Many revelers in the Centre Region think of Boalsburg as the birthplace of Memorial Day. To celebrate, festivities will line the village streets in honor of its 149th “Day in Towne” Memorial Day event.
In 1864, two women, Emma Hunter and her friend Sophie Keller, picked flowers to lay on the grave of Emma’s father, a Boalsburg doctor who joined the Army of the North during the Civil War. While serving at the Baltimore Hospital caring for wounded soldiers, Dr. Hunter contracted yellow fever.
On the way to lay the flowers, the two women met Elizabeth Myers, who lost a son the final day of the war’s battle of Gettysburg. After learning where the women were going, Myers asked to join them, as her son was buried in the same cemetery. The women shared their flowers to honor both graves and agreed to meet again the next year. Word got out, and the next year, the women were joined by most of the town’s residents. This day of remembrance grew into a celebration, the festival itself became a tradition and thus became a nationally recognized holiday honoring our fallen forefathers.
Boal Mansion Museum CEO and Boalsburg Village Conservancy President Christopher Lee knows the story like the back of his band. He cofounded the “Day in Town” festival since its beginning in 1974 and organizes the event to this day.
“I find the Civil War battle (re-enactment) that takes place on the lawn of the Boal Estate ... fascinating. It always draws a big crowd of young and old,” he said. “To see the soldiers fighting and dying in real time really brings home the high personal stakes for each soldier in addition to the high stakes for the nation.”
Lee’s own family tree is deeply rooted on seeds planted by the Civil War. His ancestor, Union Adm. Samuel Phillips Lee, was in charge of the blockade of the South, and the admiral’s cousin, Gen. Robert E. Lee, was the commander of the southern troops. Lee’s great-great-grandfather George Jack Boal’s brother, Capt. John Boal, was slain in action a month before the end of the Civil War during the Battle of Averysboro, N.C.
“The Civil War was very personal for my family,” Lee said. “For me, Memorial Day is about remembering people like Capt. John Boal, who went before us, and thanking them for their sacrifices. It’s also something that gives the present-day community a sense of identity and common purpose. By remembering those who contributed in the past, we hope to inspire our young people to contribute to the community in the future.”
On Memorial Day, Boalsburg will share its streets with an anticipated 20,000 people, Lee said. Guests and patrons are invited to enjoy an arsenal of activities. The three museums (Boalsburg Heritage Museum, Boal Mansion and the Pennsylvania Military Museum) will have family-oriented activities throughout the day, including military encampments and a battle by Civil War re-enactors. Artisans from throughout the Northeast will offer arts and crafts for sale. In addition, there will be food, fanfare and fun for all ages.
“People also enjoy the Maypole ceremony in the Village Square,” Lee said. “It is very picturesque and evokes pastoral themes going back thousands of years.”
The festivities kick off with a “Run for Fun” at Blue Spring Park at 8:30 a.m. and will close with a 6 p.m. service community address by Navy veteran John Wainright, focused on remembering the sacrifices made by the military.
For more information, visit www.boalmuseum.com/memorialdayvillage.html or call 466-9266.