Armistace Day

Black St. Louisans celebrating Armistice Day on November 11, 1918.

Two traditional events at the Missouri History Museum and the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum will be held virtually this year: the Día de los Muertos festival and the Veterans Day parade.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday that is celebrated widely throughout Mexico and in parts of Central and South America and the United States. It is based on a cultural belief that the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead is most transient from October 31 to November 2, allowing the spirits of the deceased to return for a brief visit. 

Día de los Muertos corresponds with All Saints Day, but it is far different from Halloween. It is not about hauntings, and it isn’t supposed to be scary. Instead, it’s a joyful holiday when people acknowledge that death is a natural part of the life cycle. The traditions are rooted in the customs of the Indigenous peoples of Latin America, influenced by Spanish and—in some regions of Mexico—African cultures. Ofrendas are altars that families build to welcome the souls of their loved ones back into their homes. These altars are filled with special things that the person who has died is sure to enjoy, such as favorite foods and belongings.

This year, much of the annual celebration is virtual. Join Hispanic Festival Inc. and the Missouri History Museum to view videos of traditional cemetery celebrations, paper flower making, food preparation, face painting, and dance traditions on the Missouri Historical Society’s YouTube channel. 

You can also visit traditional altars and original artwork inspired by the holiday in person at the Museum through November 8. Artwork will be on view from 10am to 5pm, while altars may be viewed from 1 to 4pm.

The Veterans Day parade in downtown St. Louis will also be held virtually this year.

Originally called Armistice Day, November 11 was reserved for commemorating the end of World War I. The day was filled with reverent events to remember the brave individuals who made the supreme sacrifice, as well as joyous events to celebrate victory in the Great War. 

After the end of the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, and an emphasis was placed on thanking all veterans, living or deceased. In the 1954 St. Louis Veterans Day parade, “martial airs alternated with the tramp of marching feet and the heavy rumble of military vehicles in downtown streets” according to newspaper accounts. Thousands of St. Louisans were five to six people deep along the sidewalks as the parade marched by. 

A highlight of the 1954 parade was the Royal Panthers drum and bugle corps of Amvets Post No. 41, an all-Black post that was named for hero and Tuskegee Airman Captain Wendell O. Pruitt. Born in 1920 in St. Louis, Pruitt graduated from Sumner High School and then Lincoln University before becoming an officer in the Army Air Corps, where he served as a fighter pilot in the famed 332nd Fighter Group. Pruitt earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters. Tragically, Pruitt died in a training accident in 1945. He was a true St. Louis hero.

On Veterans Day 1956, thousands of St. Louisans watched the Veterans Day parade wind through downtown. Newspapers reported that spectators were five deep at some points. The renowned, championship-winning drum and bugle corps of Tom Powell Post 77, the oldest African American post in the American Legion, tore into “Anything Goes” as they passed the reviewing stand at Soldiers Memorial. What a treat it must have been to take in the sights and sounds of that esteemed corps!

Due to the threat of COVID-19, this year’s Veterans Day parade has been canceled. We will sadly miss the sights and sounds of the parade and its show of support for our veterans. However, Soldiers Memorial Military Museum and the City of St. Louis have partnered with past parade participants to deliver a virtual parade at 12pm on Veterans Day, featuring thank-you messages from organizations across the area. While it will be different from parades of the past, it’s an important reminder that St. Louis is thankful to its veterans. To watch the virtual parade, visit Soldiers Memorial online at mohistory.org/memorial or on social media.

The Missouri History Museum and Soldiers Memorial are open Wednesday through Sunday. To reserve your free tickets in advance, visit mohistory.org.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is based on a cultural belief that the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead is most transient from October 31 to November 2.

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