Celebrating Memorial Day in its Birthplace: Happy Valley’s Boalsburg

By Natasha Schlaffer

We’re all familiar with Memorial Day: the holiday we use to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives serving our country. But did you know that Memorial Day has its origins right here in Happy Valley?

Just off Route 322 in Centre County is the charming little old-fashioned village of Boalsburg— and it’s in this tiny village that the tradition first took hold.

Way back in 1864, a teenage girl named Emma Hunter went down to the local cemetery to place fresh blooms on the grave of her father, a Union surgeon by the name of Dr. Reuben Hunter. There Emma by happenstance met a Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer, who had come to decorate the grave of her son Amos. Amos had died fighting at the Battle at Gettysburg the previous year. The ladies commiserated over their lost loved ones and unknowingly participated in the first-ever Memorial Day service.

The two women made a pact to continue the tradition the following year, and soon the word spread in the local community. The result? The community gathered the next summer to celebrate the lives of the fallen and decorate every single grave belonging to a member of the armed services. The celebration came to be known as Decoration Day and was observed annually by the citizens of Boalsburg. Then on May 5, 1868 General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order:

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

And thus Memorial Day was born! The best part is, you can still celebrate the holiday at its birthplace in Boalsburg. The village hosts a Memorial Day Festival each year featuring food, music and craft vendors, complete with two Civil War battle reenactments at the historical Boal Mansion and Estate.  

You can honor the soldiers of the past and present by visiting the Pennsylvania Military Museum to see their exhibits. And on the grounds of the museum, the AACA holds a car show for Memorial Day celebrators to enjoy.

If you're a history buff, stop in at the Boalsburg Heritage Museum to find out how the town formed, who made up its history and so much more. Nittany Theatre at the Barn will also be giving tours of their facility.

Following the festival is the annual Memorial Day Service at 6 p.m. in the adjacent Boalsburg Cemetery. Join the famous three ladies (Elizabeth, Emma and her friend Sophie Keller who was also present that fateful day in 1864) in honoring our soldiers.

There’s also the Annual Boalsburg Memorial Day Run to look forward to. The 3.8-mile course weaves through historic Boalsburg and welcomes both runners and walkers. All race proceeds benefit Boalsburg-area causes.

The Boalsburg Fire Company will also host their annual parade and carnival with rides, food and more.

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