Today is Memorial Day … but some 155 years ago, it began as Decoration Day.

The annual day of remembrance dates back to May 1, 1865, when African American residents of Charleston, SC, decorated the graves of Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison there during the Civil War.

In 1868 the Grand Army of the Republic proposed a national Decoration Day, but it would take more than 100 years for it to become a formal federal holiday in 1971. In the intervening decades, the springtime tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers had grown to encompass all U.S. wars, and the term “Memorial Day” took precedence in the national lexicon.

Here’s an array of ephemera from the earliest days of Decoration Days, from souvenir cards to posters to satirical cartoons in the magazine Puck, which ran from 1871 to 1918.

 

Date unknown

 

1884

 

Date unknown

 

1895

 

Circa 1890s

 

Circa early 1900s

 

Date unknown

 

1908

 

1913

 

Circa 1916

 

1917

 

Circa 1936

 

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