Graduating high school seniors remember very few events earlier than ten years ago. They can’t imagine what life would be like without cell phones and video games. I’m old enough to remember life without television, when the family sat in the living room, listening to a radio show. While in high school, I first saw a car with air conditioning. Until then, I knew about water coolers and fans.
Life when only the very rich drove a horseless carriage and had electricity and running water in their homes was never part of my life, so it’s hard for me to imagine what grieving widow Elizabeth Gonder experienced in 1911.
Mrs. Gonder was already grieving when she left her home at 576 Jersey Avenue in Jersey City, New Jersey. She hung to a thread of hope that the morgue was holding the body of a stranger, not her forty-seven-year-old husband. John had been gone for five weeks. Two or three weeks wasn’t unusual in those days, almost to be expected, but five weeks with no letter or indication of his whereabouts said something terrible must have happened.
A body had been found floating in the Kill van Kull tidal strait near Bayonne. The assistant county physician at the morgue said the man had been in the water for about five weeks. That was too much of a coincidence, given the fact that John enjoyed fishing. Had he fallen off a dock somewhere? Maybe his boat had turned over. There was no way to know.
At the morgue, she identified the swollen and disfigured body. Her children and her son-in-law confirmed the dead man’s identity. It was John all right. For three days, family and friends came to comfort them. They reminisced and collected their memories that would be shared at the funeral before John was laid to rest.
The service was about to begin when Elizabeth was called to the phone. She almost fainted, her hand trembling so much she could barely hold the receiver. John Gonder was on the other end of the line.
John had been visiting friends when he read that he had been identified as the drowned man. He figured it was time to let people know where he was and return home.
Did this really happen? Yes, when I read about it in the Oakland Tribune dated March 5, 1911, I tried to imagine how different life was back then. And then I had to wonder what relatives thought, after Jesus rose from the grave, when people saw their departed loved ones alive.
Tombs were opened, and many godly men and women rose from the dead. After Jesus’ resurrection, they left their graves, entered Jerusalem, and were seen by many people. – Matthew 27:52–53
Dallas Holm, who does the voice of Jesus in my audio book The Life of Christ Told in One Story, wrote a wonderful song about resurrection, which was sung by Gary McSpadden at my beloved mother-in-law’s funeral. The apostle Paul was right. Of all people, we would be most miserable if we had hope in this life only (1 Corinthians 15:19).