Some years ago I was moving things around in our Narthex display case and became curious about a plaster medallion that looked like it had been roughly hacked from some wall. The label said it came from our Sanctuary but not why or when. Turning it over, I found an entire paragraph written in pencil in a beautiful, large, flowing script. But the pencil had faded and parts were chipped off. Sigh.
First I checked all our records and discovered that, just like people today purchase memorial bricks to help pay for buildings and memorials, in 1832 it was common to sell decorations to help pay for, say, a major renovation of the then named German Reformed Church of Easton. Furthermore, the people were encouraged to write on the backs of these decorations—in this case plaster medallions—creating a sort of time capsule. I also discovered that these plaster medallions were removed at the next renovation in 1885. That took care of the when and why, leaving only the who and what.
The Hidden Treasure
After careful cleaning, using magnifying glasses of various strengths, bright lights and even brighter lights, and careful researching on the ‘net, I was able to decipher the following. In an attempt to provide continuity and understanding, and by using hints from the writing and from history, missing or smudged words have been added in grey type:
The Cholera Morbus, called the Asiatic or Spas –
modic Cholera, is now prevaling to an alarming rate
in the City of Philadelphia. This day we were in –
formed that One Hundred and Five outbreaks
were reported to the Board of Health on this date
Twenty-Four hours ending yesterday, Thurs. – and
Sixty Five deaths. – August 6 th, 1832
Sam C. Gwinner MD
A.B. We have been informed this day
that Chief Justice Ewing of Trenton New Jersey
died of Spasmodic Cholera a day or two since. –
August 6 th 1832 S.C.G.
Chief Justice Ewing must have been a close personal friend of Dr. Samuel C. Gwinner. In a time before telegrams or telephones, Dr. Gwinner was notified of his death one day after he died of Cholera, in Trenton, on August 5th, 1832.
We will never know what happened to the other decorations or why this one was kept. We can only be grateful that it was, as it gives us a first-hand view into a terrible plague and its impact on two men. The plaque is on display in our History Room any time you would like to see it.