Real People in Walk by Faith
Images from left to right:
Rev. Samuel Simon Schumcker
Rev. Arthur M. McGinnis
My characters in Walk by Faith make mention of and encounter several real-life people. The fun part of writing historical fiction is 1) I am able to research the history behind a particular time, location, or event; and 2) I can imagine what "might have been" had such-and-so happened.
As you may or may not know, Frankie, Maggie's youngest daughter from her marriage to John Blaine, feels called to go into some kind of ministry. In the 1860s that is a distinct challenge, as most Christian groups at the time believed that women were not equal to men and were not part of the apostolic succession, since it was believed that Jesus did not have any female disciples.
And yet, in Walk by Faith, Frankie abruptly finds herself in a town with a school that trains Protestant ministers. The Rev. Samuel Simon Schmucker (pictured above) was a German-Lutheran pastor and founder of the Gettysburg Seminary, also known as the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. What would happen, I wondered, if Frankie were to present herself to Schmucker and ask to become part of the student body?
My reading about Schmucker revealed that he supported women’s education, which was encouraging. However, I also learned that no women had been enrolled in the seminary at that time, So, putting one and one together, I decided that Schmucker would be hesitant to enroll Frankie as a regular student, but would permit her sit in on certain classes. He also requires her to write papers and submit them to him for critique. Naturally, I have no idea what Rev. Schmucker would have don in real life, but I took a stab and made him a kindly, interested man, who found Maggie's red-haired, freckle-faced daughter intriguing enough to see what she could do theologically.
Another person mentioned in Walk by Faith, is Dr. Ignatz Phillip Semmelweis, an early pioneer in the field of antiseptics. Semmelweis discovered that the postpartum puerperal fever mortality rate dropped when doctors at lying-in hospitals used disinfectant on their hands before attending a birth. While he does not appear in the novel as an actual character, Semmelweis does have a big impact on Adela Edler, the town’s German-born midwife who hires Lydia as her partner. Adela teaches Lydia about Semmelweis' hand-washing discovery - and Lydia goes on to carry the idea to her hometown and to its new hospital in later stories.
Finally, we have the Rev. Arthur M. McGinnis, the priest at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Gettysburg during the battle. As mentioned in a previous blog, his church was used as a hospital where the Sisters of Charity (from Emmitsburg, Maryland) famously served as nurses. Once again, I have no idea what Father McGinnis was like as a person, so I had to use my imagination. At the beginning of the battle, Adela sends Lydia to fetch the priest to help calm a laboring first-time mother. In those days, Catholics and Protestants usually did not enter one another's churches. So, when nervous, Methodist Lydia shows up at the Roman Catholic Church, this encounter ensues.
With a deep breath, Lydia climbed the steps and opened the door. The interior of the church looked different from the ones with which she was familiar. There were pictures and statues. The smell of candle wax and incense floated on the air. As she walked down the aisle she tried not to have her footsteps echo too loudly. Near the altar a door abruptly opened and a man in a black cassock walked in. Lydia started but quickly and said, “Father McGinnis?”
“I am a midwife working with Miss Adela Edler. One of your parishioners, Mrs. Fischer, is about to have her baby and craves prayers for her safety.”
He smiled. “I see. Just one moment.”
In a few seconds, he returned wearing a coat and holding a hat. He paused before the altar, where he genuflected and crossed himself. Lydia did not know what to do, so she clumsily imitated his actions and followed him down the aisle, where he once again paused, dipped his fingers into a bowl of water, and crossed himself. She endeavored to do the same. With a faint smile, Father McGinnis said, “You cross yourself as one who has seen but not practiced.”
Lydia blushed. “I had hoped you wouldn’t notice. But, yes, I am a Methodist. Miss Edler sent me to get your help. I hope I have not offended you by entering your church.”
Father McGinnis’ expression was one of amazement. “My dear child, you came on a mission of mercy. You are being the very feet of Christ. How should I be offended?” Then he gave her a teasing wink. “However, I am here anytime to catechize you should you wish to convert.”
Lydia stifled a chuckle.
“Shall we go?” He held the door open for her. “Mrs. Fischer needs prayer!”
I enjoy adding the occasional historical figure to my stories. It adds a touch of reality and serves as an anchor to the historical events swirling throughout my work. More will and do show up in other books.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder