Duluth's First Memorial Day


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Below is a front-page article from 1920 that gives an account of Duluth's very first Memorial Day Celebration in 1871--a very well attended event, by all accounts.

“Story of Duluth’s First Memorial Day: John H. La Vaque Describes Scenes”         Duluth News-Tribune, May 31, 1920

By John H. La Vaque

Believing that the good residents of Duluth will be interested in an account of the first Memorial day exercises, now 50 years but one in the past, I have prepared a resume of the happenings on that day, May 30, 1871.

The Memorial day happenings have been recorded faithfully year after year and it will not be amiss to look back and in the memory’s eye glance at the faces as they march by all, save possibly half a score, never to march again. We refresh our memory as we gaze upon the faces of Colonel Culver, Mayor Markell, Major Smith, Major Seip, Captain Pressnell, Captain Farrell and “Ernie” Jefferson.

You will note that the “Grand Army boys” marched, keeping step to the music with “guide left” and “eyes front” nor were any “falling out of ranks.” There were enough of us to form two companies, but years rolled on and the scythe of time smote us in front and in rear, on the right flank and on the left flank nor was our step “quick time” nor “steady,” so the Auto club kindly sent up autos and said: “You must ride.”

They continue to send up their autos but they do not take up much room in the procession.

Let me call your attention to another fact that not enough flowers could be found 50 years ago upon our thickly wooded hillside nor in the then swampy bay to decorate the one grave—Dorus Martin. The violets of the hillside could not push through the snow, the white pond lillies behind their island homes in the bay had not yet burst their bonds of green while the few trailing arbutus found near the snowbanks of Minnesota point gave of their store but was not enough, and even the despised dandelion would not contribute to our store that we might drop a flower upon the grave as a token of love and affection for a comrade in arms, so our commander, Maj. A. N. Seip, was compelled to call upon Acker post, G. A. R., St Paul, to “come over and help us” which they did as shown below.

The account follows:

Congress having recognized the 30th day of May, of every year as a legal holiday, to be set apart for memorial honors to the slain soldiers of the republic, it was observed with much pomp and circumstance by the people of Duluth, on Tuesday last. The flags of the shipping, as well as those displayed on the hotels and other buildings, were at half mast and many business houses and private dwellings were draped in mourning.

Pursuant to previous notice and the standing order of the Grand Army of the Republic organization, a line was formed in front of Grand Army hall, on Superior street, under the command of Col. J. B. Culver, marshal of the day, and Lieutenant-Colonel Charles H. Graves and Major J. E. Smith, assistant marshals. These gentlemen wore the uniform belonging to their army rank when in the military service. 


Organizations in Line

The line was arranged in the following order: Detail of police, headed by Chief George Berkelman and Offcer S. J. Thompson, G. A. R.; his honor, the mayor, and city council; the members of Sherbrook Post No. 26 of Duluth, G. A. R. headed by Major A. N Seip, post commander; Lieut. A. Kichlii, post adjutant, and Lieut. Edward A. Foster, post quartermaster. The post had in attendance a brass band and martial music, and carried the handsome silk flag recently presented to it by the ladies of Duluth, Color-Sergeant O. M. King being the bearer, with George Steff and Joseph Kichlii acting as armed color guards. The gentlemen of the post made quite a soldierly appearance and turned out strongly.

Private E. R. Jefferson, of the First Minnesota regiment and who lost his left leg at Gettysburg battle rode on horseback alongside of the line, as did also Private Charles Winkler, of the Second New Jersey volunteers.

Next came the “Sons of Liberty,” a German Society. They wore their full regalia and carried the symbols of their order. This society is known as the “Northwestern Lodge No. 10, O. D. F.,” and has for its officers, Jacob Bruchner, U. M. , and John [      ].

Next came the “Band of Hope,” a temperance society composed of boys and girls, Jas. [?] A. Stevens acting as superintendent, Eunice Stevens as president and D. O. Bird as musical director.

Duluth Hose company No. 1 [2?], followed. Its members were attired in their bright new hats and boots [ ? ] and wore black pantaloons and red shirts. They were in charge of Major Ed. [  ] Bloomer, foreman; Capt. Thomas Pressnell, first assistant, and Capt. James Farrell, second assistant. 

Immediately to rear of the firemen came a spring wagon containing the flower girls. This wagon was drawn by a former army [   ] of J. A. [  ] Stokes of Sherbrook [?] Post, who drove them during the war as teamster of Co. [  ] Fourth [?] Minnesota volunteers. 


The Day’s Program

Then came a carriage bearing members of the Duluth Musical association, invited guests, citizens, etc., bringing up the rear.

The procession, leaving Grand Army hall, shortly after 2 [3?] p. m. proceeded along Superior street to Lake avenue, thence down that thoroughfare to the cemetery, near Franklin square. The day was exceeding fine and the citizens turned out in great force.

Arrived at the cemetery, a spacious arch of evergreens, with crape and the national colors and arms intermingled was observed. It spanned the humble grave of the old solider—Doruis Martin—happily the only member of the Union army who has, as yet, been buried in our city.

The construction of this arch was the work of Messrs. John H. La Vaque, William Greenfield, Arno Jachnig and A. S. Chase, decoration committee of the G. A. R.  A large white cross with the photograph, name, age and date of death of the deceased, was placed at the head of the mound, and a speaker’s stand erected a little to the westward of it. His Honor, Mayor Markell—president of the day—ascended the stand and called the assemblage to order, after which the exercises were opened by an appropriate prayer by the Rev. J. A. Gilfillan, rector of Christ church, (St. Paul’s) followed by the anthem to “America,” sung by the Duluth Musical society, led by Capt. George Sherwood. Then came the reading by Comrade John H. La Vaque, junior vice commander of Sherbrook post, of the general orders, establishing Memorial day and its due observance.

Major A. N. Seip, commander of the post, stepped forward and delivered a somewhat lengthy but most appropriate address, in which he gave a biographical sketch of the life and paid noble tribute to the patriotism of the dead soldier whose remains were interred at his feet. His remarks were followed by the Portuguese Hymn, sung by the Musical society.

At this stage of the proceedings, the president of the day announced that an original poem, written for the occasion by Mrs. J. L. Smith, would be read by Judge A. Cushman, past grand commander of the G. A. R., department of Massachusetts. Judge Cushman now stepped forward, and read, in an excellent and forcible style, the poem.

At the conclusion of the poem, Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”—to the music of “Old John Brown” was sung by the Musical associatioon. This ended, an address from Rev. C. C. Salter, pastor of the Congregational society of this city and formerly chaplain of the Thirteenth Connecticut volunteers, followed. He was introduced by Mayor Markell. Prayer by the Rev. Harvey Webb, of the Methodist church, formerly orderly sergeant of Company D, Eleventh Regiment Minnesota volunteers, closed this portion of the exercises.

Reforming the several organizations marched from the stand and arranged themselves on either side of the grave of Doris Martin.

The band now performed a solemn dirge, and as they did so, eight little girls—Grace Eldridge, Maggie Hunter, Jennie Culver, Louise Nettleton, Mamie Emery, Clara Stone, Mollie Marin and Kate Hunter—attired in spotless white and loaded with baskets of flowers, came forward and strewed their offerings over the grave of the deceased veteran. Prior to the conclusion of the ceremony the Band of Hope sang, with considerable pathos, the song, “We Shall Know Each Other There,” followed by the lyric, “The Vacant Chair,” by the Musical society.

Four memorial wreaths were hung on a rustic cross, implanted to the right of the white one at the head of the grave. These wreathes were: In memory of Maj Hiram A. Kimball, late judge advocate of the G. A. R. of Minnesota—by the Sherbrook post. In memory of Lieutenant Sherbrook, the first soldier of Duluth killed at Vicksburg—by the post. In memory of Sergt. John Renshaw [?], Company C, First Minnesota, killed at Bull Run—by Mrs. Edward H. F______r. In memory of Surgeon S. J. Carolin [?], Twenty-first Wisconsin, died at Bowling Green, Ky., Nov. 4, 18_2—by Mrs. Dr. Fricker.

During the proceeds a most pleasant incident occurred. Two little girls, each in their fourth year, name Gertie [     ] and [   ] Jacobs, who were not in the regular program, encouraged by Commander Siep, came timidly forward and covered the grave with native flowers. Altogether the scene was a pleasing surprise, and deeply affected the assemblage.

At this juncture, a party consisting of of John C. T__________orsky, James Greenfield, A. P. P___________, Charles F. Johnson, Asa Daily and C. Frank Foster, who had been selected to render the usual military salute for the dead, came forward and fired over the grave.

The reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address by Rev. [  ] Webb, singing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” by the Musical association and the benediction by Rev. C. C. Salter, concluded the services of the day. After the floral decorations, Commander Seip read to the audience, a letter from Acker post, St. Paul, in reply to a request for a contribution of flowers. It was, as follows:

Acker Post, No. 21 [?]

G. A. R. St. Paul

May 2_, 1871

Maj. A. N. Seip:

We send by express today a few bouquets of flowers gathered by the little misses of [    ], Jefferson [    ], to be used by you on the thirtieth, in decorating the graves of the fallen heroes of your city. Mrs. Dr. Brooks will add a few more at the depot.


Inset: “Today’s Program"

The parade will form at 9:15 a.m. at courthouse square and the march will commence at 9:30 a.m., proceeding along First street to Twelfth avenue East. A public mass meeting at the Armory will follow the parade. The decoration of the graves will take place at 2 p. m. The formal presentation of the bronze memorial tablet, containing names of 320 Civil war veterans, will be made at the courthouse at 8 p.m.

After 8 o’clock this morning there will be 10-minute service on the Lester Park and Woodland street car lines. Extra cars will be operated on the New Duluth, Fairmount Park, Thirty-ninth avenue West and West Duluth lines between 8 and 9 o’clock this morning.

Photo montage: “Duluth Memorial Day 50 Years Ago”

Center: General view of Duluth taken in 1872

Lower left: Superior street in 1872, showing Clark House and Hunter block

Lower right: John H. La Vaque, as first sergeant of Co. G, Eleventh Minnesota volunteer infantry

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