St. George

(Terry Moore photograph)

For years I've been constructing in my mind a heritage tour of places in my family history, but time always seems too short and obligations too heavy to actually do it. 

All last year I had a major pull towards Pennsylvania. It came up over and over, friends were going there or coming from there, events I wanted to go to were there, I had several spur of the moment invitations to travel there, none of which I acted upon and sorely regretted. In the fall on a trip back from NY state I missed the turn to CT and came very close to ending up there accidentally, hours out of my way, which was startling. 

In idly checking on some of the sites online today I found videos of one of major stops on my epic trip is being demolished. St. George's in Shenandoah, PA was the church that brought my great grandfather Francis to the US from Lithuania to paint the original murals in in 1907. Though I don't believe any of the current murals were his due to a fire in the 30s, watching machines tear through walls exposing bright paintings of saints to falling snow before crushing them is hard. It reminds me of the destruction of the Giottos in St. Francis of Assisi, which made me weep. It was not taken well by the Shenandoah community either, and it seems like much that could have been salvaged was tossed. The church didn't go down without a fight either, one of the demolition crew was killed in the process.

It's so strange to find all this out. I had really wanted to visit that church. Demolition started late last year, a little after I nearly accidentally ended up in that state. It's almost like it was calling me, even hitting me over the head to get me to notice. For someone who claims to pay attention to synchronicity I obviously still need a lot of practice. 

I've started digging, hoping to find someone who can direct me to any pieces that were preserved. I think I feel an irrational obsession coming on of finding a way to touch a piece of this church. Andrew Popalis has a great photo album of the church and the town in the early 1900s here.

Addendum: I did end up in Pennsylvania last year once, of all things, to go-go dance for a surf party at a competitive equestrian driving event, which in itself was highly unusual, and go-go dancing started for me in part because of Coney Island, another place being destroyed on my heritage tour. I think my white go-go boots still have the mud from PA.

The strange webs we weave. Below, Francis painting an unknown church.