I read with sadness yesterday about the death of Greg Allman. He was the second from the Allman Brothers Band to die in 2017. Drummer Butch Trucks committed suicide in January. I am listening to Live at the Fillmore East as I type this. Personally I never thought the band was the same after the 1971 death of Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident. The band was still tight and had its moments but Duane was the true artist. The death of his younger brother is nonetheless sad. Seeing them play during one of their annual month-long stints each March at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side was something I always thought about but never got around to doing. Now that will never happen.
I was in Green-Wood Cemetery yesterday playing tour guide for a friend. Afterward we had lunch in an Italian restaurant near the 5th Avenue entrance. The cemetery was buzzing with activity. There were at least three funerals happening all at once. Perhaps there were so many because the officials and families usually do not hold burials during the winter months. Instead the departed are kept in a temporary resting place before final interment come spring. I came across the trailer you see above on my way through the cemetery to see my friend. It’s a hearse on motorcycle. I had a ten minute talk with the fellow responsible for the vehicle. He said that about eighty people on motorcycles were to be in the procession. Sure enough, we saw the motorcade go by about an hour later.
Leaving the house yesterday, I ran into my neighbor walking her dog. I explained that I was meeting a friend in the cemetery and that Green-Wood has been a focus of Decoration/Memorial Day observations going back almost a century and a half. I saw teams of Boy Scouts putting flags on veterans’ headstones. One of them even offered me a flag but I said no thank you, figuring the banners were meant for the veterans themselves. I wanted to take a picture of the flag planting but it didn’t seem appropriate. When I got to the other side I saw that cemetery workers had already set up the tents for tomorrow’s Memorial Day program. As I said remembrance events in Green-Wood date back to the Grand Army of the Republic’s call for a Decoration Day in the late 1860s. GAR veterans were joined by soldiers from the Spanish-American War, the Great War, and our other engagements in subsequent decades.
One thing I have always wondered is if there was a drop-off in Memorial Day ceremonies in such New York City places as Green-Wood Cemetery in previous decades. There was a demographic shift from New York City to the suburbs and the Sun Belt in the 1950s-1990s, which took many veterans and their families away from Brooklyn and the other boroughs. It would seem too that the hard years of the 1970s and 1980s would have led to a drop-off in heritage tourism and public ceremony even in gated places like Green-Wood. New Yorkers found their history again in the 1990s when the city itself began revitalizing and became safer. I myself am part of these trends.
Remember that Memorial Day is more than barbecues and a day off.