Memorial Day Address 2016

Stuart Brorson
President, Arlington Historical Society

Welcome masons and your families.  Welcome to historical society members.  And welcome to members of the public who have come to witness this annual ceremony.  It’s a great pleasure to see a good turn-out for this event.

Today is Memorial Day.  Today we remember members of the armed services who have died in the service of their country.  You may know that in the mid 19th century this day was more frequently known as “Decoration Day”.  The holiday started as a day when people would gather and place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had been killed in the Civil War.  That is, people decorated the soldier’s graves.  This practice started as a grass-roots movement in the mid 1860s.  But on May 5, 1868, US army General John A. Logan  used his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic — the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans – and issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide.  By 1890, all the northern states had declared this day to be an official holiday, and we continue to celebrate the holiday today, under a different name.

It is an interesting confluence of historical threads that 1868 is also the year when the town of Arlington approved the use of this plot of land for use as a cemetery.  Our Society’s former president, Howard Winkler, recounts the story in a historical essay about this cemetery, saying:

The lot on Gardner Street was not acquired until 1856 when David Locke of Arlington sold the land to William B. Kendall, who was at that time Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.  In 1864 Kendall in turn conveyed the lot to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge “forever in trust for a Masonic Burial Ground, to be called Prince Hall Cemetery forever…”  At the 1868 Arlington town meeting, it was voted on a motion by William E. Parmenter that the Prince Hall Mystic Cemetery Association be allowed to locate and maintain a cemetery in the Northeasterly part of the Town.

In preparation for this address, I spent some time in our Society’s archives looking for traces of this history, and I found a couple.  I found that Master William B. Kendall is listed in town records as a non-resident tax payer for this plot of land for several decades of the middle 1800s.  For example, in 1868 records say he payed exactly $4.71 in property tax.  Don’t you wish you could pay that amount of property tax today?

As I continued looking at the tax records, I found he paid taxes to keep this land through the end of the 1870s, and his estate continued to pay for a time after his death.  So besides purchasing the land itself, Master Kendall generously paid at least 25 years of property taxes so that fellow Prince Hall Masons would have a place to be buried.  His generous support back then enables us to celebrate here today, 150 years later.

I am using these two pieces to history to tie together this small cemetery to the larger purpose of Memorial Day – it is a day we remember and memorialize those who have served.  Some serve in the armed forces, and give their lives so we may enjoy freedom.  Some, like Master Kendall served in other ways, for example by establishing this cemetery, and quite literally paying for it so that we may celebrate Memorial Day here today.

Thank you very much.