But, as Albanese pointed out, the changing way of marking Memorial Day wasn’t a sign of the day’s imminent end, or of moral degeneracy or the collapse of American unity.
In 1868, some 5,000 people responded to his call by visiting the then-new Arlington National Cemetery on the appointed day, to hear future President James Garfield deliver an address on the “immortal” virtue of the war dead and the decorate the graves of the soldiers buried there with flags and flowers.
For as long as Memorial Day in the United States has been the widely acknowledged unofficial start of the summer season, Americans have been complaining that the holiday isn’t celebrated the way it’s supposed to be.
When TIME commented in 1972 that the holiday had become “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose,” the magazine was already comparatively late to bemoaning Memorial Day’s party reputation.
The holiday aspect remains; how much longer the political character of the observance will linger we dare not guess.” It wasn’t too long before the sense that something had changed was more widely acknowledged.
“Passions were cooling” by the 1880s, historian James Mc Pherson has written about the history of Memorial Day, and gloomy songs such as “Strew Blossoms on Their Graves” and “Cheers or Tears,” were replaced with more “spirited tunes” like “Rally ‘Round the Flag,” “Marching Through Georgia” or “Dixie.” The late 19th century context in which the holiday emerged contributed to the shift. In 1873, New York made Decoration Day one such holiday, with business suspended.