“Heaven’s Letter” The Himmelsbrief – BHC Museum Collection


The Himmelsbrief or ‘heaven’s letter’ was a charm which a person carried or hung in their home for protection against evil.  The most common iteration was the Magdeburg Letter which purportedly fell from the sky in 1783 after having been written by God Himself.  Scholars  have discovered that the text of the Magdeburg Himmelsbrief existed in central Europe at least as early as the fifteenth century, and would have already been known for centuries when German-speaking immigrants brought the concept with them to Pennsylvania.  This particular Himmelsbrief belonged to John Huyett, a Pennsylvania-German who lived in Cumru Township from 1798 to 1887.  It was printed by a J. Rohr of Philadelphia, probably about 1850.

Bertolet Certificate from the BHC Museum Collection


This certificate was written and signed in 1726 by officials of Minfeld, a community in the Palatinate region of what is today southwest Germany.  It requests that the bearers, Jean and Susan (DeHarcourt) Bertolet, “be extended…  every desired aid and assistance,” as they “remove themselves to the new country of Pennsylvania.”

Born to Huguenot families who had fled religious persecution in France, the Bertolets had been living in Minfeld for fourteen years before immigrating to Pennsylvania and settling in the Oley Valley.  They retained the certificate as a cherished reminder of their family’s heritage.

Discover more stories about the origins and lives of Berks County’s founding immigrants at this month’s Second Saturday program on January 14, 2017.


$100,000 Reward for the Capture of the Lincoln Conspirators – Capt. James McKnight Collection

Who would have thought there was so much Lincoln history at the Berks History Center? With our December Second Saturday program coming up, we were curious! – What can our collection tell us about this national tragedy and controversy? Here is what we found in the Henry Janssen Library’s Capt. James McKnight Collection.

Captain James McKnight received this General Order in November 1865 asking persons involved with the capture of John Wilkes Booth and other Lincoln conspirators to submit their reward claims by the end of December. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton offered an unprecedented $100,000 ($50,000 for Booth and $25,000 each for John Surratt and David Herold) to those who assisted. In the end, that sum was paid out to numerous investigators and the 16th New York Calvary Regiment.

(From AC 150, Capt. James McKnight Collection, BHC’s Henry Janssen Library; and Folio Broadside, no. 39 [Rare Book RR] Copy 1, from the Library of Congress)