Tag Archives: History

The Birthplace of Memorial Day

This year for Memorial Day, I decided to go straight to the source — the birthplace of Memorial Day, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. It’s a small village with a lot of history. They have a big event in town every Memorial Day but I went yesterday instead. For one reason or another, it kept coming up as the better day to ride. The timing was better, for one thing, and I knew there would be less traffic, better weather and a decreased likelihood that I would run into 100 “bikers” riding tire to tire on some sort of pack run.

I left at 8 in the morning. Solo. Of the two guys I ride with, it was too early for one and the other was working. No worries, I’ve always loved a good solo ride. As soon as I stepped outside I knew it was a great day for it– blue skies and the morning was nice and cool. Unable to find the charger for my beloved digital camera the night before, I grabbed a disposable at the drug store on my way out of town and shoved it into my jacket pocket. (I have to say, though not intentional, using film lent a nice feel to the pictures.)

I could have done the round trip in 120 miles but the interstate is just a way to get from point A to point B in a straight line without seeing anything so I stretched it out to 200 miles. In fact, I started by riding in the exact opposite direction of my destination just to get to the good stuff. After just over an hour of great back roads, I stopped at Halfway Dam in R. B. Winter State Park (PA 192). I used to go there a lot as a kid. The one thing that stands out the most about it from my youth is that the water was notoriously cold. To be the first one in was like a feat of daring when we were kids. Of course, I wasn’t there to swim. I got off, stretched a little and  watched some old man finish up his fishing for the day.

I continued through the state park and on into farmland. The road straightens out considerably and you can see a straight line of road cut through the sprawling independent farms for what looks like miles. I passed three guys on horseback. They were either old order Mennonite or just really country and while two were riding single file along the shoulder, one guy’s horse kept walking sideways and taking up the whole lane. I slowed and crossed the double yellow, seeing clearly ahead that there was nothing coming. He waved and I couldn’t help but relate to riding something with a mind of its own.

The country ride seemed like it could go on forever but I knew I was leaving the farm land for a college town when I simultaneously saw a sign for an “outdoor gospel sing” and just past it on the other side, another for Hooters. Boalsburg borders State College. In fact, I thought it was part of State college until last just last year.

Entering into Boalsburg was like going into some out of the way New England town and for a place that was having such a huge event the next day, it was surprisingly still and quiet — ghost town quiet. Of course, busy holiday weekend or not, it’s still a Sunday in a little Pennsylvania village. I pulled up to the Boalsburg Tavern, around which the town was built around 200 years ago. There were no cars parked in the street, just two people walking and a couple of bicycles. I saw one guy riding a bicycle and he appeared to be talking to himself — or worse — to me in a sing-song voice. “There’s going to be a band there tomorrow. No, not the kind that walks.” Of course, as he got closer I saw a child in the seat behind him. “Look, there’s a motorcycle…and it’s a cool one too.” I asked the pedestrianswhere the cemetery was. Though looking back, there only appeared to be three streets. I’m sure I would’ve found it.

I got back on my bike and headed to the cemetery to find the monument and maybe even the original graves marking the place where Memorial Day began. I rode slowly through the small cemetery filled with a mix of old and new stones and saw the monument, set apart between the church and the main road nearest the oldest stones. I didn’t find the original graves but it’s possible that their age led to their replacement with the newer monument built in 2000.

I got on my bike and headed back, this time on PA 45. The section leading out of Boalsburg is the Purple Heart Highway — a designation that my grandfather helped campaign for several years back. He had been awarded the Purple Heart himself after his service in WWII. Even though 45 is essentially another farm-filled country road, after 192 it felt like a super highway. On the way back, I saw a crowd gathered and a few rusty old cars. As it turns out it was an antique car auction. I pulled over and fell in love with a few trucks. There was nothing shiny there, just a bunch of projects looking for a home. Poking around looking at old cars and trucks isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, even better on top of a good ride.


As I approached my bike to leave, I saw a guy getting ready to board his Goldwing. He and his wife were the picture of Centre County and the whole Goldwing, RV bike thing. He pushed the button, started it up and Joe Cocker was blaring on the stereo. The woman hoisted herself onto the bike, settled into the comfortable looking armrests and took a big gulp of her Pepsi as he pulled out almost knocking the can into her face. It was a hell of a sight and a priceless lesson in why you shouldn’t drink (even a Pepsi) and ride.

I took 45 so I could stop at Guy Zerby’s shop, one of the few independent British bike shops left. Well, it was. Under the landmark Triumph sign I knew so well was a new sign for the new shop. His bikes were still there and except for a few hints of the new owner, everything looked the same but it was clear that it was no longer a working brit bike shop for Zerby any more. His shop is like a museum with bikes like the Silver Jubilee sitting there from the time they were new. Guy Zerby knows more about these old machines than anyone I know. I could talk to him for hours. In fact, I have and I’ve always tried to soak it all in.

I took this picture from the hip, thinking I had more exposures left but it was the end of the roll. I was lucky to get this one. I guess it’s true that all good things come to an end.

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