As long as anyone can remember, the annual Westminster Memorial Day parade formed-up and stepped-off from Monroe Avenue and marched east — down Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street to the Westminster Cemetery where an annual memorial service took place. However, many years ago, the parade took a different route and the annual services were not held at the cemetery.
On June 5, 1897, a local newspaper, the American Sentinel, reported, “Memorial Day services were held in this city, Winfield and Taneytown, on Saturday last and at Hampstead on Sunday afternoon. In this city the indoor exercises were held in Odd Fellows' Hall…
“Ex-Judge James A. C. Bond, of this city, delivered the oration… [It was] a cogent and powerful argument for purity in government, freedom from party serfdom and the development and perpetuity of the American Republic.
“Judge Bond paid a high compliment to the memory of Abraham Lincoln, and quoted a part of his Gettysburg speech, making its sentiment his own. Incidentally he acknowledged that he had been convinced of the unrighteousness of human slavery.”
On June 3, 1899, the same newspaper again reported upon the various Memorial Day ceremonies throughout Carroll County. “Memorial Day exercises were held in this city on Tuesday under the supervision of Burns Post G. A. R. … Here, indoor exercises, preceding the strewing of the graves of deceased soldiers with flowers, were held in Odd Fellows' Hall…”
A number of years ago, historian Mimi Ashcraft graciously researched the Westminster history of Memorial Day for this writer. She found a definitive cite in the June 4, 1868 edition of the American Sentinel, which reported, “In accordance with this notice, some of the ladies of our city proceeded to the Cemetery on Saturday, and strewed flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes…”
Ashcraft noted in her research, “H. J. Shellman was editor of the Sentinel at this point. Since he was Mary [Shellman’s] brother, he’d known about her involvement…”
Shellman led the annual parade until she became too old to continue. At that time, she turned the parade over to the American Legion Post 31, which continues the tradition.
According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, by Cassandra A. Fortin, on May 27, 2007, longtime parade announcer Skip Amass, a Korean War veteran, reported, Mary Shellman led the parade every year up until 1922.
According to oral tradition, my grandfather, William Earl Wright, who was one of the original members of the local Westminster Legion Post, help convince the Legion to take over the parade. Wright served in the Military Police in the cavalry, stateside, in World War I.
In the early days of the Memorial Day ceremonies, the commemoration services were held at the Odd Fellows Hall at the corner of East Main Street and Lincoln Road — where, incidentally, the Westminster city offices were also located from 1882-1897.
Much more research is needed to determine when the parade began at Monroe Avenue. In a correspondence with the late Charles O. Fisher Sr., in 2006, he reported that years ago, the parade began at Belle Grove Square and proceeded to the cemetery. On May 31, 2006, Fisher wrote, “I can recall first participating in the parade in 1923, when … the parade assembled at Belle Grove Square….”
“After American Legion assumed the responsibility, J. Albert Mitten was designated as the Memorial Day chairman. The American Legion has continued as sponsor... Mitten was succeeded by F. Kale Mathias in 1948, by Paul Smith in 1985, by Harry Emigh in 1994…,” followed by Daniel Bohn, according to Fisher. The 2019 observances were chaired by Paul J. Emmert, Sr. LTC Ronald Hollingsworth, USA (Ret.,) was the Parade Marshall.
According to research for the Historical Society by Jay Graybeal, “A description of the 1901 observances appeared in the June 1, 1901 issue of the Westminster American Sentinel newspaper under the headline of ‘Memorial Day in Carroll’…
“Memorial Day was observed in nearly all the localities in this county where there are graves of deceased soldiers. In this city the exercises were conducted under the supervision of Burns Post, G. A. R. [Grand Army of the Republic.] [The services] consisted of singing by a select choir; prayer by Rev. C. S. Slagle; reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, with explanatory remarks, by Dr. Charles Billingslea; a recitation by Master George Stoner, and an address by W. L. W. Seabrook…”
Many agree with Graybeal, “Although some changes in the way the holiday is observed have occurred over the last century, the 1901 community events sound surprisingly familiar…”
Our great nation has earned many privileges because of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and fought for our freedoms and our rights. May we never forget them.