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Matamoras Minute: Decoration Day

You may have noticed that the marquee of this column is that of a standing World War I soldier. This is the logo of the Matamoras Area Historical Society and is considered the iconic statue of Matamoras. The doughboy stands on the corner of Broadway and Third Street and was dedicated on Decoration Day 1920. For those too young to remember Memorial Day at one time was called Decoration Day. So named because families would decorate the graves of veterans and loved ones. Regardless of the day of the week the holiday was always held on May 30.

The regard with which Decoration Day was held cannot be overstated. Parades, bunting, picnics, speeches, and taps were all part of the tradition. At a time when broadcasting outlets and social media were either limited or nonexistent local celebrations were over the top. Everybody joined in the day.

On that holiday of the doughboys’ dedication ceremony a huge crowd had gathered. A number of pictures of this memorable event are known to exist. Some are on display in our museum.

The statue presents a tablet with eleven names. These were of the World War I dead from this area. The names in order are Alice Young, Carl Henkelman, Winton Newman, Raymond Jones, John E. Corum, Edward Pugh, Howard Mount, David Dunn, William Hanlon, Robert Haught, and Emerson Roberts. Alice was a Red Cross nurse and Raymond Jones died the very day of the armistice, Nov. 11, 1918.

I have been told that the likeness of the statue was fashioned after Jones, probably due to the ironic date of his death. Another interesting note about the statue is the manner in which it was funded. Pennies were collected by school children for the memorial. Also minutes from a town council meeting record approval of the placement of the statue.

With regard to the annual nature of celebrating Decoration Day, generally the day before the holiday citizens would gather flowers and carry them to the cemeteries to decorate graves. Then on the morning of May 30 the first event was the parade.

Prior to 1928 it formed at the corner of Second and Main Streets. Both those in the parade and the crowd would fall in line and march out Main to County Road 33 and on to the crest of the Matamoras Cemetery. For many years the Civil War veterans and the Spanish-American War veterans marched as one. After 1928 the American Legion Hall on Front Street was the starting point. Once at the cemetery the Matamoras Band played, speeches were given and rifles fired.

The parade would then form again and march back. Upon returning to town everyone followed Broadway to Grandview Avenue and from there down to Township Road 430 and up to Grandview Cemetery for a repeat of the program.

In the afternoon services were held in various churches or at the WWI soldier’s monument. The conclusion of the day was after supper when a crowd would gather at the ferry landing with soft band music, short evening addresses, a scattering of flowers by children into the river, a gun salute, and taps.

John Miller is president of the Matamoras Area Historical Society. Membership dues are $15 per year single/couple. Life membership is $150. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1846, New Matamoras, Ohio 45767. Much of this column is built on the work of Matamoras’ historian, the late Diana McMahan.

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