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, http://coalregionhistorychronicles.blogspot.com/. 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 http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

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 www.landisvalleymuseum.org

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 www.bartramsgarden.org.
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.