Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife have three biological sons and three adopted daughters. When Chapman released his second Christmas album, his youngest adopted daughter, Maria, was on the cover. Shortly after the album was completed in the studio, a tragic accident took Maria’s life. This is part of the report from People magazine:
Grammy-winning Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman suffered an unthinkable tragedy Wednesday when his 5-year-old daughter was killed in an accident involving her brother.
Chapman’s youngest daughter, Maria Sue, was hit in the driveway of her family’s Franklin, Tenn., home by an SUV driven by her teenage brother, the Associated Press reports. The brother, whose name was not released, apparently did not see the girl.
Several family members witnessed the accident, according to the AP. Maria Sue later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Laurie Holloway said.
I never really liked the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Dayuntil I heard the story behind it. I have heard that the best poetry and the best music come from intense pain. I think in a lot of cases that is absolutely true, and it certainly rings true for this song.
any musicians and writers of poetry will admit that some of their finest work comes when they have experienced a death or a tragedy of some kind, that the writing of poetry has an almost cathartic effect on the writer.
Such is the case of one of the best known and most beloved carols associated with Christmas, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which came from the pen of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (18071882) and was written on Christmas Day, 1864.
His had been a tortured life in last few years before that day. On July 11, 1861, his wife Fanny had clipped some long curls from the head of her seven-year-old daughter, Edith, and wanting to save them in an envelope, melted a bar of sealing wax with a candle to seal the envelope.
Fanny Longfellow and two of her sons
Somehow the thin fabric of her clothing caught fire, and she quickly ran to Longfellow’s nearby study for help. He immediately tried to extinguish the flames with a small rug, and when that failed, he threw his arms around Fanny to smother the flames, causing him to sustain serious burns on his face, arms, and hands. His heroic act did not suffice, and Fanny died the next morning of her injuries. Longfellow was unable to even attend the funeral.
Photographs of Longfellow taken or made after the fire usually show him with a full beard, since he was no longer able to shave properly due to the burns and scarring.
The coming of the holiday season in the Longfellow house became a time of grieving for his wife while trying to provide a happy time for the children left at home. It was during Christmas 1862 that he wrote in his journal, “A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
He had also suffered another disappointment when his oldest son, Charles Appleton “Charley” Longfellow, quietly left their Cambridge, Mass. home, and enlisted in the Union Army much against the wishes of his father.
In mid-March, Longfellow had received word from Charles, saying, “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any longer.” The determined young man continued, “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.”
He was 17 years old and went to Capt. W. H. McCartney, who was in charge of Battery A of the 1st Mass. Artillery, asking to be allowed to enlist. McCartney knew the boy and knew he did not have his father’s permission, so he contacted the senior Longfellow to see if he could obtain it on his behalf. Longfellow conceded and acceded to the request.
It was only a few months later that Charley came down with typhoid fever and malaria and was sent home to recover, not rejoining his unit until August 15, 1863.
Following the Gettysburg battle, which Charley had fortunately missed, the conflict made its way into Virginia, and it was at the Battle of New Hope Church, in Orange, VA., part of the Mine Run Campaign, that the young Lt. Longfellow sustained injuries, which seriously disabled him. He was hit in the shoulder and the ricocheting bullet took out some portions of several vertebrae. It was reported that he missed being paralyzed by less than one inch. Longfellow traveled to where his injured son was hospitalized and brought him home to Cambridge to recover.
The war for Charley was over.
And so at Christmas of 1864, a reflective and sad poet sat down and began to write the beautiful words that we sing each Christmas: