On Decoration Day by John T. McCutcheon

Posted by Michael Pinto on May 26, 2008 in Comic Books |

On Decoration Day by John T. McCutcheon

For too many people Memorial Day is just another three day weekend, so with this in mind I was curious about the history of the day. So I was surprised to find out that the tradition dates back over a century ago to right after the Civil War when a day set aside to honor those who had died in battle.

While doing my research I was take aback by the above political cartoon that I found to be quite touching. In my mind I associate most political cartoons from the turn of the century with likes of Thomas Nast making satirical comments on political corruption. So to me it was quite a contrast to see the tone of this illustration by John T. McCutcheon which is set in a Civil War graveyard and has this caption:

“You bet I’m goin’ to be a soldier, too, like my Uncle David, when I grow up.”

When you think about what’s going on, it’s a very haunting cartoon. Around 1900 the Civil War was only 35 years ago, so had Uncle David lived he would have been 64 years old. So you’re getting a sense of the tragedy of what might have been. I know whenever I hear about a current situation I always think of the family left behind and that empty space at the Christmas table for years to come.

On a side note it’s also interesting that if the boy in the cartoon was 5 years old in 1900, he would have been 22 years old just as the United States entered World War I. That conflict would produce over 40 million casualties and destroyed a generation in Europe. That war inspired H.G. Wells to propose the League of Nations, which while being a failure lead to the creation of the United Nations.

The source of this fascinating cartoon is a 1905 book entitled The Mysterious Stranger and Other Cartoons by John T. McCutcheon (found via Wikipedia). McCutcheon lived from 1870 until 1949 and was often referred to as the “Dean of American Cartoonists”. He worked for the Chicago Morning News (which is now the Chicago Tribune) and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. It’s always amazing to me how cartoons can open up the history of a world gone by…

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