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.


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Circa 1890s


Circa early 1900s


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Circa 1916




Circa 1936


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