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The Origin of Memorial Day

The Origin of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called ‘Decoration Day’, is a day of remembrance for those who have died while in our nation’s service, and to commemorate those who served and have passed on. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. A hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”¹ While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need to honor our dead. All these events contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in an official proclamation in 1868 establishing the holiday. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all for our great Nation.

Combined Honor Guard of Pennsylvania Volunteers

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the organization of Union veterans’ of the Civil War. He issued General Order No. 11 establishing the project of honoring the noble war dead of the nation. Accordingly, the day was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of the Union dead at Arlington National Cemetery and throughout the country. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died in any war, conflict or in service). It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays).

The first observance of Decoration Day in the Philadelphia area was on May 30, 1868 at historic Laurel Hill Cemetery on Ridge Ave. in the City. It was sponsored by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). This Holiday continues to be observed at Laurel Hill Cemetery every year, but on the Sunday before the national holiday, sponsored by the General Meade Society and American Legion Post 405 at the Union League. Below is information about this event.


Memorial Day Parade marches off to the grave of General Meade led by Captain Mike Peter (98th PV) at Laurel Hill

Annual Memorial Day Observed at Historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Recreating the Original G.A.R. Decoration Day Service of 1868: The traditional Decoration Day service of the Grand Army Meade Post #1 will be recreated at Historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Ave. Philadelphia on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at 12 noon. All are welcome to attend and participate in the ceremony.

Laurel Hill is the site of the first Memorial Day Observance in Philadelphia on this date in 1868.
Special veterans’ markers will be dedicated at the graves of veterans. Speakers, ceremonies and pageant will highlight this special ceremony. After, the entourage will gather at the grave of General Meade, hero of Gettysburg, to perform the traditional service to honor all veterans who fell defending the Nation. Wreath-laying, speeches, music and honor guards will enhance the ceremony.
Keynote Speaker: LTC Michael Rounds (USMA – Class of 1988)
Historical groups, veterans, and citizens are urged to participate. Wreaths, military contingents, color guards, music and period civilians are also encouraged.

Refreshments served after the ceremony. Tours of the historic cemetery available.

Andy Waskie, Master of Ceremonies addresses the crowd at the beginning of the annual Memorial Day Service at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

Co-sponsored by the General Meade Society of Philadelphia; Friends of Laurel Hill; American Legion Post #405
For information, call: 215-228-8200


Andy Waskie
WWII and Civil War Historian, professor, author, American Legion Member, & Starr Tour Director
¹ Source: Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Kutztown Folk Festival

Starting a new job certainly has its pluses and minuses.  One of those minuses is that you need to wait for vacation time to accumulate before you can take time off of work.  I was a little concerned about this until I started my new position with Starr (in October 2015) and I learned about ALL of the incredible Day Trips by bus that Starr has to offer!!  And, because most of them are offered on weekends, I discovered that these convenient day trips can turn into one day mini-vacations for me and my family.


One of my favorite one day bus trips was to the Kutztown, PA Folk Festival.  This summer, the 9-day festival that draws over 130,000 visitors will celebrate its 68th year. Amazingly enough, the idea for this family-friendly event originated from three men who wanted to share their Pennsylvania Dutch heritage with others.  A person’s curiosity is certainly settled after visiting this festival for just one day!   After experiencing craft demonstrations, entertainment, wonderful food, folklore, and one of the nation’s finest quilt sales, I left with much greater knowledge and understanding of the PA Dutch lifestyle.


Kutztown Folk Festival

Upon entering the festival, one of the first displays we encountered was that of the farming community.  There were many farming tractors that spanned from the early days to the present.  It was fascinating to see how time and innovation has changed the farming industry for the better.  Many of the early farmers worked a tremendous amount of man hours to get their fields ready to plant their crops.  While farming is still classified as hard work, it is not nearly as hard today because of the progression of the agricultural equipment that is available for use.


As we continued walking through the festival, there were hundreds of vendors and crafters with so many beautiful handmade crafts, jewelry, and food items that you could sample, purchase, or make yourself.  Originally, all those who participated were Pennsylvania Dutch natives.  While that may not be true today, you will still witness the same level of craftsmanship being demonstrated and on display.  One of the requirements to be involved is that “all products sold at the Festival MUST be American made.”


There are many hands-on activities that are available to participate in and many were quite different from what I have seen at other festivals.  I loved observing the gentleman who had a booth set up for anyone who wanted to make their own silk scarf.  You could choose your own colors and he would guide you through the process and then you would take your lovely new scarf home to wash and wear with pride.  I also loved watching the man who makes straw brooms right before your eyes without any machine – just the use of his hands.  My daughter had the opportunity to make her own tie-dye t-shirt that she is wearing a lot these days with the comeback of the ’70s “anything tie-dye” clothing.  Furniture making, quilting, soap making, pottery, stained glass, pewter, tinning, blacksmith, and wood carving are a few more trades you will encounter throughout the day.


Besides the craft activities, some of the buildings you can visit are a 1-room schoolhouse from the 1800s, a 1-room church, antique building with hundreds of items from the past and a barn that is used to display over 2,500 hand-made quilts.  An auction is held on the Saturday before the festival ends where 24 of the best quilts are put up for auction and one is raffled off.  Also, each attendee can experience quilting and making their own square that is then assembled into the annual visitors quilt.


The variety of food offered is traditional Pennsylvania Dutch.  You can purchase a family style dinner, homemade soups and sandwiches, and more.  The areas that are reserved to have your meal are kept clean by the family members who are their selling their family recipes.  The prices are very reasonable for lunch and dinner.  Cinnamon buns, apple dumplings, and shoo-fly pie are favorites for dessert.


Our family had such a wonderful time last year that we are planning on going back to the festival again this year.  If you are looking for an adventure, and don’t have a lot of time to take off, this is a day trip where you will not be disappointed.  All in all I have now taken 9 day trips and 2 multi day vacations since I began working for Starr. That’s an average of 1 bus trip per every 7 weeks! Lucky me!  Oh… lest I not forget the best news, I now have accrued paid time off and look forward to using it to experience one of Starr’s multi-day bus trips!!


Linda Ruggieri
Tour Services Specialist,
Starr Bus Charter and Tours

Off to the Races with Starr’s First Trip to the Kentucky Derby

Off to the Races with Starr’s First Trip to the Kentucky Derby

I was very happy to be the tour coordinator assigned to Starr’s first bus trip to the Kentucky Derby departing on May 3, 2017. Working on a new tour is very interesting, challenging and inspiring – and this tour was no exception.

This new tour had been “in the works” for more than 2 years and actually became “ready for sale” in January 2016 – 16 months before the tour’s departure date! We knew this bus trip was a “bucket list” item for many people because at the end of every Starr trip, we ask for future tour suggestions to be noted on their survey. Many of our customers had requested this trip and our office responded; and thus began the planning process. Not surprisingly, so many of our customers booked the trip within the first two months that a second bus was needed! Both buses filled up quickly and eventually became sold out! So our guests packed their special hats to wear on Derby Day and our Tour Directors prepared their notes and made games for the bus trip.

The Pegasus Parade

Of course the Kentucky Derby itself is the highlight of the tour, but Starr has included many other attractions so our passengers will really be immersed in the other events surrounding the Derby including being able to experience the highlights of the Louisville, Kentucky area as well. Starr guests will attend the Pegasus Parade, a true tradition of the Derby, and visit a horse training farm. They’ll see a farm that raises Longwool sheep, visit a local theatre with antique exhibits, and of course no visit to Kentucky is complete without a stop at a bourbon distillery! There will be food throughout the tour, too! At the Pegasus Parade they will enjoy a picnic dinner, on another day they’ll have lunch at Claudia Sanders Dinner House (you may know her husband, Colonel Sanders!), and they’ll have a great “Off to the Races” dinner party with a taste of Kentucky menu. Just before the Derby itself, our passengers will go on a Riverboat Cruise where they will meet with experts to help them place their bets when the go the Kentucky Derby later that day. Did I mention I am jealous of our Starr guests who get to experience this trip??!!

I really love getting the trips ready for the road! Some of my responsibilities include: planning the timing, making reservations, and providing directions along with additional information to give to our tour directors so that everything goes smoothly. We have someone in charge of booking the hotels and another person in charge of sending the rooming lists. Our Travel Advisors sell the trips and our marketing team develops the catalogs to entice you. As you can see, it really is a team effort in making each trip a wonderful experience for our passengers. This is why it makes us so happy when our travelers and our Tour Directors send in pictures of the trips which we then post on the Starr Tours Facebook page. I love seeing our Starr guests having a great time! Don’t you?

When I plan a tour, I usually include some fun information for our Tour Directors to share with our passengers. For example, did you know there are 554 roses in the garland of roses presented to the winner of the Kentucky Derby? “Each garland is also adorned with a ‘crown’ of roses, green fern and ribbon. The ‘crown,’ a single rose pointing upward in the center of the garland, symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby Winner’s Circle.”¹ Also, 100,000 Mint Juleps are poured during the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks!

Traveling is something that I enjoy very much and I truly hope that our passengers enjoy this trip to the fullest extent. I look forward to seeing lots of pictures on Facebook and if you “like” Starr’s Facebook page you can see them, too!

Don’t worry! If you missed this trip, we already have next year’s planned for May 2, 2018 and it is filling up! You could be part of the “Run for the Roses,” too!


Dawn Nachbaur,
Starr Bus Charter & Tours, Tour Services Department


¹Garland of Roses

Photos courtesy of the Louisville Area CVB

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

One of the first multi-day trips by bus I escorted as a Tour Director for Starr, about 12 years ago, was to Savannah and Charleston.  I had never been to either city before but had heard so much about both southern destinations. I was excited to go and, of course, so were my passengers.  Savannah was a place that I’d heard about way back when I first became a Brownie Girl Scout in 19__??  Well, you can guess that one. 

I wanted to see the Juliette Gordon Low house where the first Girl Scout meeting was held and where Forrest Gump sat with his box of chocolates. I also wanted to see the Mercer House where the story behind “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” happened and was filmed.  So much to see in such a small town.

We saw all that and more.  In Charleston, I discovered why the city was named “the friendliest city in America” – everyone smiled and said hello! I wanted to return, but I didn’t get that opportunity again until last year. I would finally get to see those two cities again, and it would be even better.

Marine Recruits training at Parris Island – the men and women train separately

The trip now includes a stop in Beaufort, SC, a lovely small, southern town with a big mission…it’s home to Parris Island, the Marine Corps Boot Camp. I was excited to see where my Marine friends and family spent 13 wonderful weeks of their young lives (well, it might not have been so wonderful at the time!). We enjoyed a complete tour of Parris Island including a stop at the museum and gift shop.  From there we went to Savannah, for two nights in a lovely hotel right in the historic downtown.

When I awoke on my first day in Savannah and turned on the weather channel (a habit all Tour Directors have), the weatherman was being pelted with rain and wind from Tropical Storm Julia, which he said had developed overnight and was now hitting Savannah.  Huh??  I immediately ran to the window, pulled back the curtains and looked outside.  It was cloudy, but there was no wind or rain.  I wondered if was he on some sound stage at the Weather Channel and someone was throwing buckets of water at him while a big fan blew stuff around? T’was a puzzlement. So we proceeded to our morning trolley tour, which would go on rain or shine. Sure enough, they picked us up, on time, at the front door of the hotel and we rode around Savannah, hearing wonderful stories about that lovely city. There was some rain, but nothing out of the ordinary.

We made a stop at the Massie Heritage Center, a pre-Civil War building that was originally a school for Savannah’s poor children.  It is now a museum and has an outstanding exhibition documenting the Greek, Gothic, and Roman influence on Savannah’s architectural history. In addition, an educational program called “The Nineteenth Century Classroom,” allows youngsters and adults to experience a 19th century school day. It was so much fun!

When our tour ended at noon on River Street, I found out what that weatherman was talking about! The rain suddenly came down, the wind came up, and I was instantly soaked (even with my rain poncho)! So were my passengers, but they smiled and we decided it was time to go inside for lunch. Good timing! With so many restaurants to choose from, everyone found what they wanted and sat out the worst of the bad weather. Afterwards, with all of the various and wonderful shops so close together, it was easy to get in and out of the rain and buy lots of good stuff from local merchants! 

A Trolley Tour driving past the Owens-Thomas House

Our tickets for the trolley allowed us to get on and off for the rest of the day, which was so convenient in the rain. So with umbrellas and raincoats and unlimited transportation, the passengers thoroughly enjoyed everything Savannah had to offer…even in the bad weather!

That evening we saw a delightful Broadway-style show at the Savannah Theatre. The next day we hopped aboard our bus and headed north to Charleston, where we met our local guide who showed us all around the city she loved, including the Citadel, which both her husband and son had attended.

With time on our own in the afternoon, we walked through the Charleston City Market filled with so many wonderful shops. Our biggest decisions were what to buy!  Again, so many friendly people and smiling faces and delightful weather as a bonus, in spite of the weatherman’s report that Tropical Storm Julia was going to Charleston with us.  Other than a brief sprinkle, I don’t know where Julia was, or that weatherman for that matter!

Spirit of Carolina Dinner Cruise

A dinner cruise along the Cooper River capped off a relaxing evening. The next morning we set off for our final stop at Magnolia Plantation, a 17th century estate.  It felt like we had stepped back in time. The nature train tour took us around the beautiful gardens,  ancient magnolia trees covered with Spanish moss and past a number of ponds where alligators were resting in the sun!! WHAT??? ALLIGATORS??? Only a few feet from where we passed?  Our guide assured us that they were not hungry… Well, he thought that they weren’t hungry so, we were safe… I think!

As we made our way home on our comfortable Starr bus, we talked about all the wonderful things we had seen and the friendly people along the way.  It was truly a delightful trip that I was so happy to have been able to take again and hope for more visits in the years to come. Now that I have shared one of my favorite memories, what are your favorite memories of the south?

Happy travels,
Bette Barr, Starr Tour Director



Photo Credits: Giant Oak by Nagel Photography, Marine Recruits by Bette Barr, Savannah Trolley Courtesy of Savannah Chamber of Commerce, Dinner Cruise Courtesy of Spiritline Cruises

Wipe Your Feet

As a Tour Director for Starr, there are many days and nights throughout our busy travel season that I, like my fellow Tour Directors and like our passengers, are away from our own homes.  I have to admit, passengers aren’t homesick for too long, especially when the tour includes visiting some pretty unique, historic, and even haunted houses.   All guests have to do is “wipe their feet” and they are welcomed into the private homes of rock stars, corporate executives, historical figures and sometimes homes of those who have left this world… or have they?  Below is a short list highlighting some of these intriguing homes that open their doors to Starr customers.


GRACELAND, Memphis, Tennessee—Available on the Memphis/Nashville Tour.

Home to Rock n’ Roll Legend, Elvis Presley, this colonial mansion has been frozen in time complete with original furnishings and shag carpeting.  You’ll be treated to a glimpse of the famous “jungle room,” and billiards room where a large tear can be seen on the pool table.  Culprit unknown.   You can pay respects to Elvis and his family members in the Meditation Garden which is adjacent to the house.


HEARST CASTLE, San Simeon, California—Available on the Cross Country by Bus Tour.

Sitting high on California’s Central Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is William Randolph Hearst’s Casa del Mar.  The media genius built his dream house in 1947.  It boasts 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens.  Actors, politicians, business executives, and newspaper moguls were often guests to his “Enchanted Hill.”  It was here that they would meet for cocktails, conversation and just plain fun surrounded by Renaissance and Baroque tapestries as well as masterpieces of paintings and sculptures.  The Neptune and Roman Pools are only two reasons to see for yourself what money and power looked like back then.


Photo by anoldent on Flickr

MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, Charleston, South Carolina—Available on the Savannah/Charleston Tour.

It’s easy to fall into the Southern expressions of “yes ma’m” and “bless your heart” after visiting these 70 acres dating back to the 1670s.  The primary crop was rice which eventually took a backseat to the beautiful gardens which were constantly being expanded deserving the title of “America’s Oldest Romantic Gardens.”  The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001.  The plantation bore witness to both the American Revolution and Civil Wars.  So its no wonder that stepping onto their grand porch gives you the feeling of being greeted like long lost relatives—much like in “Gone With the Wind.”


Photo by David B. King on Flickr

LIZZIE BORDEN HOUSE, Falls River, MA—Available on Ghosts of Providence, Rhode Island Tour.

Now a Bed and Breakfast Inn as well as a museum, this house is especially popular during the Halloween season.  Registered with the Fall River Historical Society as a tourist attraction, this three-story Victorian house is where the 1892 infamous axe murder of Abby and Andrew Jackson Borden occurred.  Their daughter, Lizzie Borden, was tried and acquitted.  Visitors can see most rooms in the house and then make their way over to the gift shop for some unique purchases.  In case you have a family gathering, wedding or need to schedule a seance, the entire house or individual floors are available to rent!


Photo by Christopher Hollis

MONTICELLO, Charlottesville, VA—Available on Presidential Homes of Virginia Tour.

Visiting the home of our third US President, Thomas Jefferson, gives you the opportunity to share in the interests of this Renaissance man.  The estate shows off his 43-room house that he designed in 1769 and finished in 1809.  His plantation was a source of food as well as a laboratory for plants from all over the world.  Jefferson’s parlor is one of the rooms where he would entertain his political peers.  On your visit, be sure to check out one of three house privies or as Jefferson called them his “air closets.”


STEGMAIER MANSION, Wilkes Barre, PA—Available on Pocono Fall Foliage Tour.

If you are fond of the Victorian Era,  then you will absolutely love the home of Frederick and Mary Steigmaier, founder of the Stegmaier Beer Company.  Said to be the aristocrats of Wilkes Barre, the Stegmaiers weren’t only highly regarded because of their world-renown “Gold Medal” beer, but for their philanthropy as well.   Restored by its present owner as a Bed & Breakfast and venue for special events, you are in for a real treat as each room is over the top Victorian—wallpaper, furniture, household furnishings.  Doesn’t matter if you have lunch in the Ladies or Gentlemen’s Parlors, you are transported back in Victorian time!


Photo by Jay Peterson

BEAUVOIR, Biloxi, MS—Available on Mississippi Gulf Coast Tour.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico from his large estate.   Willed to him by, Sarah Ellis Dorsey, Davis lived out his final years at Beauvoir.  With his passing, his second wife, Varina Howell Davis sold it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that it be used as a Confederate veterans home.  It is on the National Historic Landmark Registry.  Besides touring Davis’ home, visitors are treated to museum and library Civil War artifacts.  Be sure to ask about the Camel Corp—it is fascinating!


EDSEL AND ELEANOR FORD HOUSE, Grosse Pt. Shores, MI—Available on Agawa Canyon, Ontario Canada Tour.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen it all!  Although Edsel, the son of Henry Ford, had multiple houses, this one on Lake St. Clair was where he and his wife Eleanor raised their four children.  Built on 87 acres and designed by the premier landscape designer, Jens Jensen, this house tour is as much about the outside as the inside.  Jens managed to combine woodlands, meadows and wetlands in such a natural way that guests are mesmerized.  Each building on the estate is fashioned after English cottages including their daughter’s playhouse complete with plumbing and electricity!  The wood paneling, doors, fireplaces, and chimney piece come from various areas of England.  The kitchen counters made of sterling silver and a secret photography darkroom are more reasons not to miss this tour.


So, when you feel like “running away” from your own home for a at least a little while, consider taking a Starr bus tour and visiting one of these wonderful homes! You won’t be disappointed!


Happy travels,
Christine Durling, Starr Tour Director