Memorial Day brings memories of parades, picnics and a day off from work or school.
In West Virginia, the origins of Memorial Day go back to the Civil War. In 1867, Maj. R. C. Bates was ordered by the War Department to locate a permanent burial site for the Union soldiers who had died in hospitals and battlefields throughout West Virginia.
Bates chose the Grafton location because it was relatively level in a region noted for mountainous terrain and it was near Maple Avenue Cemetery, where many war dead had already been buried. In 1867, Grafton held a “Flower Strewing Day” later called Memorial Day to honor those who served the community and the country during the Civil War.
In 1903, Thornesberry Baily Brown was reinterred at Grafton National Cemetery. Brown was rumored to be the first Union casualty of the Civil War, having been killed May 22, 1861, when he refused a Confederate sentry’s order to halt and shot the sentry in the ear. The sentry responded by shooting Brown through the heart.
Grafton has the honor of celebrating the longest ongoing Memorial Day observance in the country. Grafton now celebrates the Spirit of Grafton, a weekend festival around the parade. Though casual today, in years past men dressed in suits and ties and ladies in dresses and hats for the parade which was followed picnics and swims at Tygart Lake.
Today, like yesterday, school children march in the parade through town to the Grafton National Cemetery where they place flowers and American flags on the graves. The parade is still followed by picnics.
Taylor County hosts both the Grafton National Cemetery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and the West Virginia National Cemetery located approximately five miles west of Grafton. These cemeteries are the only national cemeteries in West Virginia. The West Virginia National Cemetery was created in 1987 because the Grafton Cemetery was running out of burial space.