The second Memorial Day event that I attended yesterday took place at Mount Hope Cemetery. I had never before visited this history-filled municipal cemetery.
Mount Hope is where many of San Diego’s early residents are buried. It’s hilly and sprawling, with thousands of scattered headstones and monuments. Thousands of names are eternally engraved.
The dignified Memorial Day ceremony was held atop GAR Hill. I learned that G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic. The fraternal organization is composed of veterans who fought on the Union side during the American Civil War. On grassy GAR Hill rest many Union soldiers who fought bravely.
The annual event, I also learned, is organized by both the Sons and Daughters of Union Veterans, and Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy. Over a thousand Civil War veterans are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.
Yesterday afternoon I stood and watched a moving tribute to those who had fought in the war that ended slavery. Some of the participants wore Civil War uniforms and period dress. History came to life with eloquent words of remembrance, and the singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace. Several speakers recalled the men who fought, their sacrifices, and the triumph of liberty. Our current times were also addressed. It is necessary to stay firm in the defense of freedom.
This year the ceremony honored one Civil War soldier in particular: Henry Neal Fletcher, 4th Corporal, Company G, 3rd Iowa Cavalry. He fought for the Union. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Revolutionary War. From them he learned how freedom was won. He died a beloved member of the San Diego community.
The idea for Memorial Day is thought to have come from the tradition of decorating soldier’s graves in late spring with flowers, a custom that predated the Civil War. During the war, with so many dead, the practice became very common. The tradition finally became formalized, and known as Decoration Day.
On this Memorial Day, atop a quiet hill, I saw many flags decorating the graves of soldiers.
I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!
The Mason Street School was San Diego’s very first schoolhouse. It was built in 1865. In 2015, 150 years later, it’s one of the most interesting sights in Old Town San Diego Historic State Park.
The one room schoolhouse museum isn’t always open to the public. So whenever I walk through Old Town, I eagerly wander past to see if the front door is swung wide. If it is, I amble inside and look about, trying to absorb what life was like in the early days of San Diego.
I remember how the Mason Street School used to contain numerous desks. But they’ve been replaced by plain benches, to more accurately portray where a small number of students from Spanish, American and other diverse backgrounds, grade one to eight, sat together and learned how to read, write and do arithmetic.
Back in the early years of San Diego, school was held twelve months a year. Hours were 9 to 4, but many students would skip school to watch bull fights, fiestas and other exciting town doings. Many children were held out of school by their parents to help on a ranch or farm, or to work in a family store.
San Diego in 1865 was a small, isolated, somewhat ramshackle town. Mary Chase Walker, Mason Street School’s first teacher, wrote when she arrived in San Diego by steamship: “I arrived in the bay of San Diego on the morning of July 5, 1865. It was a most desolate looking landscape. The hills were brown and barren; not a tree or green thing was to be seen. Of all the dilapidated, miserable looking places I had ever seen, this was the worst. The buildings were nearly all of adobe, one story in height, with no chimneys. Some of the roofs were covered with tile and some with earth…”
Mary Chase Walker originally traveled from Massachusetts to California, in search of greater opportunity. While in San Francisco, she learned of a teaching opening in San Diego. After less than a year at the Mason Street School, however, she became embroiled in a local controversy. One day she made a kind gesture to a lady who was part African-American, but many early San Diegans had arrived from the Confederate South and voiced their disapproval. A number of students were removed from the small school in anger. To allow the scandal to pass over, Mary quit teaching and married the president of the school board, early San Diego settler and prominent merchant Ephraim Morse.
It’s hard in modern times to imagine the life and culture of San Diego long ago. But one can get a flavor of that fascinating history by stepping inside the old Mason Street School.
The nearby plaque reads:
MASON STREET SCHOOL
FIRST PUBLIC SCHOOLHOUSE IN THIS COUNTY.
ERECTED AT THIS SITE IN 1865 AND KNOWN AS
“MASON STREET SCHOOL – – DISTRICT NO. 1”
WHEN SAN DIEGO COUNTY COVERED AN AREA
LARGER THAN THREE NEW ENGLAND STATES.
RESTORED BY POPULAR SUBSCRIPTION IN 1955.
STATE REGISTERED LANDMARK NO. 538
MARKER PLACED BY SAN DIEGO COUNTY BOARD OF
SUPERVISORS AND THE HISTORICAL MARKERS COMMITTEE
Follow this blog for more San Diego history and photos of cool stuff! Join me on Facebook or Twitter.
A thought-provoking historical exhibit is currently on display in downtown San Diego’s Central Library. Titled “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” the large multi-paneled exhibit outlines and discusses a number of controversial issues that arose during the time of America’s Civil War. The exhibit, which has visited a number of different libraries, was created by the American Library Association and the National Constitution Center.
Old photos and texts help visitors to understand the election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession of the southern states, and the Civil War itself; complex topics that are explored include slavery and the plight of African Americans, the Constitution and state sovereignty, and civil liberties.
If you happen to find yourself in East Village, pop into the library. The large display is on the ground floor and very difficult to miss. The traveling exhibit will remain at this location through January 9, 2015.
To enjoy future posts, you can “like” Cool San Diego Sights on Facebook. or follow me on Twitter.