Mummified Cat, dated 100 BC, Found in BHC Museum Archives

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Months into our Collections Management Initiative, Curator Bradley K. Smith came across a surprising and unsettling discovery! We couldn’t believe that such a rare artifact could have been overlooked.

April Fool’s!

No, we didn’t find an ancient mummified cat in our collection during our inventory but we did dig into the history books to explore this day of foolery. We found some epic stories of April Fool’s Day hoaxes thoughout history – but what about Berks County? What local pranks take the cake in Berks County’s history? 

After digging into the archives at the Berks History Center Research Library, we discovered that the Reading Times, and subsequently the Reading Eagle, have a long history of pulling off impressive April Fool’s Day hoaxes. For example on April 1, 1978, the Reading Times reported the Concorde landed at the Reading Airport. They used a photograph enhanced by Photo Editor Cliff Yeich, which looked so realistic that many Berks residents flocked to the Airport!

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This photo by Cliff Yeich appeared on the front page of the Reading Times on April 1, 1978, long before digital photography was available.

This popular April Fool’s Day stunt was one of many legendary jokes pulled off by Berks County’s leading news publication. If you would like to see more of Cliff Yeich’s work, our Research Library has a great article about him that appeared in the Summer 2001 edition of the Historical Review of Berks County!

Do you have an April Fool’s Day prank that belongs in the history books? Share your silly stories with us! Comment in the comments section below or tag us (@BerksHistory) in your post on Facebook or Twitter.

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Something to Ponder

I am currently reviewing the Board Minutes for the Historical Society in order to develop a better understanding of the 143-year history of the Society’s library. While reading, I came across an interesting passage.

BACKGROUND: April 12, 1870.  The corresponding secretary Henry M. Keim read a letter during the board meeting from a Mr. W. C. Reikel of Bethlehem making “inquiries in reference to the Leinbach Family in Oley Township, Berks County, and asking assistance in his effort to investigate its early history.”  In an effort to assist Mr. Reikel, the Board moved to form a committee consisting of Mr. Daniel Ermentrout (Member of the Finance Committee) and Society Vice-President Jesse G. Hawley (better known for owning the Reading Eagle at the time) to gather the information and send it to Mr. Reikel.  Neither of them actually sat on the Library Committee mind you, and I do not believe they had a librarian at the time.

SIDE NOTE: This request today would still be complicated.  With the amount of history stored in the library on the Leinbach family alone, a researcher would need to be more specific in this request.  In all actuality, if this request came through email, I would immediately reply sending information regarding our Genealogical Services and request that they be more specific.  What family member are you looking for?  Do you roughly know the dates of your ancestors?  What are you trying to prove or disprove?  We at the HJL deal in primary resources and we cannot “perform” original research.  In 1870, this request was made more complicated by the fact that the library was still in its infancy.  The “Oley/Leinbach” Committee (a term I dubbed) did not have access to the wealth of information at our fingertips.  I believe this is why the committee was formed.  If we had to have, a committee formed every time a research request comes in, researchers would never get their information in a timely manner.

Back to the matter on hand.  While I am sure Mr. Reikel received a very thorough report from the Oley/Leinbach Committee, it is what is written in the Minutes that struck me as odd.  “The committee appointed at last meeting to obtain information concerning early settlements in Oley Township in this county, through Daniel Ermentrout made a partial report, stating that the committee together with several members of the society had visited Oley Township and had been received very pleasantly by the inhabitants there of, especially by Mrs. Dr. P. G. Bertolet who gave into the hands of the committee some very valuable documents to be returned to her after inspection by the society….”  The Minutes go on to explain that the committee will present a full report, once their investigation is finished.

At a glance, this paragraph, matter of fact points out that after a trip to Oley, the committee gathered some information and that after their research had concluded would present their results to the board and Mr. Reikel.  However, when I really looked at it and then showed it to my Assistant Archivist Lisa, we thought it funny and strange.  First, we were surprised that twice they mentioned that Oley was part of Berks County, as if that might have been questioned.  Second, we pictured this small group of Reading Businessmen, dressed in white suits with white safari hats, trekking through the wilderness of Berks County with their sabers and muskets, being led by a guide, not knowing what to expect.  We imagined them getting to the Oley Township line and actually being greeted by the “inhabitants” and welcomed into the township and fed tea and cookies. Then we started wondering if this small committee had a previously bad experience, such as say maybe in Bern Township, where the inhabitants could have met our brave group of explorers at the township line with pitchforks and torches?  In all seriousness, I wonder how long it took them to get there.  They did not have cars and I imagine the Oley Turnpike was not paved and really rough in spots.  I wonder if any of them had been to Oley before.  Better yet, did they get lost on the way?

Ok, I have a very active imagination; especially on days spent reading mundane works like Board Minutes.  Regardless, of their trip, the Oley/Leinbach Committee set the stage for research and soon after other Township Histories were being generated and presented at the Board Meetings.  Eventually these works were gathered together and became the Transactions of the Historical Society, which eventually led to the Historical Review of Berks County, our quarterly journal.  Pretty neat when you think about it?!?