One doesn’t have to know me for long before they easily deduce that I am a man who devours history. Want to fuel my drive for knowledge on any given historical event? Tell me the matter has to do with U.S. history. Care to stoke the flames more? Inform me the topic pertains to the advancement of the gospel. Want to lose me to hours of research, field trips and conversation to a degree that you will be concerned for my mental stability? Inform me that the historic individuals are not too far off from my home town or family tree, and that we share the same DNA.
My next few Faith Page articles will tell the story of two men I have recently become enamored with, calling them “my heroes” in the most pure non-idolizing way possible. It may be that by God’s grace I am where I am because of these “Fathers of my Faith.”
Nearly a month ago my rockets of research were lit, launching me into an atmosphere of amazement. While my mother and her friend Beth prepared for a trip to Europe to trace some family ties to the Old Countries of Ireland and Denmark, they came across some material in our family line that I found quite interesting, to say the least.
My mother was given a book the dimensions of a school textbook. It was dedicated to the history and journey of my mother’s mother’s line, the Crumbaugh family, from Germany to the New World in the 1760s. I grabbed the book in excitement and began poring over the pages. After this brief taste of the book, I began flipping through towards later people and places when I came across the image of eight young men of the Gettysburg College graduating class, 1851. In looking at the men, I spotted a tall, distinguished man standing in the back.
While I hoped I was related to him, I knew I had to be based on his height, the tall hair and the long neck with what had to be a protruding Adam’s apple neatly covered by a tall collar
and scarf of mid-19th century fashion. Sure enough, the name list below the photo showed him to be John S. Crumbaugh, my exponentially great-great grandfather. The photo accompanied four large pages of biography that started the process of fueling the fire of my historical bliss.
A bust along with a plaque describing in length the story of John S. Crumbaugh stands as a memorial at Lancaster Boy’s High School in Lancaster, Penn., where he served for eight short years as superintendent and principal before he heartbreakingly died from a lung hemorrhage at the young age of 27.
John was “the first honor of his class,” the plaque reads, “a man of noble presence, tall, well-formed, erect, calm; with kind eyes that saw everything, but always too wise to act upon everything they saw; gifted with a man’s voice of fine quality, deep, resonant, and sympathetic; a man who would be noted in any assemblage – he impressed us all as the master.” He was, “Not only very active, but physically a very strong man. On one occasion, while principal of the high school, a number of men were talking of physical strength, and one of them, also of the farm and known to be of great strength, said confidently that he could put down any man in the company. Mr. Crumbaugh said quietly that he thought not. They cleared the space, and in a few moments the confident champion was on the floor.” The challenger would be John’s friend Kersey Coates, the future Union soldier in the Missouri Militia during the “Bleeding Kansas” tribulation of the early 1860’s.
As fantastic as some of the tales of John’s strength, stature, gumption and integrity are, I know through reading that their source was in his personal relationship with Jesus. John had some good religious influence around him in that both of his grandfathers were pastors. John studied theology under Rev. John C. Baker and helped plant a Lutheran church in the northwestern part of Lancaster (which according to my studies is still a thriving church today). He soon resigned principalship of the school in order to carry out his original purpose of entering the ministry, and assumed the pastorate of the newly planted church.
Even from babyhood John had a remarkable memory. He would write a speech or sermon of 20 or 30 minutes (which proves that not everything is handed down in our DNA) and have the entire work memorized in about the same amount of time.
Sadly, the untimely death of John S. Crumbaugh left a hole in Lancaster. In a tribute to John, written by a “warm friend and ardent admirer,” Dr. Thomas H. Burrows, “Mr. Crumbaugh was a man endowed by nature with talents of a high order. He was a good scholar, one of the strongest and best men we have ever known, and an executive officer of the first rank. Few men have lived to better purpose, though their working life may have been many times his own.
“He came to Lancaster a stranger in 1851, unheralded and unknown, but he held, in quick succession – for with him the time was indeed “short ” – three of the highest positions in our midst; the foremost place as teacher, one of the foremost as preacher, and supervisor of general school work in city and county. When he died, it was said, and believed, that no other man in city or county was known, and honored, and beloved by so many people. Nor is this at all strange or to be wondered that, being the man he was. He met so many people, he knew so many, he was heard by so many, and what he wrote was read by so many; and influenced so many to better thought, wiser view, and higher purpose.
“His chosen profession as was the ministry. As pastor of “St. John’s” he will be a tradition of the church for many generations. Had his strong life been spared, he would, we think, have become one of the most eloquent and influential men in the Lutheran Church in America. Once in his room we handed him an autographed book and asked him to write his name. He took it and wrote: ‘a man that hath friends must show himself friendly; and there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.’
“It is a blessed privilege to know men like John S. Crumbaugh. He died as he had lived, a Christian in the best sense of that great word. The memory of his fine personality, his helpfulness, his self-sacrifice, his love of all things pure and good, his undying purpose to work while the day lasted, has in it all the old inspiration, though nearly a half century has passed since his untimely death.”
I am honored to share the story of my distant grandfather with you all. I have been greatly impressed by the strength, hard work, professionalism and kindness of this man, but am also purposeful in giving glory to his God, the One who saved even John to eternal life and called him to be a servant of the good news of the gospel to the people of Lancaster. I would love to travel back in time and meet this man, be his friend, learn from him and even be admonished in the lack of 1850’s character and work ethic that remains in our culture today.