History of the Parade
Why is the Parade held the Sunday after Memorial Day?
General Order No. 11:
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
In 1817 nearly 40 years after the Revolutionary War, the first parade commemorating the anniversary of the Paoli Massacre was held. More than 400 volunteer troops in eight militia units from three counties, and two bands “in a slow solemn march” participated. “The number, brilliancy and respectability of the assemblage at Paoli on the morning of that day, is spoken of as never before equaled in Chester County.” It was the start of a tradition. In succeeding years, the 20th of September “was duly observed with military parade, drill exhibition, band music, patriotic addresses and musket, rifle and cannon salutes and was known throughout the area as Paoli Days.”
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of former Union soldiers and sailors – the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) – established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared it should be May 30. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The Malvern Memorial Parade draws its heritage from these two commemorations. Tradition says the first Malvern Memorial Parade was held in 1869, the year following Major Logan’s proclamation. The McCall Post No. 31 of the GAR in West Chester was the original sponsor. The Parade continued under the auspices of the Post until 1930, when the event was taken over by the Dalton –Wenzel Post No. 646 American Legion, Paoli. Mrs. Catherine J. Annear, “Mrs. Malvern”, was the driving force for the Parade for many years until her death in 1981. Today the Paoli Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5203 is the host veteran organization and the Parade is sponsored by the Upper Main Line Memorial Association.
From the beginning, the idea of a Decoration Day parade rapidly grew in popularity, as local veterans posts sought to have their own parade. Malvern, West Chester and Wayne were no exception. It was from this dilemma that the specific day of our Parade was established. One version of the story is that there were only a limited number of fire wagons in the area (there were only about 700 residents in Malvern in 1880) and each town wanted to include them in their parade. A second version is that the towns wanted the local Civil War veterans to participate, but neither the fire wagons nor the veterans could be in two parades at once. So early on, the three communities decided that West Chester would hold their parade the day before, Wayne the day of, and Malvern the Sunday after Decoration Day. That tradition has been maintained ever since.
A Century in Malvern, edited by Nancy B. Schmitt (1989) was the source for the local information included above.