Today, we celebrate the holiday season in different ways, but maybe we can learn something from a difficult Christmas 100 years ago when war and an epidemic were unwanted guests in Perkasie.
As the residents of Perkasie Borough prepared to celebrate Christmas at the 1918 tree ceremony, many thoughts were still on the end of the Great War and three Perkasie young men killed on the battlefields of Europe.
Three weeks before Christmas, news came that Lieutenant Walter Godshall had died on October 19, 1918 in France. Walter had written back to his brother, who also was in the military but had returned home, about the sacrifices he was making. “But what sacrifices would we not make, in order that right might triumph over wrong,” Walter said.
The following week, the Perkasie Central News’ first sentence read, “A telegram received last Wednesday reporting the death of Earl Crouthamel, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Crouthamel, killed in action November 4. A full report will be published at a later date.” The Crouthamels owned the hotel in South Perkasie. Also, influenza was spreading through South Perkasie that week.
Earl Crouthamel’s death occurred just one week before the November 11, 1918 armistice in Europe, which Perkasie celebrated. A week after the armistice, Mrs. Sallie Hartzell received a War Department telegram saying that her son, Calvin, had been killed in action in France on September 29. A week later, a Peace Jubilee was held at Perkasie’s High School, tempered by the news that William Savacool, 17, had died from flu he contracted in South Perkasie when he came home from college to see his parents. Then just one week before Christmas the Central News reported that Calvin Hartzell’s 15-year-old brother, William, had died in the flu epidemic in Perkasie.
That same week, pleas were being made for donations for the Community Christmas Tree event, which was having financial challenges. Among those organizing the ceremony to be held at Perkasie High School was a young mail carrier, Andrew Schuler, who would later lead the effort to save South Perkasie’s covered bridge.
Despite the weeks’ events, the Community Christmas ceremony caused great excitement in the community. A parade started at 8:30 a.m. Christmas morning, led by the soldiers returned from the war, down Chestnut Street to the school auditorium. The local boy scouts accompanied the troops, who were given seats of honor. The Perkasie Band played patriotic songs, then after an invocation and carols, Santa Claus arrived to hand out presents to the local children.
The Christmas Tree Ceremony’s organizers saw it as a time to celebrate the end of the war and return home of the former students who had once sat in the same school auditorium. “Never in its history has this community had so many glad hearts,” they said.
The Central News’ owner and editor, Charles W. Baum, told readers they also should make some contribution to the Community Christmas Tree ceremony. “The Community Christmas Tree is a fitting way to express the warm Christmas feeling that pervades the citizens at this season of the year. No purse is so light that it might help bring good cheer to some poor child.” Baum also looked forward to working with Perkasie residents to make his newspaper a “potent factor in our community.”
To be sure, much has changed in Perkasie in the past 100 years. The Central News is no longer a potent factor in our community; the Perkasie Christmas Tree ceremony has a totally different meaning. We can’t change the latter, but maybe next year we can remember that charity does have a role in the Tree ceremony. I don’t know what that role is, but I do know it probably meant a lot to the Hartzells, the Crouthamels, the Godshalls, the Savacools, and the less fortunate in the Perkasie community 100 years ago on Christmas Day. I’ll add that to my New Year’s Resolutions list this year.