Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Rich Rituals of Pelham's Annual Memorial Day Remembrances Followed Since the Civil War

The Town of Pelham's Memorial Day commemoration is rich with ritual.  Indeed, descriptions of Memorial Day ceremonies for the last century make clear that Pelham today commemorates its men and women who died while serving exactly as it did a century ago or even longer.  Indeed, as we remember with reverence the heroic dead on this 2015 Memorial Day through a reverential small-town parade through the streets of the little Town of Pelham, we are following an annual ritual that has been part of the history of our town since Memorial Day began as "Decoration Day" not long after the Civil War.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog describes Pelham's Memorial Day commemoration held eighty years ago on May 30, 1935.  Nearly the entire description of that Memorial Day commemoration held four score years ago could appear in this week's local newspaper with nary a change except the names of those who participated and still accurately describe Pelham's 2015 Memorial Day remembrances. 

Though times and the nation have changed, important similarities between Memorial Day 1935 and Memorial Day 2015 are readily apparent.  Just as the ranks of veterans of World War II are thinning now, so were the ranks of the veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish American War then.  Just as many perceive American ideals to be under assault by forces who wish America ill today, so were there perceptions, as the keynote speaker warned in 1935, that "radical forces are attempting to break down our American Ideals and institutions and these forces are supported by thousands of individuals."  Just as Americans vigorously debate today the value of spending on military might and defense, so were such vigorous debates part of the daily fabric of American life in 1935.  Most importantly, just as the desire to remember and honor those who died in service burns brightly in the breasts of Americans including all citizens of Pelham today, so did the same desire burn brilliantly in the breasts of our forbears on Memorial Day in 1935.

Thus, the rich rituals of reverential remembrance followed on Memorial Day in 1935 remain with us today.  Then, like now, the Town remembered those who died in service with a parade to Memorial Park.  Then, like now, that parade began in front of the Manor Club and proceeded along the Esplanade to Wolfs Lane and Fifth Avenue, ending at Memorial Park.  The carefully-selected route was chosen so that the parade passed through all three villages of the Town in 1935.  The same route followed today passes through both of the villages within the Town of Pelham.

Those who marched in 1935, like those who march today, included Town and Village officials, military units, military bands, members of the local American Legion post, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, the Pelham Memorial High School Band, local police, local firefighters, representatives of local organizations, and many more.  

Marchers and parade goers gathered then, and now, at Memorial Park next to Town Hall for the laying of a wreath and the firing of a salute in honor of the dead.  Then, and now, the patriotic march was led by a Grand Marshal and ended with the remarks of a keynote speaker delivered to a respectful crowd standing in front of Memorial Park.

As Pelham celebrates Memorial Day 2015, Pelhamites should remember that we have a shared history that connects us.  Moreover, that shared history also serves to connect us with our forbears who have built a rich tradition of rituals passed to us as caretakers for future generations of Pelhamites to ensure that four score years from today, Pelhamites will still march through the Town, gather at Memorial Park, and honor those who have given up their lives in service to the United States, to Pelham, and to the American Way.

1910 Memorial Day Post Card.
"To day the thronging millions troop
Where floats that standard in their view,
And ours, dear Flag, the joy to stand
Beneath thee loyal to our Land.

*          *          *          *          *

Below are articles published in the local newspaper in 1935 describing the Memorial Day remembrances conducted in Pelham.

"Citizens Join Tribute To Heroes In Memorial Parade and Program
Veterans' Organizations Planned Program in Tribute To Memory of Heroic Dead; George C. Plume, Vice-Commander of V. F. W., Delivers Inspiring Address.

Pelhamites turned out in great numbers to pay tribute to the memory of their heroes in the annual Memorial Day parade and ceremonies conducted yesterday morning.  About 800 members of military, patriotic and civic organizations marched in the parade which passed through the three villages.  At Memorial Park, adjacent to the Town Hall, an inspiring program was presented.  George Plume, of Mt. Vernon, Junior State Vice-Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars delivered the Memorial Day address.  Grig. Gen. Louis C. Covell of Pelham Manor was Grand Marshal of veterans, members of Walsh-Marvel Post No. 507, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Pelham Post No. 50, American Legion.  

The committee headed by J. Gardner Minard included George Godfrey, James B. Connolly, Kneeland S. Durham, Jr., Fred C. Genz, Gen. Covell and Clyde F. Howes.

The parade began at the Manor Club in Pelham Manor.  As the column passed through the three villages on the route over to Memorial Park in North Pelham, young and old residents lined the streets and cheered the marchers.  The colorful display of uniforms which began with a detachment of U. S. Army regulars from Fort Slocum, and included the natty uniforms of the Legionnaires and members of veterans post, women's patriotic organizations, policemen, firemen, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts.  Music was furnished by the Mount Vernon Post V. F. W. Drum and Bugle Corps, the Mamaroneck Post American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps and the Pelham Memorial High School Band.

Distinguished guests who included Commander Frederick H. Allen, of Botlon Priory, who was an official observer at the Versailles Peace Conference.  Maj. John F. Fairchild, post commander of Pelham Post No. 50, American Legion, and one of Pelham's most distinguished veterans of the World War; John M. Shinn, former Town Historian, and James A. Moore, a veteran of the Indian Wars, rode in automobiles and were accorded a spendid reception all along the line of march.

Supervisor William M. McBride headed the delegation of local officials who included Mayors Randall Cremer, Dominic Amato and Talbert W. Sprague, Councilman Henry J. Van Cook, Judge James E. Male, Trustees Branch P. Kerfoot, Edmund C. Gause, Charles A. Muessel, Receiver of Taxes Robert A. Cremins, Village Attorney George W. Hinckley, Village Treasurer W. J. Makay and Street Superintendent Thomas F. Dooley.

A picturesque figure in the parade was Thomas Jensen, Jr., eight years old, son of volunteer fireman Thomas Jensen of Pelham Manor, who, attired in a midget fireman's uniform, was one of the proudest marchers as he kept step with the Pelham Manor Fire Department members.

At Memorial Park the program opened with a musical selection by the Pelham Memorial High School band under the leadership of A. J. Fregans.  the Rev. Arthur Campbell of St. Catherine's Church offered the invocation.  Mr. Minard introduced the speaker of the day.

George G. Plume, junior Vice-Commander of the Department of New York, Veterans of Foreign Wars, delivered an inspiring address at Memorial Park.  He told of the thinning ranks of the Veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War and he paid 

(Continued on Page Four)

Citizens Unite In Tribute To Heroes

(Continued from Page One.)

homage to the veterans of the World War.  

'There stands before us today, a great number of men who 18 years ago today were being called to camps as the nation's last resort,' he said.  'The time had come when we could no longer maintain peace and honor by argument or diplomacy.  We had urged Peace.  We had worked for Peace.  Could we fight for Peace?  We couldm and we did.

'The military man wants Peace above all else.  It is in men such as those who fought for you, that the world must see its only hope for a lasting peace.  Conditions are such that to have peace we must have an adequate National Defense.

'There are certain groups in the United States that have been quick to oppose military expenditures.  Secretary of the Interior Ickes insists that approved public works projects must show a return in money or in service to the community.  It is certainly logical that the War Department should benefit by some of these projects.  Money invested by the United States Government in the rehabilitation of its armed forces will bring a definite return to the nation in protection and security.  

'A weak national defense only invites the contempt and disdain of nations that are strong and powerful.  Without the security of a strong national defense, America will always be on the brink of discord and disagreement with other countries.  As long as we can back up our demand for international amity with a properly equipped and well trained armed force, Uncle Sam will always have the respectful attention of international conferences, having to deal with the economic welfare of individual nations.

'We, as veterans, should appreciate the precious heritage of our country.  We value our citizenship.  We cannot and will not be internationalists.  Right now radical forces are attempting to break down our American Ideals and institutions and these forces are supported by thousands of individuals.   

The time has come when we, as veterans and citizens should rise and combat this insidious propaganda and wipe it out once and for all by deporting every alien caught taking part in any of these un-American movements.

'We challenge these men and women who have so far forgotten their national heritage that they lose sight of the cornerstone on which this nation is founded.  This then, should be the sentiment of all Americans on this Memorial Day:  As individuals to be loyal Americans; to be jealous of our birthright and be determined that never again shall America be swept into the maelstrom of war without an adequate defense; and to care for him who bore the brunt of the battle, also to care for his widows and orphans.

'Our Peacetime fight is on.  Our work is laid out for us.  We shall continue on with our efforts for  a peaceful existence and to create a unified nation with purely American ideals, preaching and practicing 'One Flag, One Country, One Country, One Language.'

The Star Spangled Banner was sung and Commander Minard and Commander Charles Hardy of Pelham Post placed a wreath on the Memorial monument.  There was a 

Source:  Citizens Join Tribute To Heroes In Memorial Parade and Program, The Pelham Sun, May 31, 1935, Vol. 26, No. 8, p. 1 cols. 6-8 & p. 4, cols. 5-7.  


Memorial Day, this year, occurs in the midst of rumors of war, and a frenzied armament building race between European countries, so it is well that we give a thought to just how significant this all is in relation to the honored dead whose graves will be decorated on Thursday.

Courage will always command admiration, regardless of the surroundings in which it may be exercised or the conditions which call for its exhibition.  It takes great courage to fight in a war, but it will take greater courage in the future to declare war knowing that the aerial enemy can reach into the hitherto secure places of those who issue the orders for others to do the fighting.

That was a ray of hope for peace that stood out like a shining star in the recent lecture delivered by Richenbacker, war-time ace, at the High School before the Men's Club.  There was comfort in that for those who remember at Memorial Day, the ones who were victims of civilization's progressive curse.

The United States of America, with its unification of internationals, represents the seed rm which an international understanding may arise.  The more dangerous war can become to those who have the responsibility of issuing orders for war, the less likely shall be war.

We honor our dead with reverence and a determination to do our part in bringing about international understanding that shall protect future civilization from the horrors of war."

Source: MEMORIAL DAY, The Pelham Sun, May 24, 1935, Vol. 26, No. 7, p. 2, col. 1.  

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