Honoring our Armed Forces in Rhode Island

As we head into this Memorial Day weekend with the excitement of the start of summer and a long weekend of parades and cook-outs, it's worth taking time out to remember the Rhode Islanders who have served in our armed forces and for whom this holiday is dedicated.  

 

WC1002, Hazel Greenleaf Collection. no. 85. Rhode Island Collection.  Providence Public Library.

The photograph taken on May 5, 1919 depicts the Providence parade of returning soldiers and sailors at the end of World War 1 and shows the parade route of service men marking through Exchange Place, now Kennedy Plaza, surrounded by throngs of crowds.  It appears to be taken from the corner of Fulton and Dorrance Streets, perhaps from an upper window of City Hall.  It's easy to get a sense of the jubilant mood of the crowd with the festoons of bunting, the flags and the floats.  Visible in the center of the image is the marble-white Victory Arch towering over the crowd.  It was a temporary, plaster monument created for the occasion, but proved so popular efforts were made over the next several years to raise funds for a permanent structure.  If you look closely just behind and to the right of it you'll see the Soldiers and Sailors Monument which had been moved from it's original (and current) location for the construction of Exchange Place. 

Rhode Island has celebrated Memorial Day as a state holiday since 1874 following a proclamation of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of former soldiers and sailors serving the Union during the Civil War) to declare May 30, 1868 Decoration Day.  Decoration Day was meant as a day to remember and decorate the graves of those that served their country during the war.  The Southern states celebrated their own Confederate Memorial Day.  However, after the end of World War 1, the holiday was adopted nationally and changed to celebrate fallen service members regardless of the war in which they fought. In 1971, in an act of Congress Memorial Day was established nationally as the last Monday in May.

The Providence Public Library is closed on May 27th in honor of Memorial Day.  But if you'd like to attend a Memorial Day Parade yourself this weekend, check out the Providence Calendar of Events for local happenings. 

 
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Kate Wells

As the Rhode Island Collection librarian at Providence Public Library, Kate Wells helps bring Rhode Island history to light by increasing access to the collection and providing research assistance to patrons. In the “Rhode Island Red” blog, Kate showcases interesting materials from the collection, provides research tip & techniques, and highlights local history. Feel free to contact her if you have any Rhode Island related questions; she is always happy to help. Email: kwells@provlib.org.


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