Blumenhof Girls 1917

The year is 1917. Seven young women, in their prime, walk down the road.

It’s summer. The leaves on the trees seem young, so it might be June — arguably the most gorgeous month in this area. The air, the sun, the trees, the sky — it’s all so beautiful. People emerge to just be outside and take in life, and being alive.

Some of these young women walk with their heads uncovered, some smile shyly at the camera, some duck their heads modestly, and still others shield their eyes from the sun.

I came across this photo in the book called Blumenort: A Mennonite Community in Transition, written by Royden Loewen in 1983.

There aren’t that many photos from that time period within our local Mennonite communities… so this window into the very local past captured me.

The photo’s caption reads:

“Blumenhof girls, 1917. The girls are on their way to Jakob L. Pletts’ after church. Justina P. Unger (Mrs. C.N. Janzen), Maria P. Unger, Elisabeth J. Plett (Mrs. Jakob K. Dueck), Katharina P. Unger (Mrs. Abram P. Penner), Elisabeth A. Plett (Mrs. Henry R. Plett), Katherine K. Unger (Mrs. Henry F. Warkentin), Anna J. Plett (Mrs. John U. Kornelson). Behind her is Helena A. Plett (Mrs. Peter R. Plett).” – credit: Plett Picture Book

I noticed that every single one of these young women was listed with her married name following her maiden name… except one. Maria P. Unger was different.

Why didn’t she marry?

One day last summer, Andrew and I visited the Blumenhof cemetery… and uncovered this:

Miss Maria P. Unger 1899-1918

We stood in silence, gazing down at the words. Realizing this meant that Maria died as a teenager, a year after that vibrant, happy photo had been taken.

That was the time when an epidemic ravaged the East Reserve, killing the most healthy people. Including young Maria.

In the photo, Maria has one of the very brightest, most open smiles. Second from the left, she looks directly at the camera — you can see the apples of her cheeks, she has these beautiful dimples.

A look into Grandma Online tells us that Maria had been Andrew’s grandpa’s sister. He would’ve been just 7 years old when his older sister died.

We stood and thought about that. Imagining these two events from right at this location — a lovely Sunday walk in 1917… and a tragic graveside service a year later.

The contrast is startling. It was kind of a “back to the future” moment for me. These aren’t just old books, old graves. They tell a story, if you pay attention to the pieces of the puzzle…