The old soldiers began to gather as early 6 a.m. in the early light of Saturday, May 29, 1909, on East Broad Street near Memorial Hall to celebrate Memorial Day.

The old soldiers began to gather as early 6 a.m. in the early light of Saturday, May 29, 1909, on East Broad Street near Memorial Hall to celebrate Memorial Day.

There were not as many of them as there had been. The once massive armies of more than 2-million men who had fought for the Union were now reduced to about 200,000 surviving veterans. Many of the members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Army veterans organization, were too frail or disabled to march as they once had, but they still came to town in uniform to watch the people who did.

And there were many of them. Joining the Old Guard were veterans of the Spanish American War as well as America's struggles in the Philippines, the Caribbean and the opening of the Great West. They were joined by marching bands and were cheered on by a large number of observers on the nearby sidewalks

Deferring to the age of the marchers, the parade route was short. Moving to High Street the parade passed in front of the Statehouse, turned left on State Street and marched on State to Fourth Street to catch streetcars south to Green Lawn Cemetery.

The day was warm, the sky was clear and the march proceeded without incident.

Earlier in the morning, ladies from the women's auxiliaries of the various veterans organizations had met each soldier as he arrived and pinned a boutonniere to his lapel. Some of the ladies stayed at Memorial Hall and observed the parade.

Many others, however, had left well before the parade began and traveled to the cemetery. There they were met with several wagon loads of freshly picked flowers. For most of the previous few days, the children of Columbus had been bringing bouquets of flowers to their schools from home. Collected in large open wagons, the flowers were waiting for the arrival of people on Memorial Day to put them to good use.

As the veterans marched through downtown, the ladies and other friends and family of the veterans began to place a bouquet of flowers and a flag on the grave of every veteran in the cemetery. Similar placements were being made at the same time at other area cemeteries as well.

When the veterans arrived at Green Lawn, services were held at the circular plot where many Civil War veterans were buried. Another brief service was held at the Soldiers Monument in the cemetery and at the graves of Capt. J.M. Wells and Capt. J.C. McCoy for whom two local Grand Army posts were named.

The veterans then marched back to the streetcars and returned to the city. At 11:45 a.m., Gov. Judson Harmon gave an address at the McKinley Memorial in front of the Statehouse. He talked of all the people who had served in all of America's wars and made special mention of the Civil War service of "our martyred president" who had been killed by an assassin only a few years before. While the program was under way at the Statehouse, all of the streetcars in downtown Columbus stopped running -- another tribute to Memorial Day.

At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, yet another commemorative service was held. Hundreds of school children gathered on the State Street Bridge for a service honoring the men who had died in the naval service of their country in the Civil War. As two large wreaths were anchored in the river, the children sang songs, listened to a formal service of remembrance and threw thousands of flowers onto the water

In some ways, the celebrations of Memorial Day were the same as they had been since Grand Army of the Republic Cmdr. John A. Logan had proclaimed the first one in 1866. A veterans organization in Mifflin Township had celebrated Memorial Day in central Ohio in that year for the first time and was still doing so in 1909. Along the way they had been joined by virtually every other civic and social organization in the area as well.

But this was something of an unusual year, in that Memorial Day would be celebrated on three consecutive days. The actual date of Memorial Day was May 30. But in 1909, May 30 fell on a Sunday. For that reason and to ensure that the freshly picked flowers would be promptly used, the veterans held their parade and memorial services on Saturday. Most of the churches celebrated Memorial Day on Sunday. And most area businesses were closed on Monday in recognition of the holiday. This made for a rather lengthy celebration of Memorial Day and some local observers wondered at the time whether the occasion might in some way be "diluted" by being spread out over such a long period of time.

They need not have worried.

If anything, the expanded three-day celebration led to more rather than less observance of it by the general population. In addition to church services on Sunday, most of the veterans organizations gathered in the YMCA auditorium. The YMCA in 1909 was located in a large building where The Columbus Dispatch building is located today.

At 3 p.m., Capt. Frank W. Smith of Bellevue, Ohio, gave a well-received lecture titled "In and Out of Andersonville." Smith was a prisoner in the Confederate camp, where thousands died of disease, malnutrition and neglect. It was reported in a local paper that the lecture was "equally interesting to the old soldiers and to the generation that is following them."

Also on Sunday afternoon, "the Hibernian Rifles visited the graves of five of their dead and those of 50 veterans in Calvary Cemetery."

On Monday, most businesses and government offices closed for the entire day and "there was a general suspension of all lines during at least the afternoon hours." A local paper reported that "Streets downtown were deserted and every business except a few drug stores and restaurants were closed tighter than a drum." Many people took the day as an opportunity for "a great many picnics and the interurbans did a thriving business, more than that of the day before."

The number of picnics and general frivolity is interesting to note since the local superintendent of schools made a special point of not canceling classes on Monday. The only implication one can draw from the newspapers of that time is that a large number of students came to school the next day with a variety of excuses of greater or lesser believability. It would not be too long before the schools would regularly close when the rest of the town did as well.

All in all, it was a very nice three-day holiday weekend.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.