Memorial Day Traditions in Southern Illinois

Note: This post was updated with information received from our Consulting Historian, Carl Sullens, on 5/26/21 regarding the origin of Memorial Day. Additionally, corrections have been made regarding the date which HerrinFesta Italiana began. Info on celebrations in 2021 was added.

Southern Illinoisans have a rich history of family-based Memorial Day Traditions. Swimming pools open, and annual festivals bring people together to kick off the unofficial beginning of summer.

Some families gather for reunions and picnics.

Others get together to honor the memory of loved ones by placing flowers on graves. Communities gather to remember and honor those who have served our country.

Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971. Its origins were in Decoration Day, which came from a need to deal with grief during the Civil War. It appears that many locations claim to be the founder of that holiday.

However, on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan (yes, the very one for whom the community College in Carterville is named) issued General Order No. 11 stating, “ The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.” You can link to the General John A. Logan Museum website for a full copy of the order and a download of it here:

With so many people now researching their heritage through DNA testing, it seems likely that even more will be at cemeteries this year to remember and learn about their ancestors. A good website for locating graves is:

For many years, East Lawn Cemetery in Salem (Marion County) would accommodate many visitors-both decendants of the Joles and Broadway families buried in East Lawn Cemetery and people driving by to watch them. In 1891, “Gypsy Sam” and Betsy Joles reportedly traveled through Salem during a journey from Ohio to Southern Missouri. While camping in Salem, they could view East Lawn Cemetery and thought it was beautiful. When their daughter died in Missouri, they returned to Salem for her burial. Unfortunately, another daughter passed away while they were in Salem and was also buried in East Lawn. These are the first two known graves that started the annual Memorial Day Weekend gypsy pilgrimages to Salem. For many years, the Broadway and Joles Family graves were adorned with beautiful, elaborate floral arrangements. Some of these depicted the loved ones hobbies or favorite foods. I can remember watching the procession of cars and all of the colorful decorations as a child. It really was a nice way that their family remembered their loved ones. Sadly, in recent years, there has not been as much decoration as in past decades.

Many communities will have ceremonies honoring those who have served our country. There is a Memorial Day Service planned at Mound City National Cemetery on May 29 at which “General Ulysses S. Grant” will speak. More info may be obtained on the cemetery’s Facebook post:

The Carterville Lioness Club will once again have a beautiful display of flags at Cannon Park for their Military Salute. If you are able to walk the path, you are encouraged to do so. It is gorgeous. Homeschoolers, those who enjoy history, and those who just like pretty things can all learn much from it. This is the link to the event’s Facebook page:

Herrinfesta Italiana, an annual celebration of Herrin’s Italian heritage since 1991 is already in full swing. It was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but 2021 brings it back for its 30th Annual Celebration. This is a link to the event’s website:

Carbondale will hold a modified Memorial Day Ceremony at historic Woodlawn Cemetery on May 31. There is also a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 pm to be observed throughout the nation. Additional info may be found here:

Links to information on some of the Memorial Day events in Southern Illinois will be available in the “Events” section of this website as well as the ASOSI app. The app is available for free download in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

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