What we currently know as Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, it stemmed from a desire to honor the dead of the Civil War.
New York was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1873, followed by all of the northern states in 1890. The South honored their dead on different days until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in any war.
In Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend, author John E. Miller discusses how the Fourth of July and Decoration Day were the two biggest days of the year in the Mansfield, Missouri, where Almanzo and Laura Wilder lived most of their adult lives. Missouri was a border state, as Miller explains, so many families in and around Mansfield had Southern roots; but Union veterans maintained a high visibility. Miller states that while it is unknown how often the Wilders participated in Decoration Day exercises, they were active public figures: Almanzo was a Mason and both Wilders were involved in Eastern Star.
For more information on Memorial Day, visit http://www.usmemorialday.org/