memorial day a village tradition since 1864
Located just off Route 322 in Centre County, Pennsylvania, is a tiny old-fashioned American village called Boalsburg. Perhaps to some people this little town is just another dot on the map, but the locals know a truer meaning behind Boalsburg. “Boalsburg. An American Village – birthplace of Memorial Day.”
It all began with a lovely young teen-age girl named Emma Hunter and her friend Sophie Keller on a pleasant Sunday in October, 1864. The girls gathered some garden flowers to place them on the grave of her father, Dr. Reuben Hunter, a surgeon in the Union Army. That very same day an older woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer, chose to scatter flowers on the grave of her son Amos, who was a private in the Battle at Gettysburg. The two spoke of their loved ones and respectfully placed flowers on both graves. These women did not realize what they had in common, but as it happened they were participating in their first Memorial Day service.
On that very Sunday in October, 1864 these women made a pact to meet again on the same day the following year to honor their loved ones as well as others who may have no one left to kneel at their graves. In the next months these women shared their plan with friends and neighbors. The result was a meeting on July 4, 1865, which had turned into a community service. All of Boalsburg gathered, along with a clergyman – Dr. George Hall – who preached a sermon. Not one grave went left undecorated.
This day of remembering easily became a tradition held annually in Boalsburg, and slowly the neighboring communities began observing “Decoration Day” each spring. On May 5, 1868, only four years after that first meeting in the burial ground, General John A. Logan, then commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order. He named May 30, 1868 as a day “for the purpose of comrades who died in defense of their country” the order was signed and was kept from year to year.
Ceremonies originally honored those who had served in the union cause in the civil war. After some time, the program also embraced the men who fought in gray.
Today, Memorial Day is not only to remember those who fought, but also to remember and respect the civilians or those who have simply walked these paths before.