Day 3: September 22, 2017
Day of Our Dead

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Today we moved on to some of the sites this trip was organized around. Up first was Gloria Dei, the oldest church in Pennsylvania. Swedish colonies were established in the New World before William Penn established Pennsylvania. In fact, as our guide pointed out, "We were here before William Penn was born." Construction of the current church was begun in 1698 and it was dedicated on July 2, 1700. The congregation can trace its roots to 1646. Models of two of the ships responsible for carrying Swedish settlers over the Atlantic, the Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel, hang above the church's center aisle. The cherubs hanging below the organ were carved in Sweden and arrived in America sometime prior to 1646.

My mother was a Bankson. It's a name that has been spelled Bankston, Bengtsson, and a few other ways. DNA testing of Mom's brother, who was along on this trip, leaves little doubt that we are descended from Anders Bengtsson but just how the thread runs that connects us remains to be sorted. He drowned in in the Delaware River in 1705. Records indicate that he, his wife, and two sons are buried in the area of the cemetery at Gloria Dei shown in the last photo. It is unknown whether the graves were never marked or if stones or other markings once existed and have somehow vanished.

We next stopped at the more famous Christ Church. Its fame comes from its proximity to Independence Hall and other government buildings and the fact that presidents Washington and Adams worshiped there. The grave in the third picture is that of Robert Morris who has been called the "Financier of the Revolution". He was the only person other than Washington to even be considered for our first president and he ended all speculation by being the guy that nominated George for the job.

Some major maintenance is underway at the church and some pieces, including organ pipes, are missing. As we entered, a group of Girl Scouts were being treated to a talk by historian Neil Ronk on which we and several others eavesdropped. I immediately got hooked on his story telling and insightful comments. He tailored some of his talk to his young audience and asked, without requiring an answer, whether they would want to change places with either Martha Washington or Abigail Adams who had occupied the pew behind where they sat. He thought it likely that either of the first two First Ladies would gladly swap with any of the Scouts because of the tremendous opportunities now available to them. I was personally most impressed with his comments on the windows. At least some of the original clear glass was replaced by stained glass in the 1860s but returned to clear in the 1960s. In both instances the clear windows, in addition to brightening the interior, showed that "The outside wasn't scary."

Although there are quite a few burials in the area surrounding the church the majority of graves are a few blocks away in the Christ Church Burial Grounds. There is at least one Bankson in there but pinpointing exactly where eluded us. Documentation identifies a specific area and readable markings and old drawings narrow it down farther but readable stones are very much in the minority. We believe that Sara Bankson is buried below one of those severely eroded stones in the top half of the second picture but can's say which, if any it is.

The last picture is of the recently (April 2017) restored grave of Benjamin Franklin. The tradition of throwing pennies ("A penny saved is a penny earned.") onto the stone has resulted in some pitting and a sign near the entrance asks people to "refrain" from throwing coins and instead deposit them (and other currency:-) in a nearby jar. Clearly not everyone complies although I think actual throwing is way down. As for me, I very gently laid my one cent donation on the ground beside the marker. I'm pretty sure it's tax deductible.

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