On Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the descendant of Decoration Day, when the graves of Civil War casualties would be marked in memory. Today, we use the holiday to remember all veterans’ service, letting the day encroach on Veterans Day, where all US service members are honored. That’s not a bad thing – certainly efforts and sacrifices are best recognized when the honoree can witness the appreciation.

I have several family members from Maryland and Pennsylvania that served in the Union Army. This photo is most likely my great great grandfather, a man of whom I have no memory. With this holiday, the sacrifices of the Civil War generation are replaced with more general notions of national struggle and perseverance in the absence of personal memory. The holiday has evolved to honor veterans from subsequent wars in order to hold onto the personal aspects of Memorial Day. We now honor our grandfathers’ World War II and Korean War service, our fathers’ Vietnam service, and so many endeavors of men and women in subsequent military operations. It is the personal that is our path to the national meaning of the holiday.

George Harrison Bowman (1841-1921), c. 1861. A native of Harford County, Maryland, my great great served in the 1st and 7th Maryland Infantry. Ambrotype. Collection of RL Fifield.

George Harrison Bowman (1841-1921), c. 1861. A native of Harford County, Maryland, my great great grandfather served in the 1st and 7th Maryland Infantry. Ambrotype. Collection of RL Fifield.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.