Back to School in Berks

As part of the 1976 Bicentennial Celebrations, Berks County Historian George Meiser IX released a map highlighting various historic buildings and locations all around the County. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two Historical Society of Berks County staff members, Ted Mason and Pegi Convry, went out to document the places noted on the Meiser Map—especially since some were no longer standing. Over the past year, our Archives Assistant, Samantha Wolf, has processed the materials that Pegi and Ted created. In honor of the new school year, Sammy put together some of the school buildings that were listed on the Map and photographed by Ted Mason and Peggy.

*It should be noted that these descriptions come directly from George Meiser’s map, so the buildings may have been altered further or are no longer standing in 2018.*

 

Amityville One-Room Schoolhouse, Amity Township:

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View of Amityville Schoolhouse

According to George Meiser: “Amityville was a one- room school built in 1869; for 30 years it was the largest/most expensive rural school in Berks (prior to the 1899 Green Terrace School in South Heidelberg Township). It was used for over 50 years. People came from all over to see it. Professor J.C. Halloway had Amity Seminary in it during summer months years ago. It is a brick building, and is now used as a dwelling place (as of  1976).”

 

Epler’s One-Room School – Bern Township:

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According to George Meiser: “Epler’s was a one-room school. It is an attractive stone construction that is in well kept condition. It has been moderately modified and is now used as a dwelling place.  Note the datestone on the front of the building. The school shut in 1931.”

 

Jacksonwald One-Room School – Exeter: 

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According to George Meiser: “Jacksonwald One-Room School was built in 1870.  After its closing it was still used periodically for classes as a novelty. As of the 1980’s it was used as a museum. It was also part of the school districts property. It is a brick building that is in well-kept condition. It is unknown what the current use of it is.”

Note: The Jacksonwald Schoolhouse was moved to a new location (about 120 feet from its original spot) in 2011. Click here learn more about the school.

 

Stouchsburg Academy – Marion Township:

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View of Stouchsburg Academy

According to George Meiser: “Stouchsburg Academy was established in 1838. It ran for almost 40 years and is located at 43 Main St.  It is now used as a dwelling place (as of 1976).”

 

Sally Boone School – Oley Township:

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View of Ruins of Alleged Sally Boone School

According to George Meiser: “The Alleged Sally Boone School is an ancient looking stone building that is unfortunately falling to ruin. It has been closed for around 100 years. It was located at ‘Hoch’s Corner.’”

 

Two-Story Frame School – Upper Tulpehocken:

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View of a Two-Story School

According to George Meiser: “The Two-Story frame school ran from 1899-1932. It was unusually large and had many windows for a school during the time. It had one big room on each floor; graded. It is on the corner of Main St and East Ave. It is now used as a dwelling place (as of 1976).”

 

Sources:

George Meiser’s Bicentennial Map of Berks County

BHC Library’s AC 98 Bicentennial Historic Sites Surveys Collection, processed by Samantha Wolf, 2017-2018.

 

Information compiled by BHC Archives Assistant Samantha Wolf.

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Roped into Berks History: Uncovering the Thomas Jackson Letters

“He’s was like combination of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore – a powerful commentator on life at that time.” – John Paling on his ancestor, Thomas Jackson

It all began with a small family heirloom. At the time, John Paling didn’t know anything about the letters or his great-great uncle, Thomas Jackson. But Paling’s persistent attitude and fascination with history has lead him from Oxford, England to Gainesville, Florida to Berks County, where he uncovered enthralling stories about an idealistic Reading businessman, the struggle for abolition during the Civil War, what life in Reading was like when Lincoln was shot, and much, much more!

After more than decade of research and correspondence with Berks History Center staff and others here in Reading, Paling visited the Berks History Center last month (click here) where he was able to connect with the people who have helped him along his journey. Here is his story!

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John Paling during his visit to the Berks History Center in March 2018

What started out as an unwanted responsibility has turned into a major fascination with the history of the American Civil War and an unknown relative’s passion to see slavery abolished. By chance, a battered metal hat box that had been passed down through my family for 150 years, finished up in my hands upon the passing of my mother. It contained an unsorted trove of old letters, many near impossible to decipher but clearly important enough so that what was clear was that “somebody” (not me for sure) should take a look at them and try to make sense of all the contents.

I have spent over 10 years trying to give them away to that “Somebody” who would put in the hours and hours necessary to transcribe and correlate them and also take them off my hands and store them somewhere for posterity. Also, if appropriate, I hoped that “Somebody” would use them as the basis of some historical research papers and maybe, even a book.

Once again, I totally failed in my intentions.  Instead, I turned out to be the “somebody” who has dedicated over a decade of my life to researching the letters; The Library of Congress (click here) has become the organization that “took them off my hands” and where the original documents are now safely curated: And the book about Thomas Jackson is still to be written.

In brief, Thomas Jackson (click here) was the son of a seemingly uneducated English rope maker who was a passionate admirer of America. So much so that his father could not be suppressed from advocating that the American colonies be given their independence – not a popular position to advocate in the days of George III. As a result, he was pilloried three times and finally imprisoned for a year to shut him up!

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Rope Samples from the Thomas Jackson & Sons rope company, newly accessioned to the BHC Museum Collection

The young Thomas Jackson was radicalized about America as being the most perfect country from the time he sat on his father’s knee. When he was 22 years old, he came over to America and struggled to start a rope making company in Reading, PA. Not long after his arrival, when he visited Richmond to get supplies, he was appalled to stumble across a slave market and witness the more obvious degradations of slavery.  These experiences so conflicted with his idealized image of America that he became a fervent abolitionist and started to write powerful, first-hand accounts about the civil war and the cruelty of slavery and sent them back to his relatives in England with the request that they get them published in English newspapers. His intended strategy seems to have been that he wanted to ensure that citizens in that country would not be disposed to allow the British politicians to support the Confederacy- and hence slavery –  even though their economy was hurting from the massive shortage of cotton supplies.

The full story of Thomas Jackson has many twists and turns and would even make a good film script about the power of passion and the costs that can come with a dedication to a cause that many locals did not support. But by the time of his death he was much respected and lauded by his local community. The local newspaper reporting his funeral quoted. “On the coffin rested a cross of flowers and a wreath placed there by prominent colored citizens in acknowledgment of Mr. Jackson’s devotion to the colored race and opposition to slavery.”

After a busy career as a biologist, and later, a filmmaker for the Wildlife Film Company, John Paling has spent his retirement uncovering the secrets of Thomas Jackson’s letters. As an Ambassador for Thomas Jackson and the Curator of the Thomas Jackson Collection of Civil War letters, Paling has compiled a comprehensive digital directory for the letters, making them publicly available to researchers and history enthusiasts. The Thomas Jackson letters are now being preserved in the Library of Congress where the letters will be the subject of 3 major projects. To learn more visit thomasjacksonletters.com

Berks County Foodways: It’s All Greek to Me

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Growing up I was vaguely aware that some of my family’s cultural traditions were different from those of my friends and schoolmates. In general, it came down to church, food and language. As far as I knew, no one else in my grade school class attended three-hour church services every Sunday. And many of them, to my surprise, didn’t eat avgolemeno soup when they were sick, nor did they even know what it was. They also didn’t have a Yia Yia or a Popou, just Grandmas and Grandpas. (It wasn’t until later in life that I began to notice some of the other oddities of being raised in a Greek household, such as superstitious behaviors like spitting on brides at weddings or never going directly home after a funeral.) Despite my childish ignorance, there was one notably different, and glaringly alienating, cultural tradition that separated me from my childhood mates: Easter. This is largely because Greek Orthodox Easter rarely falls on the same date as what we call “American Easter.”

So why is it that while my friends were spending their spring breaks celebrating Easter, I was still fasting (painfully from chocolate, which meant NO EASTER CANDY!), and I often didn’t observe the holiday until weeks, or sometimes a month, later? Well, according to a quick Google search (don’t tell my mother), “many Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which often differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many western countries. Therefore, the Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.”

This year, the timing wasn’t too far off. I celebrated Easter with my family this past weekend, only one week after my coworkers. Although I have always had to endure the discomfort of feeling like an outsider while my friends were celebrating American Easter, it was always worth the wait. Most Greeks will tell you that Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox faith. For me, it’s obvious that this is true, not only because Holy Week is a marathon of church services that ends with an all-night celebration (sort of like Mardi gras for reserved church goers) but because Easter food is always the best!

Easter dinner is when we pull out all of the stops and truly indulge in our best Greek dishes. The menu often includes: dolmades, spanakopita, pastitsio or moussaka, fasolakia (green beans), lots of feta and olives, and of course, LAMB, followed by an abundance of pastries and desserts including galaktoboureko, finikia, koulourakia, and the like. To all of my fellow Greek Berks Countians you may have noticed that there is one traditional Easter dish absent from this list. Margiritsa is a traditional Easter soup that we feel is reserved for the most “old-school” Greeks, mostly because its contains lamb offal – yes, the heart, liver, lungs and other organs of the lamb.

Like all holiday meals, my family and I got together with our extended family for Easter this year, with each family contributing something to the meal.  This year, I made spanakopita, a Greek but inherently Berks County foodway, because my family has been cooking and enjoying this dish here in Berks County since my great-grandfather emigrated to Reading from Greece in the early 1900s. As I prepared this dish with my mother this weekend, I imagined my ancestors in Agia Paraskevi (on the island of Lesvos), chopping fresh spinach and somehow rolling out paper-thin sheets of homemade filo dough, but thankfully, this recipe has been adapted over the years to consider some modern conveniences.

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Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound butter

4 boxes of chopped spinach (drained)

8 eggs (scrambled)

16 oz. cottage cheese (large curds) – or ricotta cheese

1 lb. feta cheese (crumbled)

pepper

1/8 cup parsley

1 lb. filo dough

Spanakopita is a surprising simple dish that involves mixing together a filling of spinach and cheese that is then baked into buttery layers of filo dough. The recipe begins by sauteing onions in 4 tablespoons of butter until they are tender, but not brown. Meanwhile, the spinach must be thawed and drained. This is a particularly important step because too much water will make for a runny spanakopita. Be sure to press out as much of the water as possible.

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Then, after prepping the other ingredients for the filling (chop the parsley, crumble the feta, and whisk the eggs), mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl.

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Next, prepare to assemble the dish with the filo dough. After buttering a 9×13 casserole dish, melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan. Begin to layer the filo dough in the bottom of the pan, brushing each layer with butter before adding another layer. Let the edges of the dough fall over the edges of pan. After about 8 layers, pour the filling into the dough and spread gently. Then repeat the layering process on top, covering the filling and buttering each layer before adding another. Cover the mixture with 6-8 layers until you can no longer see the spinach beneath. Fold and tuck the excess filo onto the top layer.

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Ideally, we should wait 5 minutes and then cut the spanakopita into pieces. Once the dish is cooked, the dough becomes very flaky. Cutting the dough before cooking helps to keep each piece in tact. Unfortunately, my mother and I both forgot this step! However, the dish was still tasty – just a bit messy. Before baking, use your fingers to sprinkle the top of the spanakopita with water. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, or until golden brown. Then, καλή όρεξη (enjoy your meal)!

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Growing up in Berks County I may not always have appreciated the uniqueness of my Greek heritage, especially when it came to the Easter holiday and feeling different from my friends and classmates. However, now as an adult, I truly welcome and celebrate my experience because I can see how it contributes to the beautiful, diverse and ever-changing cultural fabric here in Berks County. I may not have grown up eating pig stomach and clam pot pie but I do have cultural traditions and foodways that have persisted and flourished here in Berks County.

Written by BHC Communications Director, Alexis Campbell

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Reading: The Town of Widow Finney

During the month of March (National Women’s History Month) I will be posting a blog on some of the women of Berks County. I hope I will be choosing some women that will be interesting to you and you may find them as amazing as I do. Also, I will include a Mystery Woman of the Week for you to read and test your knowledge.

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Photo: DineIndie.com

Have you ever eaten at The Speckled Hen? For the longest time, historians thought that this log cabin had been the home of Sarah Finney, better known as Widow Finney. Later it was determined that the original Finney home was where Judy’s on Cherry is located today.

Sarah was born about 1685 in Philadelphia, to what we might call “well-to-do” parents. She married Joseph Finney and the two of them decided to make a life of their own as homesteaders near the ford in the Schuylkill River along what was called the Perkiomen Path. They had two sons, Sam and John and two daughters, Rebecca and Anne. Joseph planned a plantation with fruit trees and for two years, Joseph and Sarah and their sons and daughters worked tirelessly to clear the land, and make a home for the Finney family. Unfortunately, Joseph died in 1734 only a few years after making their homestead. Not long after that, Sam and John died also.

Making a life in the wilderness was no easy task! So Sarah was left along the frontier, with her two daughters. Her family wanted her to come back to Philadelphia and live there with them. Whether she was stubborn or determined, I’m not sure, but she decided to stay at their homestead. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the land they had worked so hard to settle. Her home became a haven and rest stop for travelers, hunters, trappers and Native Americans as they walked or rode along the Perkiomen Path. Sarah always had fresh bread, soup or stew on the hearth for those who stopped in. And, oh yes, her pies were made with the fresh fruit from the orchard! Occasionally, a traveler might spend the night.

Her homestead was so well-liked that the area which today is Reading, was once known as The Town of Widow Finney! For more than ten years Sarah welcomed and chatted with Conrad Weiser, Mordecai Lincoln, Joseph Hiester and the Lenni Lenape Indians. She said she got along better with the Lenni Lenapes than she did with Thomas and Richard Penn and Thomas Lawrence! She felt that they represented land hungry businessmen! They owned the property adjacent to hers, and had mapped out a city plan and they were after her prime property. Sarah died in December of 1743 and the deed to the property went to Rebecca. Through the use of clever land agents and surveyors, the Penns were able to recover the prominent site from the widow’s heirs and build their town at the best location. And, the rest, so they say, is history!

 

Mystery Woman of the Week (Watch for the answer in my next blog)

I was the first female doctor in the US, graduating from Geneva College in 1847, even though my acceptance there was considered to be a joke!

 

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. 

The Price of Freedom: Life in Berks County After the Emancipation Act

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From the Berks History Center Research Library Manuscript Collection

In 1780, Pennsylvania passed a gradual emancipation act. The act marked the start of the decline of slavery in the state. Still, the act’s specifics were more gradual than immediate, which created a system that allowed slavery to persist in this state. There were slaves in Berks County just like many other places in the state. Like elsewhere these enslaved people struggled to gain that freedom.

In 1796, an eight year old African American girl named Margaret was sold to Thomas Boyd for the sum of forty pounds. More than likely, Margaret worked as a domestic servant taking care of her master’s house. What is striking about Margaret’s case was that slaves were, in 1780, not allowed to be imported into the state and everyone born in Pennsylvania after 1780 was not to be considered a slave but indentured. Despite these regulations, Margaret was clearly considered a slave by Boyd in this document.

After many years of unsanctioned enslavement, Margaret gained her freedom in 1816. But, the bill of sale suggests that she did so at a steep price. The bill states that between 1816 and 1819 Margaret paid $117.75 for her freedom. This cost her almost three times her original sale price in 1796. Like so many others, Margaret bought freedom at an inflated price when she should have already been free. All enslaved people were supposed to be freed at the age of 28 in Pennsylvania. In 1816, Margaret reached the age of 28. This document clearly shows the extent to which black Americans went to better their lives in a society that constantly attempted to cripple their advancement.     

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.

The Underground Railroad in Berks

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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “The runaway.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1899 [c1898]. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-ff4c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

In the present climate of national discord and self-interest, it’s especially important to remember those individuals who risked everything to help others, despite the contempt of the majority.

German Quakers in Germantown were the first to protest the holding of slaves in 1688. What became known as the Underground Railroad existed in Washington’s time—as early as 1786. This movement was run mostly by Quaker and Amish families. The roots of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania started near Columbia and Bird-in-Hand, Lancaster County. Daniel and Hannah Weirman Gibbon, Quaker leaders of the time, organized a route in Lancaster and Chester Counties beginning in the early 1800s. The Underground Railroad then extended into Berks County across the Chester County line. Thousands of slaves escaped from the South, aided by Berks Countians. Locations included Bethel A.M.E Church, Reading; Pine Forge, Douglass Township; the Parvin House; Ontelaunee Township; and the Kirbyville Hotel, near Fleetwood.

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Map of the Northeastern Corridor of the Underground Railroad, Eastern Pennsylvania 1790-1860, BHC Vertical File F10 BE-3

As a forty year resident of Robeson Township, I am especially proud of the Township’s important role in the Underground Railroad. Scarlet’s Mill, Joanna Furnace, Mount Frisby A.M.E. Church and The White Bear Inn served as “stations”, with stops spaced ten miles apart. The fleeing slaves moved from one station to another at night until reaching a safe haven, for many Canada.

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From 1854 Atlas of Berks County, BHC Research Library

According to reports, around 1832 large numbers of fleeing slaves were sent to the home of Elizabeth Pownall Scarlet and her son, who lived in Robeson Township (about five miles west of Birdsboro). Elizabeth was said to be close friends with the Gibbons Family. The dense woods of that area and huts used by charcoal burners (who were employed the nearby forges and furnaces) provided plenty of hiding places. Scarlet’s home, Bon Ridge, is said to have housed more runaway slaves than any other stop in the region. The home still exists on the road leading from White Bear to Gibraltar. This area of the county, called “The Forest”, extended from Flying Hills, south beyond Hopewell Hills.

After Elizabeth’s death, her youngest son, John Pownall Scarlet continued as a “conductor”. Thomas Lewis, married to Ellen B. Scarlet (Elizabeth’s daughter) bought the old Scarlet homestead in 1841 and continued to provide refuge. One of Elizabeth’s other sons was involved in the Underground Railroad near Christiana, PA. In 1857, Joseph Scarlett was involved in The Christiana Tragedy, when the Gap Gang tried to seize escaped slaves in the area. Two people were killed. Thomas Jackson, a Quaker who also lived in “The Forest”, near Joanna Furnace, operated a station prior to 1827. Joanna Furnace was owned and operated by Levi B. Smith, who although not a Quaker, was sympathetic to the Abolitionist cause. He hid fleeing slaves in the wooded furnace areas and in the charcoal huts. Henry Segner, a Joanna Furnace employee, used his knowledge of these woodlands to guide fleeing slaves. His home still stands along Route 10, one mile south of Plow Church.

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Elizabeth and James Scarlet’s Home from History Of Robeson Township: Bicentennial Edition, 1976

Another stop, deep in the woodlands of Fingal’s Castle (now an unrecognizable pile of rocks) were the pond fields of Chestnut Hill. It was in this area that fleeing slaves stayed with the Cole Family before moving on to the “Welsh Mountains,” which then led to the Honey Brook area. In White Bear, Thomas Lewis, a Quaker, received many runaways—The White Bear Inn opened in 1815. A number of Hopewell Furnace’s African-American workers lived in “the Forest” nearby. Beginning in 1835, this area served as a safe haven for runaway slaves on The Underground Railroad along Six Penny Creek. By 1856, the black community established the Mount Frisby A.M.E. Church, yet another station on the Underground Railroad in Berks County.

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Map of Southeastern Berks County Underground Railroad Location, published in the Reading Eagle on April 11, 2008, BHC Vertical File F10 BE-3

The Fugitive Slave Law passed in 1850 made conditions worse, but ultimately turned people against slavery. The Underground Railroad ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. By then as many as 75,000 slaves had made it to freedom and thousands of people were involved.

The power of brave people to effect change is boundless.

 

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia

Bibliography:

  • Charles L. Blockson, The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania, North Carolina: Flame, 1981.
  • Ron Devlin, “On the Path of Fleeing Slaves,” Reading Eagle, April 11, 2008.
  • John E. Eshelman, “Berks County’s Station on the Underground Railroad,” Historical Review of Berks County, July 1941, pages 107-109.
  • Amy L. Geiger, “Underground Railroad in Berks County,” BHC Research Library Vertical File.
  • Wayne E. Homan, “The Underground Railroad,” Historical Review of Berks County, Fall 1958, pages 112-116.
  • Dennis C. Kurjack, “Hopewell Village National Historic Site, Pennsylvania,” National Park Service Historical Handbook, Series No. 8, Washington, DC, 1954.
  • “Robeson Township,” Reading Eagle, July 8, 2002.
  • J. Earl Ruthardt, “Tunnels of City Link to History,” Reading Times, 1991.
  • “Slavery and the Abolitionist Movement,” History of Robeson Township: Bicentennial Edition, 1976.
  • “Underground Railway for Slaves Existed for Years in Berks County,” Reading Eagle, July 8, 1934.
  • Maryalice Yakutchik, “The Underground Railroad Has Tracks Through Berks,’ Reading Eagle, February 1993.
  • “African-Americans at Hopewell Furnace,” Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, https://www.nps.gov/hofu/learn/historyculture/african-americans.htm.
  • Misty Doane, “The Underground Railroad in the 19th Century – Woven With Words,” Reading Branch NAACP #2289, https://www.readingnaacp.org/woven-underground.

 

WWI: Don’t Be a Slacker!

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Reading Times,  October 2, 1918

It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day when Aaron Krick of Reading wandered along the railroad tracks outside of Dauberville on October 8, 1918.  At 65 degrees, it was a perfect day for a walk and Krick had no intention of breaking the law. Suddenly the young man was confronted by uniformed railway police. After being accused of trespassing and arrested, Krick was hauled before the Alderman. He was asked to produce his draft registration card, but acknowledged that he did not possess one. He did not know that the country was at war, he told the Alderman, and he had no intention of joining the army. Aaron Krick was a “slacker.”

When our country entered the Great War in April 1917, the U.S. Army was ill-prepared to wage war against Germany. President Wilson asked for an Army of 1,000,000 men, and at first, relied on volunteers to meet that quota. When the volunteer pool slowed well below the desired number of recruits, the Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed on May 8th that year. The Act required all able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for the draft. Nationally, the draft was a success. 2 million of the 4.8 million men in service came from the draft. However, the number of men who “dodged” the draft nationally was somewhere around 325,000.

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WWI Draft Cards, Berks History Center Museum Collection

The term slacker had its beginnings on a national level. One week after the United States entered the war, a column appeared in the New York Evening World, which described the many different slackers and how a slacker is “willing to die of old age for his country.” The article also spoke directly to the reader, stating that before you called someone out for being a slacker, you must first look at yourself and make sure you were not a slacker as well.

In the eyes of a nation at war, draft dodging was taken seriously. The dodgers were constantly sought by the Department of Justice, who were responsible for their prosecution. If, like Aaron Krick, a young man was of age and did not register for the draft, he was detained by the authorities. In the instance that a young man registered for the draft but did not report, they were sought by authorities and held for the actions of the Department of Justice. Such was the case with Pedro Gomenz and Eugene Berlanger, who evaded the call to the Fleetwood board by going to Reading. They were prosecuted and branded as slackers. If a man was rounded up as a slacker, his name was published and he was considered a traitor to the U. S. and a disgrace to the community.

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Reading Times,  December 16, 1918

The term slacker also applied to those with actions that were deemed unpatriotic. If a man missed work in a plant that was vital to the war effort, he too was deemed a slacker. If a fundraising drive was held and someone refused to contribute, as an employee of Carpenter Steel did during a Red Cross drive, they were subject to ridicule by coworkers. Slacker Day was proclaimed at Carpenter Steel where anyone who did not subscribe to the Red Cross drive was subjected to the wrath of his fellow coworkers. One man who refused to contribute was met at the door, pinned down, and had a yellow stripe painted on his back. When he made it back to his feet, he was blasted with a fire hose as he left the property. Two other men who did not contribute to the drive discovered a sign mounted at their station in the water department which said, “There are two slackers here.” They claimed they had contributed and ripped up the sign. Their coworkers then posted another sign with an American flag draped over it. The two slackers were forced to contribute twice as much to the Red Cross as they had claimed. Then their coworkers made both men kneel and kiss the flag. One did so willingly while the other man’s actions did not go over well. He was chased from the area while women from another department threw stones at him as he left the facility.

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Reading Times,  November 15 1918

In Reading, Mayor Edward Filbert worked to break up the “loafing ring” of industrial slackers. He instructed city detectives to round up all industrial slackers and force them to work or hand them a jail sentence. Movie theatres, such as the Lyric, 808-810 Penn St., The Queen, 410 N 11th St., and the Majestic, 108 Oley St., showed moving pictures about slackers. The patriotic fever that was strong in this community during the Great War would not stand for anyone who “slacked” behind in their duties to their country and community. For some branded as slackers, jail might have been preferable than the wrath they faced in the community.

As for Aaron Krick, the man who wasn’t registered for the draft in October 1918 and claimed that he didn’t know the country was at war, he wasn’t completely honest with the Alderman in Dauberville. In September 1917, Krick was arrested in Reading for…being a slacker! Krick’s actual residence was Mohnton but he moved to Reading to avoid the draft and cause confusion as to which precinct he was registered. Krick continued to be investigated by police as late as 1921, when he was arrested at 9th and Penn Sts. on a charge of suspicion. Police believed he was wanted for being a draft dodger.

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.