In July, 1889, now 53 years ago the Pittsburg Dispatch (no “h” in the name of the smoky city in those days) published lengthy article ridiculing the people of Berks County. Doubtlessly they provided their readers with many a chuckle as the writers lampooned the folkways and mores of the Pennsylvania Dutch of Berks. Let us examine some of the writer’s barbs, condensed for Scholla but truly representing his views and intents:
- Every father in the county finds it incumbent upon him to teach his children to call for beer in two different languages.
- Prescription for delirious tremens: secure two live eels; pour four gallons of whiskey over them. Compel the patient to drink the four gallons during the first three days of the next sign of the Fish (Pisces), provided the eels are dead.
- If you don’t know how to vote write Andrew Jackson’s name on the ballot and the judges of the election will understand.
- All babies must be placed in the hopper of a grist mill before they are ten days old if they are to attain maturity.
- To live to be 70, kiss a toad at age 25 and again at 70 if you wish to become a centenarian. “There are scores of toads kept in this county for that purpose.
- For a sprained back, wind an eel skin around the affected parts and repeat the three words of the Trinity.
- To cure a sore throat mothers remove one of their own stockings and wrap it about the neck of the sick child.
- To cure stiffness of the joints bury bacon rind under the eaves of the house.
- Nine-tenth of the people believe in pow-wowing ‘and there are few indeed who do not believe that the seventh child of a seventh child’ can pow-wow.
- Peddlers for all sorts of occult charms “thrive and grow rich.”
- “The belief in witchcraft may be said to be almost universal.”
- When a Berks County judge imposed sentence upon a practitioner of witchcraft two-thirds of the visitors in the court room sympathized with the culprit and censured the judge.
- The writer relates that expresses some doubts as to the efficacy of some of these cures and was met with the following rejoinder: “Al recht: du weescht net; if mae Leit des Ding wise so waer’s besser fer sie.
Der Ewich Yeager is in no position to refute these rather damaging observations. Unfortunately his memory does not go back as far as 1889. Perhaps all of these things were true – or were they? Will someone older, someone who does remember, please take pen in hand and write us about any and all of these statements?
There is one of the points with which we will not take issue. In the charge that Berks people were still voting for Andrew Jackson was and what he stood for, and this is a great deal more than could be said of many of the readers of Pittsburgh papers 53 years ago when large percentages of their population were not naturalized and could not vote at all.