Friday, December 31, 2010

Food & Water Watch

Here's another non-political, non-profit organization you might want to work with, especially if you are concerned about issues like safe water and safe food in Pennsylvania and, for that matter, elsewhere. These issues are especially important in our Commonwealth because of complications of natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale. If you are interested in working with this group, you will be offered a chance to be active on the issues that are of special interest to you. Visit their site at

Wishing my readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Delaware Riverkeepers Need Our Help

Politics as we know it today has been caused by our failure to pay attention to public issues: war, peace, civil rights, land, water, air, schools, and many more. If to a lot of us it seems like a sordid ripoff these days, only we can take it--and our society--back. For ourselves and for our children.
This may not mean directly involving ourselves in political life, although there are some good people in elective office and we should try to cast informed votes that will add to their number.
But we definitely need to be advocating for public issues, for the future of America.
I will be discussing non-profit, non-political organizations that are dealing with such issues, in the hope my readers will find one or more they would like to work with and help. And I will begin with Delaware River Keepers.
Our magnificent Delaware River (okay, so New York and New Jersey share it) is, as far as I know, still the longest free-flowing river in the United States. It has recovered remarkably from both severe pollution and the threat of impoundment of its waters--remember the now rather long ago threat of the Tocks Island Dam?
A healthy Delaware--and as of now it still is relatively healthy--is an astonishing economic, social, and cultural asset. For example, in just one recent years, whitewater enthusiasts contributed almost $10 million to the economy of the Upper Delaware. At the other end of the river, the migratory birds and horseshoe crab spawning provide an estimated $34 million in regional benefits annually. These figures are from a mailing I recently received from Delaware Riverkeepers
Yet in the year just passing, the Upper Delaware has been designated the nation's most endangered river. The chief reason is the search for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale that underlies a large part of the region. Some 200,000 acres have already been leased for exploration--and the environment and the economy are ill protected from the potential effects. There are few state regulations on drilling; and the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides exemptions for natural gas from many of the provisions of federal clean water laws.
We need energy. We also need restrictions on what else we will sacrifice for it.
To put it bluntly: Can we drink natural gas? Grow food in it? Swim and bathe in it?
The threat of mishandled natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale has been called the environmental issue of our time, and may well be. Certainly it is of vital concern to Pennsylvania and its people. The Delaware Riverkeepers Network is among the organizations leading the fight for environmental restraint and responsibility in this matter.
But its programs extend far beyond this. They aid communities all along the river, and include advocacy, habitat restoration, a River Resources law clinic, and more. In short, The Delaware Riverkeepers Network is an outstanding leader in regional watershed issues.
If you would like to help, or to learn more, visit the DRN web site at Or phone 215-369-1188.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Looking for PA Dutch Food on the Wrong Roads?

Several of my friends have commented on what they see as the difficulty of finding Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants on the state's roads and byways. When I did a post on Roadside America at Shartlesville recently a friend asked me to find out whether the (to her) lovingly remembered Shartlesville Inn still survived--she had had numerous pleasant meals there.
Well, it's gone; and so--my informant told me--are several other family-style Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants. As if to emphasize the point, another friend told of having a desire for some Pennsylvania Dutch food, and stopping at a restaurant called the Conrad Weiser. Under the current owners, it was a Thai restaurant with a famous old Pennsylvania German name. My friend is flexible where food is concerned, and after the initial surprise I am sure he enjoyed his meal very much. It just wasn't what he had expected.
But is the situation really as Pennsylvania-Dutch-Food-Free as it seems (to some) to be? Or are people just looking in the wrong places? It shouldn't be a surprise that some of the old places are gone. Everything is mortal, after all; and restaurants are more mortal than most things. To keep them alive seems to require both extraordinary skill and miraculous luck.
I decided to use my computer to try to determine where you can get a complete Pennsylvania Dutch sit-down meal while you are traveling in our Commonwealth. I'm going to get off to a slow start, because I am not just going to throw urls at my readers. I'm checking each to make sure it's still in business, and has not gone to internet never-never land. Oh, and by the way, if you know of a good restaurant in the Dutch category, please let me know.
For my early restaurant suggestions, I have picked The Willows at 1935 E. Willow Lane, East Texas (a hamlet in Lower Macungie Twp. west of Allentown). This restaurant suffered serious damage a few years ago, I think from a flood. When you look at a picture of it, it lacks the ambience of, say, a Pennsylvania farm kitchen; but under the circumstances that isn't surprising. It has survived, and as far as I know it's got a fine reputation. For hours and other information, phone The Willows at 610-928-1101.
Next there is Die Deitsch Eck (The Dutch Corner) at 87 Pine St., Lenhartsville. This once was the Washington Hotel, and does seem, from its pictures, to have that old, Dutch country ambience. To learn more, call 610-562-8520.
Finally--at least for this post--there's the one you can't call, because it doesn't have a phone. That's because it is an Amish farmstead, the Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant. Abram Stoltzfus bought the place in 1929, and managed to hold onto it right through the Great Depression. In 1968 his son Amos began offering meals to visitors, and that was the beginning of the restaurant.
The Amish continue to use technology as little as they need to; and no doubt this is the reason for the lack of a phone.
To compensate for that lack, the Stoltzfuses have an amazingly detailed, informative, and interesting web site. You learn the history of the family and the place; the hours, the prices. You are given menus and recipes. You are told the address two ways: Stoltzfus's is 1/4 mile east of Intercourse on Route 772. The GPS address is 3716 E. Newport Rd., Gordonville, PA 17529.
Unfortunately, the website says the restaurant is closed from December through March. I am not sure that means it is closed right now, or will close December 31.
Why not check to see what you think? The url is

Friday, December 17, 2010

Roadside America: A Fabulous Miniature World

If I am correct, which sometimes happens, a Christmas Putz has two characteristics: It centers around a representation of Christ's birth, and it can be viewed only during the Christmas season.
If this is so, Roadside America at Shartlesville definitely is not a Putz. Although it features many houses of worship, it does not--to my knowledge--have a Nativity scene; and though it is open during the Christmas season, it also is open from July through Labor Day. If I am wrong about this I hope the owners, or simple enthusiasts for the site, will set me straight.
I first saw Roadside America, which is located at U.S. Route 22 and I-178, when I was young, probably 11 or 12. I have never forgotten it. This is not an ad, but I would recommend this site to anyone. It was amazing then; I have no doubt it is more amazing now. An outside sign proclaims, in part, "Who Enters Here Will Be Taken By Surprise! Be Prepared To See More Than You Expect!"
Indeed, yes. Roadside America is much more than a miniature village; it is a civilization in miniature, made up of numerous villages, scenes from the countryside, and from small, attractive cities. A ticket to it is a ticket to the nation as we dream of it.
It also is a ticket to history, because the nation we dream of is, by definition, a vision of the past. I doubt that, even today, you would be able to point out one strip mall or highway interchange in this built landscape, let alone some of the other less pleasant constructions of our time.
This is a landscape in which things move, though, although they are not necessarily the most "modern" things. Miniature trains of various gauges whiz by, a tiny grist mill goes about its task of making flour. The Locust Hill breaker processes coal, a reminder of one of the Commonwealth's largest and most problematic industries.
Take it all in, if you can. Take all the pictures you want; the owners encourage it. Then ask yourself the inevitable question: "How did all this come to be?"
A clue can be found on the sign we have already visited, the one at the entrance. One of the things it says is, "Over 60 years in the Making By Our Family."
The patriarch of this family was Laurence Gieringer, a carpenter and painter who had an abiding love for miniatures. He would carve them meticulously, working on a scale of 3/8 of an inch to a foot--houses, stores, churches, a coach and four, anything.
His family's own under-tree Christmas exhibit soon became a thing of amazing beauty. A newspaper, the Reading Eagle, got word of this and ran a feature story about it. Thus was laid the groundwork for the present roadside attraction that has beguiled so many thousands and provided work for so many Gieringer descendants.
Hours for Roadside America during this season are 10-5 Monday through Friday and 10-6 weekends. The site will be closed on Christmas.
For further information, call 610-488-6241, or visit the organization's site at To see a series of spectacular Roadside America photos, go to

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Putz at Bethlehem's Central Moravian Church

For the 73rd season, Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem is sharing its Christmas Putz with visitors to the city. But the Moravian Putz ("cleaning" or "decorating") tradition goes back centuries. It seems to be an integral part of Germanic culture, and in moving to Saxony and coming under the protection of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, the Moravians themselves were pretty much absorbed into Germanic culture.
The Putz in the Moravian Church tradition is preeminently a religious expression. (Better eliminate all qualifiers. It IS a religious expression, and nothing less.) It is a representation in miniature of the world into which the Christ Child was born, and it depicts His Nativity as the center of that world. At Central Moravian the Putz and its stories are narrated, highlighted with music, and lighted. Although I have seen it only once and may not see it again, I am glad I have seen it once.
But Moravians are not the only people found of miniatures. The Pennsylvania Dutch people, being Germanic, seem also to have a special love for them. Many are the Pennsylvania Dutch homes which featured (and perhaps still do) a "miniature village" under the Christmas tree. It might be secular, having no Nativity scene, but instead a layout with electric, or at least wind-up, trains. But it, too, was an expression of a world in little.
The Central Moravian Church is open during most of the winter holiday season. It is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and will have its final open day on New Year's Eve from 1 to 10:30 p.m.
For information about Putz tours and showings, call the church at (610) 868-5661.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bethlehem Steel Plant Photo History Now Out

Bethlehem Steel In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Ann Bartholomew and Donald Stuart Young.
Canal History And Technology Press. Easton. 2010.

Perhaps because the work is so recently published, googling has not got me any information on where you can buy it, and at what price. My own experience as a CHTP author suggests it will not be on amazon; but you can go to, the National Canal Museum, and they no doubt will be able to help you-- maybe even process your order through their site.
If you are interested in American industrial history, and specifically in the history of steel making, you will want this book. If you care about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, rich in heritage and yet seemingly without a sense of direction since steelmaking ended in the city in 1995, this book is for you. Even if you just enjoy looking at good photographs, here are 600 plus excellent examples, most of them having to do with large machinery or large structures, but with a certain number with greater human interest thrown in.
The work is not a corporate history, but a pictorial history of Bethlehem Steel's plant in its home city--this explains the slightly awkward title. The plant is still there, in a way, although large sections of it have been torn down, and it is undergoing modification into something strange, if not rich. However, if the economy rights itself anytime soon, the site will contain a Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of Industrial History among its other tenants. This has been a long-awaited institution.
In the years since the end of Bethlehem Steel, the corporation has been "dissed" --too much. And it's too bad. For years, "Bessie" had been the center of Bethlehem's life, its secular soul. To date, nothing has come to replace it; and nothing seems even to be waiting in the wings.
Were its managers flawed? Yes. Who isn't? Did it deal harshly with its workers? Was it a polluter? Yes, and yes. Of what corporation of its era could this NOT be said?
And yet...there were times, especially toward the end, when it dealt with its workers with a generosity it could not really afford. When it pursued pollution with a zeal it might better have dedicated to planning a way out of its ever-increasing financial problems. (These flaws, by the way, seem to have been characteristic of the entire American steel industry at the time.)
What did Bethlehem Steel mean, in the end? I see its story as an epic adventure, pursued by imperfect human beings. In itself, it was not perfect; but there was a lot of good in it.
And what did this organization do with its existence? Let authors Ann Bartholomew and Donald Stuart Young sum it up: "...It produced armaments that saved the world from tyranny, beams that took commerce skyward, bridges that spanned some of the great waterways of North America. Its mills provided jobs to thousands."
If you want to know more of the story, consider this book. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas In Bethlehem on the Lehigh II

When people think of Christmas here, they generally think of a Moravian Church Christmas. This represents the heritage and traditions of the small church whose members founded the City of Bethlehem in the 18th century. I don't know how much is old and how much is later, although the great Moravian music that is performed in the Christmas season certainly must be among the oldest elements of the holiday. When I think of a Moravian Christmas, I think of candlelight and choirs, and the famous Moravian trombone choir which--often playing from the belfry of Central Moravian Church--adding a special note of majesty to the occasion. And I think of joining the congregation in song as we all lift our beeswax candles high in the air at the end of the Moravian College Christmas Vespers... I was only there once, but I kept the stub of that candle for years.
But there were other Christmases to celebrate. This was especially true as "the Bethlehems", north and south, became a massive steelmaking center, with other significant industries thrown in. Immigrants poured in by the thousands, from many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central and South America. I have attended a beautiful Russian Orthodox service, with music for unaccompanied choir, and listened in on a joint holiday vespers sung by the choirs of the two Slovenian churches, Catholic and Protestant. The Spanish congregation of Holy Infancy annually staged Las Posadas, a Puerto Rican depiction of the Holy Family's search for shelter.
Christmas was an international holiday in Bethlehem in Bethlehem then, as I hope it is now. I do know that there is now an 11-year-old Luminaria night, which gives a bow to the simple outdoor holiday lighting of the American Southwest, and raises a lot of money for good causes. Luminarias are a Spanish-American tradition in the Southwest, but here they are for you to enjoy regardless of your ethnicity. Our Lady of Pompeii/Holy Rosary Catholic Church once staged an annual Christmas pageant in the middle of E. Fourth St. At a certain point--since E. Fourth St. was then a state highway--it was taken over by the City, moved, and --some say--gentrified. I have not heard of it lately, and am not sure it survives.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas In Bethlehem on the Lehigh I

From my apartment window, I notice, I can now see the Star of Bethlehem, built decades ago of Bethlehem Steel girders and placed high atop South Mountain, above the home campus of Lehigh University. It's Advent, and that means the Christmas season in "our Bethlehem " is in full swing.
What does that mean? I'm not sure. Now that I have mobility problems, it's been years since I've been able to get involved in it, or in much of anything outside.
Tonight is the first time I have even been aware of the municipal Star in years. I have heard complaints about it from people I know. They think that, as a long-time activist and the founder of the South Bethlehem Historical Society I ought to be able to do something; but of course I can't. Not even if I had the capacity to sweep into the office of the Mayor of Bethlehem and pound on his desk would I be able to do something; and of course that capacity was never mine. (Much as I might sometimes have wanted it. ..)
The complaints have been that the Star is invisible; and that if you drive up you will find broken bulbs all over the place. I know nothing about the broken bulbs; until tonight I could not have said whether the Star was off or on. I don't know whether it IS on most of the time, although for some years it was on every day. It passed muster with the ACLU by being positioned as a symbol, not of a religion, but of a city.
When I first came here--back in the day, almost 40 years ago--the Star was only on during the Advent/Christmas season, beaming a welcome to the thousands of seasonal tourists the city had been attracting for years. I also know that sometimes, during Holy Week, the lights were turned on to form a Cross. I know, because I saw it while I was walking across the Hill to Hill Bridge. That was before the days of high-tech billboards to block part of the view of South Mountain.
That period-- of the Star at Christmas and the Cross during Holy Week--represent to me a time when Bethlehem was somewhat freer in religious expression than it seems to be now. There were also such things as outdoor Stations of the Cross, participants in costume, often designed to call attention to Jesus's sufferings as they are reflected in the suffering of today's poor.
I liked this feeling of the seriousness of faith in the city. It put me in mind of something the great Anglo-Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw wrote about Ancient Rome--of a time when Rome was "...young, and knew its own mind, and had a mind to know."
The Star for years was at the center of Christmas lights tours, when buses of visitors were driven through brightly decorated streets and up South Mountain. There they stopped by the great structure to take in the overall view of the city in its holiday finery. With the current cost of electricity, these tours are most likely past their prime. If they are happening. I don't check the local web sites--City of Bethlehem, for instance--because there is next to no chance I will be able to attend anything. Thus, research would be a wasted effort.
Still, I advise readers to check them out, and to attend whatever they can. I am by no means "grinch-ish", and am leading a full and interesting life. And I'm sure there still is much to enjoy in a Bethlehem Christmas. Don't miss it.
In my next post I'll share some more personal Christmas memories and observations of this place.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The "Dutch" Art of Pow Wow Medicine

When I was a child I had a growth that my Great Aunt Margaret tried to remove for me using the methods of Pennsylvania Dutch pow wow medicine. Aunt Margaret was a practitioner in a very small way, one of probably thousands of Pennsylvania Dutch men and women who used the techniques of pow wow to treat minor ailments of their friends and family. She was not one of the pow wow healers like the Early American "Mountain Mary" or--much closer to our time--"Aunt" Sophia Bailer, whose fame resounded throughout the whole of Pennsylvania Dutch country.
So how did her treatment of me work out? Unsuccessfully. She thought I had a wart, which is what she was treating me for. It turned out to be a vascular tumor, which was later removed by surgery.
This does not mean pow wow medicine is a joke, or should be dismissed as one. Often it was the only treatment poor people had access to--all the more because it was generally known that healers in the tradition were not supposed to accept money.
Sometimes, whether because of inherent magic or because of the placebo effect, there were outstanding cures. Which is about all that can be said about modern medicine, when you come to think of it.
Well, what IS pow wow medicine, anyway? Pow wow medicine is flashes of lightning in a dark forest. This is just a metaphor. What it means is that almost nothing you can say about it will not be contradicted by someone. I am trying here to follow the views and theories of two distinguished Pennsylvania Dutch scholars, anthropologist David W. Kriebel and folklorist Don Yoder. They spent years studying the subject, and know more than I do.
So, here goes.
Pow wow is a kind of folk medicine using spells, herbs, laying on of hands and the like, which is believed to have been brought to Pennsylvania around 1710 by immigrants from what is now Germany. It has nothing to do in its origins with American Indians--and not even in its name. To its original practitioners it was known as Brauche, which means "practice" as in professional practice, or "use" as in custom. Unless you speak German or have studied it, you will more or less have to take my word that "Brauche" could be taken for "pow wow"-- it IS pronounced something like "BROW-kheh". So, draw your own conclusions.
This does not mean that pow wow NEVER took on American Indian features. It may well have done things like adapt American herbs and borrow from American Indian rites. But in its origins it was purely European.
Is pow wow medicine good or evil? Yes!!! Which means, "It depends on who you ask." For some people it is indistinguishable from witchcraft, (or hex) and thus evil. For other people--including my late Great Aunt Margaret and, I suspect, the majority of practitioners, pow wow is on the side of God and provides an opportunity to do good. A few famous practitioners were reputed to try to play both sides.
David Kriebel notes that the strict Dutch sects, like the Amish and Mennonites, were very much against both pow wow and hex. The practitioners tended to belong to more relaxed churches, like the Lutheran or the German Reformed.
Why was this? Don Yoder finds evidence in some of the chants and spells that have become known that pow wow may have had Catholic origins, or at least have been sanctioned by the Catholic Church. There are signs of the cross, saints' names, and so on. So the Amish and Mennonites, the purest of Protestants, were bound to take offense.
Are there still pow wow practitioners around?
There may or may not be. It's a question on which there are differences of opinion.
Want to know more? Then I refer you to David W. Kriebel's "Powwowing among the Pennsylvania Dutch", subtitled "A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World". 2007. University Park, PA.

Linda's Kitchen Corner

A couple of days ago I published a cookie recipe from Linda and Rocco Maniscalco's wonderful Italian Christmas Eve cookbook, "The Feast of the Seven Fishes". Now I am going to recommend--again--the Maniscalcos' web site, And particularly the blog linked to it, "Linda's Kitchen Corner". She has subtitled it "The Italian American Food Tradition of Pennsylvania"; and she is so right in her approach.
To a large extent, food is heritage. More, food is life. The various cuisines of Italy represent one of the world's great food traditions. But what will happen to it, or to any cuisine, when it first moves far from the home base, and then settles down next to new peoples? Will it change? Yes, of course. What happens to Italian-cum-Italian-American when the neighbors are Pennsylvania Dutch or Japanese and everybody starts sharing recipes around the neighborhood? Everybody's tastes are going to change somewhat.
This is all part of heritage, too--tomorrow's heritage. It looks as if Linda plans to explore it, and more power to her. Right now there are tasty-sounding recipes and intelligent commentary. I recommend reading it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kiffles from a Slovenian American Kitchen

In my previous post I talked a little about one of Pennsylvania's lesser-known ethnic groups, the Slovenians. Here is a holiday recipe from that tradition. It is taken from the uncopyrighted "Ethnic Recipes, Traditions and Customs" by the people of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Bethlehem. Founded in 1913, this Slovenian-American parish was closed a few years ago, to the anguish of many of its parishioners.
Kiffles are a well-known kind of stuffed cookie, seen most often around Christmas time although I've seen them at Easter, too. They are almost endemic in Central Europe and the places where Central Europeans have moved. Sometimes it seems that every household has its own version.
The following recipe is, in essence, that of Mary T. Martin, sponsored in the book by the Grasic family.


1 pound flour
3/4 pound soft butter, softened
1 shot whiskey
2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream
6 egg yolks, beaten

Mix all ingredients well and shape into walnut-sized balls. Refrigerate overnight. Roll out on floured or sugared board. Fill with nut, lekvar or your favorite filling. Fold in half and crimp closed Place on greased and floured cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until done.

A note on fillings: Mrs. Martin may mean some sort of nut paste. Lekvar is prune butter, and if you live in an East European ethnic-type neighborhood you may find it for sale in jars. Otherwise, there are some simple recipes for it online. I have not offered one here, because I don't know their copyright status. Other popular fillings may include preserves such as apricot or raspberry. Poppy seeds may sometimes be used as well.

Introducing The Slovenes

Slovenians, or (probably) more properly Slovenes, are a national group small in numbers--not many more than 2 million in their homeland as this is written. They were never a giant part of the immigrant influx to the United States around the beginning of the 20th century; but they came and made an outsized contribution to American society with their hard work and their giftedness. They deserve to be better known, and I am going to do my bit here.
When they did immigrate, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was one of their destinations of choice.
This group is recognized as having been a people for at least eight centuries; but almost never as a nation. The location of their home territory shows why. It is located on the Balkan peninsula, that famous anvil of history, and surrounded by powerhouse nations and groups--Hungary, Italy, Croatia...
The Slovenes, small but proud, also had to deal with a nickname that many could have lived without. Whoever started it, they were called Windish. To a lot of them it sounded like a pejorative term. Likely it was meant to be. Yet they carved it on the two churches they founded in Bethlehem--St. John's Windish Lutheran and St. Joseph's Windish Roman Catholic.
They may have thought they had to bear the nickname because, while their peoplehood was not in question, they were not recognized as a nation.
That changed in 1991, when the Republic of Slovenia was established with its capital at Ljubljana. Bethlehem has a habit of honoring the national holidays of at least some of its constituent groups; so the handsome Slovenian flag soon took its turn on the special flagpole at City Hall. To the delight and edification of many--you didn't have to be Slovenian-- an ambassador from the new country arrived to take part in the ceremonies.
And, while I don't know how Slovenia is faring in the general economic malaise, it seems to have done pretty well up to this point. By all acounts, it is a lovely country. If you visit it you can swim in the Mediterranean, climb Alps, go whitewater rafting or hiking, and explore old castles and churches. The Disney studio has even used it as a setting for one of its "Narnia" films--not a GOOD film, in my view; but at least the scenery was lush.
All this, plus prices that have been low compared to those in more familiar European destinations, have made Slovenia a holiday favorite with many.
I wish the country continuing success. It could be my imagination, but it seems to me that you don't hear the term "Windish" much any more. At least here in Bethlehem.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cookies From Lancaster County

Here is a cookie recipe from Lancaster County, often considered the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. This one is not specifically Dutch, though--at least not as far as I can figure out. Instead, it comes from Jan and Bruce Garrabrandt's The Artist's Inn and Gallery at Terre Hill. As is well known, good food knows no ethnic or geographical boundaries, and this recipe sounds delicious.

Chocolate Meltaway Cookies

(The Garrabrandts state: the thinner you can roll the dough, the better these cookies will taste.)

3/4 cup soft butter
2 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1-16 oz. pkg semisweet chocolate pieces (1 cup)
Powdered sugar

In a large mixer bowl, beat butter. Add half of the flour, all of the sugar, eggs, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and almond extract. Beat thoroughly. Beat in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover; chill one hour or until firm, On a lightly floured surface roll half of the dough 1/8 inch thick. Keep remaining dough in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cut rolled-out dough into star, round, and heart shapes with 1-1/2"-2'' cookie cutters. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, or use parchment or silpats.
With small cookie cutter, cut out round centers from half of the unbaked cookies. Use spare dough to roll out and make more cookies. Bake cookies--whole and those without centers--in 375 degree oven for about 7 minutes. Edges should be firm and bottoms very lightly browned.
Cool cookies.
Melt chocolate pieces in a microwave at half power for about two minutes. Spread chocolate on the whole cookies. Top with the cookies with missing centers. The chocolate will show through.
When cool, sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar. Makes about 40 cookies.

To learn more about The Artists' Inn, visit

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Centralia: Past Tragedy or Future Forecast?

I wanted to post another nice holiday-oriented recipe for everybody--that may happen in the near future.
But not today. In doing some routine surfing I stumbled across the tragic history of Centralia, a coal town that began dying in 1962. It seems not to be quite finished even now.
Here is how it began: a dump fire was started near the town. It was a routine thing at that time of year; but not in that year. The burning trash set a nearby coal vein alight, the fire spread beneath the town of 1100 people, and it has not been anything like close to contained since. Cellars under homes began to fill with carbon monoxide, the ground began to buckle, and cracks--often many feet long and many feet deep--appeared in the streets and roads. Eventually the state Department of Environmental Resources posted a sign that said:
"WARNING-DANGER. Walking Or Driving In This Area Could Result In Serious Injury Or Death. Dangerous Gases Are Present. Ground Is Prone To Sudden Collapse."
Most people left, over the years. Some did not, including the stubborn octogenarian mayor and a 39-year-old man who had known no other home. Hopefully they and the remaining diehards are out and safe by now. Like other Centralians, they may find it hard to heal. Their dreams are likely to be haunted by smoke, flames, and poison gas. A hell in their minds.
How was this mini-apocalypse allowed to develop? It seems there was no money to fight it. (By the way, a tragedy like this is the best possible explanation of why we need adequately funded and efficient government. Otherwise, the catastrophes that ensue may affect us, not only our neighbors.)
We are told that the Centralia fire, even once it has finished destroying the town, can threaten nearby communities such as Mount Carmel, miles away. We are told it can continue to burn for another 250 YEARS.
Apparently underground coal mine fires are not that infrequent. There have been hundreds of them--not, of course, counting the ones we don't even hear about because they may be set off by a lightning flash striking a coal vein in a forest somewhere. For some years there was a fire burning in a vein near the old Switchback Railway in Mauch Chunk, now Jim Thorpe. There is one in Laurel Run which started in 1912 and could go for hundreds of years.
For an idea of what these fires can do when they get nasty, background yourself on Centralia. There's a lot of stuff on the web, including an article called "Last Centralia, PA residents finally fleeing coal fire" at, as well as a horrific photo forum about the town, put up by Fine Scale Modeling Magazine. I can't give you the full url on that because, frankly, I don't understand it; but it begins as something like If that doesn't work, try googling it. That is, if you want to see a lot of photos that will terrify you.
Why have I spent this time and space on Centralia? It's a sad story, but surely it's now almost in the past?
But is it? Pennsylvania is now in the throes of a new kind of energy development--the natural gas development. We need the energy and jobs, but... Could natural gas produce the same sort of calamity that coal has produced in Columbia County and elsewhere? Or one like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
We can't rule it out. And, if we don't want it to come to pass, it behooves us to shepherd the work of our legislators and other public officials involved with natural gas and other energy sources. Disasters cannot always be prevented, but sometimes forethought and advance planning can help avoid, delay, or minimize the blow. And that foresight and planning must begin with us, the citizenry, demanding that it happen.
Start now. Let your legislators know that you want careful and responsible development Because sometimes the BIG political disasters (not to mention social, economic, and environmental ones) happen between elections.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Italian-American Holiday Offering

Italians are among those ethnic groups who set almost greater store by Advent, the hushed period of hope and penitence that leads up to Christmas, than to Christmas itself. They know that, without the breathless waiting, the Gift--the Christ Child--will not be valued as He should be when He arrives.
A cherished Italian Advent tradition--almost the last tradition of the season--is a "penitential" meal of seven types of fish and seafood to be consumed just before the family sets out to welcome the Christ Child at Midnight Mass. Now a young Italian-American couple, Linda and Rocco Maniscalco of Allentown, have produced an attractive little cook book called "Italian Christmas Eve: The Feast of Seven Fishes". It has the revealing subtitle "A Reminiscence with Recipes", because it is a little trove of ethnic and family heritage, as well as of well-loved recipes.
Speaking of the recipes, they are about more than fish and seafood. What would a holiday cook book be without cookie recipes? Linda has kindly given me permission to share one of them with you, and here it is:
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 sticks butter
2 cups flour

Mix eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Mix baking powder with flour. Add flour mixture to wet mixture. Dough must be soft!
Drop with teaspoon onto greased pans, and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
Top with icing made with equal parts of powdered sugar and milk, blended together.

That's it. Shouldn't be too hard. Linda says the white icing represents the purity of the newborn baby Jesus.

For information about this book, or about anything else the Maniscalcos may be doing, visit their website at
(So what does "Stata buon" mean? It means "Be well." A great greeting for a holiday, or for any other time.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Other Blogs You Might Like

I've been trolling the internet, looking for other state-oriented blogs and bloggers you might find of interest. Try Alan Kassirer's The Pennsylvania Wanderer, Kassirer, of Harrisburg, likes to travel and write about the people he encounters, in Pennsylvania and out. He also has a couple of special interests, cigars and wines. A very interesting production.
So is Lancaster from the Innside,, a production of Jan and Bruce Garrabrandt. These artists and innkeepers have a beautiful site which also promotes their businesses. When I found it, it had a wonderful picture essay on pumpkins. You will be surprised at how many kinds of pumpkins there are, and how colorful and exotic they can be. But at the base of it all is the bright orange field pumpkin which brightens our autumn fields, provides the basis for the ubiquit0us jack-o-lantern, and often winds up on our tables as soup or pie. The photo essay has a wonderful Pennsylvania feel to it.
I myself will be following both these blogs. I hope you enjoy them too.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

William Penn And Slavery

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, many may be curious about William Penn's attitude toward slavery. Unfortunately I have to report that, for his time, it was just slightly above average.
Penn was a slaveowner, like many of his fellow Quakers of the time. Historian Douglas Harper of Lancaster County says Penn preferred slaves to indentured servants, because the slaves could be kept for a lifetime. He quotes Penn to that effect. (Harper's online paper "Slavery In The North" is, by the way, a must-read for northerners, including Pennsylvanians, who think we are superior to those slave-owning southerners. Slavery did not legally end in Pennsylvania until 1845, and there were some nasty vicissitudes along the way.)
So, what made the state's founder a slight cut above the rest--at least in my opinion? First, when he was preparing to return to England, he freed the slaves at his Pennsbury estate. Second, and perhaps even more important, he persuaded Pennsylvania's provincial government to pass a law forbidding the breaking up of slave families through sales to various masters.
William Penn was a very great man, and is not to be blamed for lacking our more advanced ideas about race and rights. Perhaps we ought to look into the mirror and ask ourselves why we are not living up to the advanced ideas people like Penn helped us evolve. These ideas did not come to us from nowhere. We should, I think, question why we have not yet turned them into realities.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pete Gray At Bat: A Remarkable Baseball Tale

It's the middle of World Series 2010, and I'm lucky enough to have tripped over a baseball story so different it has merited a Pennsylvania State historic marker--no mean distinction. It is the story of the first amputee to play Major League baseball.
Pete Gray was born and christened Peter J. Wyshner in the anthracite mining town of Nanticoke. He was the son of immigrants.Somewhere along the line he took, or was given, the more "American"-sounding last name, Gray.
When he was only six he lost much of his right arm in a fall from a wagon. But his love for baseball was so keen that he taught himself to play effectively despite a handicap which would have stopped anyone of lesser determination.
He played left and center field for a variety of semiprofessional and minor league teams, and in 1944 was named Most Valuable Player of the Southern League. Around that point he was signed by the St. Louis Browns, a major league team that either does not exist any longer or has long since morphed into something else . He batted 218. for the Browns.
World War II was going on during this period, and Pete Gray made many visits to hospitals to encourage wounded veterans, especially amputees. The end of the war, though, limited his baseball career. The famous players who had been in the service returned, shed their uniforms, and rejoined their teams.
Could Pete Gray have competed in this new climate in the Majors? Perhaps; perhaps not. It seems the proposition was not tested by anyone. Gray went back to minor league baseball for a while, and then returned to Nanticoke, where he died in 2002. His last years were spent in disappointment, and in battling problems with alcohol and gambling. He was admired by his fellow townspeople, though; and now he is remembered by the blue and gold marker put up by the state.
One of his wishes had been to play in Yankee Stadium. It was granted. As a nice touch, his Browns "whupped" the Yankees the day it happened.
Pete Gray was the subject of the 1966 made-for-television movie "Winners Never Quit."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dead Pigeons And The Pennsylvania Senate

Recently I learned from the Humane Society's Heidi Prescott that Pennsylvania's infamous pigeon shoots remain legal--this, despite the fact that Ms. Prescott had once again been assured they would finally be ended. As they should be.
I was heartened to learn that my own State Representative, Joe Brennan, had led the charge against them; and that my own State Senator, Lisa Boscola. had been against them as well. But when losing means a world of suffering inflicted on innocent beings, having some great people on your side is not as consoling as it might otherwise be.
I have noticed that the big block was on the State Senate side. This appears to be so more often than not; and it suggests that Pennsylvanians need to keep an eye, not only on their legislature, but on the upper house in particular.
It could be argued that the legislature has more important things to concern itself with the fate of a lot of non-voting birds. But how much time--how many minutes--can it take to vote for a measure granting an inoffensive species some peace and safety? And besides, evidence suggests that legislators often procrastinate on matters of policy they themselves presumably consider far more vital than the well-being of pigeons.
ARE the pigeons less important than the often--neglected votes on budgets and policy? I am not sure that is so. If we will not take a few minutes, reach out our hands, speak up to end a bloody cruelty we could prevent, what does it say about our hearts? What does it say about our capacity to serve our society as a whole? What larger task can we be entrusted with?

Monday, October 25, 2010

About the Pennsylvania Bookstore--Oops!

I must retract some of the things I said 0r implied about the Pennsylvania Bookstore in my previous post. It definitely will not be there forever, as I had hoped. In a message I got from staff there just this morning, I learned there is a real possibility the shop would close at some future time. No date was given.
But now the good news. You can still use the site for your winter holiday shopping this year. You can still join the Pennsylvania Heritage Society and get its great magazine. You can still sign up for Save Our Stories and help in the preservation of Civil War records. And maybe the Bookstore will go on for a while. Who knows? Maybe our orders could help, though I am not guaranteeing that.
I promise to double-check my information next time, and to remember that an online website is not an inscription carved in stone or molded in bronze.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thinking Christmas? Think Pennsylvania

If you're wondering where to shop for the upcoming winter holidays, you might start by looking at the online Pennsylvania Bookstore, Here you will find gifts for your brightest and most intellectually curious friends and relatives, and probably some nice things for yourself as well. Also, you will find a couple of ways to become more deeply involved with the state and its heritage. Here you can buy membership in the Pennsylvania Heritage Society, with its benefit of a subscription to the outstanding Pennsylvania Heritage magazine. You can buy an impressive blue and gold Pennsylvania flag, a big one to fly on your lawn next to the national one.
You can even take an active step toward saving part of the state heritage by clicking on Save Our Stories on the bookstore site.
Here's what that's all about. During the Civil War Pennsylvania raised over 215 regiments for the Union Army. All of these had muster rolls, some multi-volume ones. These muster rolls are important sources for learning about our Civil War soldiers. Some 900 of them are moldering away, though; and funds are needed to save them. This is where your help comes in. Give if you can; and help pass the stories on.
Now to turn to the store's books. They are on a fabulous range of subjects--all having to do with Pennsylvania. It is not clear to me, but you may have to join the Pennsylvania Heritage Society to shop here. I plan to do that myself; and you certainly should consider it as a present to yourself. (Remember, you get the magazine...)
The books range in topic from art and architecture to history, military history, natural science, and beyond. There are books for children; and, of course, there are cook books. One of those that caught my eye is The Pennsbury Manor Cookbook--featuring recipes that might have been served by William Penn's first wife Gulielma at the Penns' Pennsylvania country home, Pennsbury Manor. Gulielma did plan for such things; but it is difficult to look at this title without a twinge. The poor woman was sickly, and did not live to spend a day in the elegant home by the Delaware.
In case anyone is wondering, this post is not an ad. I just found this great site, and I am pleased to give it a plug. Please let me know about any personal experiences you may have with it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

William Penn, Fighter

We tend to think of Pennsylvania's founder as a round, placid, middle-aged man in gray, and probably somewhat past his prime. Perhaps we should remember that even the semi-portly middle- aged William Penn (then 38) was able to enter a Native American foot race and finish ahead of some of indigenous runners.
He was a strong and resourceful man, both by genetic inheritance and by the training given to young men of his class--or aspirants to that class--in England.
There is a portrait of a handsome, dashing young William Penn which reminds us of his background--he was the son of a knight, a fighting admiral who had succeeded enough to be seen as a national hero and who owned a house in Navy Gardens, London, as well as country estates near Wanstead and in Ireland.
The portrait of William Penn the younger shows him clad in aristocratic costume--militaristic, too, because part of the costume is the armor of the time. His bearing is forthright, almost regal; and he gives the impression that here is someone you would not wish to have as an enemy. It seems a little ironic that in the end he did, in fact, become a Friend--as the Quakers called themselves.
But it took some time to train him to gentle but firm Quaker standards. And at one point he performed so well as a soldier that it seemed as if he might become 0ne.
That was in Ireland, during a period when he was managing his father's Irish estate. When the garrison at Carrickfergus rebelled against the king, Penn joined his admired friend Richard, Lord Arran, in putting down the mutiny. As captain of one of Arran's companies, Penn was hailed for taking the lead in capturing a fiercely held stone tower. When this was reported to the Earl of Ormonde, Lord Arran's father, Ormonde suggested he be made commander of the garrison on his own estate.
For a while, William thought so, too; it seems to have been around this time that he had the portrait painted of himself in armor. But his own father, the admiral--who seemed by then to realize his son would never be a conventional fighting man--vetoed the idea.
Soon after that, still in Ireland, young William Penn became a member of the Society of Friends. There were plenty of battles ahead in his life--almost all of them with words written or spoken, and all of them for justice. But war with the sword was, for him, a thing of the past.
For a quick but fact-filled look at Penn's career, I would suggest William Penn, Quaker Hero, by Hildegarde Dolson.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What Is Penn's Woods?

I've just caught up on Feedjit with a Fort Loudon visitor who wants to know the history of Penn's Woods. Sorry--I just assumed everybody knew about Penn's Woods, but I guess I may have been luckier in my teachers than some.
Penn's Woods=Pennsylvania. So the history of Penn's Woods is the history of Pennsylvania.
So why not just call it that?
Well, because back in Penn's time people thought Latin was classy, especially for names of places, book titles, anything official. Many people knew Latin in addition to their national language.
William Penn knew he had been granted a vast acreage that was heavily forested. He wanted to call it "Sylvania," which is Latin for "forest" or "wood".
But King Charles II wanted more. He wanted to honor Penn's father, Admiral William Penn, to whom he was indebted both for stellar service in the Royal Navy and for at least one crucial advance of money. He suggested the province be named "Pennsylvania"--"Penn's Wood" or "Penn's Woods", or "Penn's Forest."
Since the King was making the grant of land available (it was payment for at least part of the debt he owed young Penn's father), William, Jr. readily agreed. The state's name is not a salute to the ego of our founder, then; the place really is named after his father.
I am sorry it took so long to attend to this question. If you have questions, I believe it will be easier to enter them in the comment box below, and I will be able to help you much sooner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ole Bull and Oleana

Ole Bull, well known Norwegian concert violinist, composer and social philosopher, would have turned 200 earlier this year. There has been no hullabaloo like that which has attended the bicentenary celebrations of, say, Frederic Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn, his fellow musicians. Bull remains a misty but controversial figure, revered, it seems, by his fellow countrymen--including the unquestionably great composer Edvard Grieg, whose career he helped promote. On the other hand, he is vilified on at least one website whose url shall remain unacknowledged, at least by me. I don't like passing on disagreeable opinions, especially when I don't know their origins.
Was Bull a truly great violinist, like his Italian contemporary Niccolo Paganini? Probably not. Paganini was the fiddler of the 19th century. But Bull did a lot of concertizing, including five long tours in the United States. ( Presumably we Americans still were unsophisticated enough in music to appreciate anyone who came along--at least, this seems to be the view of the anti-Bull website.)
Well, then, was Bull a great composer? Again, probably not. It seems he only composed 100 works. Of these, just 10 survive; and I have heard only one of them. I would characterize it as pleasant, but not exceptional. It is possible that great composers have lived and died, and all their works have been lost--but Bull's "Solitude On The Mountain" does not seem like a remnant of a composer of that caliber.
He was evidently a great showman--he once played his violin atop Egypt's Great Pyramid--a great dreamer, and a man who wished humanity well. This is a lot. And his big dream involved Pennsylvania.
He wanted to set up a colony for Norwegian farmers, so they could have a better life. His musical career had made him rich; and so in 1852 he bought 11,000 acres in Potter County--an area known as the Black Forest of Pennsylvania. It seems to be one of those areas that needs to be developed very carefully; otherwise in 50 years it will be a desert studded with natural gas derricks, through which poisoned streams meander. Right now it seems still to be wooded.
Here Bull proposed to establish his colony, to be known as Oleana. There are those (notably those on the anti-Bull website) who think the man egotistically planned to name the place after himself; but in fact, "Oleana" seems to mean something like "New Norway'. Or even "Heaven". There is a song, "Oleana", in which the place sounds like a poor man's version of the Holy City, jammed with good things to eat and drink.
Unfortunately for Bull and his colonists, the Pennsylvania Oleana didn't turn out to be like that at all. The colonists lacked the skills (or time) to clear the land and plant crops; they were not woodsmen. Some died and were buried in the forest; the rest moved on after a year to farmland in places like Minnesota, North and South Dakota.
Today all that is left of "New Norway", Bull's vision of heaven, can be found in Ole Bull State Park. It consists of the colonists' cemetery, and the remains of Bull's "castle"--a log cabin in which he never got a chance to live.
As to the dreamer himself, he died in 1880, back home in Norway; Edward Grieg delivered his eulogy.

Happy Birthday, William Penn!

Today, October 14, marks the birthday in 1644 of Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn. Had I remembered this I would have "baked a cake", figuratively speaking--for my readers, not for the founder. That's because Penn was one of the great men of his time, and would be well up there, I think, in any time. So he deserves to have more information about him served up to the public.
It's coming, I promise. I am even thinking of asking a guest blogger join me in that presentation. But I don't want you to think you'll be overwhelmed. More likely there will be an occasional post as we go along.
Meanwhile, the next post will be about another visionary in our state's history. Stand by...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bethlehem Plans: Threat To Water And Wildlife?

For decades the two massive reservoirs of the City of Bethlehem water system have supplied Bethlehem and its neighbors with generous amounts of what must be some of the purest and best-tasting water in Pennsylvania, maybe in the nation. Even when the Penn Forest Reservoir had to be totally replaced, there was no threat to the supply.
That was then. Tomorrow could be different. In these crisis-ridden days, the Bethlehem Authority is under pressure to turn what had been essentially two enormous sponges, peaceably collecting water for residents of the city and neigboring communities into a real multitasking money-maker.
Among the many ideas being talked about or in the actual planning stage are these: timbering of selected high-quality trees, the raising of grasses to be sold and converted into ethanol, and the erection of numerous--perhaps as many as 14--industrial-size wind farms.
It may all sound good--even capitalistic in the very best sense, making full use of your resources and adjusting to circumstances. But beware of unintended consequences.
Perhaps the best thing to do with a community watershed is to let it alone as much as possible. At least, if you want it to continue generating a water supply for you. All the projects being mentioned as ways to "finely improve" the Bethlehem Watershed involve intrusive changes, such as hacking roads through the woods and taking out healthy trees--trees being those growths whose roots help filter the water and retain it in the ground until it is needed. Bethlehem area activist Peter Crownfield noted that even well-managed logging "could have significant negative impacts on watershed quality."
But it is the wind farms, in those particular locations, that could have the most disastrous effects on the environment as a whole, notably on wildlife. This is especially true for the great raptors, the hawks and eagles whose migratory pathways take them nearby, past the eager observers at the Bake Oven Knob observation post. The unsuspecting birds--songbirds also are potential victims. as are bats--stand an above-average chance of being sliced up by the blades of the giant wind turbines.
This unintended consequence was pointed out by noted ornithologist (bird scientist) Donald Heintzelman of Zionsville. Heintzelman also noted that a wind turbine in the works for the nearby Blue Mountain Ski Resort could heighten the slaughter.
There is nothing that cannot be improved. That includes the management of the Bethlehem Watershed. But the Bethlehem Authority needs to proceed carefully at this point--VERY carefully. Always, they need to keep in mind that nothing must be done to harm the water supply. And that means not harming the community of life of which it is part.
With that unshakable priority guiding them, nothing too bad is likely to happen.

The Lands At Hillside Farms: More Events

The annual Fall Fest at The Lands At Hillside Farms has just come to a successful conclusion; but more special events are to come. Between now and the end of 1210 there are a couple of them on the agenda. October 23 brings Old McDonald's Farm' an event limited to 100 people, who will each pay $12. There will be hayrides, a pumpkin hunt, and pumpkin ice cream for dessert. Then, on December 20-21, stop by for Christmas at the Cottage, a get-together in the splendid Victorian cottage that once was the summer residence at Hillside Farms. Admission is $10.
More important than special events are the things that The Lands At Hillside Farms manages to do--and be--all year round. Yes, it provides a basis for understanding farm life in the late 19th century; but it is much more than a historic site--interesting as that is. It provides education in nature and ecology for all ages from pre-kindergarten to adult. It encourages people to grow at least some of their own food, and teaches them how. It benefits the local economy by providing an outlet for products grown, baked, and produced by people who live in the area.
Just want a walk in the woods, a thing no one can put a price on? It offers a chance to do that, too. To get the full, amazing story, visit the organization's web site--which is one of the best and most inviting I have ever seen. It's at
All this does not come cheap; and this is where we, the public, come in. We live in an era in which, if we want good things to last, we have to see to it ourselves.
The Lands At Hillside Farms does what it can to support itself. It maintains its famous dairy store--which, by the way, sells many other kinds of foods besides milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream. It rents out its cottage and ballroom--and ice cream truck--for special events. It charges something for its educational programs and materials. And so on.
Taken together, this only leaves it $490,000 short. Gasp!
So it needs volunteers. And donations. Nobody expects you to give the whole $490,000, or to work as a full-time volunteer; but they will be grateful if you can chip in.
Check it all out through the website--which, again, is at Or call 570-696-4500. Or, if you live nearby, go there--65 Hillside Rd., Shavertown--and check it out. See if you feel comfortable there as a visitor. A customer. Or maybe even a volunteer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Fest At Hillside Farms--Go If You Can!

The complete name of this place is The Lands At Hillside Farms, and I wish I had had more advance notice of their Fall Festival so I could have shared it with you sooner. (The dates--note them now--are Saturday, Oct. 2 and Sunday, Oct. 3. For further information call 570-696-4807).
I don't want to discourage you and your family from visiting as many Fall festivals as possible. This one will have many of the same features as all of them do--hayrides, story telling, refreshments, cooking classes, and demonstrations by such craft workers as blacksmiths, stone and wood carvers, and basket weavers. But the venue of the Fall Fest of The Lands At Hillside Farms makes it different--and, possibly, more memorable than most.
Because it is an important site, historically, culturally, and environmentally. And because it may be the only place in Pennsylvania where you can buy an ice cream cone and then wonder off with it to enjoy the site and whatever is going on at the time.
Only a couple of decades ago this 412-acre parcel of land in Shavertown, with the buildings on it, seemed destined for what is sometimes called "redevelopment." It was a decayed summer estate and dairy farm. Then it was taken over by a determined non-profit organization.
Today the public is welcome to visit, and to enjoy the revitalized venue. The place is the last working, self-sustaining dairy farm in Luzerne County. This means you can buy top-quality Hillside Gold dairy products in the dairy store there--ice cream, milk in returnable glass bottles, and more--all from grass fed cows which are free of Bovine Growth Hormone. Then you can walk over and make the acquaintance of the cows who provided the milk.
The site is open all the year round; and, under the eye of staff and volunteers, you can stroll the hiking trails and interact, not only with the cows, but with the horses, goats, and other animals.
In addition, there are other festivities, not to mention quality educational experiences, available all through the year.
The Lands At Hillside Farms can be found at 65 Hillside Rd., Shavertown 18078; its enticing website is As noted above, its phone is 570-696-4807.
I will be doing more posts on this place in the near future. It has too much to offer for one post to suffice.
I will make it a point, too, to tell you how to help it keep doing what it does.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Federal Colored Troops In Harrisburg

No sooner had the tragic Civil War receded into history than the victorious Union backhanded some of its bravest and most dedicated soldiers. United States Colored Troops were not allowed to march in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington in May, 1865. Shocked at such a display of ingratitude, the women of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, decided to do what they could to remedy the injustice. The result was the Pennsylvania Grand Review, held in November, 1865, and welcoming U.S. Colored Troops and their families from 25 states.
That event will be recreated from November 4-7 this year, as part of the nationwide sesquecentennial observance of the Civil War. There will be pomp and parades, exhibits and lectures and parties. No matter what your color, you may want to take in part of it; it's part of our common history--and I, for one, am proud that the slight of May, 1865 should have been redeemed a few months later by Pennsylvania.
Are you a descendant of one of these brave African-American soldiers? Then you may be able to play a special role in honoring your ancestor. Pennsylvania is assembling what it calls "an army" of volunteers to reclaim if necessary, and to preserve, the graves of 24 U.S. Colored Troops who are buried in the Commonwealth. A number of gravesite preservation weekends are planned for this purpose. For more information on how to help, email
Or perhaps you want to become part of the network of descendants who will be coming to honor their ancestors in Harrisburg in November. To join without delay, just call (800) VISIT PA.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oliver H. Perry's Flagship Today

If you want to visit the Flagship Niagara, the reproduction of the ship in which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won the 1813 Battle Of Lake Erie, you'll find it moored at the Erie Maritime Museum--assuming it's in port. The Niagara is without much question the prime exhibit of the imposing museum, but the institution's scope covers the entire maritime history of Lake Erie.
The whole complex, museum, Niagara, and all, used to be administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The reins have been taken by the Niagara Heritage League, which runs everything from the scheduling of the ship to fundraising, to recruiting the ship's professional crew and volunteers for all programs.
The volunteer programs here definitely seem to be the type you can interact with. Always wanted to be a re-enactor? This is rather a high-investment option; but if you know your history and have the money for costumes or uniforms and traveling, you can be a member of The Ship's Company, the Niagara's crack reenactment unit. Or you can be involved in the actual maintenance of the brig. You can learn to make ship models, or work in the museum's gift shop, or be a docent and lead tours of the Niagara or the museum.
You have to be in the neighborhood, so to speak, to volunteer for the museum or for service on the Niagara. But to donate, or to join the Niagara Heritage League, or to shop at the online gift shop, you just need to go to and sign on. Do what you can; because, like all other organizations striving to take over from the state, the Niagara Heritage League needs all the help it can get.
Check the website, too, for schedule hours and days--very important, since the Niagara is not always in port, and there very likely are times in winter when the complex is closed. I could not verify this by phone, because I found the line busy. But I say again, check the web site in advance. You don't want to take a long trip and find the place shuttered.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Books--and Moon Trail's

Several people have asked about my books--their subjects, availability, and so on. Thanks to Moon Trail books, which has published the smallest of them, there is now a place where you can go to learn about them all. It is the Moon Trail website, which you can access at (Note: In this case, DO NOT type in "http://www" That seems to fill in itself if you type in the rest. If you have trouble--this is a new site, and I have found that access has some quirks--leave a message in the comment box, and I'll check it out.)
Once you have accessed the Moon Trail site, click on "about the authors", then on the two pages with my name, Joan Campion.
While you're there, check on ALL the Moon Trail authors and their books. This little niche publisher is an amazing outfit. It has so far put out four books, and is about to publish a fifth. All of them are beautiful to look at and pick up and read--a booklover's dream. All have interesting stories to tell. Two have won prizes. And, by sheer coincidence, all of them--including the small booklet by me--have Pennsylvania connections. AND, Moon Trail also uses s quality Pennsylvania printer, rather than ship projects out-of-state, or even to China.
For a small company like Moon Trail, this gesture can be nothing more than symbolic. But symbolism is important.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oliver Hazard Perry, Fighting Sailor

"We have met the enemy and they are ours: two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop." So reported Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to General William Henry Harrison after defeating British forces on Lake Erie in September, 1813.
Six craft? It sounds like a bathtub battle, instead of the very important naval conflict that it was.
It took place during the War of 1812. a conflict that was a muddle to the school children of my time, and that probably has not even been heard of by today's students. The British wanted to accomplish two things. First, they wanted to prevent American forces from advancing deeply into Canada (if memory serves, we had already burned Hamilton, Ontario, and British forces had burned Washington, DC). Second, they wanted to block the United States from advancing into the West and taking over the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.
Perry's little fleet, and Harrison's army, were dedicated toward opening the West and Canada for their side--and they won as far as the West was concerned. Americans did not, of course, extend their reach into Canada.
Harrison won an important land battle--Tippecanoe--and later became President of the United States. But who was this Oliver Hazard Perry, the victor of the Battle of Lake Erie?
The young commodore--he was in his late 20s at the time of the battle--had been born in 1785 in South Kingston, Rhode Island. He died of yellow fever in Trinidad on August 23, 1819--his 34th birthday.
Perry had seen important naval action long before his encounter with the British on Lake Erie. As one of Commodore Edward Preble's "boys", he took part in the so-called First Barbary War--against North African pirates who had been plundering American shipping and enslaving American seamen. One of his fellow officers was James Lawrence, who died of wounds suffered when the ship he was commanding at the time, the USS Chesapeake, was roundly defeated by a British ship.
Lawrence's admonition to his crew had been, "Don't give up the ship." Perry had this slogan placed on his personal battle flag, and named his flagship the Lawrence. But when the battle was joined on the Lake, the Lawrence was hit hard and didn't last long. Grasping his battle flag, Perry had himself rowed half a mile to the brig Niagara, which became his new flagship--the moment is commemorated in a famous painting. The Niagara took a pounding similar to that which had destroyed the Lawrence; but it survived and compelled the surrender of the British flagship.
The battle was over. One day that had helped shape the destiny of two nations. One day that conveyed historical immortality on a young man destined not to become too much older.
One day that gave us a slogan that Pennsylvania, and the United States, and for that matter the world, seem to need now more than ever.
"Don't give up the ship."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More About Water

In today's Morning Call Weekly (September 18, 2010) I found an unbylined article called "Drilling to impact Lehigh River?" While this obviously is about the area where I live, the writer does provide me with some specific data that helps illustrate the magnitude of the challenge of Marcellus shale.
Natural gas is trapped in the shale, and is released by a process called hydraulic fragmentation--or "fracking", which somehow sounds more appropriate. This involves shooting massive amounts of water into the well, water which is laced with various chemicals. The companies refuse to reveal what chemicals they use, claiming these formulae are "proprietary."
According to the Morning Call Weekly writer, each well needs 3 to 6 million gallons of this polluted water to be "fracked." There already are thousands of such wells in the state; it seems logical --and at the same time crazy--to assume there soon will be thousands more.
The water that is shot into the ground can still possibly do a great deal of harm--that is, beyond being lost to any normal use. In parts of the state where natural gas drilling is already in full force, so are law suits from land owners and other parties who claim their wells and streams have been poisoned by fracking chemicals.
Even assuming no chemicals were involved, can we afford 3 to 6 million gallons of water per hole in the ground? I have heard that some 24 Pennsylvania counties are under a drought watch.
It sounds like a very good time to save the water resources we have, not to squander them.
Yes, we need energy. Yes, we need jobs. How much can we possibly afford to pay for them?

Samuel Barber. Outstanding Pennsylvanians 5

Early in the 20th century a nine-year-old boy from West Chester outlined his hopes for his career in a letter he sent to his mother. "I was meant to be a composer and will be I am sure..." he told her. "Don't ask me to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football."
His mother didn't. In fact, Samuel Barber grew up in a family of classical music lovers, and more--his aunt Louise Homer was a famous singer at the Metropolitan Opera, his uncle Sidney Homer was a composer of concert songs. His mother played the piano; and it seems likely that his doctor father at least permitted himself to be borne along to concerts and recitals.
So when young Samuel expressed an interest in writing symphonies, operas, and the like, it is safe to say he was not locked in the closet under the stairs, like Harry Potter. He was encouraged instead; and he thrived under that encouragement. He became, in fact, one of America's greatest musicians and composers, although not as famous as, say, Leonard Bernstein or Aaron Copland.
He was born in 1910, which means this year would be the centenary of his birth. Although he died in 1981, and thus did not live to see the celebration, music lovers and musicians are having some major parties without him.
(One wonders whether he would be fully appreciative. His last major work was the opera "Antony and Cleopatra", which was commissioned for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. For--probably--a variety of reasons, it failed. He spent the rest of his life embittered, and doing very little composing. Perhaps he would be a little consoled if he could know that his other important opera, the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Vanessa", is receiving more performances now than it had been earlier.)
Don't like opera or symphonies? Chances are you still have heard music by Barber--namely, the serene and melancholy "Adagio For Strings", adapted from an early string quartet by him. It was played at the funerals of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and many other times and places as well . The "Agnus Dei" section of the Roman Catholic Mass has been sung by choirs to this music. You may also have heard it in churches of other denominations, or on the radio or television. It's around.
Want to hear some Barber right now? I can't give you exact urls or anything; but if you will google "Samuel Barber" you will find links to some of his music, which you can listen to for free. I myself just listened to his wonderful, lyrical violin concerto, with its incredibly demanding final movement. There were some recordings of the "Adagio for Strings" there, too.
Go and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

S. C. Foster: Outstanding Pennsylvanians 4

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) has been called "the father of American music." He has also been called "the American Franz Schubert," comparing him to the great Austrian composer who is renowned for his songs. Foster's work and career are significant enough to be honored at the Stephen Foster Memorial Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh--Pittsburgh being the city with which he is most associated. (He was actually born in Lawrenceville, PA--on July 4, no less.)
If this makes him seem"veddy classical", well, that would be all right with a lot of us. And Foster did write songs concert singers like to sing, like "Beautiful Dreamer", "Open Thy Lattice, Love," and "I Dream Of Jeannie."
But he also wrote many songs almost all of us know, like the evergreen "Oh, Susannah."
Foster was a popular song writer who ground out songs--carefully crafted pieces at that--in quantity. Yet we probably do not hear as much of his music as we once did.
That would be because of the social circumstances in which he lived his brief, 37-year life. Stephen Collins Foster was born, lived, and died in pre-Civil War America. Much of his life was lived in places--Pittsburgh, Cincinnati in Ohio--where the South of slave owners and the North, relatively free of and opposed to the institution--came together.
To make matters worse, one of the most popular forms of entertainment of his time was the blackface minstrel show, where slaves and other blacks often were held up to ridicule and contempt.
Foster wrote songs for such performances--but with a difference. He was a friend of the distinguished abolitionist editor and writer Charles Shiras, and is said to have made it a cause to uplift the level of civility and sympathy displayed in the minstrel shows.
But his texts, of course, remain on paper. Since I am among the many ex-school children who have sung Foster songs, I can tell you there is really only kindness in songs like "My Old Kentucky Home", and even the shockingly titled (for our time) "Old Black Joe".
Poor Foster. He was no racist--far from it. What he may need is a new lyricist for his wonderful tunes.
A good place to learn more about Stephen Collins Foster is the University of Pittsburgh site at amerimus/foster.htm

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From A Pennsylvania Dutch Kitchen

From the beginning I have said I planned to run some recipes of ethnic groups associated with Pennsylvania. So far this has proved to be easier said than done; but my luck seems to have turned. While surfing the net I discovered a public domain cookbook on the Gutenberg Project. It is called The Project Gutenberg EBook of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, Author Unknown.
I found this rather hard to locate, and would be afraid to try to give you the url for it, for fear of getting it wrong. But if you find it and like it, you can download it free of charge and use it in almost any way you like. That's the meaning of Public Domain.
I suspect that some of these recipes will never be used again. In my personal experience they were delicious; but society has moved some distance from some of the ingredients, culturally speaking. That would be true of most ethnic cuisines, I suspect.
Anyway, here's a recipe that is delicious and simple to make. If you want to leave anything out, I suspect you could get by without the bacon.

Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Chowder

4 slices bacon
2 Tbs. onion, minced
1 Tbs. celery, minced
1 Tbsp. green pepper, minced
2 cups corn, freshly cleaned kernels or frozen. Canned might be all right if it is rinsed and drained.
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cut-up tomatoes
1 qt. milk
salt and pepper to taste

Put bacon, onion, celery and green pepper into skillet; heat, stirring, until the onion is brown. Add corn and saute the mix for 3 minutes. Add potatoes, tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add milk, heat to the boiling point, garnish with a little parsley (preferably fresh and chopped), and serve.

NOTE: Whether your family came from Scotland, Slovenia, or somewhere else, if you have a traditional recipe you'd like to share I'd like to run it. Drop me a note about it via the comment box below.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Water Everywhere? Or Empty Cup?

As noted, water is the issue which could turn Penn's Woods into Penn's Desert. And, since water is necessary for life--no exceptions here--the issue cannot be dismissed as a mere matter of aesthetics. It doesn't matter whether you prefer the landscape of the Sahara Desert or of a tropical rain forest, you need water to live in that landscape.
What threatens Pennsylvania's abundant lakes, rivers, and streams? First of all, we ourselves. We need to use our water supply frugally, whether for drinking, personal hygiene, home cleanliness, or recreation. But, although this step is necessary, it pales in comparison with some other steps we need to take. They involve standing up to some pretty daunting forces.
Right now, it seems to me the biggest threat to our water is the extraction of natural gas from marcellus shale. A lot about our future depends upon whether this is done with intelligence or without it. And I fear that corporate and personal greed will militate against intelligence.
Much of the problem lies in a procedure called fracking (hydraulic fracturing). This involves pumping many thousands of gallons of water, mixed with often undisclosed chemicals, into the shale to extract the very last bit of natural gas.
What effect will this have on our water? Or on plant and animal life? We do not yet know. It seems better to find out now, in the early stages of this inevitable development and while we have some chance to control it.
Other things that need to concern us are projects t0 drill for oil in lakes, from Lake Erie down to the smallest pond. Such projects have one more complication even than the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. That is because we will be risking fresh water, not salt water. That is, water for drinking.
We have no way of replacing ANY water we have. No science known to us can do that.
And that leads to another threat: the privatizing of public water supplies. There ARE already some private water companies, and presumably some of them are doing a good job. But the temptation for a private company to cut corners for profit will always be present. In general, it seems to me that it is better to keep functions vital to the public good in public hands, and to supervise them with diligence. There have been too many stories of public officials who let public assets like water systems run down so that "privatizing" them seems to make sense. And there also are tales of private water companies plugging the water pipes of customers who cannot pay with concrete, rather than trying to work with them.
The next few years will indeed be perilous. If we survive, it will be because we have learned to work together for interests that transcend profit. Because, dare I say, we have learned to work together in the tradition of William Penn.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pigeon Shoots: A Promise Broken

As this is written, my understanding is that Pennsylvania is the only state still permitting live pigeon shoots. That disgusting distinction almost came to an end recently; but it seems the legislature broke a promise to vote these "sporting" events out of existence at the end of their most recent sitting. True, they had to attend to a budget matter before they went home; but how much would it have hurt them to stay on an extra half hour? They could have taken an action that would not only have been right in itself, but that would have pleased 80 per cent of the Pennsylvania electorate.
After all, a ban on pigeon shoots is not an attack on guns, gun ownership, or the Second Amendment. Pennsylvania voters, many of whom grew up eating venison or wild rabbit and take the first day of deer season off as a holiday, understand this. The National Rifle Association wants to confuse the issue, but has evidently succeeded in confusing only members of the legislature.
Why? It's hard to figure out. In this case doing the right thing wouldn't seem to take any special courage. The NRA has only about 200,000 members in the state; the Humane Society just about 670,000. And the two NRA members I know--I live in an urban setting--find the pigeon shoots detestable. You'd think people who get and hold on to their jobs through elections would be more conscious of the numbers, and go with the majority. But perhaps NRA members who ARE fans of the shoots are better at applying pressure than the rest of us. If so, we need to change that.
News that the shoots would continue was profoundly saddening to Heidi Prescott, the national Humane Society official I introduced in my previous post. I do not know her personally, but wish I did. I do have the good fortune to know one or two others like her. They, too, have seized on a small part of life as theirs to defend --all they can encompass, since they are not God. The world needs more of them; but as a rule they are treated very badly.
Ms. Prescott is no exception: she has been slammed against cars, had her feet stepped on, and been imprisoned, among other things. But for her no punishment can compare to the horror of seeing innocent animals slaughtered while she is powerless to stop the proceedings. She has attended some 50 of these horrific spectacles, steeling herself to report this cruelty back to those of us who have not been paying attention.
Born in Buffalo, NY, she graduated from Pennsylvania's Edinboro University (then Edinboro State College) and later got an Master of Fine Arts. In addition, she studied psychology, specializing in domestic violence. She began her working career as an artist.
Her life changed, though, when her then-husband placed a dying woodpecker in her hand. She could not save it, but the experience of trying led her to become a trained wildlife rehabilitator. Later she went to work for the Humane Society, where her efforts helped cut back on the fur trade and promote other programs to benefit animals.
Not until 1990 did she center her attention on ending Pennsylvania's pigeon shoots. That was when, during the Hegins shoot, she was handed a pigeon whose legs had been shot off. It needed to be euthanized by her colleagues. She remains haunted by the memory of its fight for life and breath.
Within a few minutes of reading Walt Brasch's newsletter about the pigeon slaughters I had decided to give Ms. Prescott all the support I could--and I was on the phone to my state representative. If you agree with me that these shoots misrepresent Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians, why not call YOUR state representative and express your own view?
Be prepared to keep at the issue. Lawmakers really do have a full plate, and because of that can have a short memory for what they may regard as a small issue. But gratuitous cruelty can never be a small issue for a society that aspires to be healthy.

Stop Pigeon Shoots In Pennsylvania!

Some feel that in my previous post I let our current group of "political leaders" off far too easily. Since writing it, I have received an indication that the complainants may be right. The indication came from Walt Brasch, distinguished journalist and educator, with whose work I keep in touch.
When I got the most recent issue of Professor Brasch's newsletter, "Wanderings", it provided an update on a Pennsylvania problem that I thought had been solved more than a decade ago. The sort of problem that makes the heart sick and the day gray just to think about. A real moral problem--still there, still sullying the reputation of the Commonwealth, years after it should have been gone.
Pigeon shoots. For "sport", for "fun", for "profit". Here's what they involve:
Thousands of pigeons, often trucked into Pennsylvania to be killed for the entertainment of inhumane humans, are released from cramped cages and shot at close range by "sports" -men (and presumably some "sports"-women) armed with 12 gauge shotguns. Few of the birds are killed at once. Some manage to crawl off the field of butchery to die in agony, while many others are strangled or bludgeoned by children--some as young as eight-who receive a little money for this soul-shriveling "work".
I first became aware of the "sport" of the pigeon shoot back in the mid-90s, when it was linked to the small Schuylkill County coal town of Hegins. And the Hegins pigeon shoot managed to get national attention for the state, of the very worst kind. I don't imagine the people of Hegins are worse than the rest of us. But this thing was a tradition with them, going back to 1934 and the Depression years; and besides, the "profits" from the annual event went for "good causes". Like equipment for the fire department and other truly important civic needs. They just didn't know of a different and better way to meet those needs.
When I learned about the Hegins pigeon shoot-- this was about the mid 90s-- I immediately joined the public outcry against it. As I recall, there were a lot of us crying out; and by 1998 or 1999 this event was gone. I hope the community has healed, and has found a better way to raise money. Even at the time it ended I felt sorry for the Heginsians who had nothing to do with the pigeon shoot, and who wanted nothing more than to live a normal life in a town perceived as normal.
But if I thought the end of the Hegins event meant the end of pigeon shoots in our state, I was deluded. One person who could have set me straight--better than perhaps anyone else--is Heidi Prescott , senior vice president of campaigns for the Humane Society of the United States. Much more of her in my next post.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pennsylvanians and Politics

If you're like most of us (including me), you've had it up to HERE with politics and with (most) politicians. Don't fall into the trap of despising ALL politicians, though; there still are elected officials out there trying to serve the public. One of our important jobs as citizens is to find these dedicated men and women, and work with them.
Because everything is up for grabs, everywhere--not just in Pennsylvania. My own sense is that we don't have a lot of time to try to fix it. Although I hope I'm wrong, I am trying to act as if I might be right, and my efforts--together with those of other like-minded citizens--are desperately needed to turn things around. Because--and this, I think, paraphrases somebody--Who are we to believe in our own unimportance? If we do that, we are falling into the plans of others. And those plans may not be the best thing for us, or for our society.
I believe the issues that need to concern us most as Pennsylvanians are: !. water; 2. energy, and 3. the control of "development."
While we have our minds set on oil and gas, the real potential scarcity is of water. Common drinking water included. This is worldwide, although the patterns change with wind currents. Which is why, right now, Pakistan is drowning while Russia is frying. Right now we seem to be in a period of drought here in the Keystone State. Like all things related to climate and weather, the situation is variable. We need to plan for it as intelligently as possible. Which is why such projects as drilling for oil in Lake Erie or using millions of gallons of water to free natural gas from marcellus shale must be shelved.
Am I saying we can do without natural gas and oil? I wish I could--but clearly that is not in the cards; and it is likely that, even in a much brighter future, we will still be using some carbon fuels. But we should strive to use as little as possible. Nothing will change the fact that these fuels are polluting and poisonous. First we need to use all renewable energy resources as fully as possible--wind and solar, geothermal (probably not available here), water power, whatever we have access to.
Finally, "development". A good reason to help retain parks is that people need them for recreation--much more than they need another shopping center or housing development or casino. A good reason to help retain farmland is that it is needed to grow food.
Go and see what your elected representatives think about such issues. If they support your ideas--which I hope are pretty much the same as mine, or you wouldn't have read this far--then support them. If not, try to replace them.
Whatever we do, though, let's not make the mistake of believing we can do without politics and politicians.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let's WinThe New Battle of Brandywine

The Battle of Brandywine, largest land battle of the American Revolution, was fought near Chadd's Ford in 1777--September 11, to be exact. Washington led the Continental Army to defeat here; but what he and his army learned helped lay the groundwork for eventual victory in the war. The site is a National Historic Landmark, and until recently a functioning Pennsylvania state park.
Until a few years ago the battle anniversary would have been commemorated by the rattle of musketry and the sight of colorfully uniformed re-enactors sweeping across the field--at least, if the weather was clear. But there was no re-enactment last year (2009), nor will there be one this year. And that is because the state has virtually closed Brandywine Battlefield State Park.
Administering the park has fallen to a citizens' organization called Friends of Brandywine Battlefield, which has most things going and accessible except for the historic Gilpin House. But it cannot do the re-enactment.
Beth Rorke, education programs and volunteers coordinator for the Friends organization, regrets that. As she observes, the re-enactment, when it happens, is a good way to draw public attention to the battlefield and what occurred there. But it is too expensive to do right now. She does expect a re-enactment in 2012, the 135th anniversary of the battle.
Friends of the Brandywine Battlefield has a stiff fight on its hands to keep the park viable. The fact that its 52 acres are strategically located to appeal to developers of such "amenities" as shopping malls, housing, and even--maybe-- casinos only makes things more difficult. How can the rest of us help win this new battle?
There is always the need for money. The Friends organization is attempting to acquire all the acreage of the site and set up an endowment to preserve it as it is. To contribute, or to join Friends of the Brandywine Battlefield, go to
Would you like to volunteer? Or to apply for a prestigious but unpaid internship? In either case, contact Beth Rorke, 610-459-3342 x3003; or email her at

Message To Gettysburg

The Second Battle of Gettysburg roars on. The issue: Shall there be a casino within a mile of the great battlefield where many thousands died in a titanic struggle over America's future? The casino forces seem implacable, aided by citizens who believe the casino is necessary for jobs and economic development.
Well, I live on the outskirts of Bethlehem, a city with a rich history and a new casino. And I am saying, Don''t expect a casino, if you get one, to solve all your economic and employment problems. Or even any of them.
There is a simple reason for this. There are casinos everywhere, in cities which thought they would be an answer to job and economic development challenges. I haven't done deep research on this, but even huge, glitzy establishments designed to separate people from their money don't always do well in a bad economy and with a lot of competition. Why should people who are determined to gamble away money go to your city to do it when they can go to the casino next door--or, for that matter, to the coming video poker games in their friendly local bar or restaurant?
The last I heard--correct me if I'm wrong--even old-line gambling sites like Atlantic City and Las Vegas are in trouble because of new competition and the poor state of the economy. According to local news stories, the head of the Sands Casino here has admitted that, if he had it to do over again, he would not build in Bethlehem.
One more thing. If you get the casino some of you wish for, you will feel different about your town. Trust me on this. Some of you might feel proud and empowered, at least at first. More of you, I believe, will feel diminished. Especially when you will be trading being a unique American shrine for being just another roadside emporium.
Think it over. And good luck.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Father Gallitzin's Home Town

If you look at it on a road map, Cambria County seems in the proverbial sticks. But do not delude yourself. Much that is of great interest happened in or is associated with the county, including one of the most famous floods in American history. Johnstown, of course.
I'm sure I'll get back to Johnstown and other Cambria topics as I go along. For today I want to concentrate on one small dot on the map. Loretto. You might call it the American home town of the famed Father Demetrius Gallitzin, known as the Apostle of the Alleghenies.
It's been a while since I've been there; and, even looking on the map, it's hard for me to describe how to get there. It's between Johnstown and Altoona, and about a 10 minute drive--so they say--east of Ebensburg. All I can say is that, if you DO get there, you'll find you have a long memory of the place. I checked my own l0ng memory to find out what had changed, so I wouldn't lead you astray.
The thing I remember most has nothing to do with Father Gallitzin, but with Charles M. Schwab, founder of the once-famous Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Schwab was from this place, loved it, and built his summer home, Immergrun, here. ( The name means "Evergreen".)
A devout Catholic, he left the estate for religious purposes; and today it is Mount Assisi Monastery. The old mansion is used as a residence for retired priests, and may not be visited. But the beautiful sunken garden, with its cascading waterfall and religious sculptures, is open to the public during daylight hours.
Next to it is St. Francis University, where, if memory serves, Schwab went to school. But that was long ago, in the days bef0re it was St. Francis University. On the campus of the university you will find the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, the name of which is a puzzle to me. It seems to me that, at Loretto, we are in the Northern Appalachians if we are anywhere.
Do not neglect a visit to Prince Gallitzin's Chapel House, where you will find his personal effects; to St. Michael's Church (a minor basilica these days), and to his tomb.
You do not have to be Catholic to find these things interesting. This priest was also a builder of our state and nation.
A word about some of the names I have thrown at you. "Cambria" is Latin for "Wales". This is soft coal mining country. As such it attracted many Welsh immigrants, because coal mining was a very big industry in Wales. "Ebensburg" was named after Ebenezer Lloyd, its Welsh founder.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Father Gallitzin: Outstanding Pennsylvanians 3

It was called McGuire's Settlement first, after its original white settler. Then it came to be talked of as the Catholic Colony. But when a priest arrived in 1799 it was set on its way to being called Loretto, Pennsylvania--the name it still has today. And the priest, introduced to the community as Father Augustine Smith, came to be known by his birth name: Demetrius Gallitzin. Also as the Apostle of the Alleghenies. For his priestly work he is a candidate for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. For his work in helping to build modern Pennsylvania he has been honored with a Pennsylvania State historic marker. His presence is felt in the small village of Loretto as if he would return at any moment from his priestly circuit riding.
But he can't have been at home very much of the time. He was above all a missioner priest, one of the few clergymen available to serve a sparse Catholic population scattered all over the rugged Allegheny Mountains. When he built a church in Loretto it was believed to be the only Catholic church between Lancaster, Pennsylvania and St. Louis, Missouri.
It is hard to imagine a man farther removed from his origins than Father Demetrius Gallitzin (1770-1840). Born into a noble Russian family and descended as well from a king of Lithuania, Gallitzin was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. His father was a diplomat, a man of wealth and culture. That sort of life seemed to await the son as well.
But through the influence of his mother (a German-born Catholic), the boy became a Roman Catholic. Then, when he came on an educational trip to the United States, he decided to stay and study for the priesthood. He was the first person to go through the entire course of study for the priesthood in the United States. And he never returned to his family.
As he rode alone through the Pennsylvania woods and mountains, on his way to say mass or to succor a dying person, did he ever pine for the easy life he might have led as a noble in his homeland? Possibly. More likely, though, he felt he had chosen a higher and nobler path. Those who feel that to serve is better than to be served would doubtless assent to that proposition.