Times of Plague: Shamokin and the 1918 Spanish Flu

In Search of Old Shamokin, May 2020 edition

Emergency hospital at the Edgewood Park pavilion, 1918 (Larry Deklinski’s Thomas Photography collection)

In the midst of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a period of challenges unprecedented in our lifetimes. Even in areas comparatively spared from the spread of the virus, the effects of the pandemic are keenly felt in the prolonged closures, restrictions, and quarantines which extend to every corner of the nation, including Shamokin. But history reminds us that this is not the first time our community has experienced—and survived—the ravages of plague.

In particular, the effects on our area of the current virus are mild in comparison to the Spanish influenza of 1918. The virus, which reached its peak in the United States in the fall of 1918, brought about a pandemic with a death toll of at least 500,000 nationally and millions more worldwide.

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In Search of Old Shamokin: Before Coal Was King

The following is the inaugural installment of my new column in the News-Item, In Search of Old Shamokin. Find it monthly in the Lifestyle section.

I started researching this fascinating topic while writing my short feature film, “Jesse’s Diamonds,” inspired by the story of Jesse Major, John C. Boyd, and the founding of Shamokin. The film is currently in the casting phase. Find out more here.

Before Coal Was King
Jesse Major, John Boyd, and the Origins of Shamokin

In 1824, a notorious outlaw pays down the paltry sum of twelve dollars for a tract of land which will one day become the center of a prosperous city. The outlaw is Jesse Major, who ultimately sells his land for two hundred thirty dollars and a horse to a land speculator named John C. Boyd. The city? Shamokin, Pennsylvania.

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New exhibit coming to the Heritage Museum

Recently we featured the Kulp Memorial Church on this blog as one of the Shamokin area’s Great Buildings. Next weekend, Saturday, September 21, visitors to the Greater Shamokin Heritage Museum can view the contents of the Kulp church’s original cornerstone in a new exhibit.

Myself and Dave Shinskie of Kulpmont100 visit the Kulp church in August 2019.

The cornerstone was laid in 1912 and contained coins, a Bible and prayer book, and a number of rare issues of Shamokin newspapers including the Dispatch, Herald, and Daily News. Most of these will be on display during the September 21 event, which runs from 1:00 P.M. to 3:30 P.M.

The museum would like to extend special thanks to Kulpmont100 for lending the cornerstone contents to this exhibit.

In addition to the opening of the exhibit, there are several community activities and events also scheduled for September 21, including an AOAA ride, Shamokin Cemetery community cleanup, and the Edison Illuminating Walking Tour at 6:30 P.M.

The Great Buildings: Kulp Memorial Church

The following article is the second in a series featuring the landmark structures of the Greater Shamokin Area. For more, see The Great Buildings category.

On a bright, clear winter’s day in 1912, a building contractor left his card in the cornerstone of a new unfinished church. Just ten days before, the cornerstone had been laid with pomp and circumstance, a speech from the bishop, and a ceremony held in the schoolhouse across the street to shelter attendees from the cold weather. A box was prepared containing three coins, a small bible and prayer book, and a collection of newspapers. Finally on December 10, all were sealed in the cornerstone together with the builder’s business card, where they would remain for the next century.

This same church can still be found today along Chestnut Street in Kulpmont — a small, modest structure of gray stone and stucco to match. It’s easy to miss on the fast-paced Route 61 that follows the town’s main street, but if one does stop for a glance, it appears there is not much to see. It is not a particularly imposing edifice. It has been called a chapel, though it did once serve a large and active congregation. Even when it was first built, its otherwise plain facade was adorned only by a large stained glass window and a simple cross at the gable’s peak. But what it lacks in ornamentation, it has more than made up for in history.

The Kulp Memorial Church of today, and as it appeared around forty or fifty years ago. Historical image from the Thomas Photography collection, courtesy of Larry Deklinski.

Completed in 1913, this Protestant Episcopal church was the first of its kind in the town, and would continue to serve an active parish for several decades. It was a church to many, but it was more than that — even today, with the structure long since deconsecrated, it still stands as a monument to the memory of one man. It is a widow’s tribute to her husband, for whom the church was named the Monroe H. Kulp Memorial Episcopal Church of the Ascension.

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