Time to bring back Memorial Day rites at Cedar Grove

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Memorial Day observances in 2018 at the Stone monument in Cedar Grove Cemetery.
Bill Forry photo

The dark hours of Covid can seem like a distant memory some days. But Memorial Day is not one of those days, at least in Dorchester, where a lingering legacy of the pandemic is the absence of a proper observation of the national holiday to salute our war dead at Cedar Grove Cemetery, which was long the scene of time-honored ceremonies dating back to 1868.

It’s time to revive that tradition. On Monday, a group of volunteers will start the process by leading tours of the burial ground. Robert MacEachern, who works at the cemetery, is one of the organizers. He cautions that Monday’s activities won’t be what many of us recall from pre-Covid days. There’s no procession of members from the neighborhood veterans’ posts planned, no stage for dignitaries.

Instead, visitors will be led on a 90-minute walking tour with stops at key markers, most notably the statue of Capt. Benjamin Stone, who led Company K in the Massachusetts 11th regiment in the Civil War. Stone, who is actually buried in the historic Dorchester North Burial Ground in Uphams Corner, died from wounds sustained in combat in the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862. The statue was erected by survivors in Company K, which mainly comprised citizen soldiers from what was then the Town of Dorchester before it was annexed to Boston in 1870.

The Civil War veterans and their families began the tradition of decorating graves and statues in Cedar Grove Cemetery just a few years after they returned from their successful defense of the Union cause. Many of those same veterans were laid to rest within feet of the statue to their fallen captain in what is known as the G.A.R. plot— the Grand Army of the Republic.

At its post-WWII zenith, Dorchester’s Memorial Day exercises brought thousands out for a large parade and ceremonies that often drew full generals and at least one keynote speaker who later served as the nation’s president, John F. Kennedy.

MacEachern says there is interest in reviving a more elaborate observance at the cemetery in 2025. Cedar Grove is also the resting place of hundreds of other American servicemen and women who have been interred in the neighborhood’s largest burial ground. There is a beautiful memorial to many of them at the entrance of the cemetery near the Gilman Chapel. And veterans of the Vietnam War— both American and Vietnamese— continue to gather at the Morrissey Boulevard memorial each year at noon.

We hope that our friends and neighbors will make it a point to stop by Cedar Grove this Memorial Day— and that next year might see a full return of what was a glorious tradition in this corner of Boston for well over 150 years.

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