By Carol Flynn
May is a busy month for the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA), with high profile events like the BAPA Home Tour on May 21 and the Ridge Run on May 29. These events, which have been under BAPA’s leadership since the 1970s, help fulfill BAPA’s mission to promote Beverly/Morgan Park as a dynamic community in which to live.
A third event stands out for its historical and patriotic significance for all Americans, the Beverly/Morgan Park Memorial Day Parade. This year, as BAPA celebrates its 75th anniversary, the parade celebrates its 97th anniversary, making it one of the longest running traditions in the City of Chicago.
The purpose of Memorial Day is to pay tribute to the 1.3 million members of the U.S. armed forces who died while in service. Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day, which recognizes all who have served in the U.S. military, living and deceased.
Memorial Day grew out of the ancient custom of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers, which started in early Egypt and Rome. European settlers brought the practice with them to America, where it was carried out informally until the 1860s.
The magnitude of fatalities during the U.S. Civil War, in which 625,000 Union and Confederate lives were lost, caused military burials and memorials to take on a new social significance. In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization for Union soldiers, called for a nationwide Decoration Day to be held annually on May 30.
By 1869, Chicago had formed a Committee on Decorating Soldiers’ Graves that arranged programs and procured flowers to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers in the area’s cemeteries.
That first year in Chicago, Decoration Day was held on Sat., May 29. In pouring rain, processions of active members of the military, veterans, clergy, war widows and orphans, women’s groups, elected officials, the press, and a band or two, held programs at the cemeteries. These were solemn events.
By the late 1880s, the name Memorial Day began to be used, and the scope gradually expanded to include all Americans who had died in military service.
The Beverly/Morgan Park Memorial Day Parade was started in 1926 by Beverly Hills Post 407 of the American Legion.
The American Legion was formed in 1919 in Paris for the U.S. military personnel who had served in Europe during World War I and were still stationed there. Chapters in the U.S. for returned soldiers soon followed, and veterans living in our area established a Post before the end of 1919.
Beginning in 1923, the Beverly Hills Post paraded to Evergreen Cemetery on Memorial Day to decorate graves. In 1926, the Post invited the community to participate in a parade up Longwood Drive to Ridge Park. Every resident was urged to come to the park for ceremonies.
In addition to the American Legion, participants that first year included the cadets and band from the Morgan Park Military Academy; the Grand Army of the Republic; the Spanish American War Veterans; the Daughters of the American Revolution; Boy Scouts; Girl Scouts; Camp Fire Girls; the Girl Reserves of Morgan Park High School; and the band and the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) from Morgan Park High School.
In 1967, federal law declared the official name of the holiday to be Memorial Day, and in 1971, the official day holiday became the last Monday in May.
Always involved with the parade, BAPA took on a stronger role in 1979 while the American Legion still ran it, when BAPA moved the Ridge Run to the same day. A local Kiwanis Club ran the parade in the 1990s, and by the end of that decade, BAPA had assumed the lead role.
The parade has waxed and waned through the years. Some years have seen extravagant spectacles; in other years, a trickle of participants made their way up Longwood Drive.
Today, the parade continues as an annual event largely through the efforts of one woman, Carol Macola, a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Morgan Park. Macola received the BAPA Community Service Award last fall for her efforts. Her story can be found at bapa.org under The Villager tab, carol-macola-bapas-2022-community-service-award-recipient/.
According to Macola, it is getting harder to mount the parade because expenses are increasing while participation declines. Many schools are out for the summer by Memorial Day and bands and other units are not available. In addition, some of the organizations that always participated are now defunct.
The major tradition of the parade was always community involvement. This was a parade by the community for the community. In addition to schools and organizations, children with decorated bikes and other residents joined in at the end of the parade as it made its way up Longwood Drive. That rarely happens now, and Macola would like to see it start again.
In three years, the Beverly/Morgan Park Memorial Day Parade will be 100 years old. It is time for an infusion of community spirit and participation to keep this tradition going.
The application for marching in this year’s parade can be found at bapa.org under the Ridge Run tab.
As part of the Ridge Run, a Memorial Day ceremony including laying of a wreath, taps, recognition of the Grand Marshal – Honor Flight Chicago — and a remembrance will take place at 9 a.m., Mon., May 29, at Ridge Park. The parade will follow the Ridge Run at about 10:15 a.m., stepping off at 110th Street and Longwood Drive and marching north to Ridge Park. People are encouraged to line the parade route, which is also part of the route for the Ridge Run.