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1911 Thanksgiving brought together families, churches

Published November 26. 2011 09:01AM

By jim zbick

In 1911, a writer for the Tamaqua Courier joked in his column that had one of the "old Puritans" stopped by for Thanksgiving dinner the size of the feast would have been enough to honor "the Lord of Gluttony."

In offering a brief history lesson, he explained how the "purely New England institution" of Thanksgiving had first spread through the Northern states by about 1830, and then down through the South by the mid-1850s.

After being interrupted by four years of Civil War, the holiday resumed in earnest. The meaning of the day was especially important to the South, where many persons harbored hatred for the northern army, which laid waste to everything in its path in the closing months of the war. The warmth and spirit of family which the holiday espoused thus helped bring about a general cleansing and healing across the land.

In his column, the writer reminisced on previous holidays when the home was a lively place where families and friends could gather on Thanksgiving Day.

"How the paternal roof tree would clatter with blind man's bluff and the Virginia reel," he said.

By 1911, he felt that many households had already strayed from those close-knit family traditions commonly associated with the holiday.

"In thousands and thousands of families where the merriment of scores used to ring through the old farmhouses on Thanksgiving night, the occasion this year will see only a half melancholy little group about the dying embers of the hearth fire," he said.

The writer cited several factors, some of which we see still influencing our present generation. As in today's economic environment, many young men a century ago were leaving home in search of work or better paying jobs in other areas.

The writer also explained how the great changes in communication specifically with the telephone and automobile travel were influencing how people related. The changes he saw in 1911 had as dramatic an impact on his society as the cell phone and other mobile devices are having in lives today.

The ease in which young people were able to travel after leaving home to seek new opportunities a century ago also meant they could return to the family nest just as easily for the holidays.

"Today, few boys remain very near the old home," the writer said in 1911. "It is regarded as less of a journey to go from New York to California today than what it was like to travel to the next state 30 years ago.

"With the advance of prosperity, people travel longer distances to gather at the old hearth stone," he explained. "And in countless homes there will be a glad welcome for the sons and daughters that have traveled hundreds of miles to greet old friends again."

While the writer shared his concerns about the changing social landscape, including family homecomings, two Catholic congregations in Lansford St. Michael's and St. Ann's used the Thanksgiving holiday in 1911 to come together as a church family.

That day marked the dedication of the cornerstone of St. Ann's as well as the dedication of St. Michael's church, which had literally "risen form the ashes" after a devastating fire on Feb. 21, 1907. Rev. Joseph Kasperak, the pastor, was credited with supplying the energy to move the church forward.

The cornerstone at St. Ann's was actually laid by Archbishop Prendergast of Philadelphia on May 30, 1911. Six months later he returned for the formal dedication.

A "monster parade" was held in the morning and included the Knights of Columbus, 15 bands, and about 50 visiting Polish, Greek, Italian and Slovak societies.

The writer called the new church a "magnificent structure" that was erected at a cost of $15,000. The Gothic-style church, built of New York dolomite, had a seating capacity of 1,500. The clock, which struck on the quarter hour, was installed by the well-known E. Howard Clock Company of Boston at a cost of $2,400.

The interior was equally impressive.

"The decorations are artistically produced with blending of colors and real gold trimmings," the reporter said. "The many oil paintings hand painted together with beautiful art windows which are imported from Munich, Germany, deeply impress the many visitors who come to see it."

The church would have a 97-year run. St. Michael's and St. Ann's were among the 47 churches closed by the diocese in July 2008 due to a projected shortage of priests.

The buildings were first stripped of any religious artifacts, including stained glass windows, which can only be used for religious purposes. The windows were then put up for sale through an online auction house in Philadelphia.

After the closings, the churches were part of the merger that formed the new St. Katharine Drexel at the former St. Michael Church building in Lansford.

Regarding that once-imposing church steeple at St. Ann's church which the writer wrote such a glowing report about a century ago, the TIMES NEWS ran a photo of the structure just this past June. The caption writer observed that "trees could be seen growing from the steeple of the building on E. Bertsch Street."

It was a sad final commentary to a once-proud and stately landmark for the town.

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