As most of the country celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, the town of Schoharie hosted a traditional Decoration Day celebration, which included the dedication of a new Civil War monument.
The day of ceremonies began at the Old Stone Fort Museum at 10 a.m. when the museum opened and ended at 7 p.m. with the playing of taps and a flag-lowering ceremony. In between, there was a historical reading from a President Abraham Lincoln re-enactor, a brief parade and the placing of flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers.
Glenville veteran John Paris, who began active duty in 1960, was on-site for the dedication event and considered it a chance to honor America. “It’s a celebration of our spirit and the sacrifices that were made,” he said. “It’s a time to sit back and remember our values.”
The parade marched over to the site of the new monument. It was led by the Excelsior Cornet Band, the only authentic Civil War brass band in the state, and followed by a wagon of flowers. In recognition of traditional practices, Old Stone Fort Museum Executive Director Carle Kopecky, dressed in military regalia, urged people in attendance to join the parade. He implored the crowd to put down their cameras and come pull the wagon.
Shortly after the procession was the dedication for Schoharie County’s first Civil War monument, which recognized the 288 soldiers from the county who died during the war. The monument, a large stone structure, is located only a few feet from the museum and guarded by two large cannons.
Dozens of people in attendance were treated to a dedication ceremony by the Sons of Union Veterans that was a re-enactment of the 1917 Grand Army of the Republic Service of Dedication.
Speaking about the importance of the monument, Kopecky said it is a gift to the people of the present and that it represents lessons we can learn. He stressed that the people who died from Schoharie County were the victims of politicians who couldn’t settle their disagreements peacefully. “That belongs in the past,” Kopecky said of fighting to resolve conflicts.
On hand for the festivities was U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who talked about the roots of Decoration Day, which is now recognized as Memorial Day. Tonko said the monument should serve as a lesson to heal and not hurt.
After the ceremony, Tonko joined about 20 remaining guests who decorated the graves of Civil War veterans with flowers, as had been the custom since 1877 in Schoharie County. “Honoring these soldiers by visiting their gravesites and taking fresh springtime flowers from the fields and strewing them on the graves is the original essence of Decoration Day,” Tonko said.
Also taking part in the flower process was Middleburgh Mayor Bill Ansel-McCabe, who was encouraged by the message of the day and liked the idea that the past can serve as a teacher. The idea he took from the day was that war is not the answer. “As [General] Sherman said, ‘War is hell,’ ” Ansel-McCabe recounted.
According to historian Edward Hagan, about 1,500 people from Schoharie County served in the Civil War.