Memorial Day (formerly called Decoration Day) was first proposed by Union general John Alexander “Black Jack” Logan in May 1868. Philadelphia is home to several monuments dedicated to the men and women who died while in military service, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located in Washington Square.
In 1682, William Penn’s surveyor Thomas Holme laid out Philadelphia’s city grid to include five planned squares, one of which was Southeast Square at Locust and Sixth Streets. For much of the 18th century, this square served as a grazing land and a potter’s field, and during the Revolutionary War it was used as a burial ground for fallen Colonial soldiers. Many victims of the Yellow Fever epidemics of the late 1700s were also interred in the square.
The land was redeveloped and was renamed Washington Square in honor of George Washington in 1825. Philadelphia architect William Strickland designed a “Washington Monument” for the square. Although the cornerstone was laid in 1833, the monument itself was never erected. In 1954, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was built on the same grounds—it features a statue of George Washington and an eternal flame.
HSP’s library and archives have significant collections military-related manuscripts, military unit histories, bibliographies, indexes, memoirs, and related publications. Under our Digital Center for Americana project, archivists have recently finished processing several Civil War-related collections such as George G. Meade collection (#410), the Helen S. Grier diary (Am .6090), and the Civil War envelopes and currency collection (#1605).