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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Gwilym Gwent" : Outstanding Pennsylvanians 2

William Aubrey Williams (1834-1891) was a blacksmith by trade and a musician by what almost seems to have been divine calling. "Gwilym Gwent", the name by which he is perhaps best known, suggests this musicality, for it is is his bardic name, the name by which he is known in the great musical tradition of his native land.
Born in Wales, whose musicality is legendary, he sang in his uncle's choir at the age of 10. Later he conducted a local band and composed music-particularly songs, and anthems in the great Welsh choral tradition. Meanwhile, blacksmithing continued to be his "day job."
In 1872 he moved to Pennsylvania with his family, eventually settling in the town of Plymouth. He continued as a blacksmith, but with a difference--his work now took him underground, right into the coal mines of the area. He worked in several during his Pennsylvania career.
But he did not stop making music. There were many other Welsh people in the coal region of the upper Susquehanna Valley, and they loved him. They called him "the minstrel of the mines."
He wrote music at home and also in the mines where he worked, sometimes using chalk to write the beginning of an anthem or a song on the side of a coal mine car. His works eventually amounted to over 100, all done without benefit of formal musical training. In addition, he conducted bands and choirs.
He died in 1891. Thousands gathered at the Welsh Congregational Church in Plymouth where he had worshipped, and followed his coffin to the Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre. They did not go silently, but sang as they went. To get to the end of their sad yet in some ways noble journey they needed to cross the Susquehanna River. It took several steam boats several trips to ferry them all across.
Nor was that all. As the result of a public subscription an imposing 7-foot monument was erected over his grave and dedicated in 1892. You can go there to pay your respects if you like. And if you have a chance, you should.
The story of Gwilym Gwent is an evolving one. Despite the monument, much about him had been forgotten as the generations who had known him personally passed from the scene. But as a result of several small "coincidences"--an obituary notice about him, a visit by a grandson who knew little except that his grandfather had been a musician--the time for renewed recognition may be at hand.
These "coincidences" befell the Plymouth Historical Society, located at 115 Gaylord Avenue. The society possesses much else of historical interest about its community. Call and make an appointment for a visit if you can. The phone number is 570-779-5840.
I am indebted to Georgetta Potoski of the society for telling the story of Gwilym Gwent, and to Erika Funke for conducting a most perceptive interview with Ms. Potoski on her indispensable program "Arts Scene."
Taken all in all, WVIA-FM and television make a powerful argument for the value of public broadcasting. And organizations like the Plymouth Historical Society serve their communities well by preserving the memories that make them communities in the first place.

Friday, August 20, 2010

No To Politics: No (Especally) To Toomey

A friend of mine tells me that there is a Pat Toomey ad somewhere on this blog. I do not see it; but that does not mean it is not there, perfectly visible to bemused visitors. I say "bemused" because anyone who knows me knows that, while I am a political person, I do not wish to give any kind of boost to Mr. Toomey.
Or, for that matter, to anyone else--not in this blog. This blog is meant to be a celebration of Pennsylvania and its whole heritage, not a hashing of once-and-future political nastiness. This is because I have discerned that one of the chief things American--and Pennsylvania--society needs to recover from is the savagery of politics as it has been practiced. I conceived "Welcome To Penn's Woods" to do something about this, to help in a small way to reestablish a sense of community and of shared things.
When and if I want a political blog I am perfectly capable of starting one. I am upset to think that my effort here is being upstaged by a political candidate I find especially objectionable, whose only qualification for being on the same page with my posts is that he has a lot of money and I don't.
I am grateful to Blogger for making space available to me and to other unmoneyed people. May I please ask that no political ads of any kind be placed on this blog? If it is argued that this would violate Mr. Toomey's free speech, I disagree with this. If I have a yard, I can certainly take anybody's political yard sign--or refuse to take signs from anybody, too. All I want to do is to refuse any and all yard signs.
And besides, if political candidates have free speech rights, why don't I? I set up blogs, after all, wishing to express my own views, not those of Candidate X.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Welcoming Trees Of Cedar Crest College

Just a few decades ago Cedar Crest College perched on the as-yet-undeveloped western fringe of Allentown. Its neighbors were a few businesses and homes, and fields which were still planted by farmers--or, if not planted by humankind, still offered opportunities for such edible harvests as mushrooms, dandelion, and black walnuts. All in their respective seasons, of course.
These days all that is natural in the neighborhood seems gone, lost in a jumble of shopping centers, hotels, clinics, offices, and whatever. Not to mention the tendrils of what used to be quiet little Dorney Park, which seems to have grown almost beyond recognition.
In the midst of all this commercial clutter and tumult, though, the possibility of peace radiance from the college itself. It's hardly the Isle of the Blessed--no school is--but it IS a place where you can spend an hour or two learning about nature, or just enjoying relative quiet. And you can do it free of charge.
That is because the 84 acre campus, down from its original 104 acres, doubles as the William F. Curtis Arboretum, a nationally recognized public park. Trees of 140 species may be found on the grounds, most or all of them tagged with identification so visitors may know what they are looking at.
The usual standards of conduct apply: no littering, and above all no pulling leaves or branches from the trees. According to arboretum curator Dr. Kelly Austin this has been a problem, especially with children's tour groups. Visitors are welcome to pick up leaves that are already on the ground.
And who was William F. Curtis, whose name graces this fine facility? He was the seventh president of Cedar Crest, and the man who acquired the land on which the college now stands. When Dr. Curtis had a speaking engagement he would ask for payment in trees or shrubs, to be planted on the then-barren campus. The only tree that was there when the land was purchased in 1915 was a giant black walnut in what became the center of the quad. Those who remember it thought it would last forever; but a howling storm brought it down in 1983.
But it lived to find itself surrounded by groves, thanks in large part to the initiative of Dr. Curtis and his successors.
Groups wishing to visit the arboretum may make arrangements for a free guided tour. Go to the website at www.cedarcrest.edu/ca/arboretum , where there is a form to fill out and return to the college. Or call the college at 800-360-1222 for information.
If you would like to come by yourself, there is a self-guided tour map available. Simply come to the visitors' desk at the Tompkins Student Union building and ask for one.
And, above all, enjoy.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pennsylvania Ghosts 24/7

For those of you with a keen interest in ghost stories--I must say, this includes me--I have discovered a blog you must follow. It is Haunts and History, and its url is http://hauntsandhistory.blogspot.com. While you are there, click back to its main website, Pennsylvania Haunts and History.
I went there to check on the continuing saga of Duffy's Cut, and I must say the story has gathered new aspects, like a giant snowball rolling downhill. This sounds like a criticism. It isn't. I have no doubt that the story is true, and as Dr. Watson--who I have talked to--presented it. But a story as awesome as this one will inevitably pick up additions and new interpretations with each new teller.
I think that is good, for the most part.
What's the Duffy's Cut story to me? It's about justice--the justice of memory, which is the only kind that can be done to the 57 victims. Dr. Watson said to me that the people who had become involved in the project had changed, were not the same as they had been before. He included himself.
Having undertaken such a task myself--in my case, a biography of the Holocaust heroine and martyr Gisi Fleischmann--I know what he means. A friend of mine has had a similar experience: You stumble into a fragment of a story, and suddenly it becomes your mission, your obligation, to tell it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

Please don't pick the flowers--they belong to all of us. And they are in danger of being lost forever.
That's the situation at the Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve near New Hope.
Bowman's Hill abuts on Washington's Crossing Historical Park, which a non-profit group is struggling to take over and revitalize. It is, though, not historical in itself; it is something even rarer--a 134-acre treasure trove of rare flowers and other plants, sometimes referred to as "the upper park." (Washington's Crossing itself is called "the lower park.")
The extent of Bowman's Hill's botanical wealth is summed up by the Preserve's director, Miles Arnott. "It's one of the most important plant repositories in the North East," he says. "More than 800 flower species are here, some of them quite rare."
But as a site for preservation, Bowman's Hill has special complications. Chief of these is the
fact that to many people the preserve looks like nothing so much as raw land, suitable for development into such questionable amenities as housing developments, shopping centers, and casinos. Even the group attempting to save the site has been accused of wanting to sell it for development--a classic example of propaganda disinformation. The sale of the land to the would-be preservationists has to pass the state legislature, where it has run into severe snags.
Why should we want to keep this place as a public possession? Arnott suggests that, for the answer to that, you begin by exploring Bowman's Hill's excellent website, at www. bhwp.org. If you live within easy travel range, call (215)862-2924, arrange to visit, and see the place firsthand. It's open all year around.
Want to do more? Give a donation. Join the Bowman's Hill Wildlife Preserve. If you can, call volunteer coordinator Kathleen Muth and offer your services. You can choose among a variety of interesting and challenging volunteer assignments.
Above all, if you want to help secure Bowman's Hill for the future, contact Barbara Franco, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and your state senator. Tell them you want the ownership of Bowman's Hill ceded to the group currently running it, who will keep it safe as what it is--a nature preserve. It is especially important to contact state Senator Charles McIlhinney, who can be reached at (215) 489-5000, or at 22 South Main St., Doylestown, PA 18901-4668.

Mission Statement For "Penn's Woods"

A once-and-future enthusiasm for Star Trek (all crews, all captains) was what first introduced me to the concept of the Mission Statement. Undertaking this blog and "Letters From Lyonesse" is just my latest effort to boldly go where I have not been before.
But what do the blogs themselves mean? What are THEIR mission statements?
Well, I know what I mean, of course; but this does not necessarily give the reader any guidance. In the case of "Letters From Lyonesse" I am still working to express the intent in 10 or a dozen well-chosen words.
In the case of "Welcome To Penn's Woods," though, I think I have it at last. And here it is:

The mission of "Welcome To Penn's Woods" is to acquaint Pennsylvanians and others with the historical and cultural richness of the Keystone State, and to encourage them to fight for it.

I get 31 words here. Maybe a little long by today's standards of attention--but not, of course, by Star Trek standards.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Walking In Longwood Gardens

If you can get to Chester County for a visit, walking in Longwood Gardens may be one of the most mindblowing experiences of beauty you will ever have. Pennsylvania has many great gardens, arboretums, and parks, but Longwood is perhaps the most famous. It is a place of immense size, and unparalleled elegance.
It was a project of a famous chemical manufacturer; but it had Quaker (Society of Friends) antecedents. The Pierce family bought the land from William Penn in 1700 and set up a working farm. From 1798 the farm, under their descendants, also had an attractive arboretum, or collection of trees. During the 19th century the arboretum attracted many visitors. And what was by then the Pierce-Cox farm also acquired historical importance in another area. The Pierce-Cox family were ardent Abolitionists, among those wishing to do away with slavery in the United States. Their property became a station on the Underground Railway, a network of people working to help slaves escape from their owners and move to freedom.
Early in the 20th century Pierre S. DuPont, great-grandson of the founder of the DuPont Chemical Company, purchased the Pierce-Cox farm to save the trees. Over the years, in his hands and those of his successors, it grew into the wonderful treasure it has become. It has trees and plants, not only outside but indoors in a vast conservatory. There are ponds and fountains using recycled water, and there are exhibits and activities indoors and out, all year round.
As I write this, for example, the place is gearing up for two giant Fireworks and Fountains displays on August 14 and September 5. As for the exhibits and educational offerings, "Making Scents: The Art and Passion of Fragrance" will run through November 21. It has the scent of a winner!
Once you have paid for your ticket there is nothing to stop you from just wandering around enjoying the sights and scents and sounds--many musical and theatrical performances on the grounds are free with admission. In case you have more money and want to spend it, Longwood seems to have an upscale restaurant and gift shop. I believe there are also picnic grounds for the rest of us; but I have never been either to the restaurant or to the picnic grounds.
This post makes me wish I knew how to add pictures to my posts! But if you want to get a better visual idea of this Pennsylvania Eden, go to the expansive and informative web site at www.longwoodgardens.org There you can also learn about admission charges, hours, and much more.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Get Solvent The Croquet Way (Fundraising 1)

Fund raising is not the easiest job in this economy, yet success in it makes all else possible. I intend to watch out for out-of-the-ordinary fund raising ideas I can pass on to non-profit organizations, maybe even small businesses and/or individuals, with the hope that they can use them to strengthen their financial positions.
The non-profit sector in particular seems very much in need of new ideas. These days it is hard to decide to part with one's money, and it may be made easier with a new and interesting kind of event.
Steve Fluder may have just the new event many organizations are looking for. A fund-raising consultant from York, he came up with the idea six or seven years ago, and, he recalls, "I thought I was going to lose my job. My boss looked at me as if I were crazy."
The idea was for a nine-wicket, family-style croquet tournament. Crazy or not, it was tried. "That first one was sponsored by the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania," he says. "They're still running it."
Fluder thinks he might have been the first with the idea for croquet as a fund raiser; but it is hard to tell about "firsts". Nobody is ever really sure what's being developed over the next ridge, or who came up with the germ of the idea.
There is, for instance, what seems to be a countywide croquet tournament in Westmoreland County, which has been going for some years now, and which--he himself points out--had an independent origin. There are a few others; and there are places where there are combined croquet and golf tournaments.
But it is at least certain that Fluder is among the founding fathers of this type of family tournament. The big-league, six-wicket tournaments run by the American Croquet Society (ACS) are a different type of competition altogether.
After Fluder left his job to set up an independent businessman he went through the same rough time the rest of the economy was enduring. After that, though, things started to turn around.
"I've had six tournaments this year, and expect a couple more in the fall. And next year looks pretty good."
Any group wanting to meet with Fluder and explore what his program has to offer may begin by visiting his website at www.croquetyour way.com.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fight For Bushy Run Battlefield!

From its name, the Battle of Bushy Run might seem like small historical potatoes; but it was not. This 1763 encounter between Colonial British troops and American Indian combatants in what was known as Pontiac's Rebellion helped determine future control of the North American continent, as the American Indian forces were defeated by Colonel Henry Bouquet and his men. It is a must-visit site for anyone interested in American Indian or Colonial American history; but only we can determine whether it can still be visited in the future.
Situated in Westmoreland County near Jeannette, Bushy Run has been a National Historic Site since the 1960s, and was a Pennsylvania State Park from the 1920s until 2009. Then it was closed indefinitely due to the state's deepening financial crisis. The state remains the owner, but most of the day-by-day administration of the site and events there (including a popular annual October Historical Hayride) is now in the hands of a devoted volunteer organization called the Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society. Among other things, the Society is working on building an endowment fund for the site.
If you live nearby and would like to volunteer, you are likely to be welcomed with open arms. If you live anywhere at all and would like to contribute a few dollars--or many--the same is true.
Even if you just want to find out what's going on in terms of events and what you can visit, check the place out. I believe there is a small charge for tours; but if so the money goes to the excellent cause of site survival.
There are a number of online web sites where you can get information about Bushy Run; but if you are action-oriented, as I hope you are, I would recommend beginning with www. savebushyrun.org .

Monday, August 2, 2010

Civil War-The Missing Element?

Next year marks the sesquicentennial of our American Civil War. Almost all of us know that one of the great battles of that war--indeed, according to one British historian, one of the 15 decisive battles of history--was fought in our state, at Gettysburg, in 1863. But we forget other parts of our state Civil War experience, including the burning of Chambersburg, the threat to Harrisburg, our state capital, the draft riots in the coal regions...Although we got off relatively easily, this great national blood bath should be commemorated; and it will be. Let us hope it will not be celebrated, though. There is a good reason not to celebrate, an element not many want to talk about. The element at the war's heart, I think. Slavery.
Here in Bethlehem there will be reenactors and lectures and no doubt much else. But so far no one has talked about acknowledging and commemorating the historic evil of slavery. I hope this omission is addressed sometime during the next year.
It could be argued that the war was caused chiefly by economic differences. But these always seemed to come out as a difference over who should do the work--namely, the slaves--and who should profit from it. The masters, of course.
Then, what about States' Rights? The most prominent States' Right insisted upon by the leaders of the secessionist movement was the "right" to own other people. Not a civilized way to live.
No state or territory was free of at least SOME guilt over this issue. We had to put it right, for the sake of all of us. And we know that the issues raised by slavery and racism are still not resolved--indeed, perhaps less so than they have been in years.
So when we commemorate the Civil War, let us do so soberly and thoughtfully.

Finding Pennsylvania Dutch Country--Kutztown U

When I was growing up, sometimes my father would decree a long Sunday car ride. And soon we would be off, driving through a rich and magical land.
It was a land of trim farms, some with "hex signs" painted on the barns. We passed cows grazing in green meadows, and orchards in flower, in fruit, or in between. Corn marching in orderly lines across the hills, and available for sale in season at roadside stands. Spring water directed through pipes and down roadside banks--water cold, pure, and safe to drink, available for all who wanted to fill jugs and take it home with them.
That was the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of my childhood.
And now? Now not so much. In fact, visitors to Pennsylvania might miss the remnants if they don't know where to look. The springs have been closed because they might be carrying poisonous runoff, and what used to be fertile farmland is littered with acres of new housing, much of it esthetically unpleasing and vacant to boot.
In an effort to find places where readers might go to get an idea of what the old Pennsylvania Dutch landscape --and life--might have been like, I am doing some research. And here is what seems likely to be an excellent destination:
The Pennsylvania German Heritage Center at Kutztown University, west of Allentown. Situated on a large farm, tilled in the old-fashioned way by a local group who could be called agricultural reenactors, the Center features a traditional farmhouse which is the site of a museum and a Swiss bank-style barn, plus the traditional one-room Freyberger School.
This is a place where, if you like, you can get a full Pennsylvania Dutch-oriented education, with classes in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, in arts and crafts, agricultural practices, and much more. But these details are being kept in mind for future posts; THIS post is only to whet your curiosity.
For now, if you just want to look around the place, tours are run Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 4 p.m. Prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children. Also, check the web site at heritage@kutztown.edu to learn about the many festive weekend events in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, scheduled throughout the year.
For additional information, or to reserve tours, call (610) 683-1589.

(NOTE: In an earlier post I have explained that I understand "Pennsylvania German" is a more accurate term than "Pennsylvania Dutch". However, among our acquaintances we referred to ourselves as "Pennsylvania Dutch", and I intend to continue to use the term as often as I can.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Stephen Vincent Benet, Neighborhood Poet

To call Stephen Vincent Benet (1898-1943) our neighborhood poet is to greatly underrate his achievement. He was, it is true, born just a few blocks from where I am sitting, in a yellow brick house now marked by a state historical marker. That marker suggests how far from this small town his reputation extended. And no wonder, it should be added--for he spent only the first few weeks of his life in our 'hood. His father, an Army Ordinance officer and lover of literature, had just been reassigned from service as liaison officer at Bethlehem Ironworks to a post in upstate New York. The whole family naturally moved with him; and as far as we know Stephen never returned. He had no reason to; he himself knew no one in the Bethlehem area.
In his brief and illness-ridden life, he managed to become a famous writer, although he is almost forgotten today. You might even call him an All-American writer, since his love of country was fierce, and his topics were almost always American. His writing was vigorous; and he engaged a large readership from the Middle Class. And that may be why he is almost disdained by academic writers today.
He is worth your while, even if you have to order his books online, or induce your public library to get them out of storage. I would recommend the book that made him famous, the book that won him his first Pulitzer prize, the fabulous Civil War poem "John Brown's Body."
A-gasp-POEM? Yes--but don't worry. It is as easy to read as "Gone With The Wind". Easier, actually--I myself have never been able to READ "Gone With The Wind." "John Brown's Body" drew me right along. And a lot of people like me, it would seem. If I recall correctly, more than 600,000 copies of "John Brown's Body" were sold during the first year. During World War II at least one--unnamed--American officer found inspiration in Benet's poem, and carried it into battle with him.
Benet also was a master of short story writing. His two most famous are "The Devil And Daniel Webster", in which the famous 19th century Senator and Secretary of State rescues a hapless farmer from the consequences of the farmer's pact with the devil; and "By The Waters of Babylon", regarded by many as a great example of Postapocalyptic science fiction.
My own favorite may be "Jacob And The Indians." In this one a young Jewish immigrant to 18th century Pennsylvania struggles to carve out a living in the fur trade while he develops an understanding of the expansive possibilities of his new country.
Happy reading.