Easter in York County, 1919: Sadness, joy, hope
Clair Good worships during a Stony Brook Mennonite Church Easter service at sunrise at Lower Windsor Township’s Samuel S. Lewis State Park overlooking the Susquehanna River. Background posts: Easter stories of sacrifice & selflessness and Pre-World War II Thanksgiving holds lessons for York countians today and Henry Laurens’ Christmas in York Town: ‘I will not quit my post, although I … fear that I may perish on it’.
I penned an editorial in today’s (4/12/09) York Sunday News tying themes of Easter with world events during difficult times 90 years ago.
Interested in your thoughts:
A York newspaper story headlined “Joyful Observance of Easter Festival” on Saturday, April 19, 1919, set the stage for services the next day.
It was full of meaning to Gazette and Daily readers.
And for readers 90 years later… .
In the spring of 1919, World War I had ended. A fledgling League of Nations promised to preserve that accord.
And because of the peace, the newspaper observed, Easter would be observed more joyfully the next day than for the past several years.
That bright Sunday would not be dulled by the death of a patriotic hero from the Great War. An elaborate memorial service would honor Pvt. George E. Strausbaugh of Jackson Township, who had died of pneumonia six months earlier in France.
The moment, indeed, was cause for light hearts, considering the heavy burden the world had endured.
America’s short action in intense World War I fighting was consuming — and deadly.
In fact, the day after Easter 1919, The Gazette and Daily published a special section in honor of the more than 6,000 men and women who had served and the 200 who did not come back.
Many of the military dead did not succumb on the battlefield.
The viral Spanish flu — often compared with the Black Plague of the Middle Ages — had ravaged the world and hit men and women of military age the hardest. The flu often led to deadly pneumonia, and Pvt. Strausbaugh probably was such a virus victim.
That pandemic, of course, went far beyond military camps.
The first York-area case was diagnosed on Oct. 1, 1918, according Carl E. Hatch and Joseph Hicks’ “World War I: York, Pennsylvania’s Response.”
A month later, more than 4,200 cases were diagnosed in York City alone. The York Fair was canceled, and a tent hospital sprang up on its grounds.
Everything was shut down. Churches, too.
The flu wiped out whole families.
“So many were dying in York,” Hatch and Hicks wrote, “that undertakers were running out of caskets.”
So a lesson for today is that as beleaguered as Americans feel about Middle East turmoil and a terrible economy, our ancestors persevered through worse.
No wonder the church members that Easter of 1919 were joyous. They could at least open their church doors.
But there’s another lesson, a crucial message linked to Easter.
Those basing their joy on world peace and other positive developments of the day will have only short-lived contentment.
The newspaper’s suggestion that the Easter of 1919 would be more joyful because of improving conditions in the world was understandable but off key.
The hope of nations leagued in friendship would not last. The League of Nations was no more effective in staving off the madmen in Germany and Japan than its successor, the United Nations, has been in handling Hitler’s ideological heir in North Korea.
Many Christians believe that the joy of Easter should not be dictated by the reality of world conditions, but by the observance of — and hope from — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the strife-wracked Middle East of his day.
The service for Pvt. Strausbaugh, indeed, took place at Jackson Township’s Pleasant Hill meetinghouse that Easter.
Friends and relatives and at least four preachers, messages in hand, squeezed into the meeting house.
Those attending learned the lesson of Easter.
This young serviceman had died a patriotic but excruciating death, and they were there to observe the end of a promising life on this day of the celebration of life.
So, there was sadness on that joyous day.
But there was more.
There was hope.