I originally wrote this column two years ago. To my knowledge, there was not a Neosho Easter Sunrise Service last year either. However, next Easter just so happens to be the 90th anniversary of the very first Neosho Easter Sunrise Service, so it would certainly be a good opportunity to revive this old community tradition.
Some traditions are like the Earth's moon: They orbit in and out of influence, sometimes being a big part of our reality, sometimes small.
Unlike the Earth's moon, traditions sometimes just fade away.
I don't think that has quite happened yet to Neosho's Easter Sunrise Service in Big Spring Park, though time will tell, I guess.
In one of the few times over the last four decades, there was no community Easter Sunrise Service in Big Spring Park today. I realize the outside personal circumstances behind that were unforeseen and couldn't be helped. And I have been told that efforts will be made next year to resume the event, which has been held off and on over most of the last century (more on that later).
But here's the deal: Attendance in the last few years has been, well, poor. I am as guilty as anyone, in that I have never been to any Neosho Easter Sunrise Service. I hope to remedy that in the future, as I now live in Neosho (or on the outskirts, anyhow).
I understand about 50 people attended last year's service — and that's a pretty good start toward a revival. In other recent years, however, there has only been a handful of folks show up. Again, I can't really complain, as I wasn't there either. It's just that when compared to the early days of the event, well, it's a little disheartening. I think the same could be said for other things around here, too. But those are subjects for future rainy day columns.
More than 3,000 people came to the very first Neosho Easter Sunrise Service in Big Spring Park, which was held April 20, 1924. The event was originally organized by the now-defunct Neosho Community Club.
It was also the first service that featured the locally remembered “living cross,” — 300 elementary school children all decked in white robes and signing hymns at the top of their high little voices. Before forming into a cross on the knoll beside the Grecian stage, the kids, each holding a white lily, would line up at the Big Spring steps and wind around the path at the top of the western ridge to their designated places. There was also a 60-member adult choir made up of members from various Neosho church congregations.
Additionally, at that first Easter morning service, trumpeters greeted the sun’s rays as they popped over the hills. I’m sure there were probably some variances at later events.
Future community Easter Sunrise Services saw as many as 7,000 people in attendance. Wow. That’s all I can say. Try to get 7,000 people to show up to anything anymore, much less to an outside religious service at 6 o’clock in the morning!
World War II interrupted the annual community event and it didn’t start up again until 1955. Then for some reason it died again after 1961. And then it came back, for good this time, a decade later, in 1971. The service has been held (almost) every year since, as far as I know.
I sincerely hope the Easter Sunrise Service will return next year and remain. Offhand, I know some of the local churches held their own sunrise service today, and that’s great — especially since there wasn’t a community one this year.
But I don’t mean to butt in on anyone’s business when I say I think it would be very special if next year the local churches would all gather together for a good old-fashioned Easter Sunrise Service in Big Spring Park.
Just like they used to.
Wes Franklin serves on the board of directors of the Newton County Historical Society. He is also public relations/events coordinator for the City of Neosho. Call him at 658-8443.