IN THE UNLIKELIEST OF PLACES, beneath an aged water tower and next to an historic log cabin, an unexpected bit of Wanamingo’s history is revealed. It is typed on sheets of paper sandwiched under Plexiglas in a handcrafted case labeled Information Center.
It is the story of the beloved hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, and its link to this Southeastern Minnesota farming community of nearly 1,100.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
My lips move in silence as I read the familiar words, the familiar melody chorusing comfort. It is well, it is well with my soul.
I’d never considered the story behind the words. But now that I’m reading about Horatio and Anna Spafford’s personal tragedy, I am deeply moved. The couple lost their four oldest daughters at sea when the Ville du Haure collided with an English sailing ship en route to Europe in 1873. Only Anna survived, cabling her husband, who remained back home on business, with two words: Saved Alone.
During his voyage to see his grieving wife, Horatio penned It Is Well With My Soul. Three years later, Philip Bliss composed the accompanying music.
But what does any of this have to do with Wanamingo? The connection begins about two decades earlier when 14-year-old Anna Larson journeys to Wanamingo Township from Chicago to be with her ill father. Lars E. Larson moved to Minnesota the year prior in hopes farming would improve his health. He died in the spring of 1857, within a year of Anna’s arrival. That same year, Anna, 15, met her Sunday School teacher, 29-year-old Horatio Spafford. In 1861, she married Horatio, a then successful Chicago attorney.
Within 10 years, the Spaffords have four daughters. And then those girls are dead, drowned at sea. Their mother, Anna, survives, kept afloat by a plank until she is rescued.
Having read this story behind the familiar hymn while standing in the shadow of the Wanamingo water tower next to the Larson log cabin, I am moved. I am moved by the faith of Horatio Spafford who, in sorrow rolling like sea billows, penned such profound and comforting words. It is well, it is well with my soul.
FYI: Check back tomorrow for another post in my “from Wanamingo” series. I will take you inside Trinity Lutheran Church.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling