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Once upon a time, roughly one-third of Nashua’s population turned out for Memorial Day events

By Dean Shalhoup - Senior Staff Writer | May 28, 2022

(From The Telegraph archives) This is the original print of the photo that appeared on the front page of the May 31, 1958 Nashua Telegraph as part of the paper's coverage of Nashua's Memorial Day parade and ceremonies. At the time, Nashua's parades proceeded north on Main Street, turned onto Canal -- visible in the background -- then turned left onto Orange Street and marched to Foster Square for post-parade ceremonies. Whether the photographer put the youthful parade-watcher up to this or he chose the vantage point himself is unknown.

America isn’t perfect, an editorialist writing for our predecessor-in-name, The Nashua Telegraph, acknowledged in a Memorial Day essay more than six decades ago.

As a matter of fact, “there are many things wrong with America and our way of life, but … it is still the finest system of living in the world,” he wrote.

And further, he predicted with confidence that “those of us who will pause for a moment to glance backward at the glorious record of our short history as a nation will easily be able to shrug off … .”

Shrug off what? Communism, aka (gasp) the great “red scare”? Poverty? Racism? Civil rights strife? Cold War threats?

Nope. Apparently, at least according to the Telegraph editorialist, the scourges vying to undo the American way of life were the proliferation of “rock and roll, and some other curious manifestations of the present day … .”

(Telegraph image) An illustration that appeared on the editorial page of the May 29, 1958 Nashua Telegraph was among several photos, graphics and stories that gave Greater Nashuans information on what activities were scheduled for the following day in observance of Memorial Day.

It makes one wonder what exactly these “curious manifestations” entailed.

They probably had to do with those folks who risked being branded “un-American,” or worse, if they dared not engage in overt acts of patriotism to “prove” their allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

That’s certainly not to suggest that harboring a strong sense of patriotism and making it known by flying flags or taking part in events honoring veterans and paying tribute to those who sacrificed their lives to keep us free, but we’ve all seen cases in which displays of patriotism are fleeting and thus, ring rather hollow.

Growing up, I can’t say that the reason I loved going to Nashua’s Memorial Day (and Veterans Day too) observances had a lot to do with a deep-seated sense of patrotism, but as the years passed, and I learned more and more about what these observances represent, it became impossible to not feel patriotic, especially when men and women carrying huge banners and flags and playing lively military marches nice and loud marched past just a few feet in front of me.

Somehow I always seemed to get great vantage points from which to view the parades, step-off through disbandment. A great example – and it’s backed up by photographic evidence – was the Memorial Day parade of 1958, the year the Telegraph editorialist penned those words of caution about the potential threat to America posed by “rock and roll and other curious manifestations of the present day … .”

(Telegraph image) A package of photos was centerpieced on Page One of the Saturday, May 31, 1958 Nashua Telegraph shows that year's Memorial Day parade and ceremonies. The photo at lower left shows one 4-year-old's idea of a great vantage point from which to watch the parade march by.

Flipping through Memorial Day related coverage on the pages of Nashua Telegraphs using the old-school, but highly reliable, microfilm reader sort of reminded me of mingling with huge crowds of folks standing 10 or 12 deep along the curbs and sidewalks on Main Street, keeping my eyes peeled and ears perked for the first indications that the parade had started and was coming our way.

I say “sort of” because a lot of details from so many years ago seemed to have deleted themselves over time, something like what happens when the junk email folder gets too full and starts self-deleting to save space.

But I do have scant memories of that 1958 Memorial Day parade, although I’d just turned 4 about three weeks earlier. The part I cannot recall, unfortunately, is whether the photographer put me up to it, or did I choose my awesome vantage point and boldly plop myself down on the asphalt no more than five feet away from the marchers as they turned left from Canal onto Orange street for the final leg of the parade, which ended at Foster Square.

Those were the days when Nashua’s parades stepped off from somewhere just south of City Hall and proceeded to the square named for Civil War General John G. Foster.

Today’s Memorial and Veterans day parades and ceremonies continue to do the city and our veterans organizations proud, there are, understandably, fewer participants than there were in the mid-20th-century years, when our hard-fought World War II victories were still fresh on our minds, and there were still many World War I veterans among us.

The Telegraph reporter who covered the 1958 Memorial Day activities cited “ideal weather conditions” for the robust turnout of roughly 13,000 folks – about one-third of Nashua’s estimated 1958 population of 40,000.

The agenda for the day’s observances, as submitted by Chairman of the Day Edward G. McLavey, began at 8:30 a.m. with a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) memorial service at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Ceremonies also took place at Edgewood Cemetery, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, at the Main Street Bridge and at Deschenes Oval.

First call for parade formation was sounded at 10:45 a.m. sharp; the parade stepped off at 11 and paused in front of City Hall, where it was “reviewed by the mayor, Gold Star Mothers and invited guests.”

Once the parade disbanded at Foster Square, retired U.S. Marine Col. Ethridge Best, the Speaker of the Day, stepped to a microphone to deliver his remarks.

In the evening, dinners were hosted at the Veterans Home and the James E. Coffey Post 3, American Legion.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph editorialist, in his essay on the eve of Memorial Day 1958, encouraged his fellow Nashuans to “pause momentarily and pay their respects to the dead of this city who laid down their lives (so) that all of us, for many generations to come, we hope, might continue to enjoy and live under the American way.”

The ceremonies, he added, “will bring all of us once again face to face with the reality of our never-ending responsibility to keep alive this great nation of ours and our way of life.”

Indeed, things do, and will, change from era to era and from generation to generation in this America. But the fundamentals upon which America was founded were built to withstand the most radical changes – and will always do so, as long as there are Americans willing to defend her.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears weekly in The Sunday Telegraph. He may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.


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