Decoration day at the Bear Creek Baptist Church Cemetery is set on the fourth Sunday in June of every year. This photograph was taken in the 1930’s. Today, Bear Creek Cemetery contains over 1,700 graves. Allen Sparks was the first person buried at Bear Creek in 1849.
This photograph is from the Decoration Day at the Gouge Cemetery in Mitchell County in 1939.
While most of America honors their dead on Memorial Day with flowers, wreaths, and special services, there is a distinctive tradition that has endured for generations in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beginning in June of every year and lasting through October, mountain cemeteries come alive with color as “decoration day” takes place at church and family burying grounds across the Mitchell County mountains. No one can pinpoint the exact date when this unique event began, some suggest during the period going back to the Civil War, but today the dates for “the decoration” are red letter and sacred days, when the “kith and kin” of those who are buried in the hallowed graves are remembered and celebrated with flowers, especially grown in family gardens, especially for this revered day. Fresh flowers were used in earlier times and are considered the best. Homemade crepe paper flowers were later used, and now artificial flowers are mainly used for decorating. Flowers can be placed on graves in any number of ways, including creating attractive patterns.
Decoration Day at the Campbell Cemetery in Buladean. The first grave in this cemetery is that of Elizabeth J. Cox Campbell from 1895. She was the daughter of B.W. and Clarissa Cox.
Preparation for the event may begin weeks in advance as gravestones are cleaned and straightened, old flowers removed, and the earth mounded upon the loved ones final resting spot. Special services with preaching and hymn singing are held with “dinner on the grounds” accompanying “Decoration Day” Sunday. (Some churches have “decoration” and “homecoming” on separate days.) Decoration Day has serious components, but it is also a celebration. Families and communities come together to tell stories and reconnect with friends they might see only once a year on this special day.