Note: Although many communities have claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, this article is not to debate which place was the first to decorate the graves of those who served – this article is to recognize Boalsburg’s contributions to the day of remembrance.
Also, in order to be consistent and to keep names straight, I will be using the Myers name for Elizabeth and Amos. Elizabeth, the mother, is listed on her tombstone as Myers, but in many places it is spelled Meyer. To add confusion, Elizabeth’s husband is buried under the name Moyer. Amos, Elizabeth’s son, is buried under the name Moyer, but his Civil War record lists him as Myers. I will be using the Myers name for the family to prevent confusion.
As many times I have passed through Boalsburg on Business Route 322, I had only stopped in the historic town twice before – and sadly, neither time was to visit the Pennsylvania Military Museum or the memorial standing at the edge of the cemetery on the opposite side of the road. I was about to make up for the oversight as I turned onto North Church Street and immediately turned right onto the narrow road which passes through Boalsburg Cemetery.
I did not need to drive far into the historic grounds, but parked at the small lot near the historic sign and memorial. I made my way first to the wooden sign in the corner of the cemetery, at the intersection of business Route 322 and North Church Street. The wooden sign, which notes the importance of the community, reads: “Boalsburg / An American Village on the National Historic Register / Birthplace of Memorial Day / The Custom of Decorating Soldiers’ Graves Was Begun Here / in October 1864, Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers. / Named for David Boal who settled here in 1798. / Village Laid out in 1808. Boalsburg Tavern Built 1819. / Post Office established 1820. First church erected 1827. / Home community of three United States Ambassadors.”
Turning away from the wooden sign, I walked to the nearby memorial. The monument shows three ladies – Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers – decorating the grave of Dr. Reuben Hunter, marking one of the first recorded remembrances of the U. S Civil War dead. This act would be the start of Memorial Day observations which continue across Central Pennsylvania and the United States.
Dr. Reuben Hunter was born May 25, 1814, and at the time of the U. S. Civil War was a doctor serving the community of Boalsburg. On November 12, 1863, Dr. Hunter was mustered into service as an assistant surgeon for the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry. Note: In the Pennsylvania Digital Archives Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866, it is listed that Dr. Hunter had enrolled in Centre County to serve and was mustered into service at Springfield, West Virginia on the same day.
Although a part of the 54th Pennsylvania, Dr. Hunter was assigned duties as a surgeon in Baltimore. In addition to surgical duties, Dr. Hunter cared for those suffering from various diseases and while tending to the sick he contracted yellow fever. Dr. Hunter passed on September 19, 1864 and his body was returned to Boalsburg, where he is buried in the cemetery there.
One day in October 1864, Dr. Hunter’s daughter, Emma, was joined by her friend Sophie Keller to decorate the grave of her father. While approaching the cemetery, they were joined by another local resident, Elizabeth Myers, who was headed to the same cemetery to place flowers on her son Amos’ grave.
Amos Myers was born June 9, 1840, the eldest son of Joseph and Elizabeth Myers of Boalsburg. On August 5, 1862 – at the age of twenty-two – Myers answered the call to serve during the U. S. Civil War. Myers was mustered into service on August 18 as a part of Company G of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Sadly, Myers did not survive the war and would perish less than a year later in a small town in his home state. On July 3, 1863 – the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg – Myers lost his life. He was initially buried in the William Patterson Orchard, next to the 2nd Corps Division Hospital until his body could be returned home and reinterred in the Boalsburg Cemetery. In The Story of our Regiment; A History of the 148th Pennsylvania Vols. (ed. J. W. Muffly), the following note is included with Myers name: “in him Company G lost one of her best men.”
Together, the three women decorated the graves of the two men who died serving to preserve the nation. After they finished placing the flowers, it was decided they would meet again the following year to remember their fallen soldiers. Over the following months, the trio shared their idea with neighbors and on July 4, 1865, the community gathered to decorate the graves of all who had served.
And the tradition continued. To this very day, residents of the community gather to decorate the graves of those who served while remembering the sacrifice made by those soldiers resting in the grounds of Boalsburg Cemetery.
I paused to scan the grounds of the historic cemetery as I remembered those buried here that had served their nation. My mind wandered from this cemetery, to my own family and friends who now rest in sacred grounds across the state, knowing their service and sacrifice have not been forgotten. I spoke a quiet word of remembrance before I left he cemetery, with its history and veterans, in silence.