A New Homcoming for Old Glory

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In the winter of 2016, BHC Trustee Rick Polityka uncovered a history mystery. After a series of serendipitous events,  Rick unearthed the history behind an early 1900s sled, or  tiller known as Old Glory, that was hidden away in the basement of the Northeast Taproom in Reading, PA. The tiller, which is believed to be over 100 years old, has made its way to a new home: the Berks History Center.

At 19 feet long and over 300 pounds, it is hard to believe that this artifact had gone unnoticed for so long. On November 30, 2019, a crew of 11 volunteers met at the Northeast Taproom to retrieve Old Glory from its hiding place. After a short time and a lot of muscle power, the behemoth tiller saw the light of day for the first time since the dawn of the 20th century. Thanks to Orth’s Towing, Old Glory was transported to its new home at the Berks History Center.

While the efforts to move Old Glory were great, the stories behind this artifact were well worth the work. In his research, Rick discovered that Old Glory was one of many tillers that coasted the streets of Reading in late 1800s and early 1900s. “Coasting” down popular sledding slopes, such as Chestnut, Buttonwood, Elm, Greenwich, Spring and Robeson streets, was a favorite winter pastime in the City of Reading.

As for Old Glory,  up to 20 children could fit on the sled, which could travel up to 65-70 mph, with no way of stopping it. Tillers provided an entertaining yet dangerous thrill for children and adults alike and the phenomena was commonplace until several serious accidents caused authorities to start cracking down on the activity. By 1925 tillers were rarely seen on city streets. Old Glory was involved in an accident with an 8 man tiller at the intersection of 11th & Chestnuts Sts. on February 16, 1916. It has sat in the basement of the Northeast Taproom at 12th & Robeson since – until last week when it was moved to the Berks History Center.

A Note from the Berks History Center:

A lot of research went into discovering the story behind this and other tillers in the winter of 2016-2017 by the tiller team of Charlie Adams, Corrie Crupi, Sharon Merolli, Jon Showers Jr., Dave Kline, Richard Polityka and Michelle Napoletano Lynch. A huge thanks to all these fantastic #BerksHistoryBuffs for making this story come alive. Also a big thanks to all the folks who volunteered to move Old Glory to its new home at the Berks History Center, including Orth’s Towing!

A League of Her Own: Ruth Kramer Hartman

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Photo: Society For American Baseball Research Biography project

Ruth Hartman…her name always brings a smile to my face. Chances are you’ve heard about her also. She was born in 1926, the oldest child of Annie and John Kramer. When her dad won the Irish Sweepstakes, he went from being a mechanic to being an innkeeper. He bought the Leinbach’s Hotel which was in Bern Township. It was in a cow pasture across from the inn where she learned to catch a softball and field grounders that her dad hit to her. In 1940 her dad bought the hotel and taproom called The Rising Sun in the northeast part of Reading near the Reading Railroad repair shop and 11th and Pike Playground. At age 13 Ruth was a regular there playing baseball with the older boys. She began playing on girls’ teams and  her teams were very successful with her on the pitching rubber. No one could believe where all the power in her 5’1″, 110lb. frame came from!

Following graduation from RHS in 1942, she went to East Stroudsburg State Teachers’ College to become a physical education teacher. Her only outlet for softball was intramural teams, but the problem was no girl could catch her pitching! So the men’s team selected a male to be her catcher. There were special rules: he could not bat, could not run the bases or throw out runners. The last rule was not a problem since she struck out everyone- there were never any base runners! This situation was not popular with the girls, Ruth, or the male catcher. So Ruth was allowed to play on the men’s team! She was so proficient as a pitcher that her male teammates gave her the nickname “Rocky” because she threw like a rocket.

In the Spring of ’46, a scout for the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) saw her play and offered her a position. She played second base for the Fort Wayne Daisies and pitched some batting practice, but never pitched in a game. Her favorite friend was Faye Dancer, who in the movie, A League of Their Own, was “All the Way May”, played by Madonna. Her favorite experience was during the Game 7 Playoffs. The Daisies were ahead of the Chicks 1-0 in the last inning. The Chicks had one out and a gal on 2nd. There was a line drive hit to Ruth- she jumped up and caught the ball in the webbing of her glove, tagged 2nd for a double play and the Daisies won the league championship! That was her last play in the AAGPBL. She did not return for the next season because she wanted to finish her degree.

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Immediately after graduation she began her 36 year teaching career in the Reading School District. She coached volleyball, track and swimming. She also played on several fast-pitch softball teams around the PA area. In 1976 she began girls’ softball at RHS. Over 18 seasons, her teams were 217-73 and won 2 Berks County Championships, 3 District Titles, and were twice PA State Runners-up.

After retirement from coaching and teaching, she began to raise and breed Corriedale sheep on her farm in Limekiln. As you may know, her sheep were named for Phillies baseball players. In 2003, Baseball Charities, dedicated to giving financial support to area youth baseball and softball programs, created the “King of Baseball Town” award, presented annually to a resident of the Reading area who has made a lifetime contribution to baseball or softball. Ruth was  the first woman to receive this award in 2008. Ruth said, “I want to be Queen!” And so Baseball Town had its first Queen! Next she became Queen of the Corriedales when she earned the reputation as one of the nation’s top sheep breeders. In 2006 she won the “National Corriedale Breeder of the Year” award as well as the Grand Champion Title that year in North America.

I remember the first time I met her. It was at a Berks County Commission for Women dinner at the former Moselem Springs Inn. Ruth was the speaker. I didn’t know much about her back in the late 80s. A League of Their Own came out in 1992, and Ruth hadn’t talked much to anyone about her experiences in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). As she walked to the podium, she dropped her papers and scooped them up and said,”I don’t really need these anyway!” And she didn’t! She was an excellent speaker and story teller. She said.” I always wanted to be the best; when I played baseball, I would push myself; when coaching, I was demanding of my players; and even with my sheep, I still always want to be the best.” I met her again about 20 years later and she remembered that dinner at Moselem Springs. Truly, she was in a league of her own.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #6

In 1962, I wrote a novel, Silent Spring, an expose’ on the dangers of the pesticide, DDT. I was a Pennsylvania native. Who was I?

Mystery Woman #5 Answer 

Georgia O’Keefe

An Athlete, an Educator, & an Inspiration: Grace AsBerry Jones

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Photo: Grace AsBerry Jones being inducted to the Southwest Jr. High Hall of Fame, Belongs to Hallie Vaughan

I probably chose today’s woman for two personal reasons. The first is that I spent 35 years teaching elementary students, just like she did. The second is because of my love of basketball, which she also had. I remember Grace AsBerry Jones. When I was playing basketball at Wilson, she occasionally refereed our games. She was one of those referees that you didn’t even raise an eyebrow to, let alone your voice! She was tough, but fair. It wasn’t until much later that I learned of her struggles to overcome racial discrimination and her outstanding commitment to the education of children.

Grace was born in West Reading. She was one of seven children and attended Tyson Shoener Elementary School, Southwest Junior High School and Reading High School, graduating with Merit in 1954. She was accepted and planned on attending one of the State Teachers’ Colleges for Health and Physical Education, but because she was an African American, she was not permitted to live in its dormitories. During this era, college students majoring in education were required to pass swimming tests. At her first choice of schools, Grace would not have been allowed to swim in the college’s pool facilities, but would have had to swim at the YMCA for African Americans. She decided to matriculate at East Stroudsburg, where racial discrimination was not such a problem.

Grace played field hockey and basketball while at East Stroudsburg where she was captain and leading scorer of her field hockey team as a senior.  Grace was named to the All Collegiate field hockey team three of the four years she played. She started at guard on the basketball team where her nickname was “the Rock of Gibraltar” for her defensive prowess. She became the first African American to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at East Stroudsburg.

When Grace graduated, she applied to and became the first African American teacher under contract in the Reading School District. After earning her Master’s Degree from Temple University in Guidance, Grace also became the first African American guidance counselor in the Reading School District. In approximately 1968, she became principal at the Lauer’s Park Elementary School, marking the first time in ninety years that the Reading School District hired an African American to this position. She also served as Principal at Amanda Stoudt Elementary and 13th and Union Elementary. While at Amanda Stoudt, her work in early childhood education was rewarded by several grants being awarded to the Reading District. Her efforts brought national recognition to the Reading Schools in 1993. That year she received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image Award and the Bethel A.M.E. Service to Mankind Award. It must have been quite a thrill for her to receive the Key to the City of Reading and to have February 20th of 1993 named as Grace AsBerry Jones Day!

Even after her retirement from teaching she remained active especially in her interest in children and education. She was an assistant Sunday School teacher at Zion Baptist Church, she was an adjunct professor at Albright where she supervised student teachers in elementary education, and she was a guest lecturer  at Kutztown and Temple Universities. Grace was involved in the Reading Senior High School Alumni Association and started a chapter of the East Stroudsburg University’s Alumni Association in Berks County. She gave the winter commencement address at ESU in 2003, about a year before her death in 2004. How lucky are the hundreds of Reading children who were influenced by her teaching, counseling and leadership as school principal! Grace must have endured great scrutiny throughout her teaching career, with being the first person to overcome racial barriers in the Reading School District. We educators should be very proud of the exemplary life of service that she lived.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #5

I painted persimmon colored poppies, calla lilies and cow skulls. Even with failing eyesight I waited and sculpted until my death at age 98. Who am I?

Mystery Woman Answer #4

Julia Ward Howe