PEORIA — Dressed in hoop skirts, bonnets, top hats and blue Union uniforms, a small group climbed Soldiers Hill under Sunday’s summer sun in re-enactment of the city’s first Memorial Day in 1868.
Springdale Cemetery honored the 150th anniversary of bringing together the community in remembrance, celebration and dedication.
“Remembrance of the people who lost their lives, celebration of their life and in dedication of what they lost their lives for,” said Bruce Brown, the master of ceremonies who organized the program.
On the first holiday, in the wake of the Civil War, a small group of people gathered Downtown at sunrise, marched along the Illinois River to the cemetery and placed flowers on the 31 graves of the first soldiers buried on the hill.
It was a quiet service — no speeches, no bands, Brown said.
With barely a breeze and the temperature reaching toward 100, the re-enactment group didn’t walk quite so far for Sunday’s service.
“I said I’d like people to see virtually the way this looked 150 years ago — they did it,” Brown said clenching his fists.
Before the retiring of the colors and 21-gun honor salute, Chama St. Louis of the NAACP ended the ceremony with a benediction.
In her prayer, she read a poem by Lt. Hubert Crife, a pilot in World War II, who honored those who had fallen in war.
“We always do Springdale events on a Sunday, for not convenience, but for the service nature of it,” Brown said. “It’s to pay honor and respect.”
Trefzger’s Bakery, which baked for the Union army during the Civil War, came to the event offering cookies and bread.
Holland’s Carmelcorn of Washington and East Peoria’s Qdoba also brought refreshments for the community that gathered. Cub Scouts walked among the audience bringing water to those seated on the grassy hillside.
The Scouts also handed out flowers, and the audience was invited to place flowers on the graves and remember the names of those lost to war.
After more than a decade of leading programs for Memorial and Veterans days, Brown says this is what Springdale is all about: community.
For some, the holiday is a three-day weekend or the start of summer, but for the people who make Springdale’s ceremonies work, it’s much more, Brown said.
“Unless it’s community, it doesn’t mean much,” he said.
Several groups came together to honor the holiday, including Daughters of the American Revolution, Peoria Barbershop Chorus and Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Each group helps make the Memorial Day program a success, Brown said.
It’s not a labor but rather an exercise of love to be a part of Memorial Day at Springdale, he said.
“It’s a living cemetery and though they all — now more than 31 — lie here in eternal rest, they stand forever for what we United States Marines call fidelity, honor and valor,” Brown said.
Springdale’s business office will be open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to provide maps to help visitors locate graves.
Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.