Here in Perry County, we have just been through a week in which the heat and humidity have been pretty brutal. It makes one wonder how people around here managed to survive in the many years before air conditioning arrived on the scene.
I remember the days before air conditioning. When I attended St. Jacobi Lutheran Church in St. Louis as a boy, that church was not air conditioned. I was confirmed on a Pentecost Sunday, and I recall it was particularly hot on that day. Wearing that confirmation robe was incredibly uncomfortable. My parents would also get our family to church early enough to get one of the prime pews located near an open window. I also remember visiting relatives in Perry County as a boy, and no air conditioning was to be found anywhere.
No matter where I attended church, one thing was common. The hymn racks in the pews were stocked with what we here at the museum call “funeral home fans”. The name comes from the fact that almost always, these hand-held fans were provided to the church by a local funeral home.
These fans also usually had an illustration on the front which depicted an event from the Bible.
These funeral home fans are now merely an artifact which can be found at our museum which tell a story of time gone by.
Trinity Lutheran Church has relatively new stained glass windows which were only able to be installed after the congregation had air conditioning put in. With the stained glass windows, we are no longer able to open any windows to get fresh air into the building. One of the stained glass windows has included in it a tribute to the funeral home fan.
I spent some of my career in Minnesota where to this day, many churches do not have air conditioning. It did not happen often, but on particular hot Sundays, the church I attended would conduct their worship service in the church basement. This area of Missouri has very few churches that have basements, so this was not an option here.
One story I was told recently recounted the fact that Zion Lutheran Church in Crosstown was one of the first churches around here that installed air conditioning. Salem Lutheran Church in Farrar was one of the last. Those two congregations are part of a dual parish. When the weather became brutally hot, most of the members of Salem would travel up the road to attend worship at Zion because they were air conditioned.
The air conditioner at my house stopped working a few days ago on one of those hot days. I was once again reminded of how spoiled I am to be able to enjoy an air conditioned environment in an area that can get not only hot, but very uncomfortably humid.