Boalsburg proud to celebrate 150th anniversary of Memorial Day

For the CDTMay 24, 2014 

— Building upon the annual tradition that began in 1864, visitors to historic Boalsburg will gather Monday to honor the men and women who have died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day in Boalsburg, which is widely regarded as the birthplace of the holiday.

Other towns that make the same claim include Columbus, Miss., Columbus, Ga., and Waterloo, N.Y., which was named the official birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.

But, to the people of Boalsburg, a presidential proclamation means little when there is evidence tracing their town’s tradition back 150 years.

“Boalsburg was the birthplace of Memorial Day when three ladies decorated soldiers’ graves in 1864,” Boal Mansion Museum director Christopher Lee said. “Other towns claim the same but for 1865 and 1866.”

Lee also is president of the Boalsburg Village Conservancy, the organization in charge of the annual festival and memorial service.

Changes to the event this year are meant to underline the importance of the local tradition and the 150th anniversary.

The 34th annual Boalsburg Memorial Day Run, on a 3.8-mile course through the historic community, will start at 8:30 a.m.

The main festival begins at 9 a.m. outside the Boal Mansion and features everything from food stands to craft vendors.

And, following tradition, there will be a memorial service at the nearby Boalsburg Cemetery.

“We are giving special emphasis to the 6 p.m. service,” Lee said. “The evening walk from the village to the cemetery and the service there are the heart of Boalsburg’s Memorial Day.”

Lee is working alongside John Wainright, chairman of the daytime festival committee, and Dan Barker, event coordinator, to ensure that as many people as possible are able to attend the memorial service.

Two Civil War battles will be re-enacted at different times this year — at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. — because, Lee said, the later battle is meant to bring people later in the day so they can stay for the walk to the cemetery and the 6 p.m. service.

Several steps have been taken to ensure that the 150th anniversary commemoration is special.

There are 51 Civil War-era graves in the Boalsburg Cemetery, all of which have been marked by flags and other decorations. Earlier this month, many of those headstones were vandalized, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage.

But there has been an outpouring of support, and the Boalsburg Cemetery Association has received donations of time and money from individuals and organizations to repair the damage in time for the commemoration.

Lee credited Dick Stever, of Mayes Memorials, and Best Line Rentals with helping the association restore the cemetery.

“So the 6 p.m. service and the 150th decoration of soldiers’ graves will go on as planned,” he said.

Other efforts include a “Save the Graves” campaign started at GoFundMe.com and a fundraiser hosted by Bonfatto’s restaurant owner David Letterman.

This year’s ceremony will have some special guests. Gov. Tom Corbett, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson will attend, and Corbett will be the guest speaker at the evening event. The focus of the service will be on honoring the nation’s servicemen and women, as always, with special attention paid to the history of Memorial Day in Boalsburg.

Boalsburg is home to one of the oldest recorded mentions of the holiday. But, Lee said, “What’s most important is not who was first, but that Memorial Day continues in Boalsburg after 150 unbroken years,” adding that “the devotion Boalsburg shows to those who went before us for their sacrifices serves to bring us together as a community today and to inspire our young people to the nation’s service in the future.”

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