Monday, May 30, 2022

Discord in the Mystic Chords of Memory: Memorial Day 1922

Currents around Memorial Day were crosswise and jumbled in 1922. Interpretation of the Civil War and Decoration Day was at the center

Even with the recent war, the holiday's roots were still in Decoration Day. For retailers, picking up what is sure to be nationally distributed art and theme, the ads represented the "blue and the gray" and "north and south," balancing dead from the two sides in the Civil War. Ads did also particularly reference "the world war." This one cited "the boys of '76, of '61, of '98 and '17," placing them all in a series as the holiday transitioned to Memorial Day. (Even with the compression in ad and news copy, it is interesting the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War of 1846, and the "Indian Wars," were not mentioned, however.)

May 29th, 1922

April 9th, 1922

The holiday origin story the morning paper printed stressed the Grand Army of the Republic, and mentioned "freedom to a race in chains" and "tatoo of a rebellious tyranny in arms." It seemed pretty clear about the Civil War, and did not strive to be so even-handed.

May 30th, 1922

But currents ran in other directions, even opposite. The nation dedicated the Lincoln Memorial also.

May 30th, 1922

At the dedication President Harding minimized Emancipation, framing wishes for a prior "normalcy" and saying a "compromise" with slavery was possible.

May 30th, 1922

That was likely the popular tone here, as the Grand Theater was set for a short run of Birth of a Nation.

May 30th, 1922

The morning paper praised it.

May 31st, 1922

They referenced with approval Woodrow Wilson's take on Reconstruction and said the film was about

The terrible events growing out of attempts to place the newly liberated slaves on a basis superior to their former owners and other white citizens in certain portions of the south are treated by Mr. Griffith....The spontaneous growth of the Ku Klux Klan and the restoration of peace in the affected districts are interwoven with stories of romance...

That is very much of a piece with the rise of the second Klan here.

Civil War Memorial in City View
(Erected in 1905, Photo: November 2019)

As for Memorial Day services themselves, there was in the morning a ceremony at City View, and then a parade through town and more speeches at the Armory.

The Armory, SW corner of Ferry and Liberty, in 1961
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

At the Armory speakers stressed a harmonizing and idealizing reading. The morning paper led their report with the toast:

I proposed to this audience of Americans, a toast: To the American soldier, unconquered, unconquerable; and to the place he has won in history as the champion of liberty, equality and fraternity.

The main speaker later seemed to aspire to a more homogeneous society and discounted any lack of equality and fraternity as misunderstanding only, a character flaw and not any structural flaw to be addressed in policy. 

Our present day discords are but the expression of mingled races, religions, creeds, factions, politics and what not, resulting not from vital differences but from trivial misunderstandings, imagined grievances and fancied slights and jealousies.

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