Plus: JFK and the CBO |

May 25, 2017

By Lily Rothman

With Memorial Day just around the corner, we at TIME History recalled the Civil War origins of the U.S. holiday — which, in turn, gave us reason to wonder how a holiday meant to honor troops killed in battle turned into a festive long weekend.

Merrill Fabry took a deep look at the answer to that question, using newspaper stories about the holiday going all the way back to its earliest days, and what she found was surprising. It turns out that it was only a few years after the war’s end before Memorial Day’s celebratory elements started to encroach. And, ironically, that shift helped the commemoration survive as an American mainstay long after the last Civil War veteran passed.

You can read all about it on — and here’s wishing everyone observing Memorial Day a safe, happy and appropriately history-focused holiday.

Here’s more of the history that made news this week:

10 Experts Pick U.S. Historic Places That Are Worth Visiting

TIME asked 10 experts to select historic places in the U.S. that are actually worth visiting this summer

This Is Why the Congressional Budget Office Was Created

The CBO, which estimated the cost of the American Health Care Act, was started to prevent executive overreach

How to Write a Great Letter, With Tips From History

Jane Welsh Carlyle was one of history's best letter-writers, author Kathy Chamberlain argues

The Vintage Airline Posters That Helped Imaginations Take Flight

Summer air travel volume is expected to see an increase over last year

A Historian's Reflections on What JFK Meant to Americans

"Election night in 1960 remains, without question, the most exciting night of my entire life."


Feb. 10, 1997

Star Wars Is Turning 40

“According to one person who helped work on it, the most famous opening title in film history nearly began ‘A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away...’ Not that that's so different from ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...’ It's just that Star Wars has become such a cultural given that it almost seems as if the film had been channeled from the pop ether fully formed and perfect, like a melody entering Paul McCartney's head. With all the hoopla surrounding the current rerelease, it's easy to forget just how dicey a proposition Star Wars was in 1977 when it opened not on 2,104 screens around the country, as it did last week, but on only 35—which itself suggests an entirely different era of moviegoing. No one associated with the film expected it to be a hit, not even writer-director George Lucas.” (Feb. 10, 1997)

Read the full story

May 25, 1998

Today in 1998: Remembering Sinatra

“The title of an early Sinatra-James hit was one of those anthemic declarations of defiance that, over the years and through the decades, was to form the Sinatra autobiography: All or Nothing at All. That was Sinatra, then, now and ever: how he took and what he gave. Only his passing was uncharacteristic. It should have been something quick, furious, defiant. Instead, when he died of a heart attack last week at 82, it was lingering, pernicious, sad. He last performed live in the winter of 1995, but he was unsteady on his feet, and lyrics he'd known for years eluded him. His last original recorded tunes were the studio stunts of the two Duets albums, in which Sinatra revisited some of his classic songs in the company of spryer admirers, from Streisand to Bono. But for the first time, the music was not enough to see him through.” (May 25, 1998)

Read the full story

May 25, 1936

Today in 1936: Modern Childbirth

“More than 2,000,000 U. S. babies will be born to less than 2,000,000 U. S. women during 1936. The majority of births will occur in the mothers' own homes and in their own beds. Most of the confinements will be attended by some 100,000 ‘family’ physicians few of whom saw more than twelve deliveries while at medical school. These all-round doctors learned practical obstetrics mostly by watching Nature take its course with pregnant women. To them childbirth is a welcome commonplace which provides income of $50 to $150 per case. To the average U. S. family it is an economic and emotional problem which occurs two or three times in a life span. To every nubile woman it still evokes the Lord's words to sinful Eve: ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shall bring forth children.’” (May 25, 1936)

Read the full story


Taped Over At the Atlantic, Marc Selverstone uses the President’s suggestion that there might be a tape of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey to explore what White House recorders picked up before Richard Nixon convinced Washington that tapes were a bad idea.

Hackathon The always-fascinating language expert Ben Zimmer talks to the BBC about the origins of the word “hack.”

Their Stories Campbell Robertson and Katy Reckdahl, for the New York Times, talk to New Orleanians of all different backgrounds about what the removal of Confederate-era statues from the city means to them.

Strike a Pose CNN’s Thomas Page presents the surprisingly fascinating and surprisingly ancient history of the red carpet — just in time for Cannes. (With cool GIFs, too!)

Worth a Thousand Words David Grann, author of the recent book Killers of the Flower Moon, shares the rare archival photographs he used in his research with Atlas Obscura.

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