18 Things You Don’t Know About Memorial Day (But Should)

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11. Bikers make the day a big, big deal in D.C.

The veterans advocacy group Rolling Thunder has made a tradition of organizing a huge annual motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years on Memorial Day. But this year will be the last time they will do so because of rising expenses associated with the event, such as security and cleanup. Rolling Thunder said it costs $200,000 to pay for the event.

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12. You wear artificial poppies because of a poem

On Memorial Day, veterans sell artificial poppies that are worn as a symbol of remembrance. The tradition originates from the words in the poem “In Flanders Fields” that was penned by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who served during World War I. McCrae was struck by the color contrast of the red poppies against the bleak battle-scarred landscape of Belgium. The poem’s immortal opening stanza reads: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row.”

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13. Memorial Day chosen for dedication of the Lincoln Memorial

Memorial Day, May 30,1922, was selected as the day when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln, whose assassination occurred just as the Civil War was ending.

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14. Some southern states honor a Confederate Memorial Day

Women’s groups in the South started to decorate the graves of the Confederate fallen even before the Civil War was over. In 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia, formally resolved to commemorate the dead once a year. Southern commemoration ceremonies were not held on a specific day, with remembrance events held during the spring and summer. Today, nine southern states officially recognize a Confederate Memorial Day.

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15. The official birthplace of Memorial Day is in New York state

Many communities throughout the United States held memorial gatherings in the 19th century, and many towns lay claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. But only one town has been declared the official birthplace of the holiday. That would be Waterloo, New York, which the federal government declared in 1966 to be the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866. The town was selected because it hosted an annual event during which businesses closed and residents adorned the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.