VILLAGE OF BRONXVILLE, NY — May 15, 2018 — As Memorial Day approaches, I decided to dig a little deeper into Bronxville’s history of observing the day. Our Village historian, Ray Geselbracht, was enormously helpful in searching the archives for our local history.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, Decoration Day began in 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of the Civil War dead. Following World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to include those who had died in all the United States wars.
Bronxville, as a Village, did not participate in a serious way in Memorial Day until 1920. On May 30, 1919, The Bronxville Review and the Scarsdale Inquirer reported that, “Decoration Day will pass with but little excitement in Bronxville, probably because few or no Civil War Veterans are buried here.” With a newly established Leonard Morange Post of the American Legion in 1920, the Village enlisted their help to plan a Village celebration going forward.
Our first official Village celebration was a small parade, populated by mostly Post members, who marched down Kraft Avenue to the “Picture House.” A commemorative program began at 8pm with prayers, hymns, taps and the reading of the names of the Villagers killed in World War I.
In a very prescient speech, the Post Commander emphasized the importance of giving new solemnity to the holiday celebration in his welcoming remarks. “You and I from childhood,” he said, “have observed this day in the pursuit of recreation and pleasure, giving little thought, perhaps, to the true purpose for which it is set aside. Tonight we realize for the first time the meaning of the celebration which for nearly 60 years the Veterans of the Civil War have observed in memory of those who gave their lives that the Union be preserved.”
In 1921, the Memorial Day parade added an important new stop to its route. After now parading up Pondfield Road, everyone stopped at the Village Cemetery where the graves of eight soldiers were decorated with flowers and flags. The parade then went on to another evening commemoration at the “Picture House.”
By 1926, so many different groups wanted to join the ceremonies that it had to move from the movie theatre to a midafternoon outdoor event. In 1927, and all years to the present, the event was then scheduled for 9am and included a stop at the World War I memorial at the Bronxville School.
The events became more elaborate, especially after the renaming of the Westside Park to Leonard Morange Square, where a wreath would be laid on small memorials.
To present Day, the parade route has only changed slightly from assembly at Leonard Morange Park with a procession along Pondfield Road to the School and the cemetery. By the late 1940’s, a festive reviewing stand was erected on the front steps of Village Hall.
By the mid 70’s, most of the local newspaper coverage focused on the festivities – games, concerts, pony rides, raffles and chicken barbeque.
The year 1980 marked an important change as two new memorials to those who served in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War were erected in Leonard Morange Park, and those veterans were so honored.
However, the press coverage for over the next 30 years continued to concentrate on the local fun and festivities.
On May 26, 2005 the Bronxville Review Press Reporter carried an editorial entitled, “Memorial Day has Serious Meaning”, and “encouraged residents to come out and attend the parade and pay respects to those who gave their lives for their country.”
The Village has continued to stress the focus of the parade on our Veterans and this year for the first time ever, we will have a distinguished female veteran, Col. Mary Westmoreland as our Grand Marshal.
Mary retired from the Army as a Colonel with her last posting as the National Chairwoman of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans under the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
A decorated combat Veteran with 31 years of distinguished service, Mary is the recipient of a Bronze Start, Two Legions of Merit and five Meritorious Service Medals to name just a few of her career honors.
A graduate of the Army War College, she is an active volunteer in the Village she has called home for 15 years. A dedicated Rotarian, Mary is also an officer of the Bronxville Women’s Club and a very active member of the Village’s Green Committee with her husband Gene, also a decorated Veteran.
We welcome all of our Village and Town Veterans to allow us to honor them by walking in the front of the parade on Memorial Day. Just let Mary Ann at Village Hall know you will be joining us by phone at (914) 337-6500 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you have a Veteran family member or friend who passed away since last Memorial Day, we would like to know so we can add them to our Roll of Honor and recognize them during the post parade ceremonies.
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Mary C. Marvin is the mayor of the Village of Bronxville, New York. Share your thoughts by directing email to email@example.com .