When I was a boy, I walked to school every day, and the daily morning walk featured human landmarks.
On the 400 block of West Lloyd Street, a fierce old man with long white hair (at a time when no men wore long hair) and a white beard would be found standing high on a second floor porch. He stood there, as if at attention, and greeted passing schoolchildren with a grave nod and never a smile.
Turning north on Chestnut Street, at the corner house just before the alley, we would find Henry Walukewicz, the undertaker, standing on the sidewalk level porch of his house waiting for us. He subscribed to weekly humor magazines, and thus armed himself with a repertoire of corny riddles, which he would dispense daily to an appreciative audience of schoolkids. After the chilly reception we got from “the wild old man” back on Lloyd Street, Henry the comedian provided a refreshing dose of human warmth.
All this was in the late 1950s.
I lived much of my adult life in Newtown, Connecticut. Our house was built in 1712 and I had a great deal of fun researching our home’s history and the history of the town itself.
At the intersection of Church Hill Road and the Boulevard, there is a stately Victorian house (now law offices, alas!) on one side of the Boulevard and a splendid large barn right across from it. An old, old man who’d grown up in Newtown told me that, long ago, when he was a boy, as the schoolkids passed by that barn, the farmer would stop feeding his cows, come out in front of the barn and do a dance for them. This would have been back in the 1920s.
(I went to Google Earth, thinking that I’d grab an image of that impressive old barn and post it here. It and the Victorian house were both gone! Tempus fugits.)
An elderly woman walks past the ruins of the former high school in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
WNEP 16 reports that several once-thriving communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region, including my own boyhood hometown, all one-time mining boom towns, are discovering that, after their economic raison d’être has disappeared, the population vanishes as well.
[S]ome communities in our region are fast becoming virtual ghost towns.
The proof comes from the 2010 U.S. Census which found in three area communities more than 25 percent of the homes and businesses sit vacant.
The three communities are in the heart of the coal region. All experienced population and employment losses in recent years that left hundreds of vacant houses and storefronts.
In Mahanoy City, Schuykill County, according to the U.S. Census, 26.3 percent of its homes sit vacant.
Just a block from the main street a home is selling for less than a price of a used car.
Shamokin, Northumberland County also has a vacancy rate of 26.3 percent. Afternoon traffic rarely stops on downtown blocks that increasingly see buildings for rent or for sale.
Shenandoah has the region’s highest vacancy rate at 28.9 percent. …
Empty lots. Empty businesses that closed years ago.
“It’s a great little town, but it has an image problem,” said realtor Erica Ramus. She has a hard time selling property in Shenandoah. “I’ve brought people up here to show them downtown properties as far as commercial, and the comment I’ve heard is, ‘Why would I want to move my business to a dying old coal town?'”
A typical Shenandoah block consists of an empty building, another vacant storefront, a doctor’s office, another vacant storefront, then a bank branch. People downtown said the neighborhoods are even bleaker. …
A drive through Shenandoah’s east side finds abandoned, unlivable homes. Others sit vacant for years, with little hope of finding a buyer.
A rowhome for sale is covered with newspapers from the year 2000.
“They’re not dead, but they’re certainly ill,” said Wilkes University economics professor Tony Liuzzo. He said the communities spiraling downward where jobs and people leave and vacant homes stay vacant.
“There’s an increase in pressure on the individuals who are remaining there and, of course, you don’t want to be the last one left holding the bag, so to speak,” Liuzzo added.
John Dopkin calls his east side Shenandoah block the loneliest place imaginable.
“I have no friends, all my friends are gone. I just lost my wife a year ago, and I’m waiting to go myself,” Dopkin added.
St. George Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church, Shenandoah, PA, decorated for Christmas in 1979. I served mass at Christmas there many decades ago. The Diocese of Allentown had this church, the grandest and most architecturally distinguished in town, torn down in 2010.
Shenandoah, Pennsylvania: South Main Street in the 1940s, a bit before my time.
My high school and elementary school classmate Norman Gregas posted on Facebook this Iris Dement nostalgic tribute to a vanished small town, particularly applicable in the case of our hometown whose treatment at the hands of time and economic change was exceptionally destructive and cruel.
Hans von Aachen, St. George Slaying the Dragon, c. 1600, Private Collection, London
From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:
Butler, the historian of the Romish calendar, repudiates George of Cappadocia, and will have it that the famous saint was born of noble Christian parents, that he entered the army, and rose to a high grade in its ranks, until the persecution of his co-religionists by Diocletian compelled him to throw up his commission, and upbraid the emperor for his cruelty, by which bold conduct he lost his head and won his saintship. Whatever the real character of St. George might have been, he was held in great honour in England from a very early period. While in the calendars of the Greek and Latin churches he shared the twenty-third of April with other saints, a Saxon Martyrology declares the day dedicated to him alone; and after the Conquest his festival was celebrated after the approved fashion of Englishmen.
In 1344, this feast was made memorable by the creation of the noble Order of St. George, or the Blue Garter, the institution being inaugurated by a grand joust, in which forty of Englandâ€™s best and bravest knights held the lists against the foreign chivalry attracted by the proclamation of the challenge through France, Burgundy, Hainault, Brabant, Flanders, and Germany. In the first year of the reign of Henry V, a council held at London decreed, at the instance of the king himself, that henceforth the feast of St. George should be observed by a double service; and for many years the festival was kept with great splendour at Windsor and other towns. Shakspeare, in Henry VI, makes the Regent Bedford say, on receiving the news of disasters in France:
Bonfires in France I am forthwith to make
To keep our great St. Georgeâ€™s feast withal!â€™
Edward VI promulgated certain statutes severing the connection between the â€˜noble orderâ€™ and the saint; but on his death, Mary at once abrogated them as â€˜impertinent, and tending to novelty.â€™ The festival continued to be observed until 1567, when, the ceremonies being thought incompatible with the reformed religion, Elizabeth ordered its discontinuance. James I, however, kept the 23rd of April to some extent, and the revival of the feast in all its glories was only prevented by the Civil War. So late as 1614, it was the custom for fashionable gentlemen to wear blue coats on St. Georgeâ€™s day, probably in imitation of the blue mantle worn by the Knights of the Garter.
In olden times, the standard of St. George was borne before our English kings in battle, and his name was the rallying cry of English warriors. According to Shakspeare, Henry V led the attack on Harfleur to the battle-cry of â€˜God for Harry! England! and St. George!â€™ and â€˜God and St. Georgeâ€™ was Talbotâ€™s slogan on the fatal field of Patay. Edward of Wales exhorts his peace-loving parents to
â€˜Cheer these noble lords,
And hearten those that fight in your defence;
Unsheath your sword, good father, cry St. George!â€™
The fiery Richard invokes the same saint, and his rival can think of no better name to excite the ardour of his adherents:
â€˜Advance our standards, set upon our foes,
Our ancient word of courage, fair St. George,
Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons.â€™
England was not the only nation that fought under the banner of St. George, nor was the Order of the Garter the only chivalric institution in his honour. Sicily, Arragon, Valencia, Genoa, Malta, Barcelona, looked up to him as their guardian saint; and as to knightly orders bearing his name, a Venetian Order of St. George was created in 1200, a Spanish in 1317, an Austrian in 1470, a Genoese in 1472, and a Roman in 1492, to say nothing of the more modern ones of Bavaria (1729), Russia (1767), and Hanover (1839).
St. George, being a soldier saint, was also a favorite of the Lithuanians, and the Lithuanian parish in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania where I grew up was named for him. Our church’s cornerstone was laid in 1891, and construction was completed in 1894. In 1901, the frame church was clad in brick and twin towers erected. In 1907, a poor immigrant coal mining community spent nearly $100,000 covering the church in granite and decorating its interior in the Gothic manner of Pugin.
The diocese of Allentown in its wisdom demolished St. George Church during the winter of 2009-2010.