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The Memorial Day Story and How to Celebrate It at the Barn

We gather together for Memorial Day parades and picnics, celebrating the lives that connect with our own. But the celebration is a reflective one—incomplete without introspection and reverence for the lives lost in the name of freedom. Few people know that the first Memorial Day celebration has, in its history, a crooked tie to the elite sport of horse racing.


 The Civil War had ended and the city of Charleston, SC was left ruined. The idea of secession hung dead in the air, and the Southern cause had ended. The city was all but deserted, and fine houses were wrecked by cannon fire. In the northern part of the peninsula, however, one of the heaviest symbols of Southern gentility still stood: the Washington Race Course, where the elite of the elite once gathered to watch thoroughbreds gallop the one-mile track. During the civil war, the clubhouse was converted into a prison for Union soldiers. The hundreds that perished in the cramped quarters were buried in mass graves.


Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress (

One Monday, nearly 10,000 former slaves came to re-bury the Union soldiers with due respect. Of course, they were burying the Union soldiers, but they were also, metaphorically speaking, burying the dominance of the prominent Southern race-goers. This day, May 1, 1865, marked the first celebration of Memorial Day.


Your off-the-track thoroughbred munching hay in his stall knows nothing of this: that racehorses were, and still are, symbols of wealth and power. Why not remember this history and celebrate Memorial Day at the barn? Gather your loved ones in the barnyard or paddock and teach them what exactly Memorial Day means. Also, honor the horses lost in war. Check out this link for a history of the War Horse Memorial Sculpture at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA.

The setting of the barn is not only relevant, but it is also peaceful, and joyous. Your barn will need a little bit of sprucing up before you invite friends and family, so we’ve given you a few good tips to get creative.

Decorate the barn with red, white, and blue ribbon rosettes. The style  gurus at Country Living can teach you how to make these rosettes (below) out of paper, but we suggest that you craft them out of your old horse show ribbons. Hang a string of ribbon rosettes on one wall, and illuminate the rest of the barn with lights.



Tastefully decorate your table or picnic area with red, white, and blue. We love the off-blue color of the lantern here. Buy cheap lanterns of any color and break out the spray paint to customize them to your needs.

Get creative with the summertime foods you eat. Take a look at this idea of serving punch out of a watermelon. The mid-May weather is a perfect time to have a cook out, so take the grill to the barn. Cook all of the American favorites like hamburgers and hotdogs, and you guests will happily eat and chat. Bring out a few hay bales for seats and arrange them in a way that everyone is included in the conversation. After all, connecting with your loved ones is what Memorial Day all about.

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