Tag: influenza

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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Remembering the Past: Influenza 1918

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Philadelphia Evening Bulletin October 5, 1918

A History Mystery column about the 1918 influenza pandemic published in July 2014, pondered: “Imagine not being allowed to go to church in a time of troubles…”

Well…now we know.

Influenza arrived in Philadelphia in September 1918, aboard a Navy ship coming from Boston. It spread quickly in the Navy Yard, then at a military parade in Center City attended by 200,000 people, promoting sales of Liberty Bonds to fund the war effort – a parade at which our parish was particularly well represented due to the school’s very successful Bond drive.

All public and parochial schools in Philadelphia closed for three weeks afterwards, to try to stem the epidemic. Medical personnel were still overseas aiding in the war effort, so IHM teaching sisters volunteered as nurses, tirelessly tending bedsides of many races, ethnicities, and religions, especially in the MBS boundaries.

Police closed places of worship citywide from October 6 through October 26, 1918, with few exceptions. Our church was one of these: the October 5, 1918 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported that: “Placards have been posted within the confines of the Catholic parish of St. Francis de Sales, announcing that by permission of the Board of Health, masses will be celebrated tomorrow morning in front of St. Francis’ Church, 47th St. and Springfield Ave. at 7:30, 9:30 and 11 A.M.” The outdoor Mass on the front steps “did not meet with general approval,” however (curious phrasing!), and the practice ended after October 13. Catholics were exhorted to pray in their homes for a speedy end, both to the epidemic and to the war.

October 1918 was a rough month for SFDS. The parish Death Register recorded eight deaths in September; then jumped to 40 between October 6 and October 31, 1918. Fatalities tapered off again to five in November, nine in December, and a few more in January. In the end, parish losses from influenza probably totaled about 60 people; the names of the deceased are recorded in the parish ledger, but not all of the death certificates are available to confirm the cause.

Who were the victims? Geographically, most of the deaths in our parish occurred in the less-prosperous section south of Baltimore Avenue. Victims were married and single; many were in their 30s; a few were infants and children. Most had been born in Philadelphia, many to immigrant parents. The death certificates provide a snapshot of their employment: a stenographer; a policeman; a sheet metal worker; a number of housewives and several salesmen including a cigar salesman; a female Bolter at J.G. Brill’s trolley manufacturing co.; a telegraph operator; a young lady in the women’s Naval Reserve; several bartenders; a soldier; a watchman; and a motor inspector among others. Above Baltimore Avenue, victims included the Assistant Treasurer of Standard Steel Co. and the Treasurer of the Broad Street Theatre.

The epidemic slowed down considerably by November 11, when the First World War officially ended.  Catholic sisters (who tended bedsides), Catholic seminarians (who dug graves), and clergy in Philadelphia were especially commended by the city for their heroic efforts during the crisis.  Worldwide, more people died of influenza than died in World War I, and more people died of influenza in Philadelphia than anywhere else in the world – a dubious distinction for our fair city!

 

DSCN6422 (2)Coronavirus 2020

Rectory offices have been closed since March 13 and Masses are being celebrated privately. Find Morning Prayer livestreamed on the Matt Guckin Facebook page at 7 AM (Monday to Friday) and 9 AM (Saturday and Sunday); Night Prayer at 9 PM.  

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER SERVICES TO BE CELEBRATED PRIVATELY. On March 25, 2020, The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Decree in Time of Covid 19 (II) stating that “Given that the date of Easter cannot be transferred, in the countries which have been struck by the disease and where restrictions around the assembly and movement of people have been imposed, Bishops and priests may celebrate the rites of Holy Week without the presence of the people and in a suitable place, avoiding concelebration and omitting the sign of peace. The faithful should be informed of the beginning times of the celebrations so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes. Means of live (not recorded) telematic broadcasts can be of help….”

SFDS Holy Week 2020 Services, celebrated privately,  will be available on Youtube and Facebook:

April 5 Palm Sunday Mass at 10:15 AM

Thursday April 9 Mass at 7:00 PM

Friday April 10 Passion at 3:00 PM

Sunday April 12 Easter Sunday Mass at 10:15 AM

Horse Party

horse partyStep back in time, just after World War I,  and imagine city streets filled with horse carriages and carts instead of motor vehicles. Miss Laura Blackburne (3808 Walnut; later 5038 Larchwood), an early donor to St. Francis de Sales Church, was also a board member of  the Women’s SPCA (today’s Women’s Humane Society) and worked on the Dispensary Committee for a unique holiday event as reported in The Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 24, 1918:

There was great rejoicing in “animal circles” at the announcement that Santa Claus today would visit the stables and kennels of the poor horses, dogs, and cats, as well as the homes of real folks. 

            Through the agency of the Women’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Santa gave Christmas dinners to more than 200 animals. The horses that have so nobly done double duty during the war were given especial notice. 

            There was a sort of thin, soupy mixture for the first course, mixed feed for the entree and carrots and big red apples for dessert. Dog biscuits were Rover’s share and there was catnip in prettily tied bunches for the kitties. 

            Ned, a staunch old dray horse who for the last year has been supporting a family of eleven, had the time of his long life. Ned’s master is sick and has been almost blind for many months. Ned’s steady work in hauling has furnished the only livelihood for the master, mistress and the nine children of the family. 

            Dan is another of the heroes who were decorated “inside and out” for his splendid services. He has been earning the living for an eighty year old man and his family. 

            Girl Scouts distributed the Christmas dinners for the animals from the Lighthouse at Second Street and Lehigh avenue, from the dispensary at 315 South Chadwick Street (near Rittenhouse), and from Lowry Home (for homeless dogs and cats), Eighty-Sixth and Eastwick Streets. Horses in the police van and traffic squad stables were remembered by the women too. The Christmas compliments were in the form of bright red apples. 

            Members of the dispensary committee of the women’s society investigate their “horse families” just as conscientiously and carefully as social workers investigate the homes of they city’s poor people. Wherever the people are poor and deserving of help, and their horse or animals are hungry, the society gives its aid…

            The lighthearted article sounds reassuringly normal, considering that the Great Influenza Pandemic, which killed an estimated 12,191 people in Philadelphia alone, had finally slowed its brutal onslaught just the previous month! All schools and churches in the city — including ours — were closed down for three weeks, from October 6 to October 26, 1918, in an apparently successful effort to help stem the contagion.