History of Memorial Day: Where did it Begin?

BoalsburgHISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY: BOALSBURG, PA

The city of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, an American village on the National Historic Register, claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, as do at least 24 other towns in America. I first visited this hamlet near State College, home of Penn State University, decades ago. Boalsburg’s claim goes back to a practice at the end of the Civil War. The town has a local museum and a history stretching over two centuries. The 19th-century feel of the village persists. A Memorial Day Festival is held there every year.

They have their own Facebook page and website.

 

Memorial Day Custom

Its claim is stated on a large sign near the center of town:

An American village on the National Register

BIRTHPLACE OF MEMORIAL DAY

The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves was begun here in October 1864, by Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers.

Named for David Boal who settled here in 1798. Village laid out in 1808. Boalsburg Tavern built in 1819. Post Office established 1820. First church erected 1827. Home community of three United States ambassadors.

 

First Memorial Day Claim

Boalsburg Map

Boalsburg Map, from nearby Penn State University

Is this claim valid? When I first visited it, it appeared to be. It had the earliest grave decorations. However, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the official “birthplace” of the holiday, according to the Veterans Administration.

Furthermore, in 2014, the book The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America asserts that the Boalsburg story first appeared in publication in 1904, some forty years after the claimed fact. And there was:

“no indication that General Logan drew inspiration from any activities in Boalsburg and no evidence that it started the holiday.”

However, it should be noted that the authors of this book are from Columbus State University, Georgia.

 

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
billpetro.com

Subscribe to have future articles delivered to your email. If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment.

About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

3 Comments

  1. stephanie ponteau on May 30, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for doing the work of compiling this valuable information. I use it on various holidays to share true meaning with my children. I will share this today in hopes of teaching them to respect and honor our soldiers whenever they meet them.

  2. Larry Day on May 27, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Thank you for all of your work.

  3. connieconfused on May 19, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Good Morning Sir, Once again I thank you for an informative and entertaining read. Memorial Day is a somber one here in the crypt, felt on a very personal level. Its a deep heavy sadness that sits on my heart and whispers names I’ll never forget. So many. And I still don’t understand why.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.