Mansfield was a bustling place in 1896, with a population of approximately 17,000. On Saturday, May 30, the community came together to celebrate Memorial Day.
First known nationally as “Decoration Day,” the term “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882. Resulting from numerous observances across the country in honor of those lost in the American Civil War, it began to coalesce around a single theme after the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization of its day, chose to coordinate decoration of graves of Union soldiers. Over the years and, of course, after the United States was involved in additional wars, the holiday came to commemorate the deceased of all wars.
On Saturday, May 30, 1896, citizens of Mansfield heard bells ring through the city at precisely 12:30 PM. An “Assembly Call” took place at 1:00 PM, followed by a procession to the Soldiers’ grounds in Mansfield Cemetery (or, if the weather was inclement, the Memorial Opera House on Park Avenue West).
The march lineup was published in advance. Mansfield City Police led the procession, followed by 13 additional units. The last group in the procession was “citizens.” President of the Day was Mansfielder Augustus B. Cornell, who served as a First Lieutenant in the Union Army. Cornell lived in a large house at 514 Park Avenue West, which still stands in altered condition (United Business Equipment is there today).
The route of the march was “East to Main Street; thence South on Main Street to Chestnut Street; thence east on Chestnut to the Cemetery.”
At the cemetery, ceremonies included the decoration of graves, a bugle call, band music, a choir rendition, prayers, and an address by the Honorable Curtis E. McBride. McBride, an attorney, represented Richland County at the time in the Ohio House of Representatives, and had just been re-elected to office the year before.
The next day, the Mansfield Daily Shield referenced the floral decorations in Central Park, saying that they were of “unusual beauty,” and that “the bronze soldier was finely wreathed.”