Easter Sunday 1918

I was going to write something else for Easter. I was going to tell you a few stories from around the U.S.

Like the church ladies who once hid 700 Easter eggs for a community church in Texas, and accidentally forgot to fill them with candy. If you can just imagine.

Then I was going to close by reminding everyone to fill their eggs with candy before they hide them.

But something happened to me. During my research for this column I fell into a wormhole. I came across more Easter stories than I could shake a bunny at. Which led to more stories. And more stories.

As of now, I have been reading for several hours and my eyes hurt.

Some of these stories were emails.

Like the email I got about a Connecticut woman who, for Good Friday, read an Easter story to her grandkids via video phone call. Quarantine style. The old woman did it cheerfully, even though she is in hospice care. Her hospice nurse held the phone.

I got an email about a 25-year-old woman who got married last week. Her father did the wedding via the internet. The couple has no marriage certificate yet since they are quarantining. But the young woman said, “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we wanted to face this together.”

Or how about historic tales of Easter? Such as the Easter of 1918. Now there was a real doozy.

To start with, over in Europe, The War to End All Wars was raging. And the outbreak of the Spanish Flu was in full swing, worldwide.

I read handwritten letters from soldiers, writing to loved ones. I bawled like a baby.

Here’s one:

MARCH 31, 1918—“I miss you, oh dearest, this day feels empty without you beside me. I saw a train that was like an iron steed, I wish I could have been aboard and moving homeward…”

At the time the soldier wrote this, 20 million were dying from the war, and 50 million were dying from H1N1 across the globe. It was hell on earth. And I don’t mean that metaphorically.

Another letter:

“My dear Charles, I prepared four Easter pies this eve, but you were not here and I miss you… Your mother is still sick with fever… We are aimless without you.”

So 1918 was no day at the beach. I was reading about a guy who drove street cars in Seattle, handing out free homemade face masks to passengers to fight the flu.

And about Chicago, how families were tying white scarves to their front door knobs to alert the world they were infected. If the scarves stayed there too long, a neighbor called the undertaker.

I read about a young man who worked as a chaplain on a Pueblo reservation out West, caring for dying Native American children. One Easter, he was almost ready to give up when he wrote to his wife for encouragement.

Heartbreak after heartbreak. Sorrow after sorrow. I read other people’s mail from a hundred years ago.

Soldiers, policemen, milkmen, paper boys, musicians, writers, politicians, brakemen, all just hoping their families kept healthy.

I saw faded photographs of makeshift hospitals with children in isolation booths. Young girls who became impromptu Red Cross nurses, caring for the dying without worry for their own welfare.

This led me to stories from the polio epidemics of the 1940s, when outbreaks were happening left and right all over the world. Meanwhile, World War II was killing 75 million people. Easter had a very different meaning back then.

And even after the war, in the 1950s, polio kept wreaking more havoc on the planet. Every parent in America was sick with worry. One survey reported that the two things Americans feared most in 1952 were nuclear annihilation, and polio.

Read that last sentence again if you need to.

There were polio cases popping up everywhere. Like all the outbreaks in Texas, where crop duster planes were dousing entire residential neighborhoods with clouds of DDT insecticide in hopes of killing the polio virus.

“The world was out of control,” one 82-year-old woman tells me. “My mom wouldn’t let us leave the house.”

Polio scares got so bad that priests were conducting sermons via radios. Churches were empty, spring dances were cancelled, public pools were drained, summer was put on hold.

“My mom got polio when she was a child,” said one man I know. “My grandpa made her brothers and sisters go live with my relatives. They didn’t see each other again for two years.”

And do you know what? After reading these heart wrenching letters of our own history, I was overcome. Not with a sense of dread, not with grief, not with sadness. But something else.

Because within each story, each handwritten sentence, photograph, article, news clipping, and email was a heavy dose of hope. That’s right. Within the voices of our ancestors is the profound feeling of a smiling face. And love.

I started to feel something I can’t describe. It began in my belly. It moved upward to my eyes. It is something that transcends time, plague, and war. And death. Something unnamable. Something so real that it cannot be understood with intellect.

There is a kind of sweetness the human race finds within each godawful tragedy. It is as though we are hardwired to find this sweetness. It is as though we were built to believe in it.

Not that anyone asked me, because they didn’t, but I believe that the fires of Hell itself might flicker and burn, but they will not win. Not in a million years. And this, I believe, is what Easter is all about.

So please put candy in your eggs before you hide them.


  1. Afi Scruggs - April 12, 2020 7:01 am

    A keeper

  2. Nan - April 12, 2020 7:06 am

    We can all hope and pray for a better day…thank you Sean, for another heartfelt column. Happy Easter to you and yours.

  3. Joanne Clark - April 12, 2020 7:28 am

    Wonderful column, Sean! I remember my mother making my brother and me take naps during the heat of summer because of the polio scare. I was horrified at the idea of being put in an iron lung. When I was in second grade, the new polio vaccine was given to us at school. What a blessing that was 🙏🏻

  4. Ann Collier - April 12, 2020 8:13 am

    You go, Sean! Happy Easter!

  5. Tammy S. - April 12, 2020 9:07 am

    Happy Easter Sean. Hoping your day is a blessed and sweet one with your Jamie. God bless you both!

  6. Pam Sawyer - April 12, 2020 9:28 am

    Happy Easter ~~ thank you for that beautiful reminder of hope. Here’s another…

    Hope is the thing with feathers
    Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

    Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.

  7. steve hoover - April 12, 2020 9:33 am

    I wish we could tuck these feelings into everyone’s heart. Good stuff brutha!

  8. Naomi - April 12, 2020 10:17 am

    I had polio in 1950, the summer I turned 6 years old. I spent 1 month in the hospital and 2 months in the crippled children’s hospital for rehabilitation. I was very lonely because I couldn’t have any visitors. However, when I was able to walk again, another girl and I would wait until everyone was taking a nap and we would steal two wheel chairs and race them down the halls. The nurses were very glad when I got to go home.

  9. Dana Farmer - April 12, 2020 10:43 am

    My mom got polio shortly after I was born in 1953. In her 50s, she developed post polio syndrome which became worse as she aged. She would have loved today’s piece, Sean. Thank you.

  10. Judy - April 12, 2020 11:00 am

    The sun is rising and the son has risen.

  11. Cynthia Harmon - April 12, 2020 11:00 am

    This may be this best Easter sermon I’ve ever read. Hell does not win.

  12. Julie Patterson - April 12, 2020 11:14 am


  13. Sharon Lawson - April 12, 2020 11:26 am

    Thank you. You gave me hope today when I don’t feel I have any.

  14. Anne Arthur - April 12, 2020 11:32 am

    Yes! This is the Easter resurrection, your words are truth and bring life. Hope is the essence of our Easter celebration. Thank you, Sean. Truly a wonderful Easter sermon.

  15. Ann - April 12, 2020 11:53 am

    History DOES repeat itself ( in similar ways)… you remind us that because of HIM and EASTER there is HOPE!

  16. Molly - April 12, 2020 11:53 am

    Thank you

  17. Margo - April 12, 2020 11:58 am

    What a beautiful message that we are all hardwired with sweetness (and goodness and thankfulness).
    That when it gets tough out there we remember what our Christ did for ALL of us over 2,000 yrs ago. A sacrifice he could easily gotten out of.
    We can do this, get through this, as we give our lives to our Christ.
    Hallelujah our Christ is risen!

  18. John - April 12, 2020 12:01 pm

    What an inspiration to read today with what’s going on in our world. He is risen!
    Happy Easter to you and Jamie and the kids.
    John B

  19. Cathi Russell - April 12, 2020 12:14 pm

    Amen!!! God always wins in the end! Happy Resurrection Day Sean, Jamie, Thel & Otis…hope your eggs are packed with candy!

  20. greatgrams6 - April 12, 2020 12:32 pm

    Sean, thank you so much for your words of hope. I truly believe this pandemic will pass and pray we hold on to the kindness and hope being displayed.

  21. Berryman Mary M - April 12, 2020 12:38 pm

    Great one, Sean. Happy Easter!

  22. Brenda - April 12, 2020 12:41 pm

    Everlasting hope! Happy Easter!

  23. Jo Ann - April 12, 2020 12:43 pm

    Thank you, Sean. Happy Easter to you & your family & friends.

  24. Jan - April 12, 2020 12:52 pm

    Precious stories of hope and love! Thank you, Sean, for reminding us that there is no power or virus on earth which can overcome hope and love!

  25. Donna J. Masmar - April 12, 2020 12:52 pm

    I was a student nurse and saw an eight year old die in an iron lung. And my husband to be experienced polio. But I also got in on giving the first Salk vaccine to children just a couple years later–. This, too, shall pass!

  26. Carlin Brooks - April 12, 2020 1:04 pm

    I do believe you are getting even better. This year… this day … this is a keeper.

  27. Phil S. - April 12, 2020 1:12 pm

    Thanks, Sean. All I can find to say is “Preach on, Brutha’!!

  28. Teresa Tindle - April 12, 2020 1:25 pm

    What an article. I think today I needed this. Yesterday, with all the bad tornado talk, all of our neighbors across the world that are sick and dying, I had lost hope. Now I see that hope is never gone, just hidden from our view. We sometimes have to dig it out. What ever happens to us today, we will survive. We will be strong. God never abandons us. We just have to believe.

  29. Lori - April 12, 2020 1:31 pm

    One of your bests today – out of many. He is Risen! The gates of hell do not win

  30. Carol Wilkinson - April 12, 2020 1:36 pm

    Thanks for reminding us that this too shall pass.

  31. Nancy Blackmon - April 12, 2020 1:55 pm

    This is one of your best columns.

  32. David - April 12, 2020 2:12 pm

    Next to the Torah, you’re still my best read of the day!
    Thanks again for a lovely, beautiful, very well-written column, Sean. Happy Easter to you and yours!

  33. Lita - April 12, 2020 2:25 pm

    There’s no doubt how much we love you.

  34. franfluker - April 12, 2020 2:28 pm

    Just read your Easter sermon. Thanks for putting life/today in perspective…
    I write a blog, try to post something every day – you might enjoy some of the meanderings/musings

  35. Norman Purdue - April 12, 2020 2:39 pm

    Sean, thanks for reminding us that “Nothing is new under the sun.” We will have tribulations in this world. Hope fueled by faith, assures us that Christ has overcome through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave all that separates us from eternity in the glorious presence of God. Happy and blessed Easter.

  36. peggybilbro - April 12, 2020 2:46 pm

    Thank you For this column, Sean. I am usually the Pollyanna of our family, but I’m finding it hard to to be something that has always before come naturally. We will get through this and we will be stronger for it. Meanwhile, blessings on those who don’t make it through and on their families.

  37. Fleming Straughan - April 12, 2020 3:04 pm

    Thank you for your reminder amid today He is Risen

  38. Terri Byrd - April 12, 2020 3:08 pm

    This is lovely. Thank you. In the darkest of hours, hope, like the sun, still rises.

  39. JAMES W NEAREN JR - April 12, 2020 3:12 pm

    Happy Easter Sean!

  40. Chris Nischan - April 12, 2020 3:23 pm

    He is risen! Hope is eternal. Thank you for the reminder

  41. Cheryl - April 12, 2020 3:57 pm

    God bless you Sean. Happy Easter 🙏❤

  42. Cheryl Crafton - April 12, 2020 4:07 pm

    Heartfelt and definitely 2 hanky worthy💕

  43. Linda Moon - April 12, 2020 4:11 pm

    I needed this Easter message today because of a godawful tragedy that occurred in my family on Good Friday. It didn’t, and doesn’t, seem good. So, today on Easter, thank you for the reminder of Heaven and Hope, Sean. Because our hearts are broken.

  44. Cheryl H. - April 12, 2020 4:44 pm

    Sean, God bless you & Jamie, and thank you for a powerful Easter sermon today. Hope seems to be in short supply. And I’ll take all you can give, even, maybe especially, if it’s served with all the tears.
    Cheryl H

  45. Edna Barron - April 12, 2020 4:52 pm

    Pogo and I wish you a Happy and Blessed Easter. Hugs, Edna B.

  46. Ellen Cameron - April 12, 2020 4:53 pm

    God Bless you and all you do! Thank you and HAPPY EASTER!!!!

  47. Betty F. - April 12, 2020 4:57 pm

    Thank you. Be safe. Don’t stop sharing- ever….

  48. Charlu Kent - April 12, 2020 5:17 pm

    Very Very well written missive. Go snuggle with your Pups n make sure you put candy in the egg you hand to your wife as you hug her. Happy Easter 🐰🐇🐣💙🐭❤️😎

  49. Buddy - April 12, 2020 5:17 pm

    Sean I am not a Reader. I have grown very fond of your stories and Emails. Thank You so much!

  50. Leigh - April 12, 2020 5:31 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for your much-needed history lesson. You are a true gem for spreading hope to this fallen world. God bless you today and always. He is Risen!

  51. Brenda - April 12, 2020 6:38 pm

    Thank you for reminding us, I have thought about this all week. Back then they went through things like this without, TV, computers, groceries,
    Help us to not complain.

  52. Gale Smith - April 12, 2020 7:08 pm

    Quote from Starman: We “are at our best when things are at their worst.” Jeff Bridge
    Happy Easter to all.

  53. Marcia Gootee - April 12, 2020 7:58 pm

    A powerful reminder for all of us. Thank you for reminding us that generations before us have overcome adversities most have not endured. I, too, experienced the chills reading your words today. God used you as His vessel today to remind us He is alive and loves us. Well done faithful Servant, well done!!

  54. Barbara Kirker - April 12, 2020 8:10 pm

    Thank you! I look forward to your post every day, and you never disappoint me!

  55. Ann Marie Bouchet - April 12, 2020 8:36 pm

    You made me cry…..again….this column let’s us know we are not the only ones who have been thru this quarantine nightmare! And they had less mobility and ability to access the outside world that we do. As scary as this might be for us, try to just imagine the scare that they endured. Thank you for putting things in perspective. You and Jamie be safe.

  56. Grant Burris - April 12, 2020 8:40 pm

    Sean, that was well done. Your thoughts come straight from your heart. I always look forward to your posts because of that sincerity. Thank you.

  57. Lucretia Jones - April 12, 2020 8:46 pm

    What a wonderful Easter message of hope and the beauty of the resurrection and “overcoming the world.”

  58. Renee - April 12, 2020 9:48 pm

    Bless your Heart Sean!!!❤️ I needed that reminder that it’s okay to be sad in our circumstances, but look beyond ourselves to the Hope that’s waiting to lift us up in these scary days!!!

  59. jstephenw - April 12, 2020 10:10 pm

    Damn you Sean. I have been trying for days to have a pity party quarantined at home after losing John Prine this week, then you have to write something so beautiful to put it in perspective. Tell Jamie I am not sure how she continues to put up with you, then tell her I am begging her to please continue to do so. We need your voice. Listen to “Summer’s End” by John Prine tonight on Youtube, hug Jamie and keep helping us believe. Thank you.

  60. Diane H. Toney - April 12, 2020 11:33 pm

    Well done ! Interesting to me because I wrote a column two weeks ago for our local paper on the comparisons of this virus to WWII and the polio scare. I was quite young but I remember so well the fear of the illness and the sacrifices of the war. If interested, you can find it on my FB page. I’m also the one who exchanged books with you. Loved your column on the different Easter celebrations. I shared it with my Baptist preacher friend and my Methodist preacher friend.

  61. Linda Moon - April 13, 2020 12:29 am

    To jstephenw: In one week we lost John Prine and a young, beautiful, beloved family member. We have to believe in Easter so that Hell doesn’t win. I’ll listen to John Prine tomorrow and remember Hannah.

  62. Glenda Hinkle - April 13, 2020 12:49 am

    Thank you, Sean. Yes, this Easter is like one I have never celebrated in my 73 years……Thank you for this blog to put things in perspective for us all.

  63. Larry Wall - April 13, 2020 7:16 pm

    Nothing can be more beautiful than Truth. Great sermon.

  64. Toni Keeling - April 13, 2020 9:28 pm

    Bless your heart, Sean – you give words from the heart to meet our deepest memories, and our greatest hopes. Thank you. Praise our wonderful Lord who is risen!
    My beloved grandparents and parents went through those times, in Tasmania, Australia and mum sometimes talked about some of the things they endured. Dad’s father was in WW1 in France.

  65. Karen Roberts - April 14, 2020 5:31 pm

    Powerful message, and just what I needed. God bless you Sean

  66. Carol L Land - April 14, 2020 10:45 pm

    Bless you Sean ! Stay In, Stay Safe, and Stay Healthy……. I read your blog every day. This one I forwarded to my brother and sister. God loves you and so do I……

  67. Rebecca - April 15, 2020 1:20 am

    Thank you for the reminders about how bad it could be. I was a young child when the cure for polio became available. This was a huge event as everyone knew at least one person who was in an iron lung and many who had to wear the leg braces. In my hometown, the oral vaccine was dispensed at a local church about a mile from our house. As my parents were rounding us up to go, I asked which car we were going in. My daddy said we were walking. When I asked why were we walking, he replied , “Because we can.” Nothing more needed to be said.

  68. Pat Reeves - April 15, 2020 3:27 pm

    I love this post!
    Now when I look at all the 1918 deaths in the Cemetery I’ll know instead of wondering.
    So real.

  69. agracefilledhome77 - April 16, 2020 1:39 pm

    Thank you for a beautiful article. Hope is contagious. Let’s spread hope.


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