Late last week I was walking though Brooklyn Heights on my way to meet a friend for lunch when I saw that the gates of the First Unitarian Congregational Society Church were open. I love to visit the many places of worship here in New York City, which depending on the era might have been built by Italian craftsmen who came through Ellis Island or were centers of Abolition during the Civil War Era. No, not all of them have such a dramatic provenance but one gets the idea. I had never been in the First Unitarian before, though I had walked past it dozens of times. The neo-gothic structure dates to 1844 and carries the years well.
I was only there for all of five minutes when, heading toward the door, I noticed a Great War marker on the wall in the vestibule. Of course I took a few pictures to research and submit to the World War 1 Memorial Inventory Project. The plaque itself was nothing out of the ordinary, nor would one expect it to be. With simple dignity it marked the contributions of those from the the congregation who served in war from 1917-18. A few of them made the ultimate sacrifice. I could not find too much information about when the plaque was dedicated. The church leader though turned out to be an interesting individual.
The Reverend Dr. John Howland Lathrop led the First Unitarian from 1911-57. He was against American involvement in the war but when it came in April 1917 he made his own contribution: Lathrop helped bring the Red Cross into the United States Navy. When that initial work was done he led the Red Cross’s WW1 initiative within the Third Naval District. That jurisdiction covered most of the Northeast. He was successful in these endeavors and continued a life of public service until his retirement in the late 1950s. A lot of that work involved cleaning up the mess in Europe that resulted from the chaos and destruction of the Great War.
I intend t do a little more with Lathrop in the coming months. A little digging revealed that his papers are at the Brooklyn Historical Society, which is across the street from the church that he served for nearly half a century.