Easter Sunday 1917 fell on April 8, just two days after the American declaration of war. Americans were not caught off guard by the measure; most citizens had reconciled themselves in March and early April that the declaration was a formality by this point. Traveling south for a tournament on April 4 and realizing war was imminent, the Yale baseball team announced that it would disband upon returning to New Haven. Building managers across New York and Philadelphia, inspired by a call from the American Review of Reviews, turned off lights in their skyscrapers to form Crosses of Light over Easter weekend. The New York Tribune had been doing this during Christmas for several years at their Park Row headquarters and others found Easter 1917 a good moment to expand the gesture. Holiday enthusiasm was muted. The Fifth Avenue Easter parade was an understated affair, with crowds staying home due to the seriousness of the moment and the unseasonably cold weather.
The churches were full that first Sunday after the declaration of war. Mayor John Purroy Mitchel attended services at St. Francis Xavier on 16th Street. Vanderbilt, Harrimans and other prominent families were represented at services throughout the city. People grasped the historical moment. It also would not have been lost on many older Americans that the assassination and death of Abraham Lincoln had fallen on Good Friday and Holy Saturday fifty-two years earlier. Brooklyn’s Reverend Dr. S. Parkes Cadman gave a Good Friday address at St. Johns Methodist Episcopal Church in Manhattan asking the congregation to “pray for the United States” and to think of the soul of the nation as well as their own. The ubiquitous Cadman delivered the Easter sermon at his home church, Central Congregational, that Sunday.
Happy Easter, everyone.