Dunkelberger’s Belsnickle – Museum Collection


Belsnickel is often described as malicious and belligerent. But in this drawing by Ralph D. Dunkelberger (1894-1965), Belsnickel is made to look more like the kind and joyful Santa Clause that we know today.  Dunkelberger was a local artist who was born in Reading and went to the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art. Many of his works feature local scenes, people, or cultural figures, including this depiction of Belsnickel that many Pennsylvania German children would have known.

Scholla: Myerstown Riot 1793

The Myerstown Riot 1793

The Myerstown Riot of 1793 may be of only passing interest to the historian. It has been ignored in all published books and thus far has held interest only for the residents of Myerstown and its immediate environs. But there is more to the story than merely an event in time or a problem for the courts, The student of sociology will discover in it elements of mass psychology and the snapping of racial tensions. It is one of the few instances of conflict between Pennsylvania Germans and Scotch-Irish elements in the Pennsylvania melting pot.

The building of the canal connecting the Susquehanna and Schuykill Rivers, now known as the Union Canal, brought many strangers to the Tulpehocken region. They came as workmen overseer and engineers. Most of them were Irish or Scotch-Irish men utterly unfamiliar with the dialect and customs of the Pennsylvania Germans who inhabited the region. Bad blood developed when the strangers poked fun at the unfamiliar culture they found among the natives and the farmers along the Tulpehocken made biting remarks about the work methods employed by the diggers of the canal.

On December 26 a group of canal workmen and supervisors were celebrating a belated Christmas by indulging in the spirits served at Thomas Millard’s tavern near Myerstown. At the same time a group of natives were courting Bacchus at the nearby tavern belonging to Frederick Pohlman. Martin Glass was among those who guzzled beer at Pohlman’s. He was nursing an insult which he had received that day from one of the canal overseers. He confided his grievance to “the godly crowd” that was there and together the Dutchmen set out for Millard’s Tavern where the strangers were wont to assemble. A quarrel ensued in which fists flew merrily. There were 12 in Glass’s party against 8 at Millard’s. The Irishmen got the worst of the encounter.

On the following day the canal people swore out warrants against Glass and his cohorts. Twelve canalmen offered to accompany Constable Benjamin Speicher in his expedition to capture the offenders. But Speicher declined their proffered help, saying that “amongst the inhabitants whose manners and language being foreign to each other, might be attended with bad consequences..”

In spite of Speicher’s protests the 12 canal men accompanied him. Soon they were joined by many others, so that almost a hundred men, all armed with clubs, went with the constable to make the arrests. The petition of the residents of Myerstown charged that one of the canal overseers brandished a pistol. Citizens were frightened; innocent young men were made prisoners. Some of those captured were beaten and abused. When the mob had rounded up most of the young men of the village they took all their captives to a magistrate and a few of them were bound over trial.

More than 100 townspeople signed a petition for redress against the canal operators. The affair was a matter of concern to Gov. Thomas Mifflin and other dignitaries of the law. The canal people countered by sending their own statement of the case.

The courts assessed fines against the young men who perpetrated the brawl at Millard’s and much smaller fines against a few of those who were leaders of the avenging mob.

Natives- Martin Glass, John Weiss, Martin Heffelinger, Jacob Grove (Groff), Jonas Eckert, Phillip Lootz (Lutz), Henry Blecker, Adam Kassert, George Weirick, George Sinkle.

Canal Men- Samuel Galbreath, Joseph Long, John Scott, Neal McHugh, John Fletcher, James Rennals, Robert Galbreath, John Quigley, Daniel O’Boyd, Patrick McHenry.


Image source: http://www.topix.com/album/detail/myerstown-pa/UEG5RH6I1HESAR78

Scholla: Business Mottoes June 5, 1944

The following maxims are translated from the Neuer Gemeinnutziger Pennsylvanischer Calender, published by John Baer in Lancaster. All of these sayings are selected from the 1877 edition of the almanac

The sleeping fox catches no chickens.

Foresight is the mother of wisdom.

If you wish to learn the value of a dollar, try to borrow one.

Great bargains have ruined many people.

When a fool talks hold your tongue.

Never brag about your business.

An hour of triumph will finally come for him who waits patiently and measures up to the needs of the hour.

Speak only good of your friends.

Never take a dismissed employee back into your employ.

If you turn over your affairs to a servant you will someday regret it.

No one can succeed who neglects his business.

Lose no time bemoaning loses.

Bring system into your business and do not neglect the small details.

Small holes cause big ships to sink.

Never neglect to take a receipt of sums paid and keep a copy of your letters.

Be prompt and don’t waste time visiting.

The lawyers eat the oysters and leave the shells for their clients.

These are but a few gems of wisdom contained in the old Pennsylvania German almanacs. Dr. Clarence Brigham of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester Mass., tells us that there has developed a revived interest in studying old Pennsylvania German almanacs on deposit in that institution. People are finding nuggets of wisdom in science, cooking, medicine, agriculture, and many other things which our fathers knew. The American Antiquarian Society houses the largest collection of Pennsylvania German almanacs known to exist.


Source: http://johnbaer.com/

Scholla: These Dumb Dutch

These Dumb Dutch

The agents of the OPA are to be commended for their zeal in trying to enforce the various rationing restrictions fixed by the administration. But in all cases zeal should be tempered with judgment and human understanding. We wonder who was really at fault in the following altercation which took place in a farmer’s market in Germantown, Philadelphia.

A Pennsylvania Dutch farmer’s wife was selling bottles of homemade catsup. An agent of the OPA approached her stand and said, officiously:

“You can’t sell that catsup; it’s frozen.”

The farmer’s wife was puzzled a bit, probably remarking of herself:

“The big city has many queer people in it.” At any rate she went right on selling the bottles of catsup.

Sure She can Sell it

After a few hours the agent returned to her stand:

“I told you once before that you can’t sell that stuff,” he bellowed.

“Sure I can,” replied the saleswoman. “I can sell a lot of it. It is good. People are glad to buy it. It ain’t hard to sell.”

“I don’t mean it that way” stormed the agent while crowds collected. “That stuff is frozen.”

The poor woman was confused. The gathering crowds embarrassed her; but her wits came to her rescue. Taking a bottle of catsup from the shelf she handed it to the agent:

“No, mister. It ain’t frozen. Here feel it yourself. It ain’t even cold.”

What is Justice?

A creamery man in Lehigh County was selling butter at a price higher than the ceiling price. One of the law enforcers burst into his shop and demanded that he stop the proceedings. The Dutchman continued to sell his butter, explaining that it was the best butter in the world. Later he proved that his margin of profit was far less than he could have realized by selling inferior butter below the ceiling price. What does justice call for in this instance?

Cite Shillington Incident

The magazine “Business” in its December 1943, issue, calls attention to an incident which took place in the Shilliington Market, Berks Coutny, Pennsylvania. Two OPA men were disturbing the routine of business at a butcher’s stand. According to the account published in the magazine, the agents charged the butcher with accepting predated ration points we have no way of knowing whether this was true or not. But the agents then fell to making wisecracks about the way the butcher was cutting his meats. This was resented by the meat merchant, who took a natural pride in his skill and technique. Onlookers sympathized with the butcher and there was a disturbance in the aisles. Then the manager of the market, in order to preserve order, escorted or evicted the OPA men from the Shillington establishment.

“Business,” in commenting upon this incident warns that it might be wise for the agency to remember that the NRA “met its Waterloo” in the Pennsylvania Dutch County of York, Pennsylvania. To which we may add that the “sit down” strike came to ignoble end when the irate farmers of Dauphin and Lebanon evicted the “sitters” from the Hershey Company plant. That was the last strike of its kind anywhere.

Who’s Dumb?


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Price_Administration#/media/File:%22Help_Your_OPA_Fight_Inflation%22_-_NARA_-_514468.jpg

Scholla: A Fishing Expedition (The Incident is True; Names are Fictitious)

A Fishing Expedition (The incident is True; Names are Fictitious)

The inland lakes of Canada had an especial lure for fisherman during the arid years when national prohibition was in force in the United States. Hotels bordering the angler’s paradise of Riddeau, Ontario, did a thriving business quenching thirsts and moistening the parched throats of American Izaak Waltons.

In 1928 a group of Berks County citizens, hungry for fish and thirsty for sudsy brews, registered at the Sunset Inn in the dusk of a June evening. John Lebo, of Birdsboro, was host to a large party of friends – eight in all. Val Busch, Joe Breneiser, Harry Rentschler, Rufe Dreibelbis, “Shorty” Gassert, Jim Krasnitz, Luke Clemens, and John Lebo’s broth, Louie, commandeered five rooms on the second floor of the hotel. Only four of the rooms engaged were designed as bedrooms, the fifth was to serve as the bar room where the keg and bottles reigned and where Louie was to preside as bartender.

After registering for rooms the party of nine strolled along the lake, intending to watch other men fish in the lowering twilight, but only one lone angler stood on the shore, quietly holding a line and rod. And yet that one fisherman provided a great deal of amusement for the Berks Countians. The fisherman wore a black derby hat collar with a rubber bow-necktie inserted. Nose pincers rested on the nasal bridge between his eyes while tufts of graying hairs concealed his ears.

Didn’t Mind Jibes

Intent upon his fishing the oddly attired one paid no attention to the men who watched him. Struck by his quaint appearance and chagrined by his snubs to their spoken advances, the men from Berks began to take a peculiar kind of revenge. Talking the Dutch dialect they fell to speculating aloud as to what kind of queer creature stood before them. Was he an escaped lunatic; a criminal in disguise; a spook or some demon escaped from the infernal regions?

Utterly oblivious to the bantering the stranger never paid any heed to the remarks of the jesting Dutchmen; never once did he extract his line from the Ontario waters.

Later that evening the smoke was thick in the bar room of the second floor of the inn, where Louie Lebo dispensed foaming tankards between games of cut-throat pinochle. The door of the room was open into the hallway and passing guests were free to poke their heads into the transplanted bit of Berks, so gaily celebrating their personal liberty. Nobody minded.

He Accepts Drink

Joviality reigned long before midnight and a good time was being had by all, when the man in the derby hat calmly stepped into the improvised bar room, took a seat and watched the pinochle game. When the drinks were passed he accepted one with the others, murmuring a soft “thank you.” He continued to sit, to watch, to drink with each round, and to quoth like the raven a mere “thank you” each time he drained his glass.

“Seller is ferdammt unferstannich” muttered Louis, after the fifth drink.

“Ich glaub, gewiss, das her Schrief ihn fange will,” remarked Rufe.

“Ach! Er Iss yuscht so’n loischer rumleefer” added Shorty Gassert.

“Siss eeens fom Deifel seine ferhexte Engel,” exclaimed Val Busch

Then He Gets Back

Each member of the party joined in the avalanche of abuse and insult heaped upon the unwanted guest while the object of their scorn sat quietly with his eyes riveted upon the card game.

An exciting hand was being played. The unwelcome guest sat on the edge of his chair as he watched the fall of each card. When the playing ended there followed a period of post mortems in which many joined in declaring how the hand should have been played. And then in the excitement, the visitor advanced his opinion:

“Er het Schippe Schpiele selle; noh het er’s gemacht!”

Consternation! The fellow had understood every word that had been said

“Yah,” he smiled. “Ich bin der Ed Yeager fon Bethlehem, Northampont Kaunti. Kummt ihr all mich mohl shen dort im Court House. Ich bin der Judge.

Big Rideau Lake, Riddeau, Ontario, Canada. Source: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/img_big_rideau_lake_lg.html
Big Rideau Lake, Riddeau, Ontario, Canada. Source: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/img_big_rideau_lake_lg.html

Scholla: Autumn Days, Corn Husking

Corn Husking

Husking-bees were not common among the Pennsylvania Dutch, for in this section the corn was husked in the field and from there taken directly to the cribs. The corn stalks were put on large shocks (laub-schtoeck) and later brought to the barn for winter use.

When families were large, as most them were, little or no outside help was necessary, for with half a dozen youngsters helping, along with the hired man and hired girl, the husking was usually finished in the first week in November.

While few strangers were employed, relatives, as maiden aunts or older sons and daughters, who had moved to town, were more than welcome, for the more helpers, the quicker the job was done. If the husking lasted longer than mid November, it meant some cold fingers, for by that time they days were getting shorter and the sun was no longer warm.

Seated at Work

The farmer would put a number of shocks on a pile so that the huskers could stay at one place for awhile, for they sat down to work. After they were seated their fingers would fly and their tongues kept going just as fast, for Aunt Kate would tell all the gossip from the other end of the township – who had a baby; and who was going to have one; Sister Annie, who lived in town, would give all the local scandal – all about the new minister’s wife and how “high-toned” she was and what fancy hats she wore, while Mom and the hired girl recounted the latest happenings on the farm – how much milk the new cow gave, and what the huckster was paying for eggs.

“Wasser,” the shepherd dog, went along the field and stayed with the huskers. He liked to hunt rabbits and when he found one, what a chase there would be, for the shepherd dogs were vary fast in spite of their size so he frequently caught the bunny. Some dogs would bring back the rabbit in such a condition that it oculd be used for food, but the end of the chase usually meant a meal for Wasser. A chase was time off for the youngsters, for they joined in the fun and welcomed anything that gave them an excuse to stop work for a time.

Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.

Scholla: Shabash, Seim, Kiop

Shabash, Seim, Kiop

If the three words which form the above caption seem unfamiliar, it is because they are the names of three Mohican Indians, the first Indians to be baptized in Pennsylvania, at the home of John DeTurck, in Oley in 1742.

In 1740, Christian Henry Rauch, a Moravian missionary, established a mission at Shekomeko, in Dutchess County, New York, near the borders of Connecticut and also to Stissik Mountain. IN 1742, Count Nicholaus von Zinzendorf, great leader of Moravians, arrived in American and began to call synods of all interested persons. The second of these synods was to be held in the DeTurck home in Oley. In advance of the meeting Gottlieb Buttner, an ardent teacher of Moravian doctrines was sent to Shekomeko to invite Rauch to bring all Mohicans who wished to be baptized to Oley. On January 22, Rauch and his three converts left their village on foot, arriving at the DeTurck home on February 9, after enduring several hardships en route.

Two days later the red men were baptized in the barn of the DeTurck farmstead, Count Zinnendorf being present at the ceremony. The preliminaries of the administration of the sacrament called for hymns and prayer. These were offered and sung during the morning.

Some “ill-disposed” persons in the neighborhood gathered and created a disturbance outside of the barn but the ceremonies were not interrupted. The Rev. Mr. Rauch baptized the three Indians while Deacon Buttner and Bishop Davide Nitschman looked on. Christian names were substituted for the Mohican, thus Shabash became Abraham; Seim became Isaac, and Kiop became Jacob.

Later Seim, or Isaac, became a very important assistant to the missionaries who carried the gospel westward across the Alleghenies and in several instances Isaac proved himself of great value to the British authorities.

After the ceremony, the Indians were so filled with the Spirit that they began to preach in relays; when one tired another began and exhorted the unconverted Delawares who had come to witness the ceremonies.

The Oley ceremony was the first baptism of Indians within the borders of Pennsylvania.

Archival Notes: “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?” — Tecumseh 1810, speaking to Governor William Harrison of Indiana Territory. Shabash, Seim, and Kiop were the first Indians baptized in Pennsylvania, by the Moravian church, in 1742. The baptismal took place within the barn of the Deturck homestead, in Oley. Conversion to Christianity would not provide safety for the Indians. Tribal members of Shabash, Seim, and Kiop who also converted to Christianity were massacared at Gnadenhutten, Ohio by the Pennsylvania in militia in 1782. 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children were murdered and scalped by the Pennsylvania Militia.

Monument commemorating the Gnadenhutten Massacre. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnadenhutten_massacre#/media/File:Gnadenhutten_monument.JPG
Monument commemorating the Gnadenhutten Massacre. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnadenhutten_massacre#/media/File:Gnadenhutten_monument.JPG

Scholla: Distinctly Swiss

Distinctly Swiss

The compound word Pennsylvania German is merely a generic term used for want of a better word to describe the origins of millions of Americans in terms of their European antecedents. Actually, there were people from many portions of Europe and one of the largest groups came from the cantons of Switzerland in which Germans was the prevailing tongue at the time of their emigration.

Here are some names frequently found among us which have been traced directly to Switzerland:

Huber, or Hoover from the canton of Zurich.

Graybill, or Krehbiehl, from Lucerne.

Mylin, or Meylin – the root of the name is Meili.

The name Landis is carved on the famous monument of the Lion of Lucerne.

Kendig, or Kindig, from the vicinity of Berne.

Burkholder, Buckwalter, Burkhalter are distinctly Swiss. Mr. Albert S. Burkholder, of Reading has published a monograph showing the origins of his family name in Switzerland.

Neff, probably adapted from Knoepf; Groff, Grove, Graeff and Graf appear frequently in Switzerland as they do in Germany. They are variants of Graf, the German word for Count.

Zug, which has become Zook among the Amish, Reinhart, Keller, Myer, Etter and Herzog have all been traced to Swiss origins.

There are many others. We have merely presented a few as examples. There are some students of the dialect who can detect variation in the Pennsylvania Dutch tongue which reflect Swiss roots. For example the diminutive ending “li” in words such as “bubbeli, hummli,” etc. The more common forms of these diminutives are “bubble or hummel,” etc.

Switzerland. Source: http://yourtripideas.com/2015/04/28/switzerland-the-best-route-by-train-to-discover-the-country-part-iii/
Switzerland. Source: http://yourtripideas.com/2015/04/28/switzerland-the-best-route-by-train-to-discover-the-country-part-iii/

Scholla: Herbs – (Yarbe) By M. Walter Dundore

Herbs – (Yarbe) By M. Walter Dundore

The Pennsylvania Germans brought the art of herb cultivation with them to Pennsylvania. For untold ages onions, Zwiwwele, had served their forefathers and their salads did not lack allure for the lack of onion flavor. Even the most powerful member of the tribe, the much discredited garlic, Gnowelloch, was considered absolutely essential by the settlers in order to bring out certain salad tastes.

They would not think of Schmierkees without chives, Shnitloch, the mildest member of the onion family. Chives provided mild onion flavor from the earliest spring until frost stopped further growth.

Second only to the onions, the settlers valued parsley, Peterli, an herb which was put to a great variety of uses. The extra curly or double type was used for garnishing, while the single type was strongest in flavor and was used with vegetables, meat, fowl and fish.

Garden thyme, Quendi Tee, was a close competitor to parsley as a great herb for seasoning. This was freely used in stews and clam chowder, in sausages and other meats.

Sage, Salwei, was a favorite for seasoning, its dried leaves making an important ingredient for the dressing of fowl, lamb and veal.

Rue, Raade, was a cure for boils and concocted by brewing a tea from its leaves. Judges, while holding court, kept it on their benches to ward off flies, noxious insects and contagious diseases which were apt to invade the court room with the prisoners.

No housewife thought of boiling beans without a few sprigs of savory, Brunnergreidel, which provided a savory dressing equally palatable with fish, fowl or meat. As an addition to soups and stews it was unequalled, while a judicious use lent additional qualities to salads. Blanched lovage, Laabsdeckei, was also used to flavor soups and salads. Wormwood, Warmet, was esteemed as a reliable remedy for stomach and liver ailments.

Garden at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. Source: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/spring/20792/saving_seeds/1125527
Garden at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. Source: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/spring/20792/saving_seeds/1125527

Scholla: Shlangewarzel (High Proof Applejack) 7/31/1943

Shlangewarzel (High Proof Applejack) 7/31/1943

In a recent case tried before Judge H. Robert Mays in the criminal court of Berks County, a jury ruled that Leon S. Weissner, of Kempton, was not guilty of violating liquor laws by mixing legal liquor and the juices of a weed known as Schlangewarzel, or snake root. The case hinged upon the question whether or not the concoction was a medicine and a wise jury and judge, who knew their Pennsylvania Dutch folklore ruled that the mixture had medicinal properties for some persons.

Snakeroot, scientifically known as Aristolochia Serpentaria, was highly esteemed by the Indians as a medicinal herb. In their volume on “Plant Names and Plant Lore,” Unger and Prendle, have this to say about Schlangewarzel, known as (Geeli (yellow) and Gleeni (Small)) Schlangewarzel:

“The plant is not indigenous to Europe. The root is regarded as highly medicinal. It was usually put into brandy; used in colds, low fevers and like complaints. An aged person stated to us that he could cure anybody in the first stages of consumption with a bitters of brandy, snakeroot and the corn of an Indian turnip.

“Those who search for the plant suppose that the tip of the upper most part of the leaf points to the next plant.”

In addition to the yellow and small snake root there are other varieties. Medicinal properties are claimed for Low Snakeroot and Red Snakeroot. Three varieties known as Big, Tall and Black Snakeroot in the dialect, Black Cohosh in English and Cimicifuga Racemose in the Latin are used medicinally as “bitters” for rheumatism and as a medicine for cattle.

White Snakeroot, of the genus speitanthers, is known to residents of Tylersport, Penna.  Another variety of White Snake Root, of the genus Polygonatum is known in Sumneytown, Montgomery County. No medicinal uses have been claimed for the white variety.

Virginia Snakeroot. Source: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/virginia_snakeroot.htm
Virginia Snakeroot. Source: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/virginia_snakeroot.htm
Virginia Snakeroot flower. Source: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/virginia_snakeroot.htm
Virginia Snakeroot flower. Source: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/virginia_snakeroot.htm