Decoration Day

Memorial Day was not yet observed in 1863, but if it had been, it would have fallen on Monday, May 25th.  The first Memorial Day was in 1865, and observed by freed slaves to recognize dead Union soldiers.  It was originally called Decoration Day, with the graves of the soldiers being decorated with flowers picked from nearby fields.

On May 25th, 1863, Manley Stacey, a soldier in the Union Army was seeing his father for the first time since he volunteered about nine months earlier, in August, 1862.  Arriving on Saturday the 23rd, his father had come to Camp Hayes in Centerville, Virginia to spend a couple of days with him.  It was a little more than a month before Manley would see battle for the first time at Gettysburg.  For their visit, Manley got a pass and he and his father went and stayed in Washington DC together, parting in Washington on the night of May 28th.

So they spent what would have been Memorial day weekend together.  They only saw each other one more time after that, when Manley got a short furlough to visit home later in September.  Manley Stacey died, accidentally shot, on December 26, 1863.

Here are Stacey’s letters home from May 26th and May 29th, 1863:

May 26th 6,30 AM

Dear Mother

We have been in so much excitement for the past few days, that I have not written as much as I should have done. I was very glad, on Saturday, to see Father. I had just been down in Swimming, & had washed my Shirt, & had nothing on but my Blouse. I was looking rather rough, but then they could see how we work it. Every day, since they have been here, we have run around the Country. I think Father has enjoyed his visit, very much. The Col has been very kind he has excused me from Duty every day, & has signed our Passes for Washington. I am very glad they have come down, it has done me a great deal of good, both the rest & the visit. I am expecting a great deal from my Trip to Washington, & think the change, will benefit me, At any rate, I shall feel more like doing my Daily Duty.

I should have been very glad, to have seen you here, & think the change would have done you a great deal of good. I had no idea you thought of coming, or I should have written & urged it before. I think I shall succeed in getting a Furlough in August, that is if we remain in this Camp. Then I shall have be 21 in August also. I am very much obliged for the things you sent, the Sugar, Tea, Stockings, Collars &c &c. all of which I wanted. I am now equipped for the Summer, I suppose Father has told you all about his Travels. There is one thing that I am sorry about that is, that we could not go on the Bull Run field.

Love to all
Will write soon again


Camp Hayes

May 29th 8 PM

Dear Father

Well we here in Camp again, which makes me feel at Home again. After you left last night I got my supper, & went around the City a little, then Slept at our Boarding house all night. This morning the first thing, after Breakfast, we went up to the Provost Marshals, to get our Pass, to cross the River. The office was closed up so we made up our mind’s to run the risk of the one we had. Then we got our Figures & letters. We then met Capt Perry of Co B, at Williards, who told us we could go on the Train from Alexandria, at 3 PM.

So we concluded to take the 1 oclock Boat, & look around the City a little. We then went to Mr Tafts, at the Patent Office. we then went through there, From there we went to the Smithsonian Institute. There we had a splendid time, I was very sorry that you had not visited there. At 1 PM we took the Boat for Alexandria, & had a very pleasant trip across the River. At 3,15 PM, we took the Cars, & arr at the Mills about 5 PM. We arrived in Camp about 6,45 PM, walking all the way.

Things are all right in Camp. On Monday next, we have got to move our Camp, over by the Mass Battery. You know where we saw the Brass Pieces. The Col, thinks it is healthier down there. In the City today, Capt Perry, told us, that it was reported, that Brig Genl Hays, had Marching Orders for Louisiana & he thought the Brigade would go with him. The Chaplain says there is nothing in this that we have only got to move a short distance.

May 30th 5 AM. I have just had a good nights rest, & feel a little better. Byron & Albert, have got to go on Picket today, The boys are all well, but very tired. We are to be paid off, next Tuesday, so we are in plenty of time. My visit to the City has done me a great deal of good, I am very glad you came down here, both on my account & yours. I met Dr Vosburg in Alexandria, last night, on his way to the City. Mr Millard did not charge me anything for Board, they invited me to come there & stay, when ever I came to the City.

Hoping you will return home all safe, & will soon recover from your Trip. Love to all


My little box of unusual family treasure

I found this box today, still packed away in the garage from when we moved here five years ago.  I though I had lost it.  In the little box is a set of faux finishing tools which belonged to my grandfather. It is a tiny collection of some of the tools he accumulated for his trade, along with this wonderful old wooden box, which he must have found somewhere, and being frugal, and finding it to be just the just the right size to store and carry the tools, he “re-purposed” it.

It’s kind of funny still to see it. As seen from the label still inside the box, and the painted label on the cover, the box was originally for some kind of medical device for giving enemas. The top label says “Tyrell’s Hygiene Inst. N.Y. U.S.A –Pat. Jan 1894 – Aug. 1897” and “Joy, Beauty, Life – Tyrell’s J.B.L. Cascade”.

Inside the box, my grandfather kept a set of “English Blue Steel Graining Combs”, which were “Famed for Excellence”. They look like they might have cost a little something at the time. They are well used.

Also still with the box are wood-graining tools, some specialty brushes – a stipple brush and a “feathering” brush. And an odd kind of tool with a metal reservoir and several small camel hair brushes mounted in the ends of tubes coming from the reservoir.

This little box of tools is one of the most valued of my possessions.

In the 1920’s, when my paternal grandfather immigrated to Chicago, from a farm near Munich in Germany where he grew up with 13 brothers and sisters, he immediately found work as a house painter for a large painting contractor. The work was hard, low paying and he was treated like the low skilled worker that he was. But despite coming into the trade with absolutely no skill, within a matter of five or six years he was working for himself, and had no shortage of work until he retired when he was in his mid seventies. He not only thoroughly learned the trade, be also picked up several specialty skills as well. One was faux finishing.

One of his “clients” was the Catholic Archdiocese in Chicago. Through the 1960’s, he often was called to work with crews of other specialized painters to decorate church interiors as they were being built, renovated or repainted. In many of the Catholic churches, what looks like marble, or mosaics, is actually paint. The best example of faux finishes are in St. Hyacinth Catholic Church on the north side. He worked there during the 1940’s I think, so, well after it was built, probably during some early restorations. He didn’t paint any of the artwork, but specialized in faux marble, wood, stencils and decorative patterns.

At one time or another, he worked in about a dozen churches, St Benedict, St. Alphonsis, St. Edwards, St. Michael, Holy Name Cathedral. While working on scaffolding in St. Alphonsis, during restoration after a big fire, he fell about 20 feet and landed on his back in a pew. He survived with a back injury which kept him out of work for over a year, and he had back problems and sciatica for the rest of his life, which he medicated with alcohol. The church paid for his hospital costs, his union helped him with money while he was out of work.

I apprenticed as a painter, with my grandfather when I was in my teens, working with him for several summers when he was older and had difficulty doing the work himself, especially moving the heavy ladders around. By that time his work was all residential. I ended up taking a lot of the exterior work and eventually, when he retired, took on the few of his remaining clients. Thus my entry into the building trades. I never intended to work in the trades, but it proved to very helpful to have those skills later on as I began to work as a musician. My grandfather was the first to advise me that if I was going to be a working musician, I had better learn another trade as well.

I never learned the art of faux finishing. He showed me a few things in his basement workshop over the years, and I played around a little, but never had the chance to actually work in it, which is the only way to get real experience. I’ve done a little over the years for one or two clients, but was not very good at it.

The box still has a peculiar old paint smell.


Found another book I never returned to a friend who died a year or so ago. Tell you what, if I ever die suddenly and you’re one of the people that still has one, or some, of the books, music or recordings I’ve lent out over the past decades, feel free to keep them. No guilt. You still have them because they probably mean more to you than they do to me. And no one will know but us. Well just you, actually.