Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer: A Berks County Musician

Julia Shanaman_LC01_Box1_Folder1_Item9

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

Taproom Treasure: Uncovering Old Glory


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. 

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 Queen of Hearts: Miss Esther Keim

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The Berks History Center recently discovered several invitations from 1787, each requesting that a Miss Esther Keim accompany the sender to dances held at venues in the Reading area.  While the identity of the admirer remains a mystery, his affection for Esther is clear.  Interestingly, each of the invitations is written on the reverse side of a playing card.

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While the recipient may have been Esther Keim Schlegel (1771-1843) of Fleetwood, circumstantial evidence suggests that the recipient was likely Esther de Benneville Keim (1774-1830) of Reading.  Unfortunately for her mystery admirer, Esther never married.

The author of these invitations was not the only person who thought highly of Esther Keim.  Writing in 1874, her relative Henry May Keim said that “the old people of Reading to this day speak of her many deeds of good will and charity.  Her heart and means went for the encouragement of every act”.

Scholla: Four Generations of Wagoners August 3, 1943

Four Generations of Wagoners- 8/3/1943
Valentine, Philip, Daniel and Daniel Junior represent four generations of Moyers of Berks County who gained local fame as wagoners of the covered wagon days.

Valentine Moyer, teamster of the days of Braddock’s expedition toward Fort Duquense, was the first of the dynasty. Philip, his son, was an officer in the revolution and a wagon-master carrying supplies to Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. Daniel, the son of Philip, was the most famous of the four.

Great canvas-covered wagons, drawn by four jet-black Conestoga horses plied their way across the mountains between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Landis and Omwake in their “The Conestoga Six-Horse Bell Teams of Pennsylvania” are convinced that many of the early taverns named “Black Horse Inn” derived the name from Daniel Moyer’s powerful team of four blacks. It was custom in the early days of wagoning that whenever one teamster came to the rescue of another team that was stalled or mired the rescued teamster was obliged to surrender one or more of his hame bells to the rescuer. Daniel Moyer collected more such trophies than any other driver, hence the glory for his array of four black steeds.

Nevin Moyer, of Linglestown states that Daniel Moyer brought the first piano that reached Berks County to his home in a covered wagon. The plan called for instructing his son, Daniel Junior, in music and an instructor was engaged for that purpose. But young Daniel did not practice faithfully. Only on occasions when his father was at home could the young man be brought to touch the keys, and yet each time Daniel ‘(senior)’ arrived home his son was seated at the piano. The boy had heard the tinkle of the hame bells which announced his father’s approach. However it appears that the musical training of young Daniel Moyer was not wasted because it was he who held the post of bugler for the cavalry which escorted Lafayette during his visit to Lancaster in 1825. The escort was made up of a cavalcade of covered wagons.

From a local standpoint, the most remarkable fact about Daniel Moyer (senior) is a feat of herculean strength as recorded by Ann Hark in her book “Hex Marks the Spot”. The test of strength took place at Charming Forge in western Berks County. Moyer and a rival teamster were testing which of the two was the stronger.

The two men stood erect while pieces of pig iron were placed upon their backs until each man was weighed with over a half-ton of metal. Neither man broke under the terrific strain, but onlookers gave a resounding cheer when Daniel Moyer strode forward carrying his load on his back while the other man remained rooted to the spot.

Conestoga Wagon. Source: http://www.boyertownmuseum.org/past-exhibitions/
Conestoga Wagon. Source: http://www.boyertownmuseum.org/past-exhibitions/

Scholla: Fighting Cocks

Fighting Cocks

Mr. M. Walter Dundore, of Beloit Wis., sends us a clipping from the Reading Times of May 12, 1937, under the caption “Fifty Years Ago”. In the clipping there is a brief account of a cockfight on the outskirts of Reading which in 1887, attracted 100 “sportsmen.” The cocking main was between two birds, one from Pottsville and the other from Reading, and the Reading bird was the winner.

Mr. Dundore also enclosed a short sketch describing this “sport.” We quote directly from the account.

“The fights would be scheduled to take place in a barn back of the leading tavern and one had to be properly vouched for to gain admittance to the fighting arena and betting ring.

“The pit was about 12 feet square, with sides built of board two  feet high and sloping outward. The floor of the pit was of red clay. Several rows of planked seats surrounded the pit where spectators sat discussing the merits of the contending birds.

“Suddenly two men enter the pit from opposite sides, each holding a game cock. The birds have been weighed and matched to within a few ounces. Both men come together in the center of the pit and both hold out their birds so that their beaks touch. For a few seconds the jaunty cocks are allowed to peck at each other until they are thought to be primed for the fray. A referee looks on.

“Now the two owners set their birds down, four feet apart and at a signal from the referee they release them and the contest begins. The fighters suddenly strike. In the lightning –like flutter of flying feathers  they rise three feet off the pit floor, each cock trying to pass over the head of the other, striking backward with their deadly spurs in the struggle for supremacy.

“Much of the time is consumed by the cocks walking about, eyeing each other and sparring for position. After a half hour of gaffing and pecking, one of the birds usually succumbed. The winner struts over to the beaten bird and pecks at It, thus declaring its own victory.”

This type of “sport” is now outlawed and properly so. Animal baiting is a survival of ancient and pagan lore and has no place in our scheme of things. We present the story here because it does format part of the pleasures of the past and therefore is Scholla, or an Echo of the past.

Source: http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2008/06/the_call_of_the.php
Source: http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2008/06/the_call_of_the.php

Scholla: Barn Raising (Scheier uffschlage) April 7, 1943

Barn Raising        4/7/1943

Barn raisings, or Scheier uffschlage, are not as common today, as they were a generation or two ago. Now and then barns are replaced and new ones built but the time has passed when new farms are being developed, calling for new houses and barns.

In times past barn raisings were social gatherings attended by almost a hundred neighbors who donated their time and effort to place the beams and rafters and push the huge sides of the barn into place.

Timber was cut and hewn in advance of the day set for raising the barns. Every piece of lumber was marked, usually with some code, designating the place it was to occupy in the completed structure. All of the timber was brought to the spot where the barn was to be erected and placed in readiness for many hands that would arrive on raising day.

Stone masons built the foundation walls in advance of the actual raising. Master carpenters had cut the notches and pegs; measured all of the areas, and sawed the pieces to fit. Frequently the sides of the barn were completed in advance with all boards nailed into place while the huge frames lay upon the ground like wooden platforms.

On raising day the neighbors assembled. The more agile ones climbed with the rising structure to fit the rafters and beams into a roof while the husky ones applied brawn and sinew to carrying the heavy pieces and raising the barn sides into position.

After the work was done all hands moved to the cellar of the farm house where great kegs of cider or whiskey were disgorging their contents to the thirsty ones.  The long butcher-table was loaded with food for the hungry. This was their reward picnic time all over again.

The Swiss-type bank-barn is to be found only in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. If you espy a barn with a “forebrau” in some other section of the country you will find that it was built by a Pennsylvania Dutchman. Because of this unique feature on the American scene it may be worthwhile to list the names of parts of the barn as they are known in the dialect and ask readers to give the English equivalents, if possible.

Here are some of the dialect words, referring to parts of a barn, with which we challenge you. Send your answers in care of Scholla:

  1. Spanpett
  2. Darrich zug
  3. Mauer-latt
  4. Forebau
  5. Owwer-den
  6. Frucht Kammer
  7. Dachstuhl
  8. Fuder-gang
  9. Leede
  10. Zoppe
  11. Bohre
  12. Schprusse
Barn Raising in Berks County. November 25, 1913. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Barn Raising in Berks County. November 25, 1913. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.

Scholla: Witch of the Schuykill

Scholla: The Witch of the Schuykill  June, 1941

In 1872 Reading boasted of a literary publication which bore the caption “Reading Lyceum Review.” It was neither magazine nor newspaper, but rather a combination of both. In its November issue one who signed himself as “H.W.Z.” related the story of the witch of the Schuykill. Because of its local setting the tale may be of interest to Scholla readers.

A beggar approached a group of newspapermen in Reading and asked for a pittance. The gentleman of the “fourth estate,” ever anxious for a scoop wand with noses for news promised to meet his request provided he would tell a good story. Accordingly, he regaled the scribes with the following account.

Early in the 19th century there lived an elderly woman, known to the Berks residents as “Dame Ellen.”  Her home was on the banks of the Schuykill River, on Green Tree Road, near Green Tree Tavern: According to “H.W.Z.”  she was an “an attenuated female of most hideous countenance, ogle-eyed and crooked-kneed” all of which means that she was ugly. There were stories of her rides on a broomstick with her demon lover; of the orgies of her feast on the occasion of the Witches’ Sabbath; of the farmer’s milk that sour when she passed his barn; of thefts and depredations of all sorts that were charged to her evil incantations and of the evil eye and other manifestations of sorcery.

She gained her livelihood by telling fortunes of the credulous and by light-fingered pilfering at public gatherings. This income was supplemented by the produce from her small garden and charitable gifts of cast-off clothing and the like.

One day Dame Ellen was missed by some of her neighbors. They had not seen her stir about her garden the blinds and shutters of her house were in the same position for weeks on end and something must be wrong. A group of young men decided to investigate. They approached her house and shouted “Hail, Evil One.” There was no response. Braving the wrath of the spirits the men entered the house and found the partly decomposed body of the unhappy woman.

Placed upon a table, alongside a spirit lamp there lay a sealed packet. The investigating neighbors opened the packet and found, therein, the sad story of Ellen Hurton’s life. She had been reared near Providence, RI. Disaster beset her family when she was quite young and all of her relatives had perished in an epidemic. Alone in the world she had accepted marriage to a coarse drunkard who beat her and disfigured her features by his cruel tortures. Although almost penniless she had left her New England home and had built for herself a hermitage on the banks of the Schuykill. There she had been forced to eke out an existence by methods which had earned her the title of the Witch of the Schuykill.

Archival Notes: It is well documented that there was a Green Tree Tavern on the northwest corner of 6th and Penn Streets. Later owners renamed it the Keystone House, and the property eventually became the site of Hotel Penn. The article says that she lived near Green Tree Tavern on Green Tree Road, but 6th street’s previous name was Prince Street. Which makes this archivist reluctant to name that as our tavern in question. Further information provided from the township of Cumru mentions a Green Tree Tavern. “Schuylkill Road, opened in 1750, followed along the Western bank of the Schuylkill River by way of Plow Tavern and Green Trees Tavern through Cumru, Caernarvon and Robeson Townships.” ( http://www.cumrutownship.com/home/historyofthetownship.html ). By Researching Plow Tavern in the Passing Scene vol. 14 pg. 186 George Meiser IX provides us that Schuykill Road is now Route 10. As to the particular location, due to time constraints I must end my investigation. Anyone who is interested please pick up where I left off and feel free to provide your answer in the comments section. Thank you! Have a great weekend!

View of Schuykill River Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
View of the Schuykill River Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.