Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer: A Berks County Musician

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Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer (1900-1986) was a Berks County woman of many talents. Many may not know her by name, but her legacy carries inspiration far beyond what anyone would expect from a small town music teacher. Julia Nagel Shanaman started the Shanaman Studio of Music in Reading, Pa around 1924 after receiving her teacher’s diploma. In 1927 she received her diploma in music theory and in 1929 she received her Piano Soloist Diploma. She later attended the Philadelphia Music Academy, receiving her Artist Diploma in 1935, in addition to gracefully achieving her Bachelors in Music in 1937 just after her marriage to Jasper Elmer in 1936.

Music Theory Diploma 1927

Despite adopting a new surname, Julia kept moving above and beyond in the music world. She was a skilled pianist and music teacher. She received her Graduate Certificate in Piano from Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia in 1951, and served with them for the next five years. Afterwards she served the Combs College of Music for the next ten years.  Elmer became involved with the Community School of Music and the Arts in Reading as a piano and theory instructor in 1966, overlapping with her time serviced to the Music Club of Reading as their president for two consecutive terms. In addition to all of her glowing achievements, Julia was elected to the American College Musicians Hall of Fame in 1968.

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Her legacy as a profound musical educator and instrumentalist was honored with the establishment of the Julia N. Shanaman Elmer Piano Scholarship in 1987 by the Music Club of Reading, just after her passing. She was a marvelous teacher, musician and friend who had an unsurpassable enthusiasm for her craft. Her legacy lives on through her only son, Cedric Nagel Elmer, whose donation of concert recordings, programs and photographs to the Berks History Center has made all of this information and acknowledgement possible for the late and great Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer.

Researched & Written by Mackenzie Tansey

The Women’s Club of Reading

 

Since its inception in 1896, the Women’s Club of Reading has given to the community in multiple ways. In their early days, they helped organize the Humane Society and created the first public playgrounds within Reading. During the First World War, members participated in the Red Cross, helped with surgical dressings, and even raised money for tobacco for the soldiers.  The club opened its doors to the public in 2004 as the WCR Center for the Arts, both in an effort to save their historic building and to present unique performances and exhibitions for the community.

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Shown here are a few of the club’s artifacts within our collection including: a stamp with the WCR seal, a program from March 1930, and the “Official Song of Berks County Federation of Women’s Clubs and Allied Organizations.” The cartoon depicted is from the March 22, 1930 issue of the Reading Eagle and illustrates the Reading traffic issue that the WCR describes as “literally terrible.”

Researched & Written by Erin Benz

Taproom Treasure: Uncovering Old Glory

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When Rick Polityka first caught a glimpse of the front cover of The Historical Review of Berks County (Vol. 82. #1, Winter 22016-2017) he had a nagging suspicion that he was looking at something familiar. The photo, depicting a vintage winter scene, captured a number of adults sitting upon a large sled. In this particular issue, the editor of The Review, Charles J. Adams III, had called for readers to assist in identifying the location and date of the photograph, a mysterious item from the Berks History Center’s research library collection.

After some contemplation, it finally hit him. He had seen this sled before! Not only in the photograph, but he had actually seen this artifact up close and in person! He wasn’t entirely sure his hunch was accurate. However, he was curious enough to investigate the mystery.

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Rick called a few friends and headed to one his favorite local watering holes, The Northeast Taproom. There, with the permission of the owner, Rick and his friends ventured down into the dark, dusty basement of the Northeast Taproom. Sitting along the wall, covered in dust and boxes, Rick uncovered a very large sled, 19 feet in length.

This exciting discovery was just the beginning of Rick’s journey uncovering the history and mystery behind what we now know to be, “Old Glory,” the hand-built, Berks County tiller from the early 1900s. Rick wrote about his adventure and research in an article that will be published in the Spring 2017 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County. 

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The name “Old Glory” can be read on the face of the sled.

To read Rick’s entire story and research about Old Glory, subscribe to The Historical Review of Berks County. Copies of The Review can also be purchased in the Berks History Center Museum Store.

Rick Polityka is a local history enthusiast,  lifelong Reading resident, and a long-time member and volunteer at the Berks History Center.

The Tale of Tommy Hannahoe, the “Mayor of Irishtown”

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Alvah O. Schaeffer, a German musician, loved to play Irish songs for his friend Tommy C. Hannahoe, the”Mayor of Irishtown”.  Tommy owned the Stars & Stripes Hotel, a saloon located on 514 S. 11th Street.

Longtime friends despite their cultural differences, Tommy and Alvah agreed that: “If Tommy dies first, Alvah would play music at his grave each St. Patrick’s night. Should Alvah go first, Tommy would keep Alvah’s grave green forever.”

Tommy died first on February 10, 1897 of typhoid pneumonia. Alvah kept his promise to Tommy and played “Lass O’ Galway” and “Nearer My God to Thee” over his friend’s grave that year.

Alvah never forgot his pact with Tommy. Nor did he let a St. Patrick’s Day go by  without visiting his grave. Alvah continued this tryst until the day he died on March 10, 1947 at the age of 81. Alvah was buried a week later on St. Patrick’s Day in St. Peter’s Cemetery in East Reading on Nanny Goat Hill.

The tradition continues today with Tommy’s great, great-grandson, Corey Hannahoe. Click here to learn more this local St. Patrick’s tradition. 

Reference: Passing Scene Vol. 1, pgs. 169-178

Researched & Written by Volunteer & Historian Corrie Crupi

 

A Stitch in Time: Berks County’s Women’s History

Hetty 1797

Needlework samplers were a type of embroidery work which young women typically created as a demonstration or a test of skill.  Many surviving examples from the early 1800s are preserved in the collections of the Berks History Center, and they typically include the alphabet, figures, verses or information about the person who completed the piece.  The example shown here, one of the oldest at the History Center, was produced in 1797 by Hetty Muhlenberg (1785-1872) when she was about twelve years old.

Esther “Hetty” Muhlenberg (1785-1872) was the daughter of Revolutionary War General Peter Muhlenberg, and she was the Great-granddaughter of Conrad Weiser.  After her 1810 marriage to Dr. Isaac Hiester, the son of Pennsylvania’s future Governor Joseph Hiester, she settled in Reading and became the matriarch of one of Berks County’s most influential 19th Century families.

Learn more about Berks County’s historic women by visiting the Berks History Center Museum, open Tuesday-Friday 10AM-3PM and Saturday 9AM-3PM. In honor of National Women’s History Month, Berks History Center curated mini-exhibits featuring Berks County’s unique women’s history.

Researched and Written by Curator Bradley K.Smith

Can History Go A Day Without A Woman?

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Can you really imagine A Day Without A Woman? Historically speaking, women have always been essential to our nation’s security and economic well-being. After the United States entered World War II in 1941, the Coast Guard formed a Women’s Reserve, better known as SPAR. Created to relieve men of office work so that they could go overseas to fight, most of the jobs were clerical in nature.

Mildred Hiller Snyder, a Kutztown graduate and teacher at Reading Schools, served our country in SPAR as a Specialist, Petty Officer of the First Class. From 1944 to 1946, she worked in collaboration with the FBI in processing fingerprints at her office in Philadelphia. These artifacts, articles of Snyder’s time in the military, are now on display in Berks History Center’s Museum for Women’s History Month.

Snyder’s contributions are just one local example of how our national history has been shaped by women. Yesterday’s International Women’s Day Strike is another. Today women continue to make their mark, as they always have, in the books of American history.  How do your daily activities contribute to history-in-the-making?

Women’s History Exhibit Items Curated & Researched by Erin Benz

The Fabric of Daily Life: Museum Textile Collection

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Often referred to as “show towels” by collectors, these long, narrow pieces of cloth were originally known as “hand towels” to their makers. Most were made by Mennonite and Schwenkfelder women in Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Montgomery Counties from about 1800 to 1880. Meant for display rather than for actual use, such towels were typically hung on the door between the door of the Stube (parlor) and the Kammer (bed chamber) in a Pennsylvania German home.  The example pictured here, marked “M. B. 1840” is one of several attractive examples which we have found during inventory of the Berk’s History Center’s textile collections.

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While some items were strictly for show, other items intended for daily use were no less in quality and craftsmanship. During our inventory of the Textile Collection we also found a somewhat worn potholder with a date of 1855.  Despite its condition, it is a significant discovery which reminds us that the Pennsylvania Germans of Berks County had  a propensity for decorating very common, utilitarian items which they intended to use.  The artifact was donated by Dora Wanner of Shillington (1877-1967).  We believe it was made by her aunt, Lydia Wanner, (1834-1883).

Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith