A Man’s Life, A Nation’s History: two days in May

By Linda Banks, Special To The Times


Christian Sanderson was an early celebrant of Memorial Day and could recount details of The battle of The Brandywine at a moment’s notice.

This glorious, temperate summer finds us awash in flowers and the positive spirit of lingering spring.   May ended with Memorial Day, a designated day of honor and remembrance for all Americans who died while in military service.  The holiday ushered in summer with inspiring speeches, bold parades, and flurries of red, white and blue.  This holiday honors our past and propels us forward. The May that led to summer also brought Mother’s Day.

Both of these May holidays are intricately tied to Christian Sanderson and his museum of meandering memorabilia.  President Woodrow Wilson (whose inauguration Chris attended) formally proclaimed Mother’s Day an official holiday in 1914, but Chris expressed an abiding, deep, personal respect for his own mother, Hanna Carmack Sanderson, long before the national date was declared.  She reciprocated in a series of preserved letters which express her sustained support and encouragement (tinged with motherly cautions).

Excerpts from Hanna Sanderson’s turn of the century letters to her son echo the full range of universal maternal emotions.  When Chris injured his hand while using a woodworking plane, his mother sorely felt their separation as she lamented, “I have thought of you every minute since I got your letter.”  When Chris doubted his school success, she assuaged his doubts.  She wrote, “I shall try to think [everything] will be for your good in some way, only dear, don’t make yourself sick, everything will come out right in the end.”

She bolstered his confidence in her tender handwritten notes.  “Your powers of description are so excellent [and will help] you some day to make your mark in the world.”  How prescient mothers often are.

Like all mothers, especially those who parent at a distance, Hanna also admonished and protected her son.  She warned, “If you get into trouble it will just put me in my grave.”  And at another time, “I trust that your love for your mother and your good sense will keep you out of all kinds of mischief.”

Finally – what parent has not tucked away a special note or card from a child?  But, in true Sanderson style, Hanna claimed, “I have every letter, postal or note that you have ever written to me.”  As to a Valentine which Chris sent . . . Hanna declared, “I shall prize it.”  (And the Sanderson Museum does too!)

How fortunate we are to have the sentiments of a fine mother preserved in this extensive correspondence.  Just like the Christian C. Sanderson Museum itself, these letters reflect a balance of historical and personal American history.

But what of that “second” day in May:  Memorial Day?  Chris Sanderson was far more than a history “buff.”  His vigorous descriptions (so impressive to his mother) of the Battle of Brandywine enlivened tour groups, classrooms, museum visitors and frequent guests.  He carried a reverence for the hallowed ground of American warfare with him throughout his life.  Living so close to the Brandywine Battlefield was a gift.

Even at a terminal stage of Chris’s life, he enthralled an unscheduled foreign touring family with dramatic tales of the battles.  The father of the spellbound children exclaimed, “it was completely unexpected to find such a treasure in the United States. [Chris] was a charming old man uninhibited in his giving out of information (and even of impersonations) and full of fun.”

On May 17 and 18, the Sanderson Museum hosted “12 Hours at Brandywine” as a complement to the two-day Brandywine Battlefield reenactment, “On Hallowed Ground,” presented by Birmingham Township, Chester Country.  The flags at both locations waved in sympathy with each other, with soldiers lost, and with the many flags that Hanna Sanderson so carefully sewed by hand.

The two-day Brandywine Battlefield reenactment on the field of battle at Sandy Hollow paired with  a special exhibit at the Sanderson Museum. Charles Ulmann, the curator, rolled out the welcome mat at the Sanderson Museum with special displays and a coordinated self-guided tour.  The Brandywine flags throughout the museum point out significant items.  The special exhibit continues through August 31.

The Christian C. Sanderson Museum, located at 1755 Creek Road, Chadds Ford, just north of Route 1, is open March through November, Thursday through Sunday, from 12 to 4 p.m. or by appointment.  Admission to the museum is $5 per person and free for members and children under 12 accompanied by an adult.  For more information, call the museum at (610) 388- 6545 or go to the website at www.sandersonmuseum.org.

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