WATERLOO, N.Y. -- Memorial Day for many means picnics, beach outings and the Indianapolis 500. And that bothers people in this village that claims to be the holiday's birthplace.
People in Waterloo take Memorial Day seriously.
"The meaning of the day's been lost," said Joseph C. Donahue, a retired postmaster and World War II veteran. He is cochairman of the Waterloo Memorial Day Committee planning next year's 125th anniversary observance.
"Nowadays, Memorial Day is thought of as a reason for a three-day weekend. A day for boat races, fishing derbies, marathon races or fireworks. There's lot of activities, but nothing that really has to do with Memorial Day."
It is difficult to say where Memorial Day was first observed. Southern communities such as Columbus, Ga., and Columbus, Miss., began paying tribute to their war dead by decorating graves as the Civil War wound down, said Ruth Semtner, curator of Waterloo's Memorial Day Museum.
Carbondale, Ill., held a community observance for its Civil War victims on April 29, 1866.
Six days later, businesses in Waterloo closed for the day while citizens honored the war dead.
Women prepared wreaths, crosses and bouquets for each veteran's grave, said Semtner. The community was decorated with flags at half staff, and veterans and townspeople marched to martial music to the three village cemeteries.
Waterloo adopted May 30 as the observance date in 1868, when the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Gen. John A. Logan, established that day for the national observance of Decoration Day.
The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars said Congress's decision in 1971 to shift Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May -- so workers can enjoy a long weekend -- diminished the holiday. The two groups have lobbied to change the holiday back. But the people of Waterloo never changed the observance date from May 30.
"It's not intended to be a day of celebration. The Fourth of July is a day of celebration," Donahue said.
This Memorial Day, in keeping with tradition, the town will hold a parade to the three cemeteries, with prayers at each site.
The central New York community made its bid as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1965, and Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson issued proclamations in 1966 upholding the claim.
"Many communities held Memorial Day-type observances," said John Genung, a Waterloo mortician. "But they all fell short in one way or the other. They weren't formal, they weren't community-wide or they were one-shot affairs."
The holiday honors the more than 1 million American soldiers killed since the Revolution.