Berks History Center Hosts Premiere of Groundbreaking Book: Working Girls

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The Berks History Center and Glitterati Publishing invite you to an exclusive, first-time ever presentation and book signing of Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892, The Secret Photographs of William Goldman by Robert Flynn Johnson on Monday, September 10, 2018 at the Berks History Center, 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601. The program will begin with a reception and book signing at 5:00pm followed by a presentation by the author at 6:30pm.

Working Girls is a historical, artistic and sociological interpretation of the personal collection of 19th century professional photographer and Reading native, William Goldman. In his program, author and Curator Emeritus at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Robert Flynn Johnson, will detail his research and how he came to unearth the collection of more than 200 vintage photographs that artistically capture a group of women who lived and worked at a brothel in Reading, PA.

 

The Berks History Center is honored to host this premiere event, which precedes the official book launch and exhibition opening that will be held later that week in New York City, NY. The launch of Working Girls will be held at Rizzoli Bookstore in NYC on September 12, 2018, and the opening of an exhibition of the William Goldman photographs will be held at the Ricco / Maresca Gallery,  W 20th St  in Chelsea, NYC on Sept 13, 2018.

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In the book, Johnson, a noted photography curator, uses these photographs to detail their historical and sociological importance in the history of photography, alongside essays from feminist scholars Ruth Rosen and Dennita Sewell that provide an insightful historical overview of these images in context of the period in which they were taken.

“We are thrilled to have an opportunity to share Johnson’s groundbreaking book and photograph collection with Reading and Berks County,” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “While the focus of the book explores and interprets both the artistic vision of photographer William Goldman and the lives and historical context of the women in the photographs, we feel as though Working Girls has unearthed an unseen aspect of Reading and Berks County’s story that was previously lost to history. As the stewards of Berks County’s heritage we believe it is our duty to provide a space for all facets of Berks County’s history to be explored and discussed.”

Working Girls is the result of over a decade of research, which began when the author first visited an art fair and became captivated by the beauty and originality of a group of 19th century photographs of women. Curious to know more about these women, Johnson began an investigation into their origin, authorship and purpose.  However, it wasn’t until 2015 when Johnson’s research led him to the Berks History Center, after he discovered a photograph of a woman posing with a copy of the Reading Eagle. Berks History Center Research Library staff, along with local historian George M. Meiser IX, assisted Johnson with his research.

The cost of the Working Girls program is $8.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. Reservations are recommended as seats for this exclusive program are limited. Due to subject matter and content, this program is age restricted to 18 and older. Call 610-375-4375 to reserve your seat or click here for more information.

The cost of Working Girls is $60.00. The Berks History Center is accepting pre-sales for the hardcover book, which will be available for pick-up on September 10th from 5:00-8:00PM during the program and following the event during regular museum hours. Call 610-375-4375 to order a copy of Working Girls.

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Floyd N. Turner: A Berks County Navy Veteran

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Floyd N. Turner II

U.S. Navy

Radioman 1st Class, Submarine Qualified

August 1979 – April 1989

Growing up in Shoemakersville, I knew at a relatively young age that I wanted to join the Navy and serve on submarines. With my parent’s consent, I committed to the Navy to be a submarine Radioman while still a senior in Hamburg High School and left for boot camp a couple months after graduation. As a submarine Radioman, I was trained in electronics and teletype repair in order to maintain the communications equipment while underway. After 2 years of schools, I was stationed onboard the USS Ray (SSN 653), a fast-attack submarine based in Charleston, SC. Fast-attack submarines serve many functions but their primary role is as hunter-killers of other submarines and surface ships. Missions also included a variety of special operations and intelligence gathering. While I was onboard, the Ray went to sea many times including extended deployments to the North Atlantic, above the Arctic Circle, and into the Mediterranean.

 

After nearly 4 years onboard Ray, I re-enlisted and was transferred to serve as an instructor at the Submarine Satellite Information Exchange System School at Naval Submarine School in Groton, CT. While attending instructor training, I was selected to instead serve as an Evaluator in the school’s Curriculum and Instructional Standards Office. In this position, I helped evaluate over 500 instructors and over 100 courses to ensure training methods and standards remained as high as possible. With almost 10 years in the Navy, I chose to return to civilian life in Berks County and pursue other adventures.

A Cure for a Cut: PA Dutch Folk Medicine

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When we think about Halloween today, witches are one of the iconic figures of the holiday. Part of that image is the boiling cauldron, where the witch makes preparations for her spells and conjures up many of her evil potions. While the image of the witch is often viewed as frightening, real-life folk medicine has a long history in Berks County.

Often called “Pow-Wow,” this practice can resemble our modern conceptions of witchcraft. What if you lived in Berks County or another Pennsylvania Dutch area and you accidentally cut yourself? A document in the Berks History Center collection, and written in Pennsylvania Dutch, offers an answer. It reads:  “press the thumb on the wound and say that I should not die and the wound should not bleed, nor swell, nor fester until the mother of God bears her second son, until all the water flows up the mountain.” With this little “spell,” and a bit of pressure on the wound, the bleeding was supposed to stop. The BHC Library contains other documents on Pennsylvania Dutch folk medicine and folk religion.

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.

 

Muhlenberg Township: Kelly’s Lock

 

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The Schuylkill Navigation Company operated from 1825 to 1917. The canal stretched from Philadelphia to Port Carbon a distance of 108 miles. Most of the traffic on the canal carried anthracite from the coal region to Philadelphia. There were 92 locks on the canal to overcome a 588 foot difference in elevation. There were numerous dams and locks in Berks County. Most were destroyed during the Schuylkill River reclamation in the 40’s and 50’s. Fortunately remnants of the canal survive to this day. Kelly’s Lock (pictured above) was located in Muhlenberg Township. One wall of the lock chamber survives to the present. River Road runs just behind the lock.

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This picture from 1907 shows a canal boat in the lock chamber at Kelly’s Lock. The lock lifted the boats to 221 feet above sea level.

 

 

The Reading Fair & The Reading Fairgrounds

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Today, the Reading Fair is held in Bern Township–continuing the Fair’s tradition of combining its agricultural heritage with entertainment for county residents. The purpose of the earliest fairs in Berks County was to bring farm goods to city dwellers. These fairs utilized the Penn Square Market Houses and occurred twice a year in October and June, starting in 1766 and continuing at that location until 1850.  A more modern fair on Penn Commons (City Park) existed from 1854 until 1887, attracting many excursion trains from Lancaster and Philadelphia due to its popularity.

A twenty-five acre plot on N. 11th Street in Muhlenberg Township, with good transportation connections, was purchased in 1888. (The creation of a new fairgrounds was caused by a controversy over the jurisdiction of common land in City Park.) Amusements and harness racing were eventually added. In its peak years, two hundred horses took part.

After twenty-five years, the fair was relocated to a new plot, also in Muhlenberg Township. The 1915 location featured exhibition buildings, a racetrack, a grandstand and a midway. In 1922, a theatrical unit was constructed and in 1947 a rollerskating rink was added. There were also beer tents. Auto racing was introduced in 1924 as a one day event at the yearly fair. Stunt driving was later added. By 1932, there were three stunt shows and sprint car racing. Weekly auto races continued until 1978. Everything imaginable could be found at the Fair!

In 1979, the property was sold for development and it became the home of the Fairgrounds Square Mall.

Sources:

Edwin B Yeich, “Reading Fairs-Then & Now” Historical Review of Berks County, Vol. XX July 1955, Number 4, p.98-117.

Carol J Hunsberger, editor, The Muhlenberg Story:A Township Evolves, 1851-2001, published 2001.

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia

The First to Answer the Call in the Great War – American Doctors and Nurses

When the United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, the nation was hardly prepared to wage war against Germany, the main force on the Western Front from the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria). The US Army was small and after the Selective Service Act of 1917, it drafted 2.8 million men into the service. The men drafted had to be trained before being mobilized to Europe, which didn’t begin to make its impact in Europe until the fall of 1917.

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WWI Red Cross Recruitment Campaign Poster from the Berks History Center Museum Collection

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) began arriving in France in June of 1917. The first Americans to arrive in Europe to aid the Allies were not our military troops – it was the Doctors and the nurses of the American Red Cross. The doctors and nurses of the American Red Cross began their humanitarian mission as early as 1914 aboard a donated cruise ship painted white with a red cross that was recognized as a “Mercy Ship”.  One Reading nurse, Emma B. Loose of 1442 Spruce Street, made the initial journey.

John Wanamaker donated 2,000 tons of food and clothing that left Philadelphia on the mercy ship “Thelma.” The Reading Times article described Wanamaker “cheering like a schoolboy” at the dock as the “Thelma” left port. By September 1915, public sentiment against the war closed the American hospitals, recalling the personnel back to the States. Some chose to remain and sign on with the countries they supported while in Europe. Once America entered the war, doctors and nurses were once again recalled to the battlefront.

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Nurses from Reading arrived in Great Britain and France in May of 1917. Like the AEF, their impact was immediate and highly appreciated by the French and British. Carrie Albright of Reading wrote in a letter to her mother Mrs. Alfred S. Albright,  of 635 Pear St., received on June 28, 1917 that she did not know her destination and could not reveal her location in subsequent letters for security purposes. Other Reading girls in Carrie’s unit Red Cross #10 were Misses Florence Burkey, Eva Gerhard and Emily Holmes. Three other Reading girls sailed in late June with Army base hospital 34. They were Mary L. Bonawitz, 615 Church St, Amanda I. Heistand and Mary K. Lotz. Misses Bonawitz and Heistand graduated from the Episcopal Hospital training school for nurses in Philadelphia.

Florence Burkey of 152 West Oley St. reported in a letter published in the Reading Eagle on July 10, 1917 of her 100 mile, 9 hour journey to her destination in France. She also reported that as a nurse, under English law, she was unable to give anesthetics to the patients. At the Reading Hospital back home, Florence was an anesthesiologist. On general duty, Florence worked very hard to the point of exhaustion on a daily basis. She was thankful for the opportunity to have close contact with the patients, describing them as brave and uncomplaining. She also described them as terribly wounded. It was her hope that the United States could stop the war so our soldiers can be spared from the horrible slaughter. Burkey served at base hospital #10 on night duty.

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WWI Red Cross War Fund Campaign Poster from the Berks History Center Museum Collection

The Red Cross did not see the trenches in the Great War, but they were not far from it. The immediate aid in the trenches was performed by the military medics in the field, who transported the wounded to the front line casualty clearing stations or forward units where the Red Cross took over. Once there, the casualties were prepared for transport to base hospitals in the rear. The clearing stations and base hospitals were subject to enemy air attacks, with nurses suffering over 200 casualties themselves during the course of the war, with most casualties coming from disease. According to the  “The Heroism of Reading & Berks County” published by the Reading Eagle, three Berks County nurses and one doctor died during the war. The casualties included: Nurse Eleanora Cassidy of 1045 N. 4th Street, Nurse Mary J. Scheirer of 1033 N 5th Street, Nurse Marie Hidell, and Dr. Ralph L. Hammond. All three passed on U.S. soil. The Red Cross nurses served in the Great War without rank or commission, something that changed by the next time the United states was involved in a world conflict.

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. 

 

WWI: Life in the Trenches for the Berks County Boys

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US Food Adminstration Poster, WWI; BHC Museum Collection

Despite a lack of preparedness, the United States officially entered the Great War in April of 1917, providing support to our allies with troops which were desperately needed at the front lines.

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), led by General Pershing, desperately needed training before they were deployed to the battlefields of France.  The first wave of the AEF arrived in France by June of 1917, with their first involvement in the conflict occurring late in October 1917.

The first two companies from Reading to answer the call of duty were Company A and Company I, who left the city in late August 1917 to be stationed in France.. However, this Reading contingent did not see France until December 1917 and did not make it to the trenches until March of 1918 as part of the 42 Division (Company I).

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Whatever training our boys received prior to embarking to France could have hardly prepared them for the horrors that trench warfare presented to the soldiers. The Berks History Center’s Museum collection helps to tell the story of their challenging experiences.  Pictured above, these artifacts were some of the basic necessities of life in the trenches including: a complete mess kit with the name “Marks” carved into each utensil and the lid, a gas mask in a canvas bag, a gas mask container, a complete shaving kit and a trench checkers kit. Looking at each item paints a picture of life fighting in the Great War.

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Reading Times, November 28, 1917.

The first Reading casualty in the Great War occurred on November 20th, when Charles S Rissmiller, of 1321 Moss Street, who served in the field artillery with the AEF in France under General Pershing, was killed when a shell exploded near his station. When news reached his mother Clara Rissmiller at her residence at 1240 Clover Street on November 27th, Mayor Edward H Filbert ordered all flags to be flown at half mast for ten days in honor of the city’s first casualty.

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.