Memorial Day has become a vacation holiday for many people. But for those who want to do something more commemorative this holiday, there's Kline Creek Farm.
In "Memorial Day Remembered," visitors can see a ceremony reminiscent of those held during the 1890s. Costumed interpreters will present songs and speeches beginning at 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 28, at Kline Creek Farm Forest Preserve. Admission is free.
If you goWhat: Memorial Day Remembered
When: 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 28
Where: Kline Creek Farm, 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago
Info: (630) 876-5900
The program, in its 16th year, is co-hosted by the Center for History in Wheaton.
"The idea is to give a flavor of what the commemoration was when it first began," heritage interpreter Dennis Buck said.
Memorial Day is originated from a holiday observed in the 1890s, Decoration Day. The holiday was put into effect by Gen. John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 8, 1868.
Decoration Day served as a way for communities to honor soldiers who perished in a war still fresh in people's memories. People covered veterans' graves with flowers, and ceremonies included musical performances and speeches by local and military dignitaries, as well as recitations by schoolchildren.
"It's a somewhat somber ceremony, for obvious reasons," Buck said. "Anytime you're celebrating the life of someone who gave their life, it's going to be somewhat somber."
Buck said there were no specific Decoration Day guidelines in the 1890s because people were given the freedom to arrange speeches, testimonials and songs as they saw fit.
So Kline Creek Farm is not trying to re-create Decoration Day as much as give the community an idea of what a ceremony may have been like, Buck said.
Kline Creek Farm's separation from developments helps to create the necessary atmosphere.
"It's pretty easy to imagine you're in the 1890s when you're on the farm," Buck said.
Buck said the program helps gather veterans together. Fifteen to 20 veterans attended last year, and at the end of the program, they step forward for acknowledgment.
Veterans from the Korean War, Desert Storm, the Vietnam War and Afghanistan, along with veterans from many other wars of the past 20 years, have participated in the program in the past.
"A lot of veterans have discovered that we are somewhat unique and very focused on the veterans and the sacrifices of the veterans because that part of Memorial Day hasn't changed for us," Buck said. "They are the link that brings the historical ceremony into the present."
Buck said he thinks the primary purpose of the program for veterans is to acknowledge and remember the comrades who weren't as lucky as they were.
"The focus really was on the soldiers, sailors and marines who didn't come home alive," Buck said. "The original Decoration Day was about honoring them."
The community response to Memorial Day Remembered is growing, Buck said. Last year, 200 to 300 people attended the program.
"I think it has taken a while for people to find us, but once they find us, they're loyal and they come back to us every year," Buck said. "I think it makes them feel more connected to the original intent of what we now call Memorial Day."
It's important for people to remember what Memorial Day is about, Buck said.
"Just like anything historical, when you lose track of something, it can get to feel a little hollow," he said. "If you lose the original purpose, then what is the purpose?"
George Webber works at the Center for History in Wheaton. Before working there, he was a history teacher.
His passion for history can be seen in the collections he has amassed of war artifacts, including artifacts from the Civil War, the American Revolution, Desert Storm and the Grand Army of the Republic. These collections now reside at the Center for History and include uniforms, weapons, letters, photos and other items soldiers carried with them.
Webber worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Vietnam War, and on Memorial Day, he thinks it's important to remember what veterans have done and what they still do.
"It's not the Indy 500; it's not the new movies coming out," he said. "It's remembering the veterans who have died."
Because of his work with the VA, Webber feels a personal connection to Vietnam War veterans during the holiday.
He said it's especially hard for him to get through a poem recited at the end of the program called "Who Are These Men?" that speaks of the sacrifices soldiers make and what they gain and lose through their service.
"We've got to keep remembering that there's a shield of soldiers that protects us as citizens, and we go on with our daily lives as there are soldiers on the field," Webber said.