Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Aid For Daniel Boone!

...and who ever thought the great, Pennsylvania-born frontiersman would need OUR help? But he does. The farm on which the 18th century hero spent the first 16 years of his life is located near Birdsboro in Berks County; and believe it or not the Daniel Boone Homestead is one of the many history/heritage sites which have been cut out of the state budget. While the property still belongs to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is currently being administered by a citizen group called Friends of the Daniel Boone Homestead. They, and the three part-time employees who are working with them, need all the help they can get--which is true of many other historical and artistic organizations as well.
But for those of us who are able to help any of these groups, the benefits are many. We can enjoy wonderful features of our state that we did not know about before. And we can help make sure these places are there for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.
(With this in mind, doesn't Daniel Boone's old home sound like a great place to take children? Maybe even whole troops of Boy or Girl Scouts? Wouldn't they enjoy the historic buildings, the lake, the hiking and riding trails on the 579-acre property? And, for that matter, how about the rest of us?)
For full details, check the website at www.DanielBoonehomestead.org It lists the events that are available, some of which have small fees attached. These fees, of course, help to support the site. The website also mentions other ways in which you can help--membership in the Friends of the Daniel Boone Homestead at various levels, for instance. If you live nearby, you can also become a volunteer, providing a variety of skills from guides to gardeners to craft demonstrators.
Amanda K. Bowman, interpretive coordinator, points out that the hours at the Homestead are limited these days, and asks that you email ahead to make reservations. She can be reached at bowmanak@gmail.com

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Aid For The Distressed: The Beginning

This feature is one of the things, I hope, which will set this blog off from others about Pennsylvania. It will provide information on how to help the state, your local community, cultural and natural resources--even yourself--during a very tough time. As that old naturalized Pennsylvanian Ben Franklin put it during even more stressful times (the American Revolution), "If we do not hang together we will all hang separately."
Well, he meant "hang" quite literally, of course--that was the usual fate of those who lost a Revolution. That is not likely to happen to us in our time; but if we do not act to sustain our society in this tough period, things are likely to get considerably worse than they are now. You probably don't want that to happen; so grab an oar if you can. There's almost never NOTHING you can do.
You will find opportunities to volunteer in your communities through your houses of worship, clubs, newspapers, radio, and television. These posts, I hope, will bring you news of how you can help on a larger scale, in heritage or environmental projects; or even on how you can raise money for your group or for yourself. I am indebted to the office of State Representative Joseph Brennan, and to my long-time friend the journalist Len Barcousky, for understanding what I am trying to accomplish with this feature and providing some material to start.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Is It Like To Be Pennsylvania Dutch?

In my previous post I expressed the view that the key question education should try to answer is, "What is it like to be you?" Now, as a Pennsylvania Dutchwoman, I am going to try to answer it. And my answer is, "It's okay, when you let us alone--or better yet, treat us with the respect we deserve. It's not okay, though, when you try to forget our existence--as seems to me to be happening more and more. And it is not okay when you peddle misunderstandings about us, and sell them to tourists as 'quaint'."
The result? We are often spoken to as if we were sauerkraut-eating, intellectually slow backwoods types who "talk funny." It happens that I love sauerkraut and various other staples of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, and New Year's just wouldn't be right without the traditional pork and sauerkraut. No other part of the description given above applies to me, although it would be okay if it did.
Who are we, anyway? We are descendants of mostly Germanic people, a lot of whom left the Rhineland and South German areas to escape religious persecution. This was in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, around the time of William Penn and his sons. Having been farmers for the most part, and having little other education, we became farmers here, where our beautifully cared for and productive farms became our trademark--this was back in the day when it was possible to farm land for profit, rather than having to sell the farm for taxes.
Because we stuck together, we evolved a Germanic dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch. Like other means of Germanic verbal expression, it falls on the ear a bit like the sound of a sledgehammer--just my opinion. At any rate it is ours.
We were NEVER exclusively, or even chiefly, Plain People--the Amish or the Mennonites. Most of us were like the average American in the way we dressed. Our religions were, for the most part, pretty Mainstream Protestant--Lutheran, Evangelical, German Reformed.
At the time of my childhood, there were Dutch radio programs and Dutch newspaper columns. Dutch food could be found everywhere. We were at home in our little universe.
(And, by the way, when I use "Dutch" in this context, I DO mean "Pennsylvania Dutch." That was what we called ourselves. Only fairly recently are outside scholars wanting to correct this, and insisting that we call ourselves German. Of course we know that we are Germans in the larger sense. But we are Pennsylvania Dutch first of all.)
Today Pennsylvania Dutch is heard almost nowhere, certainly not on the radio. I can't think of a restaurant that serves Pennsylvania Dutch food. Our beautiful farmlands have been turned into malls and housing developments that an acquaintance of mine refers to as "mausoleums for the living."
Even one of our churches seems to have forgotten us. I have heard no acknowledgement in years that the old German Reformed Church sacrificed itself to become part of the United Church of Christ.
And that is what it is like to be Pennsylvania Dutch today. Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, we seem to get no respect.

Leni Nation Gains New Cultural Center

During Easton's recent Heritage Day celebration, the public had a chance to become acquainted with the Leni Nation's new cultural center, situated in the 18th century tavern, Bachmann's Publick House, at 169 Northampton Street.
Beginning in September, 2010, The Leni Nation Cultural Center and Trading Post--its full title--will be open every Saturday afternoon from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., to anyone wishing to know more about American Indian culture--or at least about the culture of the Leni, the most prominent nation of indigenous peoples in the Forks of the Delaware area. General admission for docent-led tours is free, although freewill offerings are gratefully accepted.
Special programming, with a charge of $10, also will be offered weekly, on a four-week cycle. The cycle runs as follows: First Saturday, Leni language classes; Second Saturday, children's story circle; Third Saturday, Leni cultural presentation, and Fourth Saturday, Leni arts and crafts.
This group's website, which as I write does not seem to be completely set up, is at www.lenapenation.org
I hope to highlight other American Indian institutions and events, in the hope of providing you with the means of understanding what these people's experience has been like. "What is it like to be you?" is the question underlying all true education. In too many settings it is no longer even being asked.
If I have offended anyone by using the term "American Indian," I will be very happy if you let me know--but only if you can suggest a workable alternative. "Native Americans" invites the unanswerable rejoinder that anyone born in North or South America is a Native American. Right now "Indigenous Peoples" seems to be popular--but its problem is that it does not describe anybody in particular. Every continent and large island has its own group of indigenuous humans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Climate Change, Culture Crash?

Seven times since the year 2004 the Monocacy Creek at Bethlehem has surged over its banks. Each time it has inflicted serious damage on historic industrial buildings administered by Historic Bethlehem Partnership, and on a surrounding area that has long been the site of large-scale outdoor events.
The buildings flooded include the 18th century Moravian Tannery and Waterworks and the 1869 Luckenbach Mill, which houses HBP offices. The Waterworks building suffered particularly heavy damage in the recent (July, 2010) flooding. The structure is a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark--- it is believed to be the oldest municipal waterworks in the United States. It was fitted with a new wheel just last year, at a cost of around $150,000. But the wheel has been jammed by flood water, and it is impossible to determine whether it still works.
The outdoor events which have been impacted by Monocacy Creek flooding have included two popular tourist attractions, the giant Musikfest and the popular annual Celticfest.
I've seen an estimate that 50,000 people visit the Monocacy Valley's attractions every year. That sounds low to me, and perhaps it only counts people visiting Historic Bethlehem's sites. But it still is a large number of people. The loss of a crowd that size could make quite a hole in Bethlehem's tourism revenue.
What is causing this era of recurrent floods in the Monocacy Valley? Climate change is one possible answer. But a knowledgeable former city official is also convinced that something else is in play. It might be called the doctrine of impervious surfaces--the idea that urban flooding can be intensified, as it was recently in Nashville, TN, by the rain falling on roofs, sidewalks, and parking lots instead of onto grass and soil. This results in the water not being absorbed and pouring into streams and rivers. Serious floods ensue.
Meteorologists are beginning to take this view of things; and it certainly might apply in Bethlehem. The once-bucolic townships north of the city, through which the Monocacy flows, are now teeming with homes, schools, and malls. Yes; and of course parking lots.
Whether the problem here is climate change or impervious surfaces or both, with some other things thrown in, it will not be easy to solve. It has even been suggested that the Army Corps of Engineers be called in, an idea that I am sure gives many people a feeling of dread. The Corps has been blamed for a number of misjudgements during its history, including making the disaster of Hurricane Katrina worse than it need have been.
All that is clear is that failure to solve the flooding problem along the Monocacy could have the not-so-long-term effect of seriously damagaing Bethlehem's quality of life. And that would be very sad.

Volunteers Needed For New Historical Museum

If you live in the Easton area and care about American history and heritage, the job of your dreams may be waiting for you with the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. True, this will be an unpaid, volunteer job; but then, these days, so many of the best jobs are.
NCHGS has some outstanding benefits to offer. First of all, against some pretty formidable odds in these troubled economic times, the Society has managed to acquire an outstanding new facility--the Sigal Museum. at 342 Northampton St. You and your fellow First Volunteer Responders can be among the first to work there.
Second, there is a wide variety of jobs available, ranging from docents and researchers to store clerks and office and administrative workers.
Third, the Society offers--indeed, requires--a week of job training. To volunteer, and to sign up for the training, call 610-253-1222. Or email director@northamptonctymuseum.org.
Reservations must be made in advance.
Sign up if you can. Toqueville would be very pleased...He knew how vital volunteers were to the success of America.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bethlehem: A Tragedy Unfolding

I have tried, and will continue to try, to keep anything that could be dismissed as "politics" out of this blog. This is bound to be thought of as the exception--yet, when I see what seems to me to be a tragedy of massive proportions unfolding before my eyes, I have to do what little I can against it.
The tragedy can be summed up this simply: the historic little city of Bethlehem, a place encapsulating three plus centuries of American history and tradition, is being sacrificed on the altar of "profits without honor." The spiritual tradition of the Moravian founders, the ethnic variety of the peoples of the South Side, the vision of great industrialists, all of this is on the chopping block. And the would-be executioners seem to be working faster and faster.
It began many years ago, with the once-independent South Bethlehem. Little store was set by the residents of this neighborhood. Their opinions did not matter, since they were believers in the wrong religions and came from the wrong national origins. A whole municipality--Northampton Heights--was wiped out because Bethlehem Steel found it inconvenient. Lehigh University destroyed a neighborhood which stood in the way of its expansion.
Since those days Steel has died, and the ethnic mix of the South Side has changed dramatically--though one thing has never changed: South Siders, whoever they happen to be, continue to be thought of as the source of most of the city's problems. And a second, related development is this: the neighborhood itself has continued to be thought of as no-account. A prominent local historian has established that, over the past two decades, between 120 and 130 buildings have been demolished there. Some of these, like architect Albert W. Leh's masterpiece that ended its existence as Broughal School, were truly important, not only in themselves, but to the culture of the entire city.
It is as if Bethlehem's South Side were a mine, not a neighborhood.
There doubtless are old-line residents, never reconciled to Bethlehem's cultural diversity, who have viewed these doings with indifference, or--sometimes--with downright hostility. After all, in essence it has only been the South Side, right?
Only now it isn't any longer. A wooded hill that once shaded the root cellars of Colonial (north side) Bethlehem has been demolished and replaced by a huge, unbelievably ugly college dormitory in pseudo-Early American style. This aberration has been perpetrated by Moravian College itself. Planned diagonal parking spots on historic Main Street's lower end--which, if they are built, are scheduled to make questionable use of Federal Community Block Grant funds--are being ramrodded by the Bethlehem City Government.
On the South Side, the chief "miner" seems to be ArtsQuest, which has absorbed the city's once-innocuous and beautiful Musikfest. The evolution of this organization proves that it is possible to give even music a bad name. So far ArtsQuest has taken out at least one historically important building on the former Bethlehem Steel site. It has also made it clear that the small businesses in the South Side business district are fair game for its cutthroat brand of competition. Just like Leviathan in the fish bowl.
Why am I telling you this? Because we have thought for years that it couldn't happen here--but it is happening. If you too live in an old and cherishable place, get ready to fight. And to bleed. And to lose a lot.
If you MUST lose, lose everything but hope.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Duffy's Cut- Ghosts And An Inheritance

From the moment NPR News made me aware of the mass grave of 57 Irish workers at Duffy's Cut near Merion in Pennsylvania, I knew there had to be ghosts. Seen or unseen--and almost certainly seen by SOMEBODY--they were there. I am respectful of the paranormal, and I know enough to recognize that where there has been violent or tragic death there is a higher than average manifestation of paranormal phenomena.
The paranormal was not mentioned by NPR, nor by the Smithsonian Magazine, nor--if I remember correctly--by Fox News. These were the only more or less conventional media outlets in which I encountered the story, although it may have been picked up by others.
I must admit, I was surprised when the first person to mention having possibly encountered ghostly emanations from the long-ago tragedy was Dr. William Watson, head of the history department at Immaculata University and later a leader in the archeological excavation. But this was long before he had heard the story of the Irish railroad workers who had disappeared during the cholera epidemic of 1832. It was also some years before he and his twin brother, a Lutheran pastor named Dr. Frank Watson, realized that fate had chosen them for key roles in solving the mystery and doing justice to the dead workers.
Here's how it happened.
The Watsons' grandfather, himself a man of keen historical interests, had worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. This railroad had absorbed the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, on whose construction the Duffy's Cut 57 had been working. The route still is in use--today, Amtrak runs within a few yards of where the Irish immigrants died.
Martin Clement, a president of the Pennsylvania Railroad was the Watsons' grandfather's immediate boss. He was aware of the long-ago Duffy's Cut episode, and kept a file in which he collected everything related to the tragedy. The file began in the late 19th century and continued on until the 1930s. Clement used to show it to people and caution them that they must not talk about it; the railroad didn't want the information made public.
The railroad president also built a wall around the area where he believed the men had been buried. The wall still is there.
Why would you keep a file on something you and your organization would like to have forgotten? And share it with assorted others, no less?
"We've speculated about Clement's motives," commented Professor William Watson. "There could be a feeling of guilt about it. Also, his own grandfather may have been involved in the prosecution of some of the Mollie Maguires."
Whatever the reasons, it seems likely that Clement lived with ghosts of his own.
When the Watsons' grandfather died, a few years after William had seen the luminous, dancing figures outside his office window, the professor and his brother Frank sorted through the older man's possessions.
That seems to have been the first time the brothers knew about Duffy's Cut. The first time William had a plausible explanation for the dancers on the lawn--just three miles from the site where the Irish workers were believed to be buried. The last time life for the Watsons and the colleagues who joined them in the Duffy's Cut Project would be what they had previously thought of as normal.
Quite an inheritance!