Memorial Day was first widely observed on 5 May 1868, three years after the Civil War ended. An organization of Union veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established “Decoration Day” as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.

Islands big and small honor those who have served.

Above: “Bar Harbor Times articles: Police Department Events: Mount Desert,” Northeast Harbor Library (view in Digital Archive). Below: “Memorial parade from Win Fernalds corner,” Islesford Historical Society (view in Digital Archive). Also shown in header above.

Union soldier James Parker grew up in Somesville. His war-time letters to his sister are among the treasures in the archives of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society (“James Parker to Letitia A. Parker Letter and Envelope, January 9, 1863,” Mount Desert Island Historical Society; view in Digital Archive). James had a irreverent sense of humor that comes through in his correspondence. In his last letter home he wrote, “I presume before a week we shall be where the cold lead flies round careless. They handle their guns very careless. They have been known to point it at a man and fire.” James was killed in an attack on Confederate fortifications at Petersburg on June 18, 1864.

Above: “James Parker Carte-de-visite,” Mount Desert Island Historical Society (view in Digital Archive). Below: “Members of James M. Parker G.A.R. Post #105 Assembled for Memorial Day at the Somes House Hotel,” Southwest Harbor Public Library (view in Digital Archive). James is posthumously listed as a founding member of GAR Post #105.

Sources: (a) “The Origins of Memorial Day,” at U.S. Dept. Of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs ( : accessed 28 May 2023). (b) “The History of Memorial Day,” at National Memorial Day Concert ( : accessed 28 May 2023). (c) Research by historian Tim Garrity for “Chebacco Chats No. 33 with Bruce Jacobson,” at YouTube: MDI Historical Society ( : access 28 May 2023). James Parker segment starts at 18 min. 12 sec.

Mount Desert Island has been Bruce’s home base since 1984, first working with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, then the National Park Service, and now as a consultant to nonprofits.