Is there anything more patriotic than attending the National Memorial Day Concert, hosted by
Lieutenant Dan Gary Sinise, live on the Capitol Building’s Lawn while knitting socks for one’s Civil War soldier, surrounded by sirens because there was a “suspicious package” a block away? I didn’t think so.
This Memorial Day found me in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, a little town that claims itself to be the progenitor of the holiday. If you can recall, last year I wrote a post with a brief history of Memorial Day. At roughly the same time, many different people had the idea to set aside a day to honor those killed during the Civil War. Boalsburg is just one of the many towns to claim this holiday. Warrenton, VA, Savannah, GA, and even Gettysburg, PA make the same claim. And then, in 1966, President Johnson formally declared Waterloo, NY as the official birthplace of this holiday.
From the va.gov website:
Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.
To me, it sounds like everyone was comparing whose patriotic stick was bigger, which is less about the stick and more about the people involved.
According to the Boalsburg website, three women met to lay flowers on the grave of one of the women’s father. They met in 1864, which is a whole two (or three or four) years before any other community, depending on who you ask. Every year since, the town has gathered on Memorial Day and walked over to the graveyard to decorate the gravestones together. I think it’s a really nice display of patriotism from a little town in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania.
Another more recent tradition is a living history event at the Pennsylvania Military Museum, which I was able to visit this year. In scope, it was pretty small, but the public turnout was enthusiastic. One of the organizers of the event, who also narrated the battle scenario, actually made some pretty overt statements about how history is currently repeating itself. Hitler : 1939 :: Putin : 2015. Usually the historians at these events scale back their language and mumble something about “Russia” and “history repeating itself.” This particular narrator did say that we need to study history lest it repeat itself, and then launched straight into how history actually was repeating itself in Russia at this very moment, if only we had eyes to see. I don’t think he is wrong, but I was surprised that he took such a firm stance on this particular day.
The Military Museum itself is also quite nicely curated. It’s rather small but there is a lot of information, both inside the building and around the grounds. The location is also the shrine to the 28th Division, although I don’t know enough about the 28th Div to know why. Perhaps the part I enjoyed the most about the museum were the signs warning visitors not to touch things on display because if you touch you are at risk for conscription.
Overall the weekend was a success. I spent some quality time with friends, met an extremely minor internet celebrity that apparently only I know about, successfully Notre Trolled* the Penn State University, and thought more about my WW2 impression.
I was also able to finish knitting a pair of socks while at the National Memorial Day Concert, where the program reminded viewers that the three-day weekend was to remember all the service men and women who have died in defense of the country. (Veterans Day is for everyone who has served.) I won’t say ‘Happy Memorial Day’ because there is something incongruous with the word ‘happy’ and the meaning behind the day, but I hope everyone had a pleasant and reflective weekend.
*Notre Trolling: The act of being an obnoxious, superior Notre Dame alum. It could manifest itself like wearing a Notre Dame shirt in Penn State country or making sure one’s class ring is prominent when taking a picture with the Nittany Lion. Hypothetically.