. 

» RELATED: When Dayton opened its grand, revering Memorial Hall

Orphans march in Memorial Day parade

The Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans Home opened in Xenia in 1870 to care for the children of veterans killed in the Civil War. The Home observed Memorial Day each year as a way to honor fallen soldiers and connect the children to their past. The students dressed all in white and lined up smallest to tallest to march in a parade each Memorial Day. The boys carried the American flag, and the girls carried peonies, flowers associated with Memorial Day, in the procession as the Home band played “Nearer My God to Thee.” 

A monument to soldiers of the Civil War

» PHOTOS: Pvt. George Washington Fair: A monument to Civil War soldiers

» RELATED: How Dayton’s giant Main Street Monument faced twists and turns

The Civil War Soldiers Monument was erected in 1884 in downtown Dayton to commemorate the war. The model for the mustachioed monument holding a rifle was Pvt. George Washington Fair, a carpenter and bricklayer born in Dayton who mustered into the Union Army in 1861 and out in 1865.

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