Have you heard of Elmo, saint or otherwise? I hadn’t until I got to Yale as a freshman in the fall of ’56. There I soon learned of the hoary institution’s fabled senior societies, where each club’s handful of senior-class members were sworn to lifelong secrecy. Word about the doings in these closeted spaces were not to be breathed, even to one’s roommate! The most famous one, of course, was “Bones,” that is Skull and Bones, whose august membership includes John Kerry and both Presidents Bush. St. Elmo’s was one of the less prestigious clubs along with Manuscript, where my Hungarian friend the late Dr. Pista Scher was a member as was the late Pennsylvania Senator Jack Heinz of the 57-varieties family...
There was in fact an early Christian saint and martyr named Elmo, also called Erasmus (not THE Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance scholar) of Formia, Italy, where he was a Catholic bishop in the 3rd century. He was most famous for enduring a lifelong series of terrible-sounding tortures like being rolled down a hill in a barrel filled with spikes sticking out from inside. This Erasmus also converted many heathens to God’s chosen religion [sic!] by performing various miracles including in one case raising a rich man’s son from the dead. Eventually Elmo-Erasmus was tried, tortured, and this time killed by the Roman authorities. He was later canonized, with his Feast Day June 3rd. He is, for some reason, patron saint of sailors, invoked during rough seas, and, no doubt because of that situation’s relationship to mal de mer, of sufferers from abdominal pain. And there’s also a related St. Elmo’s Fire, an unusual phenomenon visible after a thunderstorm at sea. But wait. There’s more. We have a lovely white husky on our block. This Elmo frequently walks his mom down Sumac Avenue past our house. He’s a beautiful, friendly creature, whose owner, Bonnie, we refer to as the “mayor” of our street since she seems to know and be known by all the neighbors and can give you updates on all of them if asked.
Finally, this weekend, on a three-night visit to a spa, Antero Hot Springs, in southern Colorado, I discovered a nearby ghost town, St. Elmo, Colorado. After the Civil War, gold and silver seekers founded and worked 20 mines between Mts. Princeton and Antero. To service the miners and their families, a town was created, boomed, and was even served by a now-defunct trunk railroad. Below I’ve added an early-November shot from this mainly deserted town, the U.S. Post Office having finally closed there in 1952—which with 40-some preserved buildings is now privately owned and a nationally recognized historical site visited by tourists like us. In short, if the functioning town is gone, St. Elmo, the term, lives on. And, as someone who suffers from occasional bloating and gut pain, I’m happy as a former sailor (and Catholic) to still have the good saint as my intercessor, who with a little help from antacids can be counted on to make things in my tummy better.