A Stitch in Time: St. Luke’s Signature Quilt from the Museum Textile Collection


The Berks History Center’s textile collection includes a signature quilt, which was presented to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Reading in 1885.   In addition to their aesthetic appeal, such quilts are of interest to scholars because they contain signatures, in embroidery or ink, of a particular community’s members.  Signature quilts became popular in the 1800s and were typically used in fundraisers – featuring the names of those who contributed – or as gifts of friendship and appreciation to an individual.  The St. Luke’s signature quilt contains dozens of signatures and serves as a veritable membership roster of the congregation at that time.


Local traditions like the signature quilt are embodied in many of our artifacts. They help us understand the past and preserve the identities of Berks County’s diverse communities over time. Do you have a long-standing family or community tradition?  How do you preserve your family’s history?

“Heaven’s Letter” The Himmelsbrief – BHC Museum Collection


The Himmelsbrief or ‘heaven’s letter’ was a charm which a person carried or hung in their home for protection against evil.  The most common iteration was the Magdeburg Letter which purportedly fell from the sky in 1783 after having been written by God Himself.  Scholars  have discovered that the text of the Magdeburg Himmelsbrief existed in central Europe at least as early as the fifteenth century, and would have already been known for centuries when German-speaking immigrants brought the concept with them to Pennsylvania.  This particular Himmelsbrief belonged to John Huyett, a Pennsylvania-German who lived in Cumru Township from 1798 to 1887.  It was printed by a J. Rohr of Philadelphia, probably about 1850.

Scholla: Reverend Ella Nace

Reverend Ella Nace

The Rev. Ella Nace, of West Conshohocken, PA, is the first woman to be appointed, officially, as pastor in a Pennsylvania church. She is the only one in the Holiness Christian denomination in the United States. Born in Hamburg, Berks County, in 1867, Sister Nace passed her 75th birthday last July. In spite of her advancing years this servant of the Lord continues to preach to multitudes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. She is known as the Pennsylvania Dutch Evangelist.

Born to a Lutheran family, Mrs. Nace was converted to the faith of the Holiness Christian Church when she was 25 years of age. “I received the Holy Spirit, just as in the day of Pentecost,” she says. For half a century she has brough the Lord’s message to all who would hear it. In addition to her religious activities she has carried on as a member as a mother and housewife, rearing two daughters. She is now a grandmother and a great-grandmother.

Lacking formal training for the ministry Sister Nace is a self-made woman. Unlike many evangelists of the past she does not mesmerize her audience with hysterical gesticulations and flights of oratory. She is dignified, sedate and convinces through her honest sincerity of purpose and devotion. Many of her principles find their roots in “old-fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch philosophy.” This fact together with her singing of dialectical hymns, has won her title “A Pennsylvania Dutch Evangelist.”

There was a time when she was not welcome in the pulpits of some of the churches of interior Pennsylvania. Those who were opposed to her warned people that she was a “Strawweler”. This was a term of reproach originally used against the followers of the Rev. Jacob Albright and other founders of the Evangelical Association.

Sister Nace relates an incident which occurred in Norfolk, VA. After the sermon one of the male worshippers approached her and planted a kiss upon her cheek.  Lasping into the Dutch idiom she declares: “if they didn’t have it on me after that!”

Here are some of the dialect hymns which Rev. Nace sings during her service:

Heiland, fuhr mich; Heiland fuhr mich.

Fuhr mich bei deinre Hand.

Anwarts, aufwarts, anwarts, aufwarts

Bis mer kumme in ferheise Land.

O wie lieblich; O wie lieblich,

Wie lieblich is Jesus,

Er is mein Erlesser,

Mein Herr un mei Friend.

Scholla: The Broken Tombstone

The Broken Tombstone

The Rev. John Waldschmid was one of the early Reformed clergymen of western Berks and northeastern Lancaster counties. In 1752 he assumed the duties of the Lancaster charge, which included congregations at the Swamp Weiseichenland (White Oak, near Denver) and Modecreek (Muddy Creek). The Swamp Church was originally known as the Cocalico congregation and the White Oak appears in the early records as Sebastian Reicher’s.

One unique feature of Waldschmid’s services at White Oak was the establishment of one of the first Sunday schools, an institution which has served continuously from that early day to this at the White Oak School.

Dr. William Stoy, the learned pastor at Host and Tulpehocken in Berks County, was not constant in the service of the church, alternating between preaching and practicing medicine. During one of the periods of Stoy’s absence, Waldschmid served these Berks congrefations, but it appears that his performance of pastoral duties was not always in accord with the wishes of those of the Berks Congregations. In 1760 the members of his Berks churches asked to have him removed.

Other Reasons Hinted

Somewhat naively, Doctor Harbaugh in his “Fathers of the Reformed Church, hints at other reasons for Waldschmid’s failure in Berks, saying “He may have needed at times, impulse of a special stimulus, to keep him moving with freshness, ministerial dignity and pastoral earnestness.” (Volume 11 pp.88-92)

Waldschmid died in September, 1786, and was buried in the churchyard at Swamp Church, Cocalico Township, Lancaster County. The Rev. Mr. Boas, pastor of First Church, Reading preached the funeral sermon. A tombstone was erected one year later at a cost of approximately $35.

Rev. Mr. Waldschmid’s wife the former Mary Elizabeth Grub, had the misfortune to lose some of her senses late in life. She survived her husband by many years and was thought by many to be demented. One evidence of her state of mind was that she never uttered a word from the time of her husband’s death until June 2, 1793. On that date a strange thing happened.

She Regained Speech

There is more to support the following story than mere tradition. It is recorded in the Church Book of the Cocalico congregation.

On Sunday, June 2, 1793, the worshipers at Swamp were listening to a fine sermon by Rev. Waldschmid’s successor. There was no storm, not even a breeze blowing when the top of the Waldschmid tombstone broke at it’s base and fell to the ground. “Many saw it,” says the record, “and all heard it fall.”

By strange coincidence, the mute Mrs. Waldschmid regained the power of speech on the very same day!

Today a very fine, tall monument is erected in the Swamp Churchyard in honor of their early pastor, John Waldschmid.


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: A Bit of Folklore July 29, 1943

A Bit of Folklore 7/29/1943

In the writings of dialect poet, L.L. Grumbine, circa 1900, we find a reference to a day as “Abduhn Daag;” a day dedicated to the performance of farm tasks. Chief among these tasks was the mowing of the weeds in fence corners, or abduhn, taking off the briers and brambles. Grumbine mentions that the day set for this task was late in July, but fails to mention the specific date.

In the old Pennsylvania German Almanacs we find the 30th of July designated in the calendar of ‘saint’s days as “M. Abdon.” Abdon was one of the judges of Israel and was honored by the Catholic Church by having a day designated for him. The Protestant calendar marked the day July 30 as the day of Ruth.

Now we will hazard a theory and invite your analysis and criticism. The name Abdon lingered in the minds of the early settlers when they came to this country, 100 years after the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic significance of the term was forgotten as was the true significance of the word Abdon. But suiting action to the phonetic sound of the word the early farmer interpreted abdon as “abduhn” and the proper thing to remove from the farm at that season of the year is weeds and briers from fence corners in preparation for fall plowing.

Superstition! Yes, perhaps, But note, the fences were kept neat and clean.

Most of us know the legend of Maria’s annual journey “over the mountain” on July 2, but do we know that among our forebears she was believed to return early July 22 to examine the walls and ceilings of her home. If she found cobwebs she was highly displeased. Therefore, good housewives saw to it that all cobwebs were cleaned before July 22.

Superstiton! Yes, perhaps, but note, the cobwebs disappeared.

Woman using a scythe in a field. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Woman using a scythe in a field. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.

Scholla: Fasnachts March 9, 1943

Fasnachts March 9, 1943

H.R. Keplinger, of Lancaster, is a keen student of symbols and the myths which underlie them. Several years ago he turned his attention to the fasnacht, or fat cake, that makes its appearance annually, on Shrove Tuesday, at the beginning of the Lenten season. Remember the old saying in your home “Der letscht aus em Bett is der Fasnacht heit?” The delicacy and the folklore connected with the day are both distinctly Pennsylvania Dutch. The English serve hot cross buns on Good Friday. The underlying myths giving origin to these customs are very much alike.

“Why is the fasnacht round, with a hole in the center” asks Keplinger. He finds an answer in Smith’s Classical Dictionary. The form of the cake is the ancient symbol of the sun.

“Why is it fried in lard?” From the same source Keplinger shows the boar, or wild pig, was the ancient’s symbol for winter. In mythology Adonis, representing the sun was killed by a boar representing winter. Venus, Adonis’ mate, lamented the loss of her companion until summer once again restored Adonis to life. The end of the winter solstice therefore marked the triumph of the sun over the boar, winter, and the doughnut, the product of the grain fields, was fried in the fat of the boar to seal the triumph.

“Why, at the beginning of the Lenten season?” Kepligner asked himself. Because the sun regains his revivifying power at the “time of the lengthening of the days,” which corresponds to our Lenten season.

We submit Keplinger’s conclusions and deductions for the perusal of our readers. His ideas are at variance with the traditional concepts of the origin of the fasnacht. The name itself implies something else. In English it would be a night of fasting. We will welcome the suggestions of readers.

Archival Notes: While the recipe for making fasnachts is simple, there is great variation in the customs of making fasnachts. Culture and customs are fluid changing with each generation as they add their mark to their traditions, or with their passing their knowledge is lost. While the debates will rage on about the proper preparation and production of fasnachts, as long as they are delicious we can all enjoy them.

In the opinion of the editor, the proper tradition, is a  fasnacht without holes, sliced in the middle, then filled with Mrs. Schlorers Turkey Golden Table Syrup. Courtesy of Luke David Sutliff.
In the opinion of the editor, the proper tradition, is a fasnacht without holes, sliced in the middle, then filled with Mrs. Schlorers Turkey Golden Table Syrup. Courtesy of Luke David Sutliff.