Memorial Day was first observed in 1866 in Waterloo, New York to honor the memory of Union soldiers killed during the Civil War (1861-1865). It was then known as “Decoration Day”, as the graves of the fallen were decorated in remembrance, and it consolidated what had been locally observed remembrances in many locations.
Over the years, the day has come to be a time to remember all who have fallen in service to the nation. In addition to visits to cemeteries and grave sites, it alos has become a day of picnics, parades, and events like the Indianapolis 500.
For some in the 19th century, including Benjamin Franklin Koons, first president of UConn when it was the Storrs Agricultural College, the thought of spending the day grilling hamburgers and hot dogs would have been distressing.
Koons was a veteran of the Civil War, and was a member of the Francis S. Long Post No. 30 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Willimantic, Connecticut. He had enlisted as a private in his native Ohio in 1862, and survived 17 engagements, at was at Appomattox when the war ended.
The Hartford Courant noted in Koon’s obituary in December 1903 that “it has been his custom of late years to deplore the perverted use of Memorial Day, believing that May 30 was consecrated to the defenders of the Union and not athletic carnivals.”