There are several different possibilities as to the origins of Memorial Day. The story that I grew up with in Western Pennsylvania was that Memorial Day began in 1864 in Boalsburg, Centre County, Pa. Boalsburg is a small community located outside of State College in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. The year 1864 may call to mind the Civil War, which was raging, as well as the many casualties that occurred during this these years.
Family lore says that two women (Boalsburg history adds a third woman) Emma Hunter and her friend Sophie went to the cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of Dr Reuben Hunter, Emma’s father, a Civil War doctor who died during the war. Gradually this local remembrance expanded into the Memorial Day that is celebrated today. An article about Boalsburg Village and the history behind this event can be found here. The cemetery has a statue of the three women as well as the history of the event in a little park that is at the entrance to the cemetery.
Why do I chose this “version” of Memorial Day to speak about today. As a genealogist, I could say I favor this version of the origins because it started in my home state, Pennsylvania Or it could be because that I grew up hearing about the origins of Memorial Day once a year. Why was this part of my family oral history? Because Dr Reuben Hunter, who was the genesis for this event, was my 1st cousin, 4 times removed.
Happy Memorial Day