Today, local radio station WRAW, channel 1340 AM, is a Spanish language station that specializes in a range of modern Latin American music. This new format reflects recent demographic changes to the Reading area.
Back in the 1960s, WRAW sounded much different. The station broadcasted in English and played a broad selection of the popular music of the day. What were the popular songs in August? The Berks History Center library houses an extensive series of weekly top forty lists played by the station.
Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.
Throughout 2018, the Berks History Center is getting a taste of local history with the Berks County Foodways project. As we explored the eating habits and culinary practices of Berks Countians, we have had a chance to sample the diverse flavors of Berks County from pig stomach to spanikopita. This month, as we approach the Berks History Center’s 6th annual fundraiser – the Magical History Tour concert on August 18, 2018 – we began to wonder about the culinary delights of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. So BHC Archivist, Stephanie Mihalik, turned the archives and dug up some groovy treats from the Berks History Center Research Library collection.
Do you remember any of these party favorites? The members of St. John’s Church in Reading, PA compiled this recipe book in 1979. We found that gelatin was a common ingredient in dishes from the 1970s, such as this recipe for crab mousse:
Also, canned goods were wildly popular and were common ingredients in both party fare and daily lunch menus. Other fun finds included recipies for ham-liverwurst rolls and liver cheese spread.
The swell of patriotism in Reading and Berks County in 1917 made the war theatre attractive to many young, impressionable men, who were called by their country to fight for freedom. At the time, activities on the home front were entirely focused on bringing a swift and decisive victory in France for our soldiers in the trenches. Countless loan drives helped to pay for the war and the citizens of Reading and Berks County pitched in to support our troops overseas. Meanwhile, new recruits departed as heros from the Outer Station with community celebrations, parades and music.
Surrounded by a community spirit of patriotic duty, young men from Reading and Berks entered the army by volunteering or draft, eager to be a part of the action. The young men who became the American Expeditionary Forces couldn’t wait to make folks at home proud. Unfortunately, what they discovered in Europe were conditions that were unimaginable. They quickly exchanged the romanticism and excitement of the war for a life wrought with hunger, fear and uncertainty.
The soldiers who left Reading on August 25, 1917 became a machine gun company for the First composite National Guard attached to Company I. The company, which was comprised of soldiers from 26 states, departed from Mineola, NY and eventually saw action in France. The following excerpt is from the diary of Samuel Cole of the 125 Infantry, written on the Champagne Front. Cole was a Michigan native, but his account of what life was like during battle is powerful and moving. Many of Cole’s diary entries were matter of fact, detailing when he wrote letters, played a ballgame (Company I vs headquarters), and bunk fatigue. Other entries were duty-driven, describing his service: “hiked to reserve positions – weather hot, worked on barbed wire, saw aero plane battle, piece of shrapnel comes close. Rifle range – Faber, Cavanaugh, Willis, McCarney and I have beer party under tree.” Yet other entries spoke of hunger and survival, boiling potatoes the size of marbles with small red beets and scavenging for food for days.
When action occurred, such as the conflict at Ferme de Ferret, Cole’s diary entries were lengthy and detailed. Cole vividly recounted days of fighting and the horrors of his experience. He even pasted additional space in the diary to include all the details of the day. The following is a portion of the entry by Cole on the activities he experienced on July 29, 1918:
We go over the top at 2:30 pm, see men get up from hillside ahead and go uphill. We cheer them on. Machine gunners tell us they are Germans, and we are front line. We crossed wheat field from St. Martins Road under heavy barrage, jump across the Oureq River and are ordered up Hill 212. The boys complained about the heavy packs and we were all carrying them. Told them to take them off. We started up the hill in the open. Found Van Wert and some others wounded. Corp. Wojciechowski called to me “lets give them hell Cole”. I shouted back “I’m with you we will show them”. The next time I looked, when he threw up his hands and whirled around shot through the forehead. He was a good friend of mine and a fine chap. It made me so mad I could have taken on the whole German Army. It was a sight I have dreamed about many times since. By the time we reached the top, there was only Smally, Dombrowski and myself out of the eight that started. Dombrowski got a bullet through the groin and crawled back down. Smily had a 20 shot Schechout French automatic Rifle, no extra clips. He went back down to find a rifle, never saw him again. The tallest cover I could find were weeds 3” high, kept down flat. Corp. Bancroft, company runner, crawled up, inquired of Captain Crabb. Reversed my position, laid on my back. Told him on the left somewhere, while we were talking, a shell exploded up front and my left foot went numb. Told Bancroft I was hit, probably by dead shrapnel. He left to look for Crabb. I waited a while, and I decided as I was alone on the extreme right of our unit, I better go back and come up farther on the left where our boys were. Started back bullets flying overhead, got partway down hill and shell exploded to right. Another and another, each one coming closer, the last one dropped 100’ to my right. Shells started falling to my left coming closer each time. The last one dropped about 50’ away. I could see the jagged fragments of the shell as it exploded, the butt end sailing over my head. Was I ever scared. Up to now I was mad, now I was mad and scared. I went on down the hill, always stopped, took off my shoe and poured the blood out.
The machine gun division mentioned in Cole’s diary entry most likely included the soldiers from Reading. From J. Bennett Nolan’s “The Reading Militia in the Great War” A Divisional Citation of Major-General Charles T. Menoher states:
“Fresh from the battlefront before Chalons, you were thrown against the picked troops of Germany. For eight consecutive days you attacked skillfully prepared positions. You captured great stores of arms and ammunitions. You forced the crossing of the Oureq. You took Hill 212, Sergy, Meurcy, Ferme and Serenges by assault. You drove the enemy, including an Imperial Guard Division, before you for a depth of fifteen kilometers. When your infantry was relieved it was in full pursuit of the retreating Germans and your artillery continued to progress and support another American division in the advance of the Vesle.”
The price of victory was steep for the young men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces. The combination of shell explosions, gas and gun fire made the wide-eyed soldiers hardened by death of friends, wounds suffered in battle, hunger, and the basic will to survive.
Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.
When it comes to potlucks, M. Catherine Shearer has a go-to family recipe that wins every time – her great-grandmother’s shoo-fly pie! The Shearer family is no stranger to Berks County’s rich heritage; Catherine can trace her family’s lively and accomplished lineage back to Pennsylvania’s founding era.
Mary Sellers Shearer lived on Fritztown Road in Vinemont, PA with her husband, Solomon Shearer. The recipe was passed down to Mary’s daughter and eventually made its way into the hands of her great-granddaughter, M. Catherine Shearer, who was happy to share the recipe for this classic Berks County Foodway with us!
2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
1 heaping TB. Crisco
Mix dry ingredients together and combine with Crisco until crumbly. Set aside 2 handfuls for the top of the pies. Using the remaining flour mixture add:
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 cup molasses (Turkey Syrup)
1 1/4 cup hot water
1 tsp. baking soda
Fill 2 (8″ or 9″) pie shells with the molasses mixture and top each pie with the crumb topping.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
The Berks History Center thanks M. Catherine Shearer for sharing her family recipe for shoo-fly pie with us! A native of Berks County, now living in Exeter Township, Shearer has been a Trustee of the Berks History Center for close to two years, and a is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Berks County Genealogical Society. Before her retirement, she was a well-known community leader. As part of her employment at the Berks County Chamber of Commerce, and the Berks County Career Link, she was involved in heightening the community’s Economic and Workforce Development efforts.
The Berks History Center and the Reading Downtown Improvement District Authority are pleased to announce the launch of Berks History on Penn, a collaborative, community art installation that explores the history of downtown Reading through photographs from the Berks History Center’s collection. The exhibit will be located in the windows of the Callowhill building on the corner of 5th and Penn Streets.
Berks History on Penn will be installed by the Reading Downtown Improvement District Authority (RDIDA), the Berks History Center (BHC) and students from the Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center on Monday, June 11, 2018. The project is funded by the Penn Street Arts Grant program of Berks County Community Foundation.
Following installation, Berks History on Penn will be on exhibit through the end of 2019 pending sale of the building and can be enjoyed during a number of events on Penn Street including the MidDay Café on July 25th; Downtown Alive concert series June 20th, July 18th, August 15th, September 12th and 19th; First Friday Downtown Beer Gardens July 6th, August 3rd, September 7th; and the Penn Street Market every Thursday through the end of September.
As a partner with RDIDA and the Penn Street Market, the BHC will attend the Penn Street Market as a community vendor every Third Thursday of the month, starting with the kick-off the Berks History on Penn social media project on Thursday, June 21, 2018. During the BHC’s kick-off Third Thursday at the Market, the BHC will launch a community-wide selfie contest on social media. Participants are encouraged to snap creative, history-inspired selfies in front of the Berks History on Penn photographs and share on social media using the hashtag #BerksHistoryonPenn. Participants will then be entered into a special giveaway drawing. Each month, the BHC will award drawing winners special prizes including: history books such as the Passing Scene, free BHC memberships, free passes to BHC’s 2nd Saturday programs, or tickets to the 6th Annual Magical History Tour concert.
“Partnering with the RDIDA has been an organic and successful collaboration.” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “In their work to create a vital, vibrant, productive, and commercially active environment in downtown Reading, RDIDA has championed the value of our community’s rich history as an essential element of what makes the city of Reading such a great place to live, work and play. The Berks History on Penn project is an opportunity to garner interest and increase visitation to the Downtown Improvement District while showcasing the rich history of downtown Reading.”
Charles Broad, Executive Director of the Downtown Improvement District, pointed out that the collaborative effort is yet another way to boost center city’s vitality.
“This is a creative use of vacant space in the heart of the city,” Broad said. “It’s going to stir up a very positive buzz and help promote the marketing of these valuable properties in the heart of Reading.”
Stay tuned for more information about your Berks History on Penn!
One of our favorite things about living in Berks County is the abundance of local farmers’ markets that sell local, fresh produce and meat. The history of fresh markets in our area is long-standing and dates back to the original deed from Thomas and Richard Penn, which proclaimed that two fairs be held each year on June 4 and October 22. The Clerk of the Market was directed to erect as many stalls as necessary at the two markets on Penn Street, which operated weekly. The open air markets, erected in the 1840’s on Penn Square, were torn down in 1871. In the following years there were as many as 10 neighborhood market houses, each an elaborate structure.
The Crystal Palace Market on Penn Street took its name from the famous building at the World’s Fair of 1871. The South Reading Market House, considered one of the finest buildings in Reading, was built by Francis B. Shalters, the owner-editor of the Reading Times. The window on the north side resembled a rose, similar to those found in a cathedral. The iron columns supporting the first floor porch were the original posts from the second market pavilion on Penn Square, built in the 1840s. An arson fire in 2005 collapsed the structure, which had stood for 135 years. Another fine market was the Northeast Market House at 9th and Buttonwood Streets. It was built in 1874 by the Reading German Building and Savings Association. The building was known in the 1920’s as the Eagle Market, then owned by Jesse Hawley, publisher of the Reading Eagle.
In addition to seasonal open air markets like the Penn Street Market and the West Reading Farmers’ Market, Berks County has three large operating indoor farmers markets. Built in 1934 by Harold B. Ludwig (and later run by his son Ted), the Shillington Farmers Market was once an old cement block factory with a cement mixer in the middle of the building. The restaurant was added in 1948 as a lunch stand for market customers, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and soda, and later hot roast beef sandwiches. The Farmers Market moved to a new location on Summit Avenue in Shillington in 2001. Hamid Chaudhry purchased the market from Jim Daley in 2017 (Daley is part of the family that had operated the Market since its opening). Today a Wawa occupies the original site at Museum Road and Route 724.
In 1946, LeRoy J. Weist and his wife Mary purchased 30 acres of farmland in Leesport. At first they thought about building homes, but they needed a place to sell their livestock. In 1947, they opened the Leesport Market Auction. In 1985, third generation owners Woody and Bill Weist took control and changed the name to the Leesport Farmers Market. The market has been opened year-round since 1947 and features cooked items and fresh produce. The flea market stands have been around since the beginning, but by the 1970’s, they became a large part of the business. There was a midway-like quality to the place, with entertaining pitchmen like Bernie Cohen who auctioned off just about anything out of his truck.
The Fairgrounds Farmers Market has an interesting history. It was once part of the Reading Fairgrounds Complex, established in the late 1940’s after the War Department relinquished control of the property. The first market building, mostly wooden, was located behind the back stretch of the racetrack and was built in the early 1920’s for fair and merchant displays. Back then some businesses sold goods out in the open. In 1969, a huge fire destroyed 3/4 of the market building, although the market was back operating the following Saturday. By then stock car races were promoted at the adjacent track. In 1970 the Fairgrounds Market, Inc. opened the new Reading Fairgrounds Market just north of the original structure. By 1980 the racetrack was replaced by the mall and owned by Albert Boscov. The size of the market increased to 50,000 ft and, in 2000, the former banquet facility reopened as an annex. In addition to fresh goods there are non-food vendors, a barbershop, wine retailer and several stands of antiques and collectibles. The market is open three days a week with 64 proprietors and up to 5,000 shoppers.
Joseph N. Farrell, “Regal Relics,” Reading Eagle, September 5, 1979.
Jeff McGaw, “New Life for Shillington Farmers Market,” Reading Eagle, May 18, 2017.
Irvin Rathman, “Reading’s Market Life – a Brief Scrapbook,” 1980 (F10 MA Rathman 1980).
“A Scrapbook on Berks and Lebanon Counties, PA,” Vol. 1.1 (F10 AG).
BHC Library Vertical File on the Leesport Farmers Market, VF F10 MA-29.
BHC Library Vertical File on the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, VF F11 MA-5.
By May of 1918, the citizens of Reading and Berks County were confronted with the realities of war on a daily basis. The war itself may have been fought on foreign soil, but its presence was felt intimately at home. Whether in the form of food rationing, loan drives, or new recruits leaving for camp in preparation for the battlefields of France, the never-ending sacrifices of war had a huge impact on the citizens of Berks County.
The Third Liberty Loan Drive was nearing its completion when the last fight card of the season was scheduled by Cole Watson’s Athletic Club at The Auditorium on April 30th. At the event, patrons were greeted by Sergeant Manning Grimes of Providence R.I., a wounded soldier who returned from France and made his pledge to the patrons that buying Liberty Bonds will help our boys beat the Kaiser. This was the first time boxing patrons were solicited to purchase Liberty Bonds, and the 1,000 patrons responded with bond purchases in the amount of $9,000.
In addition to raising funds, the people of Berks County were accustomed to going without in a time of war. Citizens were already rationing food on pork, meat and wheat-less days, and by the end of April 1918, the Food Administration introduced a 90-day pastry abstinence, which went into effect on May 1, 1918. The pastry abstinence was enacted to conserve flour shortly after Food Administrator Davies battled with Reading bakeries over the price of bread. The city of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start war gardens, encouraging citizens to raise their own vegetables for consumption and conserve farm produce for the war effort. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Sterling and Spring and Weiser Streets. Open city blocks, city parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge.
Local media encouraged citizens to do their part and get on board with the war effort. A story appeared in the Reading Times about a much-married slacker who was arrested in Reading and returned to York. Paul Sweitzer, alias George Krause, was arrested for failing to register with his draft board in York. City detectives ran down a series of clues on Sweitzer, who married 16-year-old Augusta Hunf of Reading four years prior. The two lived with Hunf’s parents until they ran away, dressing his bride as a man as they hopped freight trains toward Pittsburgh. They were attacked by tramps out west, where Sweitzer shot one of the tramps. Sweitzer spent 6 months in jail for the shooting, and police sent his wife back home. When Sweitzer returned, he took out an $1,000 insurance policy out on his wife. He then made a concoction for his wife, which made her deathly ill. Sweitzer then disappeared, as his wife was saved by means of a stomach pump from his deadly act. Two years later he published accounts of his fake death. Believing Sweitzer was dead, Hunf later married another man. Sweitzer then married again under the name of Krause. Reading police learned of Krause from his second wife, Mary Phillips. The two had lived in York and then Reading when police were on the lookout for a slacker named Sweitzer. Phillips became suspicious and reported her husband to the police, when they discovered his hidden identity.
On May 18, 1918, 2,000 women marched in the Red Cross March of Mercy, which kicked off the nation’s hundred million drive for the Red Cross, with Berks County’s quota at $150,000. Over 6,000 people marched in the parade, with Ernest J. Poole as chief marshal of the parade. The parade consisted of 5 divisions that formed in City Park and included Red Cross workers, students from the girl’s high school, fraternal organizations, loan workers, civic organizations and students from the boy’s high school. The parade began at the head of Penn Street, marched down to 4th Street and counter-marched to 10th Street before dispersing at Franklin Street. Miss Catherine Gilbert, who dressed as Miss Liberty for the Boy Scouts Liberty Loan parade in April, exchanged her Liberty costume for a Red Cross outfit for this parade.
Gilbert had just finished up touring the county as Miss Liberty for the War Savings Stamps drive. She then began a week long 90-mile tour of Berks County for a series of open air meetings dressed as a Red Cross Nurse. The tour would leave Reading each evening at 5:30PM, making multiple stops along each route. The drive had the presence of a British and French soldier, who had seen much service in Europe. The soldiers attended meetings during the day in Reading and accompanied Miss Gilbert on the evening tours in the county. The evening tours ended with destinations in Boyertown, Hamburg, Birdsboro, Kutztown and Womelsdorf. In each instance, the tour was met with large gatherings, including parades through Hamburg and Boyertown, which were led by the local Boy Scout troops. The drive started on May 20, 1918. Typical of Berks County’s patriotic response for a drive of any type, the county doubled its quota, raising $300,000 for the Red Cross drive. The Wolfinger Knitting Mill went over the top by contributing 100 percent by May 18th, doubling their quota of $195 and thus receiving a 100 percent flag with a gold star.
Jere Edwards had just completed his Sunday lectures at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium on the war and the conditions our soldiers experienced at the front. The lectures were well attended. Edwards, the General Secretary of the Reading Y.M.C.A., left late in 1916 to work with the International YMCA in Cairo, Egypt and operate a service hut in France. He returned from Europe in November 1917.
With all the happenings around Reading and Berks at this time, from food rationing and war gardens, loan drives, Red Cross parades and tours, war lectures at the Y.M.C.A., or slackers being picked up for failure to register to their draft boards, the citizens of Reading and Berks County never wavered in their commitment to their patriotic duty. At the time, reports were coming back of casualties to U.S. soldiers, who were fighting at the frontlines. Letters would appear in the Reading Times from a soldier “somewhere in France” telling of life in the trenches. The reality of the Great War left six Berks County soldiers in graves in France and one at the bottom of the Atlantic, all at the hands of the enemy. Others had died from disease. Memorial Day in 1918 had a very solemn meaning for the citizens of Berks.
Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.