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Boalsburg, Pa., Birthplace of
Boalsburg is a quaint little village situated in Centre County, Pa., just
off Route 322, in the picturesque foothills of the Alleghenies. It's only a
dot on the map, and you as a casual driver might drive past it without even
being aware that it is nestled there in the rolling valley beneath a
coverlet of oaks and pines and cedars - were it not for a plain little
marker by the side of the road: "Boalsburg. An American Village - Birthplace
of Memorial Day."

What about that boast?

It happened in October, 1864. It was a pleasant Sunday and in the little
community burial ground behind the village the pioneers of colonial times
slept peacefully side by side with the recently fallen heroes of the Civil

It was this day that a pretty, young teen-age girl, Emma Hunter by name, and
her friend, Sophie Keller, chose to gather some garden flowers and to place
them on the grave of her father, Dr. Reuben Hunter, a surgeon in the Union
Army, who died only a short while before. And it was this very same day than
an older woman, a Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer, elected to strew flowers on the
grave of her son Amos, who as a private in the ranks, had fallen on the last
day of battle at Gettysburg.

And so the two with their friend met, kneeling figures at nearby graves, a
young girl honoring her officer father, a young mother paying respects to
her enlisted-man son, each with a basket of flowers which she had picked
with loving hands. And they got to talking. The mother proudly told the girl
what a fine young man her son had been, how he had dropped his farm duties
and enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the war, and how bravely
he had fought.

The daughter respectfully took a few of her flowers as a token and placed
them on the son's grave. The mother in turn laid some of her freshly cut
blooms on the father's grave. These two women had found in their common
grief a common bond as they knelt together in that little burial ground in
Central Pennsylvania where Mount Nittany stands eternal guard over those who
sleep there. Nor did they realize at the same time that their meeting had
any particular significance - outside of their own personal lives; it was
just that they seemed to lighten their burdens by sharing them. But as it
happened these two women were participating in their first Memorial Day

For the story goes that before the two women left each other that Sunday in
October, 1864, they had agreed to meet again on the same day the following
year in order to honor not only their own two loved ones, but others who now
might have no one left to kneel at their lonely graves. During the weeks and
months that followed the two women discussed their little plan with friends
and neighbors and all heard it with enthusiasm. The report was that on July
4, 1865 - the appointed day - what had been planned as a little informal
meeting of two women turned into a community service. All Boalsburg was
gathered there, a clergymen - Dr. George Hall - preached a sermon, and every
grave in the little cemetery was decorated with flowers and flags; not a
single one was neglected.

It must have been an impressive ceremony that took place that day in this
peaceful mountain-rimmed valley where not so long before the red men had
held their councils. It must have been such a scene as this that inspired
Longfellow to write:

Your silent tents of green
We deck with flagrant flowers:
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be hours.
It seemed such a fitting and proper way of remembering those who had passed
on that the custom became an annual event in Boalsburg, and one by one the
neighboring communities adopted a similar plan of observing "Decoration Day"
each spring. On May 5, 1868, just four years after that first meeting in the
little burial ground, Gen. John A. Logan, then commander-in-chief of the
Grand Army of the Republic, isued an order, naming May 30, 1868, as a day
"for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves
of comrades who died in defense of their country." He signed the order "with
the hope that it will be kept up from year to year." And so it has.

Ceremonies at first were held to honor only those who had served the Union
cause in the Civil War, later the program was broadened to embrace the men
who faught in gray as well as in blue, finally to include all heroes who
have made the supreme sacrifice in all American conflicts from the
Revolutionary War to World War II. Which, of course, is as it should be if
Holmes' immortal words are not to become an empty, meaningless phrase-- "One
flag, one land, one heart, one hand, one nation evermore."

As a matter of fact, Memorial Day - and it should be noted that in 1882 the
GAR urged that "proper designation of May 30 in Memorial Day" - not
Decoration Day - is now observed by most people as a day when we pay respect
to all who have died, in war or in peace, as soldiers or as civilians. To a
very large extent Memorial Day has lost its pure military significance and
in a broader sense has become the one day in the year when all of us pause
in respectful tribute to those who have walked these paths before.

Of course, some people will tell you that this custom of honoring the dead
originated in the South. And in a way this is true. Many southern women did
strew flowers on the graves of their fallen heroes - no doubt many northern
women did too - and several of the Southern states still observe their own

But all this does not necessarily conflict with the story told by the people
in Boalsburg, and does not weaken the claim which they so proudly make. This
writer now has no way of verifying the facts; I cannot state with certainty
that there was any connection between the order issued by General Logan in
1868 and the events in the Boalsburg cemetery that day in 1864; I know only
what the people tell me. But somehow I like to believe - and I do believe -
that Memorial Day, as we know it and observe it generally today, was born in
that tiny Pennsylvania graveyard on the outskirts of "An American Village,"
when a proud mother and a grieving daughter met to scatter flowers over the
final resting places of a brave son and a gallant father.

The above is an excerpt of an article which was written by Herbert G. Moore
for the National Republic Magazine in May 1948 and which then Congressman
James Van Zandt, representing his Centre County constituents, had reprinted
in the Congressional Record of May 19, 1948.

NOTE: Twenty-four (24) communities nationwide lay claim to being the
birthplace of Memorial Day. In May 1966, Pres. Lyndon Johnson on behalf of
the U.S. government sanctioned Waterloo, New York, as the "official"
birthplace of Memorial Day because that community's earliest observance 100
years earlier in 1866 was considered so well planned and complete. Among the
earliest communities which felt inspired to set aside a special day for
remembrance of its war dead were Mobile, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala.; Camden,
Ark.; Atlanta, Ga.; Milledgeville, Ga.; New Orleans, La.; Columbus, Miss.;
Jackson, Miss.; Vicksburg, Miss.; Raleigh, N.C.; Cincinnati, Ohio;
Charleston, S.C.; Fredericksburg, Va; Portsmouth, Va.; Warrenton, Va.; and,
Washington, D.C.

Visit the Tombstone Inscription Project site, which was begun in
commemoration of Memorial Day 1997, for more information about tombstone
"The fate of empires depends on the education of youth." --Aristotle

Premium Member
5,316 Posts
Thanks IW, that was very interesting and informative. Happy memorial Day to you. And thanks to the families of all those who layed down their lives for our great country. :D
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