One of my favorite chapters in Emily of Deep Valley is “Decoration Day”. This weekend we’ll celebrate Memorial Day. The story of Emily and Decoration Day is a great example of how we should remember our soldiers and those who have gone before us.
On Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) at the turn of the 20th century, it was customary for families to honor and remember their loved ones with visits to the cemetery.The entire town joined in this patriotic holiday, celebrating with a parade and special ceremonies honoring fallen and surviving soldiers. The Free Press reported on May 31, 1909: “The thirty automobiles that were in line accommodated all of the patriotic organizations, Company ‘H’ and the Twentieth Century Band being the only ones in the procession that marched. The procession entered the opera house where streamers and flags were waving in profusion from the balconies and boxes.” In Emily of Deep Valley, Maud writes, “And the white horse of memory was replaced by an automobile. Yet Decoration Day was always the same.”
Maud based the character of Emily Webster on her friend, Marguerite Marsh and Grandpa Webster on Marguerite’s grandfather, John Marsh. She appears to have based Grandpa Webster’s experiences on those of Captain Clark Keysor (Cap’ Klein), as John Marsh was not a Civil War veteran. General James H. Baker, a veteran of the Dakota Conflict and the Civil War, was the basis for the character of Judge Hodges. In 1952 Maud wrote, “Old Cap’ Keysor and General Baker used to visit the various grades on Decoration Day to tell us about the Civil War and the Sioux uprising.” These stories and the Decoration Day celebrations left a deep impression on Maud.