Monday, July 11, 2011

Home To New Mahoning

If I have a native place, it is the Mahoning Valley, where the Pennsylvania counties of Carbon and Schuylkill come together. It was a lovely place, and a place that did much to shape my soul. I left it in the early 1990s, soon after I had finished "Smokestacks and Black Diamonds", a history of Carbon County which had taken a great deal out of my health and stamina.
What was worse, by that time "development" had arrived. It wiped away much of the eastern end of the valley, including my family's house and the roads on which I had walked for many years. Embittered and sick, seeing old vistas disappear, I could not even walk away from the commercial carnage. It was literally not safe to step outside the door, and everything that was human sized and good to look at was disappearing fast. Instead, there arose shopping centers, industries, an airport, and all the the other trappings of "progress."
Angry, I wrote a small memoir called "Mahoning: Memories of a Lost Valley". It contained a lot of errors, since I had only my childhood memories to go on, and no way to research the details. But a lot of people took it for what it was, a tribute to a lovely place, and appreciated it.
I thought that was it, that I would never be back, that there would very shortly be nothing to come back to.
But on July 10 I WAS back, all the same. I had come with a friend to the Anthracite Festival at Lansford, and had suggested that we come up Route 309, turn right at Route 443, and come in the back door of the Valley, so to speak. And all the way up 309, the old-line highway that crosses the Blue Mountain a few miles west of the Lehigh Gap, I was both tense and exhilarated. The road was pleasantly lined with old-style commerce--produce stands, family restaurants, and the like--and beyond that was something I liked even better: great fields of corn and wheat, framed by woods in the distance, and the tall, imposing rock cliffs and forest of the Blue Mountain that loomed ahead.
All these things I found to be reassuring signs that at least remnants of my old, familiar world still existed. But I tensed at the thought. This was here; this was now. What mattered was the answer to this question:
What would I find on the other side of the mountain?
Then we were coming down that other side, gliding past the intersection to Route 895, and soon toward the intersection with Route 443, the "Main Street" of my home neighborhood.
I looked to my right; and, behold--Here was Paradise!
Here, the same sort of ribbons of dark green corn and golden wheat undulated across the hillsides, framed by forests atop the ridges; but there was less commerce than there had been on 309. I had walked this part of this highway decades ago--ridden on it, too. The years had passed, but the old vista seemed almost unchanged. Across the valley were scattered red barns and white farmhouses; and soon we could see the rosy, pink, Bavarian-looking St. Peter's Union Church off to our left.
Life is short. It behooves us, I think, to spend as much of our time as possible in such lovely, heart-lifting landscapes.
I hope I can come back for a visit soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of the Making of Many Books....

Having just posted some observations about local and regional history on "Letters from Lyonesse", I thought I'd continue the subject here.
"Of the making of many books there is no end," the Bible tells us; and I am sure the writer of this particular proverb had local and regional histories in mind. In the other blog post I told how reading the work of Fred Brenckmann, the old-line historian of my native county, likely led to my writing my own Carbon County history, "Smokestacks and Black Diamonds", many years later.
A friend of mine, the accomplished journalist Len Barcousky, recently became the author of an interesting book, "Remembering Pittsburgh", of which more later. For all I know, Len might have been inspired in part by me, because "Smokestacks and Black Diamonds" came before his entry in the local/regional field; but it doesn't matter.
Len tells me that not long ago he found himself at a book signing which featured a great number of local and regional historians--enough to fill a room the size of two basketball courts, to be exact. Each had his or her own book to sign and sell. It must have been an impressive sight. And the best part of it is, I'll bet a lot of those books had interesting and useful information to offer. I know Len's did.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Courage In Many Guises

One of the works friends thrust at me lately has been Margaret S. Creighton's "The Colors of Change: Gettysburg's Forgotten History", a work which has angered and and upset some readers. But only because these readers have not yet accepted the fullness of the Gettysburg event. Professor Creighton has undertaken in her book--an extremely smooth read, and hard to put down--to tell the story of many of the people who were caught up in the battle, but whose contributions have been lost, forgotten, or twisted and scorned to this day.
Some of these people were Union soldiers--to be specific, the men of the largely German Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac. This Corps, attacked with fierce brilliance by Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville, ran. It seemed the rational thing to do at the time. And it no doubt was, so total was Jackson's surprise. But the Eleventh, to this day, has not lived down Chancellorsville. That the men became unjustly known as a corps of cowards was hard for them and their leaders, Oliver Otis Howard and Carl Schurz among them, to bear. Howard and Schurz were both men of high principle and great personal courage who could not stand each other. Both were also on the feckless side as generals. These personal factors did not make the situation of the Eleventh any better or more secure. One of the factors in this slur that seemed never to end was nativism. The men were Germans, foreigners. So they were disliked, considered cowards, dismissed. The scorned groups and their languages may change; the heart of humanity seems to remain the same forever. That we have learned nothing after millennia does not speak well for us.
Other "outsider groups" at Gettysburg included black men and women who lived in or near the town, and whose situation was uniquely precarious. Some were escaped slaves who had come via the Underground Railroad or by other means. Others were freemen, born in Pennsylvania, and sometimes the owners of farms, land, or businesses. None were safe. Their individual reactions ranged from fleeing to hiding, to fighting against Lee's troops if they had the chance. If they were caught, they might be killed or raped, or kidnapped and sent South to areas where slavery still held sway. It did not matter whether they had ever been slaves or not; they were now.
Black women were in the worst of all possible situations. That is because they suffered from both the social strictures against Blacks and those against women. But white women, too, were in a situation in which they were in constant danger--young Jennie Wade, for example, was killed on the first day of the battle while baking bread, and while her sister Georgia Wade McClellan lay nearby in labor. And, no matter how the women acted or reacted, whether they were white or black, whether they survived or not, they literally could not win in the court of their neighbors' public opinion. Ms. Wade herself soon was believed to be "no better than she should be," and her sister Georgia spent the rest of her life trying to vindicate her dead sister's reputation.
Were women patriotic, or did they collaborate with the enemy? Was their work of nursing and preserving important or not? (In the case of the second question, the implied answer was often "no.")
I'd suggest you read this entire book. It will not make you happy; but it may in some small way make you determined that humanity will do better next time.
I plan to feature some stories from Creighton's book from time to time, if only to remind you to look the book up and read it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Fracking is New and Different

You may or may not be an advocate of natural health. Whichever--it always pays to keep an open mind about information, especially when the information deals with a subject so portentous as fracking for natural gas.
The following information is from the Alliance for Natural Health-US, and tells why fracking is very different from the old methods of collecting natural gas in Pennsylvania. I have, by the way, found ANH-USA very good about providing information relating to their sources. We, the readers, can follow them online and read the articles and books they read in preparing their own articles. You will still have to come to your own conclusions, but you don't have to settle for simply believing or disbelieving this one organization.
In a recent article the editors took on the assertion that fracking is merely "a refinement of a very old technology."
To the ANH-US editors, there is a vast difference between the old, slow gas wells that dotted the Commonwealth for decades and modern exploratory techniques. Here is what they have to say about it:
"The old method of natural gas extraction was simply to dig a hole straight down into the trapped natural gas, which sits in a kind of natural reservoir, and then capture that gas as it takes the path of least resistance up to the surface. The modern method of hydraulic fracking is radically different. New drilling technology allows a hole to be dug straight down and then be turned sideways and extended in multiple directions horizontally. Here is a diagram:

(Diagram omitted here.)

"The holes are then pumped full of water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressure. This literally splits the rocks open to capture natural gas that was stuck inside them.

"The concrete and steel well linings used in hydraulic fracking frequently rupture under the violence of this mining method, and the 2005 Halliburton Exemption exempts these wells and sites from the Clean Water Act and other regulatory laws."

The url for the complete article is:

This particular article alludes to, but does not dwell upon, the wholesale pollution and destruction of scarce water by fracking. It also does not dwell upon how the combination of fracking techniques and the legal doctrine of Eminent Domain may make it possible for a corporation to siphon the gas out from under your feet, whether or not you give permission. Presumably you would be in a better position if you owned the mineral rights to your land, but it will take a lawyer to advise you on mineral rights.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Marcellus Shale: Two Takes, Plus....

Marcellus shale, plus the new kind of gas-bearing shale that has been discovered beneath it in places--is this new fact0r in the life of Pennsylvania (and in 30 other states as well) a godsend or a curse? I have been spending a little time trying to find an answer, and will be sharing any insights I gain with readers. Starting now.
Let me begin, then, by talking about Josh Fox's acclaimed (and vilified) documentary film "Gasland". Fox, who owns a house in at Milantown, PA along the upper Delaware River, first became aware of Marcellus shale and the natural gas "rush" when he was offered somewhat above $100,000 to permit the leasing of his 19- plus acres for natural gas exploration. Surprised, he began to investigate the origin of this offer. He was naturally concerned because he had been born in the house he still lives in and has a deep attachment to it, and to his plot of land.
His research was carried out in the newspapers, in courthouses, and in the homes of fellow Pennsylvanians who had signed leases with gas companies earlier. Eventually his exploration led him far afield--to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Texas. He made a film of the things he encountered: sick and despondent people, sick and dying animals, ravaged landscapes, homes so damaged they could never be either lived in or resold, flammable water. He also, in the process, interviewed at least two or three very experienced scientists, whose views ought to count for a good deal. Especially since there is no obvious material benefit for them to hold these unpopular views. There is a hypnotized rush for the perceived benefits of the gas in the shale, and it seems that standing in its way might even be dangerous.
Fox returned home to the Delaware Valley, wondering whether everything he had loved was already lost. He concluded that that was up to the film's viewers. And perhaps it is; we surely should make our best effort to save our heritage. The question is whether we are already too deeply caught in a snare to do so.
This film, then, is the take of the victims--at least, the victims to date. I recommend you see "Gasland" and try to relate to its message. Or at least to understand it. The film is available online for sale, and that is how I got it. It can most likely also be rented on or offline, or borrowed through a library or another organization. Corporations don't like it, and have attacked it. It would be strange if they admired it and promoted it.
Now, here is the take of some people on the other side. Many of them have actually obtained jobs through gas exploration and production in the Marcellus shale. I recommend that you watch this, too. These people were featured on "State of Pennsylvania", a public affairs program on public television station WVIA-TV; the segment is called "Marcellus Shale: Where are the Jobs?" Go to, click on "television," and you should be able to find it online. The program participants, for the most part, have their own stories of stress and loss, from which they now seem to have been rescued--at least temporarily and, I hope, for a good long time. Having known nothing myself but economic stress, I don't ever wish against anyone who seems to have gotten a break.
These, then, are the two takes I promised on Marcellus shale and what goes with it. Now for the "Plus", which is my own take. I am a lifelong student of history, which I find challenging and of endless interest. As such, though, I can hardly remember a time when, at a crossroads like this, humans have chosen wisely. We need jobs, and we need power. Developing this power source can give us both--at least for the time being.
But at what cost? How healthy can it be to lace millions of gallons of water with no fewer than 596 chemicals and then inject the chemicalized water into the soil? Can this result in anything other than the poisoning of the soil and the water? Not to mention the sheer loss of water that will never resurface, a loss to a planet where water is an ever-diminishing commodity.
Who will pay for this loss and destruction? Josh Fox's people, first of all. They are poor, they have no way of defending themselves; and to the"average" American--whoever that is--they may come across as "aging hippies", or some other contemptuous and dismissive name.
(We are so full of such things... )
At any rate, having given them dismissive names, we will no longer have to care about what happens to them.
Union workers we can also dismiss; unions are not popular. Bill Kelly of WVIA did not even try to answer the query of the man who called in asking why union workers could not seem to get jobs. It was a sane question, but Kelly could no more answer it in the context of that particular program than the unhappy Gabrielle Giffords could answer Jared Laughner's crazy question to her.
Let us not forget city dwellers in their millions, the New Yorkers and Philadelphians and Baltimoreans, who certainly will not mind having no water and atrociously expensive food. Or will they?
These are some of the certain losers. Who, then, will profit by this natural gas rush? In the long run, I fear, nobody. In the short run, perhaps corporations and their stockholders. But in the last analysis even executives and stockholders must eat and drink. The triumph of fracking may place such activities beyond the reach of most of us. Even, perhaps, executives and stockholders.
What do I think SHOULD be done, in this crisis of jobs and the environment? We should be investing in new technologies and alternate energy, and putting workers to work in these areas. Only to the extent that these efforts do not generate enough energy or jobs should we delve into the Marcellus shale for what we need. And this should be done only with careful planning and control.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Small Book about a Great City: Pittsburgh

Recently I heard somebody comment on the radio that "we wouldn't like to be like Pittsburgh." I forget the context--I was just too aggravated to listen to the rest. I have only been able to visit the place once, and that was after the steel mills that for decades had made it famous had already shut down. I found it a pleasant, attractive place, with one of the more spectacular settings of any U.S. city. With what part of this did the radio commentator have a problem? I'll never know, I suppose.
Pittsburgh also happens to be one of Pennsylvania's greatest historical sites. Empires clashed here, and shaped the destiny not only of our nation, but of an entire continent.
It was all because of its location. The future city grew up where two great rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, came together to form a still greater one: the Ohio. Anyone who wanted to control access to the territory west and south of here would need to control this spot, today known by residents as The Point.
In the 18th century two great European powers--Great Britain and France-- were waging a series of what amounted to world wars, hoping to attain land, power, and wealth around the globe. The best-known of these wars, and the one that affected Pennsylvania the most, was the last, which ended in 1763. In Europe it was known as the Seven Years' War, and here as the French and Indian War. During it the entire future Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was a battlefield--and no place more than the western region, around Pittsburgh.
Initial European settlements at The Point were military, as both sides battled for control of the vast territories to the west. First the French established Fort Duquesne. After the British drove them out, Fort Pitt succeeded on the site. It was named after William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, who was the British Prime Minister at the time.
The British, of course, won that war; and the United States later had to tussle with its former mother country to win its own access to the west.
Much of this history has almost been forgotten. But not by Len Barcousky and his employer, the "Post-Gazette" newspaper. And it is not surprising that they have long memories. The newspaper and its antecedents have been around Pittsburgh since 1786, Barcousky in its newsrooms for at least 20 years. For both the institution and the man who works for it these are newspaper careers of unusual length. Especially given the way things are going these days.
Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I'd like to say that Len Barcousky and I have been friends for close to forever, and he has been instrumental in helping me accomplish some of my own work. I am about to plug his recently published book on Pittsburgh, but I am not profiting from it in financial terms. All I have is the satisfaction of helping a friend's good work--which is plenty for me.
"Remembering Pittsburgh" is the name of the book, and it is subtitled "An 'Eyewitness' History of the Steel City". It was made possible by the long-lived and farsighted "Post- Gazette", and seems to have originated as a column. Its pieces, which are based largely on stories in the "Post- Gazette" and its rivals, thus are short. and can be read on an individual basis in just a few minutes. (Probably an asset in our fast-moving times.)
"Remembering Pittsburgh" recalls both the great (Washington, Lafayette, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt), and the famous of their time, such as brilliant singer Jenny Lind and triumphant woman journalist Nellie Bly. (Bly, originally Elizabeth Cochrane of Armstrong County, had set out on a challenge to beat the hero of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" at his own fictional game. She did just that. Her own journey was completed in a mere 72 days.)
The book also chronicles fires, explosions, hangings, and other matters of civic interest and concern. And it does not forget to commemorate the founding of the "Post-Gazette" itself.
This is a wonderful introduction to an American--and Pennsylvania-- city it is too easy to sell short. (As the man on the radio did.) If you are in the Pittsburgh area, it is most easily acquired--so I assume--at an office of the "Post-Gazette". If not, you will find it on, although I had a little trouble locating it there. Look it up under "Len Barcousky".

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pennsylvania the War Zone II

A young Virginia officer named George Washington began to make a reputation during the French and Indian War, and on Pennsylvania soil. His role in the next war, the Revolution, would continue the process of making his name immortal. His reputation, again, was enhanced by events here in Pennsylvania. Losing a major encounter like the Battle of the Brandywine might not seem a great qualification for immortality--but holding the army together and shepherding it through the grueling winter at Valley Forge do qualify for candidacy.
The War of 1812, our second against Britain, may seem to have little to do with Pennsylvania; but appearances are deceiving. For a time the British blockaded Philadelphia because it was so important an American port. And their attempt to gain control of the Great Lakes--thwarted so ably by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie--was part of an overall strategy to cut Americans off from access to the West.
We are about to enter the 150th anniversary commemoration of the American Civil War, during which Confederate forces burned Chambersburg, threatened Harrisburg, the state capital, and clashed with the Union army in the titanic Battle of Gettysburg. The Union, of course, won.
To date, this has been the most recent experience of warfare on Commonwealth land. I hope it remains the last for a very long time. Pennsylvania has played host to too many hosts already.

Pennsylvania the War Zone

I have mentioned Pennsylvania's long history as a war zone before, but for those 0f you not familiar with the story it may be useful to go over it. If all you know of our state is bustling cities, long vistas of farmlands, forests, or --not to forget--ever-encroaching development, what you are about to learn may be quite a surprise.
We shall never know what wars were waged among the Native tribes before the arrival of European settlers, so let's begin with those European settlers. Seeds of war among the new English colonies were sown back in London, when land grants were drawn up and their boundaries overlapped. So there were wars over boundary issues. These included, most conspicuously, the so-called Yankee-Pennamite Wars, fought between Pennsylvania and Connecticut in Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley in the 18th century and not settled until after the American Revolution. There were other border struggles with Maryland and Virginia.
From 1755 until 1763 British America was involved in a world war, one of a series between Britain and its European and global rival France. This, the last in the series, was known in Europe as the Seven Years' War, but here as the French and Indian War. At stake on this side of the Atlantic was whether the riches of the North American continent would fall to Britain or to France. Some Native tribes sided with the French, some with the British.
All parts of Pennsylvania were involved in the French and Indian War. Attacks against white settlements by Native warriors flared up everywhere. In 1916 Pennsylvania put out a massive two-volume work called "Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania". You can find some chunks of this online, including maps showing a staggering number of forts and fortifications, online. But much of the action swirled around the present location of Pittsburgh, site first of the French Fort Duquesne and later of the British Fort Pitt. This was a vital place, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers came together to form the Ohio. Whoever controlled this site would control the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, their trade, and presumably their future. At the end of the French and Indian War and its aftermath, the Native uprising known as Pontiac's Rebellion, the language spoken here at "the Point" was English.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Quiet Valley Living History Farm

Were he living now, Shakespeare no doubt would acknowledge this as a winter of practically everybody's discontent. One antidote may be to contemplate the excursions of the coming, hopefully glorious, summer.
How about Quiet Valley Living History Farm, 1000 Turkey Hill Road near Stroudsburg?
This 100-acre tract is owned by a non-profit organization which is dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania's agricultural heritage, especially in its Pennsylvania Dutch/German manifestation. It is a National Historic Heritage Site, and its fourteen buildings cover the time span from the farm's establishment in the 18th century to the early years of the 20th. It ceased being a family farm around the time of World War I.
It began, though, in another time of world war--the French and Indian War, fought on three continents between England and her allies and France and her allies. It is easy to forget, but Pennsylvania was a battleground in that war. The frontier--which in those days meant the entire province--had been ablaze for decades. When the Zepper family established what later became Quiet Valley--that was in the 1760s-- the conflict was in the process of winding down; but it cannot have seemed that way to people living on the far fringes of English settlement. This would have included the Zeppers.
The first house they built, carving it into a hillside, remains--but as a cellar for the storage of winter vegetables. Today's house was built onto it, and in its turn was added to.
Quiet Valley has special events around the year. You can even arrange for a special wintertime group tour--but you have to make reservations, and if you have been getting the full effect of the current winter, perhaps you will not be interested in leaving the house right now.
Summer is the real excursion time at the Farm--to be exact, from the third Saturday in June through Labor Day. Come and learn about the daily life of a family farm, meet animals ranging from draft horses to ducks and chickens-and even including the somewhat exotic salt-and-pepper colored, loud-mouthed guinea fowl.
There are many ways to get involved with Quiet Valley, beyond the occasional visit. You can become a paid member, take on an important volunteer job, even underwrite food for the farm animals.
Quiet Valley has an attractive and informative web site at For further information, phone (570) 992-6161.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter Memories of Pennsylvania

Sorry for the delay between the most recent post and this. A number of things came up, as they tend to do in anyone's life.
I write the morning of the great national winter storm of 2011. News from around the country is a little hard for me to pick up--my radio keeps buzzing out, and I use my television solely for watching movies --but we seem so far to be all right, and I hope no one else is worse off than we are.
I also hope I don't come to regret this upbeat assessment of our own status.
Looking from my window, I can see trees coated with clear ice, and a townscape and landscape barely pushing through a deep blanket of white. Once in a while--a GREAT while, at that-- something moves on the street two blocks away. As a rule it flashes an official light--specifically orange-yellow, which seems to have something to do with snow removal.
I am glad to be indoors, with my books and my cat and my pennywhistle and harmonica. But I remember the country winters of my childhood.
I remember one school snow day in the years I spent on the farm. Just one. We were a farming community, and snow days were a luxury we could not afford. Better to ingrain that into the children while we were young.
And ingrained it was.
Even on normal days I had to walk a mile and a half to school and a mile and a half back. This didn't change when there was a foot of snow on the ground. By the time I walked the half-mile-long dirt road, and the blacktopped road down to Normal Square my "arctics" would often be full of snow, and my feet would be wet all day. Along the walk my hands would lose circulation, encased as they were in their mittens, and I thought I could not bear the pain. I was told by someone to take off my mittens, rub my hands in the snow, and put the mittens back on again. To my delight, this restored warmth at once. Someone else told me it was very dangerous to do this; but I kept doing it and no bad results ensued.
Sometimes, even on such wintry days, we got a break going home. Russell, the farmer who was our landlord, not only ran the 165-acre farm, but had a job as a coal miner in nearby Summit Hill to support his expensive farming "habit." Russell didn't get any snow days either; and once in a while, even through what looked like the White Witch's kingdom, we would hear the sound of his rickety old car coming, racket-y, racket-y, racket-y. That meant a ride the rest of the way home.
And it was good to arrive early back in our home, to the warmth generated by our little coal stove and kerosene heater, and the warm glow of the kerosene lamps.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Blog for Anthracite History Fans (Mainly)

Although I have been up to my ears in other work, I have come across a fine blog by a man whose reputation was already known to me. This is the well-regarded John Stuart "Stu" Richards, an outstanding regional historian. This particular blog deals with life in the anthracite region, specifically Schuylkill County --right next to my native Carbon County, on which I was lucky enough to publish a history.
The blog is Coal Region History Chronicles, It is rich in information, including pictures. (The reason I don't have pix yet is that I don't know how to deal with the technology--but I am working on the problem.)
Those of you with any background on anthracite region history know that, like Carbon County, Schuylkill was profoundly involved in the Mollie Maguires tragedy. You may also know that, during the Civil War, Schuykill County was pretty much in a state of rebellion against the Union. On the other hand, miners from the county took the lead in what is known as the Petersburg Mine, an ill- fated attempt to tunnel under the Confederate lines at the Battle of Petersburg. These miners were soldiers in the Union Army. The whole story of the Civil War, and Pennsylvania's reaction to it, is a complex one; and particularly in the anthracite coal region. Since the nation is about to enter a Civil War commemoration period, it's worth learning about. Stu says his other blog is about the military history of Schuykill County. I'll look it up and report back to you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fracking, Sen. Casey, Gov. Corbett

According to the Associated Press, Pennsylvania is the only state allowing natural gas drillers to dump toxic wastewater from "fracking" into its waterways. This was confirmed in a letter to me from Pennsylvania Senator Robert P. Casey (D), who has been a sponsor for a bill which would require all gas drillers in the U.S. to leave the water in the waterways up to Clean Water Act standards. Senator Casey's initiative in this matter, while laudable, has gone nowhere; and he advised me that much of the action on the question would take place within the state, and that it would be advisable to be in touch with members of the Pennsylvania State House and Senate.
Meanwhile the advocacy group Food and Water Watch has suggested another route to action. It has noted that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) has the power to order a moratorium on fracking until a study can be made of the practice's public health and environmental effects. The Governor's office may be called during normal business hours at(717) 787-2500. Learn more about Food and Water Watch at

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pennsylvania DutchCraft Education - Landis Valley

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, located at 2451 Kissel Hill Road in Lancaster, is one of the great "go-to" places for learning about--or learning-- Pennsylvania Dutch culture. The teaching/learning enterprise never stops, even in deep winter. If you are interested in learning a Pennsylvania Dutch craft you might want to check into Landis Valley's Winter Institute Feb. 18-20, where you can take your choice of three-day, two-day, 0ne-day, and even half-day courses in the craft of your choice.
In the 3-day category are classes in open-hearth cooking, millinery (hat making), blacksmithing, and working with draft horses. ( My personal memories of draft horses suggest that working with them is an art, a craft and a science as well. I was too young to have to deal with the challenge in a serious, adult way.)
The 2-day courses are of a more manageable scope. They incude rug hooking, wood working, tin smithing, pine needle baskets, and introduction to Fraktur. That is the ornate kind of calligraphy, with designs and "fractured" lettering, that is so often associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch.
In the one-day category we have plant propagation, scherenschnitte (ornate designs cut out of paper with scissors), handsewn rugs, and theorem painting. Theorem paintings are made using stencils, but the results are original art rather than copies.
There is only one half-day craft course, and that is in vinegar painting. This is a way of marbleizing and producing other natural-looking designs on furniture. In addition to this, there will be half-day classes about historic machinery, caring for textiles, and historic architecture. A tour of the collections gallery also will be available.
The Winter Institute will conclude with a talk on Fraktur by expert and longtime Landis Valley instructor Jere Dickerman. Her talk, "Fraktur Over The Centuries", will be given at 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening in the Visitors' Center.
Preregistration for the Institute and its courses is necessary. For further information, including fees, contact

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Medal Of Honor for Major Dick Winters?

When people talk of the soldiers of World War II as "the greatest generation," they are thinking of people like Major Dick Winters, a lifelong Pennsylvanian who died recently near his longtime home in the vicinity of Hershey. He was 92, and had been the World War II era commander of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Although he did co-author a book on his wartime experiences with another officer, it is highly unlikely we would know much about him and the role he and his men played in the last days of the war without the late historian Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose's discovery of the Winters story led to its being featured in the outstanding television series "Band of Brothers".
Otherwise, Major Winters might have remained anonymous to all except those who served with him, as no doubt has happened to many other heroes.
That is, in part, because of the nature of these very special people. Tom Brokaw described Winters as "the quintessential American infantry officer--brave, canny, and modest." And such people are not likely to feel a need to have fanfares sounded upon their approach. They concentrate on doing their job.
Winters' job unfolded itself in heavily trafficked areas, like Utah Beach on D-Day. No sooner had he and his men been dropped on the Normandy beachhead than they were given a big assignment: take out a battery of four 105mm. German howitzers that were raking Allied troops. This could be easier said than done, since Easy Company had experienced a very bad landing. It was scattered, and the company commander and first sergeant had been lost.
Taking charge, Winters rounded up about a dozen men. This small force proved adequate to the job of putting the German howitzers out of commission.
As Easy Company slogged across Europe Major Winters continued to win the respect and admiration of his men for his up-front command style. At least one of his soldiers expressed amazement that the Major survived the war, and the same astonishment no doubt was present in the minds of other members of Easy Company.
The company was caught up in the Battle of the Bulge, and later took part in a nightmare many of the soldiers must have remembered forever: the liberation of the infamous concentration camp Dachau. Later on Winters and his men captured Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.
During all this action, Winters inevitably collected quite an assortment of medals and ribbons, of which the top ones were the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star with One Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart. He was even nominated for the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor, the premier medal for service in the American military. Even the exploit of the four German howitzers should have qualified him; but for whatever reason he didn't receive the medal.
It is sad that he can now never receive it in person--but I believe the Medal of Honor is often given posthumously. If this is so, we can still help Major Winters here. We can write to our Senators and Representative and request that the case be re-opened and the award be made. Pennsylvanians can obviously do this; but so, too, can other U.S. citizens. All they need to do is write to their own Members of Congress.
Let's see if we can help get anything going here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Family Weekend at Hershey, PA, Jan. 22-23

If you resent the selling down the river of Hershey Chocolate, I obviously share your feelings. But the people of the town of Hershey deserve our support. They have a lot to share with visitors, and on January 22 and 23 they are having a Community Weekend to which we are all invited. It should be good for families and family members--from the youngest to the oldest--and it features huge discounts on some of the town's most esteemed attractions.
Whatever you think of the current state of affairs in the Hersey Chocolate Company, the story of Milton S. Hershey and his vision still remains the story of his namesake town. Learn the basics of The Hershey Story at the Museum on Chocolate Avenue, at a 50 per cent discount for these two days only. This will bring admission fees down to $4.50 for seniors over 62, $5 for adults, and $3.75 for juniorss ages 3-12.
ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, founded by Milton S. Hershey himself, offers a chance to encounter some 200 animals. On Community Weekend admission will be free. Visitors, as usual, will be encouraged to become ZooAmerica members, and will be shown ways to become involved in the life of the institution.
Last but not least is the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum--a favorite with just about everyone. Considered to be one of the nation's newest and largest automotive museums, it features restored automobiles, buses, and trucks from about 1900 to the 1970s. Situated just off Route 39, one mile west of Hersheypoark Drive, it is a member of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliates Program. For the Community Weekend admission will be an across-the-board $5 per person over four. Featured during the weekend, among other exhibits, will be "Ash and Maple Marvels," 29 wood-bodied automobiles ranging in date from 1914 to 1953. They literally don't make them like that any more!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

John Bartram, Yet Another Great Pennsylvanian

I've always been fascinated by impersonators of the great and famous, and even more by those who impersonate the great but not-so-famous. Hal Holbrooke became known for a career spent lecturing as Mark Twain and made a great success of it; but while Twain is not internationally known he is, to Americans, probably the best known writer after that English fellow, William Shakespeare. So it isn't hard to see how Holbrooke could have made a go of it financially. And people like Washington, Lincoln, Lafayette--all of whose alter egos I have run into--are likely to offer a lot of gigs to those who wear their shoes.
But then there are those less- obvious subjects. Recently I learned of an impersonator of an 18th century Quaker farmer, naturalist, and explorer who has no obvious following in our time. Why make yourself over to represent someone like that?
My own feeling is that it must be spiritual. In fact, something like it happened to me, although instead of becoming an impersonator I wrote a book. I have not yet met Kirk Brown, the impersonator of John Bartram (the farmer and naturalist mentioned above), but I suspect that if and when I have that privilege I will find we have similarities in experience--we have encountered a person, no longer living, whose life we respond to, who we feel has something to teach us and the times we live in. And so, in a measure, we become disciples, followers of the message of this particular person.
I don't want to tie Mr. Brown to that, but I would be surprised if it didn't happen something like that.
But to turn to John Bartram (1699-1777), the largely self-educated scientist whose reputation in his time spanned two continents. Poor and largely self-educated, Bartram also was devout, conscientious, and intellectually curious. He lived in an era in which this could be enough to make a man a fine and well-earned reputation.
All of America's Founding Fathers were amateurs, in a way. They saw needs--social, educational, governmental, whatever--and set out to find ways to fill them. Bartram, who might be called a Founding Father of American Science, thought in the same way.
He had a special zeal for plants, and began by setting aside a space on his farm to grow those he found unusually interesting. One thing led to another. He lived to become the King's Gardener in North America, to go on long expeditions to find more plant specimens, and to become a friend of Benjamin Franklin and other famous Americans of his time. He was a founding member of Franklin's American Philosophical Society. Thanks to the respect in which he was held by famous Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus (and many other European scientists as well), Bartram also was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy.
Perhaps his greatest influence was on the British Isles. In what would be considered questionable practice these days--but perfectly logical in Bartram's--he shipped many American seeds and saplings to what was then the home country. There they were snatched up by the nobility, the rich middle class, even the king. American plants wound up in great British gardens, including private ones, the royal gardens at Kew, and gardens at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities.
We are lucky enough to be able to visit John Bartram's home at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia. It is considered to be the oldest surviving botanical garden in the United States. Information is on the web site at
If you'd like to know more about this great Pennsylvanian, try "The Life and Travels of John Bartram: From Lake Ontario to the River St. John", by Edmund Berkeley Jr. and Dorothy Smith Berkeley.