The Edge of History

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St. Francis de Sales historic Pew Rents book shows Ramspacher and Feeser in pew 31 in the West Transept of the 1911 Church.

Ordinary life often unfolds just outside bigger world events, and that is certainly true for early parishioner George Ramspacher.

Ramspacher’s death notice lists him as German, while census data describes him as French. In fact, he was born in 1842 in Alsace, a region claimed by both countries. Britannica notes that during the period, “from 1815 to 1870” Alsace was considered French; “at the end of the Franco-German War (1870–71), however …Alsace was detached from France and annexed to the German Empire….” remaining under German control until the end of World War I — so Ramspacher was, in his lifetime, both and neither.

Ramspacher arrived in the United States around 1864, during the American Civil War, “engaged in the baking business at 208 Delancey Street,” and married Miss Julia Kempton of Philadelphia in 1866, after the war ended. When he retired from the bakery in 1894, the couple moved out to our neighborhood with several adult children, including daughter Mary and her husband Theodore Feeser, all living in the same house at 510 South 48th street. The Ramspachers joined our parish just a few years after its 1890 founding, and when the new church was built in 1911, they rented pew 31 in the West transept (47th Street side) with the Feesers, who also donated a dome window.

In 1916, just a month before Woodrow Wilson was narrowly re-elected President with the soon-to-be-ironic campaign slogan “He kept us out of the War,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “With their eight children, sixteen grandchildren and six daughters and sons-in-law present, Mr. and Mrs. George Ramspacher…celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding on October 1.” The paper casually noted that “the celebration was originally called for September 23, but because of the absence of some of their children at the seashore and the fear of infantile paralysis (polio) the event was postponed until last Sunday…

Daniel J. Wilson reports that “The 1916 polio epidemic was one of the largest in the United States and the largest in the world to that date…Pennsylvania’s 2,181 cases ranked third behind New York’s 13,223 and New Jersey’s 4,055…Polio typically struck during the warmer months of summer,” and in Pennsylvania, numbers escalated rapidly from three cases in May, to 120 by July, 747 in August, and 804 in September, before falling to 379 in October. “Polio was a new and frightening disease in 1916,” without a cure. Public health officials quarantined patients and their families. “In late August, the state health commissioner closed the schools until September 18. Some communities tried to prevent children from epidemic areas from entering their borders. However, since doctors in 1916 did not understand how the disease was transmitted, these measures were largely ineffective in preventing polio’s spread…” Fortunately, apart from the postponement of the party, the Ramspachers appear to have escaped its vengeance.

George Ramspacher had one more near-encounter with history, when he died on June 4, 1918, at age 76, due to “myocarditis/edema of the lungs” – heart failure and fluid in the lungs – shortly before the official September arrival of the deadly 1918 Influenza pandemic. His wife, Julia, passed in 1922. They were both buried from SFDS at New Cathedral Cemetery (2nd and Butler Streets).

 

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