A Most Remarkable Communion Service

16 Oct

On Tuesday, October 11, 1910 delegates to a national Christian church convention assembled in Topeka, Kansas for their annual meeting. The convention came to order on Wednesday night, October 12, and continued full-tilt until the following Monday.

The local newspapers published the convention agenda. In a busy week filled with scheduled prayer meetings, missionary society board reports, temperance education workshops, and a host of lectures, there was this agenda item:

Organizers expected a good turn-out for the Sunday communion service, which was set to begin at 3:00.

But long before the appointed hour, people began assembling at the capitol building in Topeka. They first congregated on the State House steps, until there was no more room.

The Kansas State Capitol building in 1905


Workers quickly placed some benches along the east side of the capital building. But as more and more people arrived, those benches were quickly filled.

And still the people came. Hundreds more benches were added, along with chairs and stools, and anything else the organizers could find to accommodate the growing crowd.

By the time the communion service began at 3:00, over eight thousand people had assembled on the State House grounds.

The service opened with almost everyone present joining their voices to sing the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Ministers from different churches across Kansas took a turn stepping up to the podium to offer prayers, read scripture, and bless the communion bread and wine.

Twenty church elders and forty-eight deacons assisted with the communion. The crowd was so large it took over an hour to serve the Lord’s Supper to everyone.

The Christian Herald magazine, which covered the event, wrote that there was a “reverent attitude” throughout the service that made it one of the most remarkable gatherings ever assembled on the State House grounds. The reporter wrote:

An ice driver broke bread with a great divine and a banker leaned out of his chair to hand the cup to a butcher. A Texan sat beside a Negro, and gentle society women held the babies of char-women.

The governor of Kansas, Walter Roscoe Stubbs, spoke about prohibition in Kansas, and reaffirmed his pledge to drive liquor sales and manufacturing out of the state (Kansas enacted its own law of prohibition in 1880). In his speech, Governor Stubbs promised:

“I say to you today that I don’t know of an open saloon in the State, and if any man shows me one and tells me of it and I don’t close it I’ll resign my position.”

The crowd cheered.

Walter Roscoe Stubbs, about 1920.


Another well-received speaker that day was Dr. Charles M. Sheldon, pastor of Central Congregational Church in Topeka, and author of the enormously popular Christian novel, In His Steps.

Dr. Charles Monroe Sheldon


He brought his Social Gospel message to the crowd, and exhorted everyone to work diligently toward world peace, saying:

“I hope to live to see the [day] our battleships are turned into missionary vessels and filled with missionaries to go out to all parts of the world to teach the Gospel of Christ.”

The Christian Herald published this photo of the crowd in the November 9, 1910 issue of the magazine (click on the image to see a larger version):

Photograph printed in The Christian Herald magazine, November 9, 1910.


One-hundred, seven years ago today this remarkable communion service took place on a Sunday afternoon in Kansas, on the grounds of the State Capitol building. It was an event the like of which may never be seen again.

Do you wish you could have been there? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!



3 Oct

Suppose Christ should forgive only those who had treated him well. Would you be forgiven today? From Tip Lewis and His Lamp by Isabella Alden.



Will the Real Russia Please Stand Up?

26 Sep

Karen, a long-time reader of this blog, asked a question about Isabella’s novel, Interrupted.

Twice in the book, Isabella used the term “real Russia.”

The first instance occurs when our heroine, Claire Benedict, and her Sunday school class take it upon themselves to renovate the church, and they turn their attention to fixing up the cast-iron stove that heats the sanctuary.

As the ladies try to decide what improvements to make next, one of the girls says:

“Look here! Don’t you think our very next thing, or, at least, one of the next, ought to be a furnace? I don’t like those stove pipes, if they are Russia. A furnace would heat more evenly, and with less dust.”

That’s the first mention of “Russia” in the book, referring to the pipes that vent the stove.

An 1899 newspaper ad for Siegel Cooper Department Store (New York) featuring Russia iron heating stoves.


Later, Isabella used the same Russia reference in describing the stove after the ladies cleaned it up:

And really, the stove pipe, though it wandered about according to some wild freak that was considered necessary in order to “draw,” did not look so objectionable now that it was real Russia; and nothing could glow more brilliantly than the stove, which smoked no more.

No wonder Karen was curious! “Real Russia”—whatever that is—played a big role in the ladies’ efforts to beautify the sanctuary.

Men gathered around a cast iron heating stove in 1886.


So, what was “real Russia”?

Isabella was referring to Russia iron. It was produced in Russia and was highly prized throughout the world for its ability to resist rusting and protect engines, boilers and stoves.

Another key feature that made Russia iron the wonder of its time was that it did not flake or lose any of its protective properties when it was bent, as American iron did.

For many years Russia iron could only be obtained from Russia. The manufacturing process was highly secretive, which kept demand high and prices even higher.

In the mid-1800s American engineers finally cracked the code for manufacturing Russia iron; and by the latter part of the century, American foundries were gearing up to produce their own version of the much-sought-after sheet iron.

Ad from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania-Their Industries and Commerce, published in 1885 by the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; found at Penn state Universities library.


There was, after all, real money to be made from such a product. Sheet iron was used in the manufacture of many things, such as parlor stoves and cooking ranges.

An 1867 ad for Peerless kitchen stoves.


In addition to stoves, consumers used iron pots and pans on their iron cooking ranges.

Portion of a Macy’s Department Store ad in the New York Journal, November 21, 1897


Commercially, sheet iron was used to clad boilers and the engines on locomotives.

Even though American business was producing a creditable version of Russia iron by the 1880s, most consumers and industries were not fooled. They often referred to American iron products as “imitation Russia iron.”

A 1906 postcard showing a portion of the sprawling Carnegie Steel Works in New Castle, Pennsylvania.


But as more and more American-made products began to be advertised as made of Russia iron, consumers had a difficult time distinguishing between “real Russia” and the imitation. In many cases, the only way to tell the difference between the genuine product and the American version was to find the tell-tale Cyrillic characters embossed on the original full sheets of iron. Click here to see a sample of those Russian characters.

It took many years for American industry to overcome the stigma of producing “imitation” Russia iron; but in 1885, when Interrupted was written, Russia iron was still the gold standard by which all other iron was measured.

So when Isabella wrote that the stove pipes in the church were made of “real Russia,” she was actually commenting on the high quality of the improvements Claire Benedict and her friends made to the church sanctuary.

Would you like to learn all the ways Claire and her friends beautified the church sanctuary in Interrupted? Click here to read the post.

You can also read about other unique terms Isabella used in her different novels. Just click on “Pansy’s Dictionary” under the Categories header on the right side of this page.




iPhones and Isabella

20 Sep

Last week Apple unveiled its new iPhone with the latest innovations in communication technology. Its release came 130 years after Isabella Alden first mentioned the telephone in the plot of one of her novels.

As convenient and indispensable as phones have become in our modern age, the same could be said of telephones in Isabella’s time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, telephones changed the way Americans lived.

Isabella was 35 years old when Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone in 1876; but that first model had very limited capabilities.

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell


Although the early Bell telephones certainly transmitted sound, they only worked between two locations that were hard-wired to each other.

An illustration of Bell demonstrating his invention in 1877


Then, in 1878, a man named George Coy invented the telephone exchange and immediately turned the telephone into a much more practical invention.

Instead of telephone lines being strung between two locations as Bell had envisioned, Coy’s exchanges linked any number of telephones to a single point: a switchboard.

An 1890 illustration of women working a switchboard at a telephone exchange.


At the exchange, legions of trained switchboard operators used a series of cords and sliding keys to connect and reroute incoming calls to other telephones linked to the exchange.

An early telephone exchange, about 1898


Thanks to those exchanges, telephone line construction exploded with growth over the next few years. By 1880, there were 47,900 telephones across America. By 1881, telephone service between Boston and Providence was established. By 1892, a telephone line had been constructed between New York and Chicago; and two years later New York and Boston were connected.

Switchboard operators at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company near Washington, D.C.


Another benefit of those exchanges: jobs. As telephone service expanded, more and more trained switchboard operators were needed to connect calls; and the majority of the operators hired were women.

A 1911 photograph of a switchboard telephone operator.


When Isabella published her novel Eighty-Seven, she included a character who worked as a switchboard operator. Her name was Fanny Porter, and she worked in the Dunbar Street Telephone Office. Another character in the story described Fanny as …

… a bright, pretty girl, young, and quite alone here. She lives in a dreary boarding-house, and used to have some of the most desolate evenings which could be imagined.

Switchboard operators in 1914


Fortunately, not all switchboard operators lived and worked under such conditions. While the majority of switchboard jobs required working for a Bell Telephone Company, there were other positions available. For example, some large businesses that required multiple telephone extensions were equipped with their own exchanges and hired operators to run them.

Switchboard operators in an office, about 1910.

In fact, businesses were the foremost users of the telephone in the late 1890s. That’s because, in general, phones were too expensive for individual homeowners to install and maintain; but Mr. Mackenzie, the wealthy businessman in Isabella’s novel Wanted, could afford to have a telephone in his home.

In fact, the telephone plays a small but pivotal role in the story. When Rebecca Meredith, the novel’s heroine, first meets Mr. Mackenzie, she thinks he’s hateful and selfish, until she mentions one evening that his young daughter is a little hoarse. To her surprise, Mr. Mackenzie immediately telephones the doctor and …

… administered with his own hand the medicine ordered. Even after the doctor had made light of fears and gone his way, the father sat with his finger on Lilian’s small wrist and counted the beats skillfully and anxiously.

After witnessing his tenderness for his daughter, Rebecca begins to change her opinion about Mr. Mackenzie.

In her 1892 book, John Remington, Martyr, Aleck Palmer was also a young man of great fortune; he, too, had a telephone in his home and business, which caused Mrs. Remington some concern. You see, she was intent on playing matchmaker between Aleck Palmer and her friend Elsie Chilton and invited the unsuspecting couple to dinner without letting either know the other had been invited. As Mrs. Remington explained to her husband:

Elsie is getting to be such a simpleton that I am afraid she would run home if I should let her know he was coming; and as for him, he is developing such idiotic qualities in connection with her, that I feel by no means certain he would not get up a telephone message or something of the sort to call him immediately to the office, if he should know before the dinner bell rang that Elsie was in the house.

But by the time the 20th Century dawned, the demographics and cost of telephone usage changed dramatically. Telephone companies had connected most major cities and strung sufficient telephone lines across the country to bring costs down, and phone company executives began to set their sights on a new goal: providing service to residential customers.

At first, advertising to consumers stressed the obvious: keep in touch with friends and family.

Blowing kisses over the phone, 1908.


Then, in 1910 the Bell Telephone Companies developed several strong marketing campaigns that offered different reasons why every home should have a telephone. One campaign was directed specifically at the lady of the house.

The ads had strong visual cues, like this one illustrating how a phone in the home meant a family could summon a doctor quickly:

The series of ads was printed in magazines and on postcards, showing how a Bell telephone …

… keeps travelers in touch with home …

… guards the home by night as well as by day …

… summons help during household emergencies …

… relieves anxieties over a loved one …

… and quickly helps arrange replacements when servants fail you.

The ad campaigns were extremely successful. People began to think of telephones as an essential tool for the home, instead of a mere convenience. Soon, telephone companies across the country were installing residential telephones at an astonishing pace.

This Bell Companies business card for the Philadelphia area cites the number of installations locally and nationally. The blank space was filled in by an installation or service subcontractor with his own contact information.


And after each new installation was complete, telephone residential customers notified friends and family of their new phone number by sending out cards like these:


Soon telephones became not only an essential device for the home, but a convenient tool for the lady of the house. In Ester Ried’s Namesake, published in 1906, Ester Randall worked as a cook in the home of the Victor family. And being a stylish family, the Victors, of course, had a telephone, which Mrs. Victor used regularly, as in this scene where she explained to Ester her plans for dinner:

We’ll make the dinner light and easy to manage; just a steak and some baked potatoes and canned corn. Did you say there was no corn? Oh, I remember, you told me yesterday, didn’t you? Well, just phone for it. Call up Streator’s, they are always prompt; tell them they must be. And we’ll just have sliced tomatoes with lettuce for salad; all easy things to manage, you see. As for dessert, make it cake and fruit—strawberries, or peaches, it doesn’t matter which. Why, dear me, that dinner will almost get itself, won’t it?

It’s amazing to think that Isabella Alden saw the development of one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century. In her time the telephone was innovative and exciting. It opened new avenues of jobs for women and changed the way people interacted with each other; and Isabella reflected those changes in her novels and stories that we still read and appreciate today.

You can read more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post by clicking on the book covers below:









New Free Read: Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary

12 Sep

Mrs. Dunlap’s Commentary

Mrs. Dunlap is a model wife, mother, and homemaker. She’s the perfect hostess when guests enter her home, and out of the goodness of her heart she has taken a poor neighbor girl under her wing. Why, Mrs. Dunlap even teaches a Sunday-school class and remembers to keep the Sabbath holy!

Given such stellar qualities, Mrs. Dunlap must surely be a model Christian; but one unusually trying Monday begins to reveal the truth of Mrs. Dunlap’s character.

Click on the book cover to begin reading.

Singing ‘Molly Bawn’

6 Sep

When Isabella wrote The King’s Daughter in 1873, she wrote a novel that was contemporary for her time. In the book, she referenced household items and songs that were popular in 1873.

For example, in chapter eight, Miss Dell Bronson tries to convince Sam Miller to attend a temperance meeting with her.

At first Sam—a man who described himself as having gone to wreck and ruin—is aghast at the idea, but Dell won’t take no for an answer.

Instead, she uses all her powers of persuasion to entice Sam to the temperance meeting:

“Go and try one. I don’t believe you have ever been. We are going to have singing. I know you are fond of music. I heard you singing ‘Molly Bawn’ this morning. I like your voice. I want you to come and help us sing.”

Of course, songs sung at a temperance meeting would not include Molly Bawn; but by mentioning the song in her book, Isabella referenced a popular song her readers would instantly recognize.

Oddly enough, there are many versions of the Molly Bawn song. An Irish version tells the story of Molly Bawn being shot by her lover when he mistakes her for a swan as she hides in the forest.

But the American version—which is probably the version Isabella had in mind—is about a young man hoping to rendezvous with the girl he loves: Molly Bawn.

This sheet music, published in 1881, gives the lyrics to Molly Bawn:

The sheet music for Molly Bawn. Click on the image to see the music and lyrics.


Molly Bawn was an incredibly popular song that captured and held America’s imagination. The melody was easy; the lyrics were romantic; and if you happened to have the singing voice of an Irish tenor—which may have been true of Sam Miller—the song was practically written for you.

In 1878 a writer named Margaret Wolfe Hamilton (who published under the pseudonym Mrs. Hungerford) wrote a novel loosely based on the song.

The 1904 paperback version of the novel Molly Bawn.


The book version of Molly Bawn was an instant success in America. In fact, one of the novel’s characters utters for the first time in print, a phrase we still repeat today:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Hamilton’s novel was so popular, it remained in print for decades.

Artist Charles Dana Gibson—famed for his illustrations of The Gibson Girl—was so inspired by the story, he created his own depictions of Molly Bawn:

“Molly Bawn” by Charles Dana Gibson, 1911.


In 1916 a movie of the Molly Bawn story hit theaters. It starred silent film actress Alma Taylor in the lead role.

Film actress Alma Taylor in a scene from the 1924 silent film Shadow of Egypt. She played Molly Bawn in a 1916 film adaptation of the novel by Margaret Wolfe Hamilton (aka Mrs. Hungerford).


Clever Isabella! When she dropped the name of the song ‘Molly Bawn’ in chapter eight of The King’s Daughter, she knew she was giving her readers a reference they—and subsequent generations—would readily understand.

Would you like to hear a 1911 recording of the American song Molly Bawn? Click here to go to the Library of Congress website to hear the song.

And you can click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel, The King’s Daughter.

Horatio Spafford’s Second Chapter

28 Aug

This is the second in a two-part series about Isabella Alden’s uncle, Horatio Gates Spafford. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

After the loss of their children in the wreck of the Ville du Havre in 1873, Horatio and Anna’s sorrow was immense. They returned to Chicago and tried to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Dwight Lyman Moody, circa 1900, from the Library of Congress


Their dear friend, Reverend D. L. Moody, was their greatest support and comfort. He begged Horatio and Anna to stay busy, knowing that their silent, empty house would be a great and solemn reminder of the loss of their children.

“Annie, you must go into my work,” Rev. Moody said. “You must be so busy helping those who have gone into the depths of despair that you will overcome your own affliction by bringing comfort and salvation to others.”

Anna promised to follow his advice.

Two years after the tragedy, Anna gave birth to a son, Horatio, who died four years later from scarlet fever.

Horatio Goertner Spafford


Then their daughter Bertha was born in 1878; two years later, in 1880, Grace was born. Both girls were healthy and hearty and brought them much joy.

Bertha (right) and Grace (left) Spafford


But with Reverend Moody’s advice in mind, Horatio and Anna found themselves pulled in a new direction. For years they had been holding prayer meetings and Bible studies in their home at Lake View. In those meetings, they emphasized optimism and God’s blessings in their lives, despite the hardships they had endured.

With prayer and reflection, Anna became convinced that she survived the sinking of the Ville du Havre for a purpose.

Anna Spafford


Horatio, too, began to search his life and his faith for an explanation of their loss. As a result, he felt increasingly drawn to a life of service to God, and he felt called to one special place in particular: Jerusalem.

Horatio Spafford

After all he had been through, Horatio wrote in a revealing letter:

“Jerusalem is where my Lord lived, suffered, and conquered, and I, too, wish to learn how to live, suffer and, especially, to conquer.”

After much prayer and thoughtfulness, Horatio and Anna decided to leave America. In 1881, when Grace was still an infant, they led a small group of like-minded American Christians to Jerusalem, where they established a Christian society known as the “American Colony.”

The original house of the American Colony


They found a large house in the Muslim Quarter, near Herod’s Gate; it sat high on a hill and all around the house were Muslim, Jewish and Mohammedan slums. This, Horatio and Anna decided, was the house from which they would minister to the people of Jerusalem.

They took the house, along with some property next to it that would make a nice garden; and the entire group moved in and pooled their resources to live under one roof.

Herod’s Gate as it appeared in 1898


It was Horatio and Anna’s vision of work to be done that gave the group direction. With the Spaffords as leaders, members of the American Colony devoted themselves to philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem. Anyone who needed help received it, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Colony members did not preach or proselytize; instead, they first concentrated on building bridges to their new neighbors.

Members of the American Colony at the port city of Jaffa in 1902. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Jonah, Solomon, and Peter.


The American Colony provided service to others in any way they could. They ran soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages. They soon became trusted friends among the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian residents of Jerusalem.

One of their greatest and most enduring accomplishments was the Spafford Children’s Center, which is still run today by descendants of Horatio and Anna Spafford.


Horatio Spafford’s efforts in Jerusalem were a success. His love for the Lord transformed his personal suffering into a ministry that helped tens of thousands of men, women and children, and brought countless souls to Christ.

Life in Jerusalem was not without its challenges and hardships. One of the group’s greatest trials came from other American’s who distrusted their motives and spread horrible and sometimes ugly rumors about the group and, in particular, about Horatio and Anna. Some of those rumors persist to this day. Horatio and Anna responded to their critics in the only way they knew how: by following Christ’s instruction to turn the other cheek.

In 1888 Horatio developed a persistent fever he could not shake, and eventually the illness developed into a malignant malaria. For many days he was too weak to get out of bed; the disease sapped his strength and appetite.

Bertha was only ten years old, and Grace was eight, when Horatio, unconscious and emaciated, lay dying. Anna held his hand; and at one point, he opened his eyes and said to her:

“Annie, I have experienced a great joy; I have seen wonderful things.”

He tried to say more, but weakness overcame him, and he fell to sleep again.

He died in his sleep on October 16, 1888 at the age of 59.

Horatio Gates Spafford.


Grief-stricken, Anna carried on, and sought comfort in her faith, just as she had on that horrible night at sea eight years before.

Bertha (top) and Grace (bottom) with their mother, Anna.


She assumed leadership of the Colony. Under her guidance, the colony swelled from 18 members to over 150. In 1896 the Colony moved to larger quarters near the Tomb of Kings in East Jerusalem.

American Colony members at Tombs of Kings 1901.


With Anna’s guidance, the American Colony expanded its ministries, as well. They sponsored an arts club, a drama club, and a literary society, at which everyone was welcome. They even formed a concert band, and gave music lessons.

The American Colony school in 1899


They started the Moslem Girls School, which provided a basic education, as well as vocational training to young girls, in order to provide an alternative to their culture’s traditional early arranged marriages.

During World War I Colony residents worked in Jerusalem’s hospitals alongside Red Cross workers.


They opened the doors of the house, taking in anyone who needed a place to stay, no matter their religion or ability to pay.

As Bertha Spafford, Anna’s eldest daughter, grew into womanhood, she began to play a greater role in the Colony.

Bertha Spafford, age 19, in 1896.


Bertha worked beside Anna and later wrote:

My admiration for my mother was greater than all else.

In the spring of 1923 Anna was 80 years old, and her health began to fail. Bertha wrote:

The end came quietly. It was like a candle flickering and finally going out. We were determined that the only note sounded at her funeral should be one of praise for a useful life, which had been a blessing to many.

Hundreds attended her funeral service, while letters and telegrams poured in from all over the world.

Anna Spafford in the Colony courtyard about 1920.


Years later Bertha recalled with clarity one of the prayers spoken at the service:

Life is eternal and love is immortal;
And death is only a horizon;
And a horizon is nothing,
Save the limit of our sight!

Bertha honored her mother’s memory by converting the original Colony residence into a children’s facility. Named the Anna Spafford Baby Nursing Home and Infant Welfare Center, it provided pediatric care and social services to children throughout Jerusalem.

The Anna Spafford Baby Home in Jerusalem.


In later years, the name of the Center would be shortened to the Spafford Children’s Center, which still operates today.

Like her mother, Bertha had a remarkable ability to see a need in her community and then work diligently to fill that need. She started an industrial school for boys and men, and a lace-making school for women and girls. During World War I she established an orphanage and foster care system for girls who had lost one or both parents through war, poverty or illness.

Bertha Spafford, about age 60 in 1938.


For over sixty years, the American Colony in Jerusalem continued the work Horatio and Anna Spafford began, and ministered to the people of Jerusalem.

Bertha led the way, always with her parents’ vision in mind. Through two world wars and many local armed conflicts, she never wavered in her work or in her selfless devotion to the inhabitants of the Holy City.

Today, the Spafford Children’s Center is still in operation, and provides medical treatment and outreach services for Arab children and their families in Jerusalem. You can read about their work on their website. Just click here.

Some of the residents of the American Colony in 1904.


The house that served as the American Colony’s residence still stands with its doors open. It is a thriving hotel owned by the descendants of Horatio and Anna Spafford. It’s a favorite place for journalists, diplomats, and aid workers who visit the Holy City. Some famous guests include Sir Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), authors Saul Bellow and John Le Carre, actors Robert De Niro and Peter O’Toole, designer Giorgio Armani, and Soviet President Mikahil Gorbachev.

The hotel as it appears today from the garden.


In 1950 Bertha Spafford published Our Jerusalem, a wonderful book detailing her parents’ lives. In the book, she tells the story, as Anna described it to her, of the sinking of the Ville du Havre. It also includes many wonderful accounts of the good work Horatio and Anna Spafford did in Jerusalem. Our Jerusalem is a remarkable story of faith and good works, all done in Jesus’ name. You can read the book for free. Just click on the image below to begin reading.



Isabella’s Uncle and the Hymn that Changed America

22 Aug

Isabella’s mother Myra Spafford came from a large family. Her father married twice and Myra was one of twelve siblings from both marriages.

Myra was 25 years old and already a wife of four years by the time her youngest brother, Horatio Gates Spafford was born. Like Myra, Horatio was raised in a home where strong faith in God and service to others were qualities valued above all else.

Horatio Gates Spafford


Horatio grew up to be an ambitious and energetic young man. A lawyer by trade, he was about 29 years old when he left his family in New York and headed to Chicago to practice law and earn his fortune.

Business card from Horatio Spafford’s law firm


Chicago was the perfect place for a man like Horatio. The city was booming—between 1871 and 1880 the population grew by 176,000 people—and Horatio saw opportunity.

While other builders and entrepreneurs concentrated on developing the marshy areas of Chicago close to Lake Michigan, Horatio invested in real estate north of the metropolis. By the time he reached his 42nd birthday, Horatio’s law practice and business investments had made him a very wealthy man.

He was also a husband to his wife Anna, and father to four little girls: Annie, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Tanetta.

Anna Spafford with her daughters Annie, Margaret, and Tanetta.


He owned a fine house at Lake View, a north suburb of Chicago. He employed household servants and a French governess for his children.

The Spafford “cottage” at Lake View, Chicago (from the Library of Congress)


And though he lived well, Horatio used the majority of his wealth in service to God. He was an active abolitionist prior to and during the Civil War, and he hosted many anti-slavery meetings in his home.

He made evangelical visits to inmates at jails and prisons, helped run prayer and revival meetings, and taught Sunday school at his church.

Frances Willard, President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.


He also supported causes that were dear to his heart, such as the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union. He often welcomed the organization’s president, Frances E. Willard, into his home for extended stays.

The same was true of Horatio’s support for evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who would become a dear and life-long friend.

Dwight Lyman Moody, circa 1900, from the Library of Congress



Horatio’s youngest daughter Tanetta was only two months old on October 8, 1871, when fire broke out in the city of Chicago. With a poor alarm system, shabbily constructed buildings, and draught-like conditions due to lack of rain, the fire spread rapidly from one wooden structure to another. It raged for two days and destroyed over one-third of the city.

Chicago, after the great fire (from Library of Congress)


Although the Spafford home was somehow spared, the city was devastated.

Over 300 people lost their lives, and over 100,000 people were homeless, many of whom survived with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.


Horatio—who had invested in real estate in the area of the city that was hardest hit—suffered serious financial losses.

Still, he and Anna opened their home to many people who no longer had a home of their own, and he worked tirelessly to rebuild the city’s churches, businesses, and housing.

Laying the first cornerstone of a new building, as Chicago rebuilds after the fire.


In 1873, while he and his wife were still working to help the needy and displaced citizens of Chicago, Horatio received a letter from his friend, Dwight Moody, who was in Europe, igniting a religious revival. Dwight asked Horatio and Anna to join him in London.

Undated photo of Dwight L. Moody from the Spafford family album (from Library of Congress)


The invitation could not have come at a better time. Both Horatio and Anna were weary from the stress of their philanthropic work. To add to their troubles, Horatio’s financial condition had become dire, due to a national economic downturn that occurred in 1873.

Horatio and Anna decided to join Dwight in England and live abroad for a year. They set off for New York, along with their children’s governess. Also in their party was a boy named Willie Culver, the twelve-year-old son of close friends, who was returning to school in Paris.


When they arrived in New York, Horatio received word that a business deal was in danger of collapsing, and—given the precarious state of his finances—he decided to return to Chicago to salvage what he could of the venture.

Rather than postpone the trip, Anna and the children—along with their governess and Willie Culver—went on to Europe without him.

At about 2:00 a.m. the morning of November 21, 1873, in the frigid waters in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, their ship, the Ville du Havre, collided with an English iron ship, the Loch Earn.

Headline from the Chicago Tribune, December 2, 1873.


The impact almost cut the Ville du Havre in two, and it began to sink immediately. Anna led her children, their governess, and Willie, to the deck to evacuate the ship.


But only two of the ship’s life boats were deployed, and they were filled primarily with the ship’s captain and crew. Of the roughly 350 people on board, only 87 survived; and of those survivors, 53 were crew members.

Artist’s rendering of the last moments of the Ville du Havre


The Loch Earn, badly damaged, turned around and deployed its own boats to find survivors. One of those boats plucked Anna Spafford, unconscious and badly hurt, from the water.

In the darkness of the night, her children Annie (age 11), Margaret (9), Elizabeth (5) and Tanetta (2) were never found.

Annie Spafford, from the Spafford family album.


Margaret Lee Spafford, from the Spafford family album


Elizabeth Spafford


Tanetta Spafford.


Also lost were the children’s governess and young Willie Culver.

In Chicago, Horatio received an early morning telegram from Anna that began with the heartbreaking words,

Saved alone.

What shall I do?

The telegram Anna sent Horatio, telling him of the tragedy.


Horatio immediately left on the next ship bound for Europe to join Anna. As he crossed the Atlantic, the captain of the ship—knowing of Horatio’s loss—called him to the bridge at one point, and solemnly told him they were about to pass the place where the Ville du Havre went down.

That evening, in his cabin, Horatio took up his pen and wrote the words to “It is Well with My Soul.”

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul!”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought —
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend;
“Even so, it is well with my soul!”

The original manuscript. written on stationary paper from the Breevoort House, a hotel around the corner from Horatio’s law firm in Chicago. Horatio had some sheets with him while crossing the Atlantic and it was on these that he penned the words to the hymn.


In a letter to his sister-in-law a week later he wrote,

“On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs.”

In 1876 Horatio’s friend composer Philip P. Bliss took the words Horatio had written and set them to music.

Composer Philip P. Bliss, from the Spafford family album.


Philip performed the hymn for the first time in public on November 24, 1876 before a large gathering of ministers, hosted by Dwight Moody.

Since then, “It is Well with My Soul” has become the most widely-used hymn of consolation in modern Christianity.

It has also had a profound impact on those who hear the hymn and learn the story behind it.

Many people have known tragedy and sorrow, reported a North Carolina newspaper in 1908; but even those who have faced hardships think again when they hear Horatio Spafford’s story. As one man told the newspaper reporter:

“I will never again complain of my lot. If Spafford could write such a beautiful resignation hymn when he had lost all his children, and everything else save his wife and character, I ought surely to be thankful that my losses have been so light.”

From The Commonwealth newspaper in North Carolina, February 2, 1908


You can read a detailed account of the sinking of the Ville du Havre as it appeared in an Ohio newspaper, the Holmes County Republican, on December 11, 1873. Just click on the image below and read the article in column 7 titled “A Horror at Sea.”

Horatio Spafford’s story doesn’t end here! Despite the many trials and setbacks he suffered, he never lost his faith in God or abandoned his calling to be of service to others.

Next Post: Horatio Spafford’s New Beginning

New Free Read: What She Could

16 Aug

It’s back to school time across the country, when millions of children return to the classroom.

As a teacher herself, Isabella Alden understood the tremendous influence a teacher had over the minds and hearts of young students.

In 1893 she wrote a short story about a young teacher, her sacrifice, and the rewards she reaped, simply because she did “what she could” for her students.

Now you can read the story for free! Just click on the book cover below to begin reading.


Postcards from Chautauqua: Saturday in the Park with Pansy

8 Aug

A Sunset service at Palestine Park


“Nevertheless, she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine….Flossy explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan and view those ancient cities, historic now.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Sometimes, I really, really wish I could take the Way Back Machine and latch onto Pansy’s group as they enjoyed the apparently mesmerizing lectures by a flamboyant Middle Eastern-born tour guide named Augustus Oscar Van Lennep. Not content to introduce the lakeside miniature Holy Lands that are a relic of Chautauqua’s Sunday School Assembly days, this enterprising, creative fellow dolled up in “Oriental” costume to give his lectures. That’s our man below, lounging in Rajah-like style, while his indulgent friends retain their upright Victorian postures.

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.


Gus must have had an equally fun set of folks who joined him—witness his jolly crew of costumed believers at Palestine Park in 1875/6-ish. Can you imagine??? Oh, how much fun must that have been!

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.


Alas, today the Park is largely neglected and used more as a family playground than an instructional living map.

I’ve been studying a 1920’s Bible Atlas by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (Chautauqua lecturer, founding father, and big-time booster) to gain a working knowledge of the Holy Lands. As Dr. Vincent believed, I think understanding the topography and layout, relative distances and terrain of Palestine environs is extremely helpful when reading Scripture. I mean, when you see how far Gideon and his 300 brave soldiers had to track the Philistines, you really do understand why he was so angered when the locals wouldn’t give them any foods to keep their strength up!

According the Pansy’s many charming references to the Palestine Park, students were treated to not only the basic layout, but tiny townscapes and identifying plaques dotted the carefully crafted map. Bible verses connecting each significant stop provided context—and reasserted the importance of the location for the Christ-following traveler.

Today, in an effort to keep the residual charm of the place, small cast iron plaques are embedded along the landscape—they’re kept painted and somewhat landscaped. I understand there’s a “tour” each Sunday night and I hope to attend it someday.

I paced off various Bible place names made familiar by my Old Testament studies and was genuinely surprised to see how concentrated a radius these events encompassed. Here’s Jerusalem in relation to the Mount of Olives, only a stone’s throw from Bethany.

Mount Hermon in the distance provides the perfect “king of the hill” locale for the resort’s kiddie population. The impressive crevasse made me wonder if erosion hadn’t made the Jordan Valley a bit too deep?

“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks…I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Compared to the vintage postcards you’ll find in this blog’s archived Chautauqua posts (see the links at the conclusion of this post), I’d say the accuracy factor might be off a bit these days.

I found it charming that Jericho was in “ruins”—the flat-topped ancient buildings crumbled and scattered, like those of Hebron (though I’m not certain these ruins were intentional.)

Is someone is tending Jacob’s Well? Even on the dry day I visited, it was filled with water.

My favorite? The truly little town of Bethlehem.

I read the plaque as I exited the park, wistful at the thought of those tent-dwelling Sunday School teachers, nestling eagerly beside the “Mediterranean Sea” and along the shores of the Jordan, to understand more about the lands their spiritual ancestors walked.

What would they make of this rarely visited, gently poignant reminder of the Park’s original purpose? Today, no Bible markers or tablets grace the small stony stand-ins, no tiny replica buildings remain to represent scenes from the life of Jesus as they did in Pansy’s time. I turned my gaze to Chautauqua Lake, imagining the steamer pulling up to the nearby dock and unloading four lively 19th century girls, eager for fun, not knowing they would never be the same, thanks to their time in this beautiful place.

“Now, the actual fact is, that those three people wandered around that far-away land until the morning vanished … They went from Bethany to Bethel, and from Bethel to Shechem, and they even climbed Mount Hermon’s snowy peak and looked about on the lovely plain below. In every place there was Bible reading …” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Thanks for allowing me to share these mementos with you of my all-too-brief Chautauqua visit. My hope and prayer is to return soon to follow further in Isabella’s footsteps.

My fascination has led me to launch a tribute Chautauqua Literary & Science Circle reading plan—I’m pairing 19th century texts with contemporary works and next August, I hope to carry the Pansy Year banner in the Recognition Day parade. Interested readers can follow along with my literary journey at my blog, The Hall in the Grove.

Dusting off my sandals,


If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – Pansy-trod Pathways

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

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Stories that take you home

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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