History of the Memorial Day and Plainfield Grange Events

  Written by Arvilla L. Dyer, Grange Chairman, 1986 Memorial Day Committee/Plainfield Grange # 232

When the Mountain Miller Post # 198, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the Civil War veterans, disbanded because there was no other veterans organization in the Hilltowns, the G.A.R. Commander, Shepherd R Dyer, asked the Plainfield Grange # 232 to carry on the Memorial Day observance. This was in 1919 and the Grange has done the service ever since.

The observance expanded until it included a dinner at noon, followed by a parade to Hilltop Cemetery with appropriate ceremonies at the G.A.R. monument. On the return to the Town Hall a ceremony took place in the Plainfield Congregational Church with all veterans attending. There was appropriate music, a program by the school children, the reciting of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and a speaker. In the evening there was usually a three act play at the Town Hall put on by the Plainfield Grange or members of the Ladies Benevolent Society, or some event of similar caliber.

Postcard of G.A.R. Monument at Hilltop Cemetery, Plainfield, MA . Notice the wreaths and flowers. Photograph property of PHS

 When Hallock Memorial School closed in 1967, and the school children no longer put on a program, fewer and fewer people came to the afternoon church service and it was discontinued. During World War II, when there were too few people here to put on a play, the evening entertainment was discontinued permanently. 

Following the Korean conflict, when the new Honor Roll was placed in front of the church, the Cummington Post # 304, American Legion, which had taken part in our Memorial Day parade ever since its founding, used its ceremony at the Honor Roll for World War I, World War II, and Korean War veterans. 

The school children have always marched in the parade and at the cemetery decorated all the Veteran’s graves. At first the graves were decorated by laurel wreaths made by the children in school. After the school closed and there became more and more veterans graves to decorate, this custom was discontinued. The graves are now decorated with lilac blossoms by school children and others. Laurel wreaths are used only on the two honor rolls, one on the G.A.R. Monument which lists the Plainfield men killed in the Civil War, and two on the Honor Roll in front of the church; one for the two men killed in World War II and one for the one man killed in the Korean conflict.

Memorial Day, 1948. Old Nelson Briggs Stetson place opposite the Plainfield Congregational Church. Photograph Plainfield Historical Society

The Grange Memorial Day committee continued to plan and carry out the events of the day. As the dinners got larger,the Grange women got older, and more and more members lived in other towns, it became too difficult for the Grange to continue to put on the dinner, so it became a community project under the able direction of Judy Lederer. Judy had everything so well organized but no one was ever overworked. After a number of years, Judy had to step down for reasons of health and it was turned over to the WhatNots, an organization of local young women, who carried on the dinner under the able direction of Anne McEwen. Dinner was now served at three settings, both in the dining room and upstairs in the town hall, to over 300 people. The Grange provides the money, about $600, to purchase the food and the paper products with no charges made for the dinner but someone passes the hat at each serving and all leftover food is sold at the kitchen door following the parade. This money is returned to the Grange and is usually enough to reimburse it for its expenditure. If enough profit is realized the Grange usually votes to pay for the band, thus relieving the town of this expense.In recent years the Grange has also purchased and planted geraniums in front of the Honor Roll, at the G.A.R. monument and in the former watering tank or cistern in front of the Town Hall. 

Located in front of the Congregational Church is the Soldiers’ Memorial Tablet which honors young men who represented Plainfield in the Nation’s battles. Photograph property of PHS

New flags and metal flag holders marking the veterans’ graves are paid for by the town of Plainfield. There is an appointed Town Veterans’ Grave Officer who obtains flags and markers from the Veterans Agents at the Western Franklin Veteran Service Center at 51 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Flags were placed by Clay Nye and Thomas Packard until 1974. Since then this has been done by Arvilla Dyer. Fourteen dozen flags are placed in the Hilltop, West Hill, Pleasant Street, East Street, and South Union Street cemeteries. There is a list of where each known Veteran’s grave or marker is located. 

The Memorial Day parade starts from the town hall at 2:00 p.m. thus giving people at the luncheon time to eat.  It proceeds up Main Street and North Central Street to Hilltop Cemetery and returns by the same route and not by North Union street, the “shortcut” as in former years.

Color Guard lead by Lt. Col. Arvilla Dyer and local veterans. 1997

 Over the years various bands have been used. Since the formation of bands at Mohawk Trail Regional school, these have been used exclusively. One year the high school band is used and alternate year the middle school band plays. The color guard colors, firing squad, rifles and blank ammunition are provided by the Cummington Post #304, American Legion, with as many Plainfield veterans as possible taking part. The selectmen, as well as local veterans, school children and residents are invited to march in the parade. For many years the antique car club. under the guidance of Joseph Bergamini have participated in the parade giving rides to any veteran or senior citizens who are unable to walk. The Hampshire County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse has taken part in the parade for many years during Sheriff John Boyles term of office. The 2nd Hampshire Regiment has also participated. When there are 4-H clubs or Scout Troops in town they also participate.

 When the parade reaches Hilltop Cemetery the band forms up in the street facing the cemetery, all other marchers, except mounted and motorized units, enter the cemetery by the middle drive and then wait while the children decorate all the veterans’ graves.

 Lilac should be ready to distribute to them at the middle gate with two people prepared to hand them out. If there are enough children each will stand by a veteran’s grave and place the lilac blossoms by the flag at the long roll of the drums. The parade then continues around to the north drive and forward to the G.A.R. Monument with the firing squad forming up in the north drive. The band then plays two selections. By custom the ceremony is used at the G.A.R. monument. Several of the manuals are available, one with the Grange and several with the Plainfield Historical Society. A wreath is laid on the monument. The firing squad of Plainfield veterans, is under the command of the American Legion Sergeant at arms. Taps follow the ’Salute to the Dead’ volleys. The parade reforms and returns to the Town Hall.

When the parade returns to the Lower Village it forms around the Honor Roll. The band plays a selection. The American Legion ceremony is used here. Two wreaths are laid in memory of the Plainfield men lost in World War II and Korea conflict. None were lost in World War I . Due to the shortage of blank ammunition no volleys are fired here. Taps are sounded. Following the ceremony, the leftover food is sold at the Town Hall kitchen door. 

This detailed history and directions were written because, after the sudden death of the Memorial Day committee chairperson in 1985 there were no written instructions of any kind to be found to help the committee the next year. 

Below are a few highlights of Plainfield’s Memorial Day events over the years:

1986 – Dinner put on by the What-Nots with Ann McEwen, Shirley Wood and Cathy Chapman. John Fisher to past the hat – $185.48 Grange bought geraniums and Bill Carter planted in cistern and Arvilla planted at cemetery. Lilacs were gathered and handed out by Kathy Hardwick, Pat Beckwith, and Becky Mlynarczyk. Dorthea Hardwick made the wreaths.

1990-Norman Wilcox planted the geraniums, and lilacs were gathered by Brownie Troop with the help of Elaine Holder. the children decorated 85 graves. Clydeane Altschuler made the laurel wreaths. MTRHS Middle School band played. Wreaths laid at the G.A.R. monument by two descendants of Civil War veterans; Andrea Lyons and Priscilla Allen.

1994 – Dinner was put on by the What-Nots with Jennifer French as chairman. Lilacs were gathered by the 4-H Horse Club, the Cribbers, and Mary Hoie and Beverly Prentice handed them out to the children who decorated 88 graves. The What-Nots dedicated a stone bench to Marguerite “Maggie” Baldozzo at her grave at the back of the cememtery.

1997 – The MTRHS Marching Band lead the parade. A reading of a list of all the Plainfield men who did not return from war was a new addition.

2000 – Dinner put on by the What-Nots with Cindy Roberts in charge. Served 232 people. Dudley Williams did the readings at the Honor Roll.

2004 – No dinner this year but Cindy Roberts prepared sandwiches for the MTRHS Marching Band and the American Legion Color Guard, which included; Bernie Forgea, Dennis Forgea and Conrad Liebenow, and the Plainfield Honor Guard and Firing Squad including; Jay McMahon, Robert Mellstrom, David Wood, Bill Sheppard, Ray Adams, John Roberts and Dudley Williams. Although Arvilla Dyer has been in hospital, she was able to attend today’s parade, driving in Paul and Ruth Furhmann’s convertible.

2007 – The Plainfield Historical Society has resurrected the much beloved Ham and Bean dinners with Judy Williams, Elaine Holder, Lori Austin, Rebecca and Dario Coletta, Judy Gowdy, Thelma Pilgrim, Pleun Bouricius, Bonnie Pierce, Rich Potter, Matt Stowell, Rebecca Mlynarczk, and many others lending a hand. The parade was lead by the American Legion Color Guard and the Plainfield veterans who marched were; David Briggs, Rich Potter, Michael Melle, Jay McMahon, Ray Adams, Phil Loccoco, Bob Persing, Bert Hardwick and Dudley Williams. Bill Schusser, Army veteran, and Ed Kohn, Marine Corp veteran also marched.

To learn more about the history of Memorial Day in Plainfield, check out this blog post.

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