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Memorial Day Celebration Draws Big Crowd to Boalsburg, Gov. Corbett Gives Address

by on May 27, 2014 6:00 AM

Family gatherings, backyard barbeques and patriotic salutes were seemingly everywhere as America paused Monday to observe the Memorial Day holiday.

And nowhere did Memorial Day seem more alive than on the streets of Boalsburg, the Harris Township village that proudly claims to be home to the very first Memorial Day -- which happened 150 years ago.

Bursts of canon fire thundered across brilliant blue skies as thousands of people jammed into Boalsburg for the 150th anniversary of the National tribute to America's fallen heroes.

The canons were part of a Civil War reenactment that drew dozens of fascinated onlookers to Boalsburg Cemetery. Small children -- and adults -- covered their ears as the canons roared to life, spewing billows of smoke into the air.

Just a few feet away stood the graves of two Civil War soldiers -- graves that played a central role in the very first Memorial Day observance.

One-hundred and fifty years ago, in May of 1864, three women placed flowers on the graves of their loved ones, Dr. Reuben Hunter, a surgeon and Amos Myers who lost his life at Gettysburg.

The women - Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Meyer – were joined by many other Boalsburg residents the following year. They decorated the graves of all the fallen soldiers in the cemetery, continuing the Memorial Day tradition.

A few weeks ago, it appeared that vandals might put a damper on this year's celebration. Someone desecrated more than 50 graves, knocking over headstones and breaking some into pieces.

That sparked outrage and an impressive community effort to make things right. Workers from Mayes Memorials in Lemont and volunteers from the Boalsburg Cemetery Association managed to restore the memorials to their original positions. But some are still badly damaged.

A barbeque fundraiser, set up by Bonfatto's last week, raised more than $11,000. In all, approximately $30,000 has been raised to help pay for repairs and upkeep.

Jeff Selvage is the secretary for the Boalsburg Cemetery Association. He says some of the damaged headstones could cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair. "We're going to have to do something with some of these stones," he says. "What price tag might be on that I don't know."

"If there's money left over after we've decided what we're going to do with some of the more seriously damaged ones, that money will be forever in this fund to maintain this area or restore any stones that do topple over."

But the vandalism couldn't stop the Memorial Day celebration.

The annual carnival sponsored by the Boalsburg Fire Company drew hundreds of people Monday.

Ken Corl, the fire company's president says it was a great Memorial Day weekend because there was good weather and a good turnout. And those people came hungry.

"You always run out of food early," he said at mid-afternoon Monday. "The chicken's already done. We went through 720 chicken halves. They're still selling sausage, hamburgers and hotdogs, but I know they're getting low."

Not far away from the carnival, dozens of vendors attracted thousands of shoppers to Main Street. There was a dazzling array of arts and crafts for sale, including jewelry, clothing, leather goods, jams, dips and sauces.

A long line of people waited at The Fudgie Wudgie booth -- Behind the counter, John Mains said he wasn't surprised to be so busy. "We were voted the best tasting fudge in America," he says. "This is a good show. It's always has been for us. This is our fifth year here."

Susan and Scott Wise are the owners of Second Season. They were selling mittens made out recycled sweaters. That's a tough sell when temperatures are in the 80s. But Susan Wise says they had sold a number of mittens, adding, "Business is better than I expected."

Hundreds also turned out for a special Memorial Day service Monday evening. Eighty-five-year-old Margaret Tennis was honored for her years of work on behalf of Boalsburg's Memorial Day events. She and her husband Ken helped found the Boalsburg Village Conservancy in 1973 and the Boalsburg Heritage Museum in 1982.

State Representative Kerry Benninghoff presented Margaret Tennis with a citation recognizing her many years of service to the community. "Her spirit of giving and dedication has greatly enriched the lives of others," Benninghoff told the crowd.

U.S. Representative Glenn "G.T." Thompson followed up, presenting Tennis with a congressional coin which features the seal of the U.S. House of Representatives and an eagle. "The eagle throughout the course of human history has been the symbol of both leadership and service," Thompson said, "and ma'am you certainly have been both, in our community, a leader and a servant and we thank you so much."

There were performances by the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast and the State College Chorale Society. Civil War reenactors fired another blast of canon fire to honor fallen heroes. Girl Scouts placed flowers at the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. A lone bugler played taps.

Gov. Tom Corbett was the featured speaker. Corbett told the audience that remembering Memorial Day is important to society. "We celebrate sacrifice," he said. "We celebrate courage. We celebrate the memory of brave men and women who fought for our freedom and our ideals."

Corbett went on to say the Civil War left entire towns in mourning. "It called for some way to allow our Nation to mourn, to grieve, but also to hope. But also to honor, to acknowledge that these soldiers would never walk among us but that their spirits and courage could live with us."

Corbett says, since the Civil War, the United States has fought many battles and lost too many soldiers in battlefields across the world. "The tradition that started here has inspired a Nation to remember -- to remember the men and women who forever rest in our soil facing American sky."

A chorus of church bells rang loud and clear as the service came to an end.

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Steve Bauer is Managing Editor & Chief Content Officer at StateCollege.com. Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy. You can e-mail Steve at Steve.Bauer@StateCollege.com and you can follow him on Twitter @SteveBauerSCcom
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