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James A. Garfield and the First Decoration Day – May 30, 1868

May 18, 2019 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

| Pay-What-You-Please

Discover the origin of Memorial Day in the United States and the role played by future president James Garfield

James Garfield during the Civil War

James Garfield during the Civil War

On Saturday May 18 at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum, join the Site Manager of James A. Garfield National Historic Site Todd Arrington as he discusses the first Memorial Day.

The holiday we now call Memorial Day was founded after the Civil War and known initially as Decoration Day. The first national Decoration Day ceremony took place in Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The keynote speaker that day was a young Ohio congressman and former Union general named James A. Garfield. In the shadow of the home once inhabited by Robert E. Lee, Garfield memorialized the Northern war dead but also reminded everyone what the war had truly been about, discussing slavery, freedom, civil rights, and more. This presentation will explore the origins of Decoration Day but also the themes on which future President James A. Garfield spoke on that first Decoration Day and their lasting importance.

The presentation begins at 11 AM on May 18 at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum. The presentation will be pay-what-you-please.

Todd Arrington is the Site Manager of James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. As a career National Park Service historian and park ranger, he has also worked at Homestead National Monument of America in Nebraska and Gettysburg National Historic Site & Eisenhower National Historic Site, both in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army and holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Arrington has been published many times on subjects related to the American Civil War and westward expansion. His essay “Industry and Economy during the Civil War” was published in The Civil War Remembered, the National Park Service’s official handbook commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. He writes and edits for the popular history blogs We’re History and Emerging Civil War, and his book ‘The Triumphs of Liberty and Law’: The Presidential Election of 1880 will be published later this year by the University Press of Kansas. In discussing relevant history and National Park Service news and events, he has spoken at dozens of academic conferences and appeared on PBS, C-SPAN, numerous television and radio news programs, Radio Free Europe, and National Public Radio. He appeared in the PBS American Experience documentary Murder of a President about James A. Garfield in 2016.

Arrington has taught history and humanities courses at several northeast Ohio colleges, including Lake Erie College, John Carroll University, Lorain County Community College, and Lakeland Community College. He is a member of the Organization of American Historians and the Northeast Ohio Civil War Round Table.


May 18, 2019
11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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Jake Wynn
301-695-1864, ext. 1009


Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum
437 7th Street NW
Washington, 20004 United States
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