Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nice Place To Visit: The Allen Organ Company

It's a low, flat industrial building, far back from the road--certainly not the kind of place you'd associate with music. In fact, it is the headquarters of perhaps the world's largest manufacturer of church, theater, and home organs--the Allen Organ Company of Macungie, Pennsylvania.
How did this get to be here, in the midst of what used to be Pennsylvania Dutch farmland, in what are now the suburbs of Allentown? Why is it not in Bavaria's Black Forest?
The story goes back to the 1930s, to a young Muhlenberg College student named Jerome Markovitz. And at its heart is the fact that the Allen Organ is not a conventional organ, but an electronic instrument. This means it has many detractors, chiefly devotees of traditional pipe organs. On the other hand, it has been played by such great organists as the late Virgil Fox (who practically built the latter part of his career on it) and the late E. Power Biggs. And the Allen Organ Company supplied all the organs for the first visit to the United States of Pope Benedict XVI.
Furthermore, many churches and synagogues these days are finding it cheaper to buy and maintain an electronic organ than to purchase or maintain a traditional one. So, like it or not, the electronic organ is here to stay. As to Jerome Markovitz, he is its inventor, although there seems to be the usual amount of dispute. (There always is. Wait till we get to the subject of who discovered the North Pole.)
At least Markovitz's discovery story makes perfect sense. He came to Muhlenberg with no religious background; but, like all other students at the time, he had to attend chapel. The sound of the pipe organ attracted him; he had never heard anything like that before. His hobby was electronics. As he listened to the great old hymns and chorale preludes, he began to wonder: Could a sound like that be produced electronically?
It could be, and he did it. He then dropped out of college to found the Allen Organ Company. It was named after, and originally located in, Allentown. Markovitz liked the region and the people and the solid work ethic which he identified as Pennsylvania Dutch. Need for more space forced the company to relocate to Macungie later--but it's still in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
The Allen people enjoy having visitors, though they do ask you to call ahead and make reservations. Hours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and the street address is 3370 Route 100, Lower Macungie Township. Call 610-966-2202 to make arrangements for your visit.
It used to be--at least, I have this impression from my own earlier visit--that a plant tour could be arranged. Today, most likely for safety reasons, there are no longer tours. But you can visit the Jerome Markovitz Memorial Center. Here there is an organ technology museum and a small selection of gifts for sale; and you can hear the Allen Organ demonstrated. It's amazing what a variety of characters it can produce.
If you live nearby, sign up to learn about the company's recital series. It often features famous players, some specializing in the church organ and some in other areas, like theater organ.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Philly Church Project--Do It Like That!

Churches can be among the most interesting examples of architecture in a community--yet, as we are finding more and more frequently, they can be the most easily lost. Anything can hit them, from bankruptcy to a shift in demographics to a fire.
Does your community have any closed, lost, or abandoned church buildings? Ours does. And what can we do about them? Not much, unless we are extremely well-stocked with money. WE are not, as it happens.
But there's the Philly Church Project, to show us a way even the rather poor might take in dealing with the problem. Go to the Philadelphia Church Project, www.philly churchproject.com, and you will behold a virtual museum of sacred architecture in one city. Some of it no longer exists in "real" reality, but it does live on in cyberspace.
A project like this can be a real service to local and Pennsylvania history. If it covers a reasonably small community, it can be within the reach of a small historical society. If you have some internet and camera chops, it may even be within your own reach.
If you try it, let me know what you come up with. Maybe we can link up.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Get Involved in Pa. Historic Preservation

A colleague of mine passed this information on to me. I in turn cleared the matter with the state, and am passing it on to you, my readers.
If you are concerned about historic preservation, now is a good time to get involved--at least if you are a Pennsylvania resident or you work in the state.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, in its role as the State Historic Preservation Office, is currently working to prepare a statewide preservation plan which will cover the years 2012-2017.
You can be a party to this process. Just sign up for and take the Pennsylvania Community Preservation Survey. If you'd like to do additional volunteer work, there's space on the online form to add that information. And urge your friends and colleagues to follow your lead on this important public issue.
The survey form is online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/PAcommunitypres

For further information, contact Scott Doyle at (717) 783-6012 (midoyle@state.pa.us) or Andrea MacDonald (717) 787-4215 (amacdonald@state.pa.us)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More News From The Duffy's Cut Project

In a recent post I mentioned the discovery of a mass grave of 19th century immigrant Irish railroad workers near Philadelphia, and the archeological dig that has been going on for the past several years at Duffy's Cut to collect and identify the remains of the workers and return them to their families.
Earlier today I spoke to Professor William E. Watson, who has been one of the catalysts in this excavation. He is the head of the history department at Immaculata University, and an amateur archeologist who is recognized as having the skills of a professional.
Professor Watson told me he believed this would be the last year of the Duffy's Cut excavation. It has evolved--or is evolving--a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which is called the Duffy's Cut Project. The organization has already won a coveted Pennsylvania State Historic Marker for its site. On the other hand, some of the landowners whose property has been dug up, and who agreed to that in the beginning, are now beginning to lose patience. (As we would ourselves if it were our property.) This edginess of a few of the property owners has intensified the DCP personnel's desire to conclude the dig by the end of the year.
When I asked whether Professor Watson and his associates could use small donations, he indicated these would be helpful to buy supplies and equipment and meet other expenses. So I sent on a few dollars, wishing it could be more.
If you want to do this, but are concerned to get a tax exemption, I can assure you that if the organization is already a non-profit you will have no problem. If it has not yet received that recognition my guess is you still will have no problem as the new status takes effect.
Anyway, here is the address for those who want to make a gift:

Duffy's Cut Project
Box 667
Immaculata, PA 19345-667

Make the check out to the Duffey's Cut Project.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rachel Carson: Outstanding Pennsylvanians 1

Relatively few remember that Rachel Carson, scientist, writer, and prophet of today's environmental movement, was a Pennsylvanian. She grew up on a small farm at Springdale, near Pittsburgh, which today is maintained as the Rachel Carson Homestead. It is a National Historic Site that may be visited, contemplated, and walked upon as she walked upon it when she was a child--though the intrusion of construction for a nearby public high school has forced the closing of one of its trails.
Carson, the first and only child in her family to go to college, got degrees in biology and marine biology, and worked as a marine biologist for the federal government before her skill as a writer led her to a full-time career as a nature writer. Her first three books, The Sea Around Us, The Edge of the Sea, and Under The Sea Wind, won her acclaim as a poetical stylist. But it was her fourth book, Silent Spring, which gained widespread public attention.
In this book she pointed out the devastating effects artificial pesticides were having on the flora and fauna of the natural world. To this day her views remain controversial with some. But with the growing evidence of environmental degradation, much of which seems to originate in human activities (I write this in the midst of the Gulf Oil tragedy of 2010), it is harder and harder to dismiss her ideas. Whether she and her associates will be believed in time to reverse current trends is anybody's guess.)
Carson's work is credited with laying the groundwork for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and she was posthumously awarded the coveted Presidential Medal Of Freedom.
The Rachel Carson Homestead holds various events to which it invites the public. This year, for instance, the Fourth Annual Rachel's Sustainable Feast will be held August 25 on the Rachel Carson Bridge in Pittsburgh--it has outgrown the Homestead site. The event's purpose is to promote local sustainable farmers, chefs who use their food, sustainable businessmen, and members of the public who are interested in sustainability issues. (Attendees have also been known to have fun...)
Another event, of a more austere quality, is the 10th annual Rachel Carson Legacy Conference, scheduled for September 24. Its title is "Challenging Marcellus Shale: The Science, Consequences and Alternatives." Marcellus shale may be the most important environmental challenge Pennsylvania faces over the coming decades, and it is good to see the Carson Homestead attempt to address it.
For more information on visiting the Rachel Carson Homestead, or on attending its events, visit its website at www.rachelcarsonhomestead.org

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Marcellus Shale and Pennsylvania

Here is what little I know about marcellus shale at this moment. I promise to learn more and to keep readers informed.
Black marcellus shale underlies possibly two-thirds to three-fourths of Pennsylvania. It is laden with natural gas which formerly was regarded as too tough to extract. Unfortunately, times have changed, and new extraction methods have evolved, which could have the effect of transforming much of the state into a wasteland criss-crossed by poisoned streams.
Does it all seem worth the sacrifice, because of what seems our insatiable demand for energy? Well, maybe. But...
What is rapidly becoming the scarcest resource on earth? Not natural gas, not petroleum, not coal, but---WATER. And in a way, despite Pennsylvania's long association with anthracite and bituminous coal, the state's real wealth has been--water.
We have never recognized that, never really needed to. Lakes and rivers, creeks and springs, have been part of our lives.
How, though, if the tap runs dry, and we find ourselves just one more evolving desert in a parched world?
Think about it.

Death At Duffy's Cut

This is a story revealed in part by archeology. It also is a story which raises thoughts of ghosts, even though there are no ghost sightings in this version of the tale. I learned of it through a feature on National Public Radio news, and also through an article by Abigail Tucker in the April 2010 edition of "Smithsonian" magazine.
The leaders of the archeological expedition in question, Lutheran pastor Rev. Frank Watson and his history professor twin William, are amateur archeologists with professional-level credentials. Their dig was approved by the State, and also by local landowners.
They did not go in search of any fabled buried treasure, either; there's not really a lot of Indiana Jones stuff in the archeology field. Instead, they were searching for word of 57--at least 57--immigrant Irish workmen who had probably disembarked at Philadelphia in 1832, who had found construction jobs helping to build the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad line, working at a place called Duffy's Cut near Malvern--and who, less than two months later, had vanished.
The Watsons learned of this story through a private railroad company file that had been in their late grandfather's possession. They became determined to find out what had happened to these long-ago strangers they refer to as "our men."
They knew that cholera was rampant in the Philadelphia area at the time the Irishmen arrived at Duffy's Cut. It seemed probable that some of them had fallen victim to the disease. But it took a long time to find physical evidence for this, or any other, hypothesis. They searched for the gravesite of the men for four and a half years before, in the pre-spring days of 2009, they finally found it. It was near the Amtrak rail track, the very spot where the men had been working before their deaths.
This was a dig that revealed very few artifacts. A few buttons, a few broken clay pipes--not much else, beyond of course the jumbled collection of bones and skulls that could be expected in a mass grave.
Some of the skulls had been crushed, which suggested the men had either been murdered or "put out of their misery." These actions might have been taken by nearby homeowners who feared the epidemic and feared the immigrants as well.
Others likely succumbed to the disease itself.
None of the victims had papers, and there were no newspaper obituaries. Still, the Watsons hope to identify all of them if possible, and to return them to their families in Ireland. The ones who are not identified they plan to bury under a Celtic cross in nearby West Laurel Hill cemetery, where many people from the upper end of the socioeconomic scale are buried.
Despite the difficulties, with the aid of a forensic dentist the brothers do have a tentative identity for one of the Duffy's Cut victims. He may have been John Ruddy, an 18-year-old who, like the rest of his group, came from Donegal. At this writing, the Watsons are raising money for DNA tests which could confirm the identity and allow the young man's remains to be restored to his family in Ireland.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Pennsylvania History Bill of Rights

If you belong to any Pennsylvania non-profit organization, you might want to encourage your group to subscribe to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Pennsylvania History Bill of Rights. This heritage belongs to all Pennsylvanians--in fact, to all Americans. We need to let our state government know we care about it and want it saved.
Will the effort of endorsing this document change the daunting budgetary realities? No. But the things that survive over the long haul still are likely to be the things people are passionate about.
And we SHOULD be passionate about our heritage, and want to pass it on to our children and to visitors. We are the state where the Declaration of Independence was signed, where Washington wrestled with destiny at Valley Forge, where Meade struck a blow for human freedom and dignity at Gettysburg. And if many of the best-known sites are in federal hands, many, hardly less important, have been run by the state for years. If we lose them, we are going to be left poor indeed.
It costs nothing to subscribe to the Pennsylvania History Bill of Rights, and this is a commitment that your group almost certainly should make. I wish I could give you an easy email address for this, but it's a government url and I can't. A way to get there is to google the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. You will find a prominent discussion of the initiative on the PHMC's home page; and you can download the form and print it out very easily.

Friday, June 11, 2010

How To Join An Archeological Dig In Pennsylvania

The first time I saw an archeological team in action was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, down in the old industrial quarter by the Monocacy Creek. Young people, probably students from nearby Moravian College, slaved away with their trowels and other tools under professional direction. They didn't seem to mind the work or the dirt.
I wished I could join them. The nobility of it, helping to make clear the record of the past! And using clues only a detective would understand! What an intellectual challenge! What a moral high!
The second time I encountered the concept of archeology it was in a far different context. (I exclude my trips to the Middle East, where of course I visited sites that had been settings for great digs--Petra, Jerusalem, Masada, Jericho...But I myself had nothing to do with these--like thousands of other tourists, I was just passing through.)
But if I had understood more in my second domestic contact with archeology I might have at least delayed Walmart's destruction of our house. I'd have enjoyed doing that.
There was a patch of wetlands by the highway, no more than about 100 yards from the house. I had slogged through it many times; but I did not realize that it contained a kitchen midden created by American Indians who had once lived in the area.
At least, in retrospect, I suppose that's what it was. It was never officially interpreted. And I, of course, never dug around in it. (A rule I set for myself was, "Never put your hand where there might be a snake."
And THAT, at least, was a good thing. I mean both staying away from snakes and not rearranging the potsherds. Too many people--I believe archeologists refer to them as "pot hunters"--look for sites they can mine for artifacts to sell, or for their own collections. These things are not their property--indeed, in some cases they may be the bones of long-dead people-- and their hunting efforts make it difficult if not impossible to understand what happened on the site. They are robbing the public of knowledge.
I missed a direct connection with archeology, but I still wish I had had one. And if you wish that for yourself, then I urge you to avoid the pot hunter approach at all costs. Instead, get in touch with professionals.
Where to go? With the economy in chaos it's hard to know. The state is able to finance very little these days; but it's still probably the best place to begin looking. Try the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC. org). Within this organization, look for the Bureau For Historic Protection, which is the state's historic preservation office.
If you find anything else, please let me know. There is a lot of material online about this, as about other topics. I want to make sure you get only the best and most relevant.
By the way, I hope you will follow this and my other blog, Letters from Lyonesse. That one is http://lettersfromlyonesse.blogspot.com; and this one is http://welcometopennswoods.blogspot.com. Just go to the red button marked "follow," partway down the right side. Click on it, and do what needs to be done. That should also make you eligible to make comments.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mollie Maguires Ghosts

While both my sisters have had direct paranormal experiences, I myself have not. The closest I have come to such an experience has been my writing of a history of Carbon County, "Smokestacks And Black Diamonds," which was published in 1997--several years later than originally scheduled.
At the time I wrote the book, the famous old Carbon County Jail in which a number of convicted Mollie Maguires were executed late in the 19th century, was still the county jail. I of course knew about its connection with the fate of the "Mollies," and I tried to visit, but without success. I was told it had the potential for being dangerous, which I suppose was true.
I was especially interested in the so-called "Hand On The Jailhouse Wall," said to have been impressed there by either Alexander Campbell or Tom Fisher just before his execution. Whoever made the hand print is said to have declared, "There it will remain forever, to shame the county that is hanging an innocent man."
I didn't get into the jail until it became private property and was opened to the public as a museum, some years after my book was published. I am not sure what year that was.
When I did get in, I must admit that I didn't see much of it; I couldn't stand the oppressive sense, or smell, for that matter.
But I did see the hand mark; Cell 17, where it is imprinted on the wall, is in the main cell block and near the main entrance. It is a strange bruise of a mark, and much has been said and written about it. "Bogus" is, of course, one of those things. But I don't think so.
It's been said that the former sheriff's department used to keep repainting the mark, just to keep the interest going. But I cannot see why County officials would want to do that--presumably calling attention to a great injustice they themselves had perpetrated.
Former Carbon County President Judge John Lavelle, in his book about the history of law and justice in the county, suggests a different story. According to his book, the sheriff's department went to very serious efforts to get rid of the hand mark--painting it over, chipping it out, even replacing the whole wall. Always the mark reappeared.
In 2001 Laurie Hull and a fellow investigator from Tri-County Paranormal were able to visit the jail--including some grim cells in the basement that I had not had the nerve to go down and see. Their report is satisfyingly detailed, at least to me. For me it represents something like "Everything the county historian wanted to know but never got to ask." (Actually, also some things I didn't realize were there to know.)
You too can visit Tri-County Paranormal's website to learn much more about the Mollies and the Carbon County Jail. The site also has some rather depressing photos, as might be expected from a site where grim things have happened.
Go to: http://www.delcoghosts.com/paranormal/Carbon_co_jail.html
By the way, I had not heard of Tri-County Paranormal before. But they seem to be conscientious researchers, and if you are interested in their subjects you might want to follow them. Or whatever the term for this is.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Pennsylvania Ghost Story

This, I am sure, will be the first of many stories--and don't forget to share your own tales of Pennsylvania ghosts.
Let me confess that I have always believed in ghosts and the paranormal. These things have touched my life personally, but other members of my family--notably my sisters and my father--have experienced them in much greater depth.
I have heard or read somewhere that any house in which someone has died is by definition a haunted house. That's a lot of potential ghosts. Also, it seems to me that an old place with a rich historical past must be prime ghost country.
That certainly would define Pennsylvania. Old and with a rich past, and with some spirits who haven't yet worked things out.
My sister Carole seems to have encountered such a spirit when she and her then-husband rented a house in Hazleton. She became more aware of it than other members of the family because she spent more time at home than anyone else.
Evidently this ghost was a woman, and a dedicated housewife. Carole could tell that because, while she never saw her, the house's former tenant made her existence known through cooking smells, the clatter of dishes from the the kitchen, the aroma of perfume, and much walking back and forth, as of someone checking to see what needed to be cleaned or straightened.
Carole recalled that her daughter was unnerved by these ghostly manifestations, but she herself was not. Her coexistence with the ghost of the former tenant was peaceful and--if this is the right way to define living with a ghost--uneventful.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Dysfunctional Penns, Part II

While Sir William Penn was playing an adept game of survival on the high seas and in the halls of power. his son and namesake represented another kind of challenge. There is an early portrait of the boy, looking handsome and dashing in the armor of the era. That must have pleased the father very much; it was in his own image, so to speak.
Their relationship became stressed before too long, though--probably about the time William went off to Christ Church, Oxford. There he fell under the influence, not so much of his professors, as of one George Fox.
Fox today is known as the founder of the Society of Friends, or Quakers--possibly the most despised of all the religious cults and sects in England at the time. To us it is hard to see why. We think of the group merely as pacifists. If we know some, we may find them reserved, principled, and on the quiet side.
This does not tell the whole story of this group, for they have had, like all other human groups, serious difficulties among themselves. It also does not show them as they appeared to those who first encountered them--and who, in some cases, martyred them.
The main point the Friends were making--and as far as I can make out it still is--was that all were equal in the eyes of God. This seems logical to many of us--as long as it does not impinge too much on our own assumed prerogatives. But the early Quakers insisted on driving the point home, and this in a society rife with privilege. They kept their hats on in the presence of kings and lords, they insulted churches, which they called "steeple houses," and more besides. At Oxford, for example, young William Penn specialized in tearing the traditional academic robes from the backs of his fellow students.
For this and similar activities he was expelled. And he began to run up a record of arrests and imprisonments because he would not yield on his beliefs.
Father and son had some fierce confrontations. In one of them, according to historians Philip Klein and Ari Hoogenboom, the admiral threatened to kill the young man--who countered by threatening suicide.
It was the intervention of the Royal family, King Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, who saved the situation for the Penns. The Duke in particular helped protect young Penn from the worst scrapes he got into. When the admiral died at the early age of 49, the Penns were on good terms with each other, and with the Royal family. His son inherited a fortune, including a vast grant of land in the New World, which made Pennsylvania possible. The land had been given to the admiral by the king in payment of a loan.

The Dysfunctional Penns, Part I

If ever there was a dysfunctional father-son relationship, it was between Pennsylvania's founder William Penn and his father, also named William.
Of course, maybe it isn't so surprising. The Penns lived out their relationship in one of the most dysfunctional of all centuries, the 17th. At least this was true in Europe, where these people lived.
For Europeans this was preeminently a time of war, famine, pestilence, and death--not to be matched until the late, unlamented 20th century. Differences of religion were at the core of the wars, and thousands died for belonging to unapproved forms of Christianity.
In England things were even worse, if possible. That country was involved in European wars, too, notably against the Dutch; but what consumed the nation was its Civil War, also fought out on religious lines. In the course of this war, the Puritan faction headed by the man who became Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, tried and executed King Charles I.
The sailor William Penn senior, father of the founder of our Commonwealth, was born in 1621, or roughly at the beginning of this turbulent and bloody period. Not a Puritan himself, he signed on with the navy of the Puritan Commonwealth.
That, presumably, was where the work was. And Penn was very good at his work. He put an end to a war with the Dutch by one smashing victory. He quickly became an admiral, and more--an impressed Cromwell named him General of the Sea.
But Penn could not, in that era, afford to be grateful. These were days in which sudden shifts of power could lead to brutal execution for the followers of the loser. And the cause of Princes Charles and James, sons of the martyred Charles I, gained strength as that of the Puritans waned.
The admiral did what any prudent man would do under the circumstances. He sent the princes a note, letting them know he would be glad to welcome them back to their kingdom.
The result was that when they did return, many Puritan leaders were--predictably--put to death. But Admiral Penn was knighted.
Too bad Sir William found it so much harder to deal with his own son than with a change of regime...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Trouble We're In

It will come as no news that Pennsylvania (and our country, and the world) are in deep economic trouble. To date, I have no really good information on this; but I have heard as many as 35 or more state parks and historic sites may be closed to save money. Some of these are being taken over by caretaker groups of citizens; and I want to do my best to connect with these groups and help their efforts. Can we help with upkeep of a site? If so, how? When can members of the public visit? Visiting is important; it expresses our interest in and concern for our heritage. (Not to mention that under today's stresses we really need recreation...)
Back in the 19th century, when we were a great and promising place, a Frenchman named Montesquieu visited the United States. He wrote that, in this new land, as soon as a man discerned a public need, he would join with his neighbors and form an organization to fill that need.
A perceptive man! As a matter of fact, that was one of the things that made us a great and promising place. Let's restore that tradition of joining together to solve problems and meet challenges, and we stand a fair chance of once again becoming a bright and promising place.

Here's Pennsylvania!

Welcome to what could easily become, with your help, one of the biggest niche blogs on the internet. It's all about Pennsylvania, my native state and one of my lifelong enthusiasms. If you're a native too, or if you vacation here and just like the place, I hope you find it both entertaining and enlightening. Once I get used to the technology I'll be seeking stories, recipes, and comments from you, my readers.
My qualifications to do this? Try a lifetime serious interest. I have, to begin with, a typical mixed Pennsylvania ethnic background--predominantly Pennsylvania Dutch and English, with some Poles and Moravians (not the church, the geographical region) on various branches of the family tree.
I got a degree in history after growing up on a farm in Carbon County, wrote a well-liked history of my county called "Smokestacks And Black Diamonds", and founded the South Bethlehem Historical Society.
This and my other blog, "Letters From Lyonesse" (www.lettersfromlyonesse.blogspot.com) are intended to be my retirement profession; so drop by my virtual front porch and say hello. Tell me your stories and maybe I can help you share them.