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A House for the Rector. A World War and a Pandemic (1914-1924)

posted Mar 13, 2012, 2:58 PM by Todd Randolph   [ updated Mar 14, 2012, 6:49 AM ]
In 1914, Rector Laurens MacLure moved his family from 116 Church St. (the corner house where the Shinns had lived, diagonally opposite from Grace Church at the four-way stop) into the brand-new stone Rectory on the Grace Church driveway. Unlike Rev. Shinn, Rector MacLure had asked each year that Grace Church construct a home for the Rector...by year #7, Rev. MacLure's campaign had paid off. Ironically, in 1971 Rector Tom Lehman was as happy to move out of the Rectory, then rented to the Newton Guidance Clinic, as was MacLure to move in. In 1916, Grace's first female employee Miss Elizabeth Angier was hired as "Parish Worker" in charge of the Sunday School, altar hangings and decorations. By 1917, the U.S. had joined World War I; 9 women from Grace, and 57 men from the parish were away at war...of these, two were killed. 
Although the War ended on November 11, 1918, this good news was overshadowed by the Spanish Flu pandemic ("le grippe" in French). Whereas the War killed an unheard of total of 9.7 million military and civilians, influenza killed at least 50 million worldwide (recently revised estimates for the 1918-19 epidemic run as high as 100 million flu deaths). Even today no one is certain where this strain of the avian flu originated. The unfortunate nickname "Spanish Flu" occurred because Spain, as a non-combatant in the War, had no press censorship. Thus England, the U.S., and other countries quoted news stories from Spain. For reasons still little understood, most of the Spanish flu victims were ages 15-45...neither the very young, nor older persons. In addition to rapid development of the well-known flu symptoms, victims often died of pneumonia within 24-hours. In the U.S., the flu first appeared at Ft. Riley, Kansas in March, 1918. 
By September, the flu struck the military at Commonwealth Pier in Boston. Large public gatherings such as Liberty Bond parades, social/church events, and sporting events were cancelled (nonetheless the Red Sox won the World Series with their young pitcher, Babe Ruth...who lived on his farm in Sudbury). On Oct 6 and 13, Grace Church had no services, as requested by the Board of Health. People stopped shaking hands or touching, and many wore face masks...which were required on all trolley and subway cars. At a special Vestry meeting on October 9, Rector MacLure explained the new method of administration of the Elements of Holy Communion by intinction (dipping the bread in a separate small cup, rather than sharing a common cup) as directed by Bishop William Lawrence. In October alone, 195,000 in the U.S. died of the flu. The eventual two-year death toll was 675,000 in the U.S.; 45,000 in Massachusetts. As best we can tell, no one from Grace Church got the 1918 flu. Thus, the practice of dipping the bread in a small cup (as well as the churches that use small individual containers of wine or grape juice) stems from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Epidemiologists today still are studying the remains of persons who died in 1918. A rope-skipping rhyme of the day: "I had a little bird; its name was Enza. I opened the window, and in-flew-Enza". What Newton problem was identified by Rev. MacLure during the "Roaring Twenties", yet lingers today? Find out in the next History Minute.