Memorial Day, 1914

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

 Saturday, May 30, 1914: Went up to town this morning to take in the doings. Went with a couple of friends over to Watsontown this afternoon. Saw a fat cousin.

If I squint a little I think that I can see a parade slowly advancing down Main Street in Watsontown–a band,  the GAR Civil War Veterans, a couple horses pulling carts advertising local businesses. . .

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Prior to 1971 Memorial Day was always on May 30.

Yeah, Grandma! I’m glad that you’re finally having some fun. Was there a parade? . . . food? . . .music? Did the old veterans make speeches? It’s been a rough few days with the death of your infant niece—and it’s good that you’re finally getting out with friends again.


Memorial Day sounds like a fun holiday a hundred years ago. For example, on May 30, 1912 Grandma wrote:

Memorial Day: Carrie and I went up to McEwensville this morning. This afternoon we went over to Watsontown accompanied by another girl friend. We had the pleasure of getting an automobile ride. It was the first time I was ever in one and consequently never had experienced a ride. We had a good time.

33 Responses

  1. Glad she is getting out again. Do you know who the ‘fat cousin’ was? Oh dear. :)

    • I don’t. I know that one of her mother’s brothers was a doctor in Watsontown, and that he had one child–a son named Woods. But I have no clue whether or not Woods was overweight.

      Both her mother and father were from large families so she had lots of cousins who lived relatively close–and any of them could have come into Watsontown for the Memorial Day holiday.

  2. Fat Cousin? probably not as common then as it is now. I remember years ago having students come from different countries and being amazed at the size of some Americans.

  3. Grandma’s diary is a lot like the ones Mum left me, just a few lines left out in places! I think might have to do with the fact that diaries are notes for ourselves and that our memories are always going to be pretty good… Very few of us write diaries or journals with ‘history’ in mind. You are so painstaking in your research.

    • I totally agree–Grandma saw no need to add lots of details because her brief notes were sufficient reminders herself about what happened.

      Thank you for the kind words. I have a lot of fun doing research for this blog.

  4. How I love the expression: ‘to take in the doings.’ Is that still in use in your family or further afield. Not one we have in Ireland!

    • I don’t think that the phrase is commonly used anymore–but at the same time, it seems very familiar. Perhaps it is a phrase that is still used regionally to a certain extent, and it may have Pennsylvania Dutch origins.

  5. Mmmm….the last ‘fun’ Memorial Day before the next War began. I wonder how many Civil War veterans were present?

    • Most of the veterans would have been in their 70s. My general sense is that this is the era when many were still pretty healthy–and they enjoyed attending reunions and events.

      Last year I did a post about the 50th reunion of the Battle at Gettysburg–and a newspaper article I quoted said the 65,000 people came to the reunion, 85% of whom were veterans.

      • Ah yes, I remember that now. When I was researching the newspapers for the day my father was born I found a reference to the death of a Crimean War veteran. It amazes me that within my father’s life span there were still people who could tell of their experience in the Crimea.

        • I also am amazed how our parents and grandparents lived at the same time as people who were connected to events that seem like “ancient history” to us.

  6. The ” fat cousin” reference is hilarious!

  7. You can almost picture the parade coming from the distance…

  8. In response to a previous comment, I bet there were many civil war veterans present. Memorial Day was originally created as a result of the Civil War. I would think that many of them would have even been in the parade. Pennsylvania had many men in the Union Army. I wrote about Memorial Day’s history recently

  9. Whew!! I thought we’d never get that girl out of the house!!

  10. Glad your grandma finally got out of the house and “into” things. :)

  11. Good to see the old Helena back, out in the world again, with that tart reference to avoirdupois-challenged cousin!

  12. Glad Helena got out, funny she would mention a ‘fat’ cousin… :)
    Diana xo

  13. I think a summer parade is just the thing to lift her spirits :)

  14. She made me laugh! “Fat cousin” straight and honest opinion :)

  15. She also made me laugh at “fat cousin” – but then like someone said, I can imagine being overweight was not the norm like it is now. It is before all that good food of french fries, ice cream whenever we want and oh sooo many cookies!!! :) Did she always say exactly what she thought? I know my grandmother did!

    • She had a dry sense of humor as an older woman, but I don’t particularly remember her saying exactly what she thought.

      • I keep thinking she must have that touch of Irish in her!! lol I bet she was a card. She reminds me of a dear older friend, in her 80’s now. Always spoke her mind but never in a nasty way…just the facts. ;)

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