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.

 

The Hexerai Letter: Supernatural or Super Strange?

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With Halloween approaching it may be interesting to explore some of the more supernatural beliefs found in Berks County. The manuscript collection at the Berks History Center Research Library holds a remarkable illustrated document from 1816 that fits this theme.

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Written mostly in Pennsylvania German, the letter prophesied that terrible events were about to occur based on the political news of the day. Called the Hexerai letter, its most striking feature is a myriad of hand drawn pictures inside. The author drew in vivid detail blood red moons, arch angels, demons, a mysterious clock, and a rendition of the day of judgment. One picture, in particular, tells the document’s story. The picture shows a devil with the number 666 written under its eyes and the name Jackson emblazoned across its forehead. That devil is General Andrew Jackson, who the author thought would soon bring doom upon the country. Produced during a time exploding with religious revival and emerging political individuality and expression, this document has much to offer researchers of the early nineteenth century.

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.

 

Hats Off to History!

During our inventory at the Berks History Center, we recently discovered two U.S. Army hats which are both nearly 190 years old!  However, both hats are shrouded in mystery.

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Stove Pipe Shako from the Berks History Center Museum Textile Collection

The first hat is a style known as a stove pipe shako. While it is missing its original brim and a plume which attached at the top, its condition is surprisingly solid for its age. The emblem on this hat was used between 1833 and 1851 by U.S. Dragoon regiments – horse mounted units that would later be known as cavalry. Unfortunately, that is all we know about this hat. We do not know who used it, and in fact we do not even know how it came to be in our collection.

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Bicorne Hat from the Berks History Center Museum Textile Collection

The second hat is known as a bicorne hat. It is in excellent condition, and we can infer several bits of information from its design. The style of the insignia, for example, was used by the U.S. Army between 1821 and 1851. In addition, the hat is marked with the name and address of its maker: William H. Horstmann & Sons, North Third Street, Philadelphia. It is well documented that Horstmann & Sons only operated at this location from 1830 to 1857.

We know that the Berks History Center received the bicorne hat in 1937, and its donor reported that it belonged to a Major David Hocker. Unfortunately, our predecessors did not record any additional information about this person, and to add to the confusion, they incorrectly recorded the hat as having belonged to “Mayor” David Hocker. To date, we have not yet been able to identify a Major Hocker connected with Berks County or the United States Army.

While there are many questions with both of these hats, they are both unique artifacts.  Our hope is that additional research will help us to better ascertain to whom each belonged and how each is connected to Berks County.

Article Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

Taproom Treasure: Uncovering Old Glory

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When Rick Polityka first caught a glimpse of the front cover of The Historical Review of Berks County (Vol. 82. #1, Winter 2016-2017) he had a nagging suspicion that he was looking at something familiar. The photo, depicting a vintage winter scene, captured a number of adults sitting upon a large sled. In this particular issue, the editor of The Review, Charles J. Adams III, had called for readers to assist in identifying the location and date of the photograph, a mysterious item from the Berks History Center’s research library collection.

After some contemplation, it finally hit him. He had seen this sled before! Not only in the photograph, but he had actually seen this artifact up close and in person! He wasn’t entirely sure his hunch was accurate. However, he was curious enough to investigate the mystery.

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Rick called a few friends and headed to one his favorite local watering holes, The Northeast Taproom. There, with the permission of the owner, Rick and his friends ventured down into the dark, dusty basement of the Northeast Taproom. Sitting along the wall, covered in dust and boxes, Rick uncovered a very large sled, 19 feet in length.

This exciting discovery was just the beginning of Rick’s journey uncovering the history and mystery behind what we now know to be, “Old Glory,” the hand-built, Berks County tiller from the early 1900s. Rick wrote about his adventure and research in an article that will be published in the Spring 2017 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County. 

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The name “Old Glory” can be read on the face of the sled.

To read Rick’s entire story and research about Old Glory, subscribe to The Historical Review of Berks County. Copies of The Review can also be purchased in the Berks History Center Museum Store.

Rick Polityka is a local history enthusiast,  lifelong Reading resident, and a long-time member and volunteer at the Berks History Center.

Remembering the U.S.S. Maine & a local Monument at the Henry Janssen Library

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(From the Postcard Collection, Henry Janssen Library at Berks History Center)

Today in 1898, the U.S.S. Maine exploded and sank in the Port of Havana. 267 Americans were killed, including one man from Reading–Frank Anders. Many at the time believed Spain deliberately blew up the ship because it was sent to the area during Cuba’s revolt against Spain. The Spanish-American War started about two months later. Parts of the ship were salvaged after the explosion, including an anchor later presented to the City of Reading. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt unveiled the monument, which still stands in City Park, on July 31, 1914. The monument was rededicated in 2014.

In addition to numerous postcards depicting the anchor in City Park, we also have two scrapbooks in the Henry Janssen Library compiled by Frank Anders’ family.

Why Archives Matter

For the past seven years, I have had the honor and privilege of being the keeper and protector of Berks County’s history.  I’ve held 200 year old documents and catalogued and interpreted thousands of archival material for use by researchers.  I have grown to love and appreciate this community’s long, rich history.  I did not need to be born in Berks County to understand the Berks County way of life.

While we all claim to love history, how many of you really, truly know your own history?  I’ve met my fair share of “history buffs”; a term that usually refers to someone who occasionally watches the History Channel or reads a book.  I’ve also met my fair share of historians, researchers who have spent years digging up documents, trying to absorb as much as they can about a person, event or building and who want to share and engage people in conversation.  History is more than genealogy, the collection of names and dates.  It is the study of how people lived and interacted with each other, their surroundings and events.  Granted, I have an advantage over our community.  I get to come to work in a building full of stories waiting to be uncovered and told.  But as an “outsider” (because I am a New Yorker), I know more about Berks County, than my native husband, and probably some of you.

Why do Archives Matter?

Genealogy is a huge commodity.  According to a recent article in the Colonial Williamsburg Spring 2015 Magazine, Ancestry.com cleared $540.4 million in 2013.  I can’t even fathom that much money.  There are over 100 different genealogical websites for use by researchers, not to mention the websites that will tell you which top 10 or 25 are the best to use.  I ask myself, why when more and more people are joining ancestry and doing genealogy, why are we seeing less and less people at library’s such as the Henry Janssen Library?  The Colonial Williamsburg article goes on to try and entice people to visit their archival holdings, because not all of it is online.

I’m not going to criticize online resources, such as Ancestry.com.  They are a great tool in helping to track ancestors and making government documents, such as pension records and census records, available to the public.  However, it is still just a tool, a database, and many of the records (and family trees) are incomplete, inaccurate, and in many instances wrong.  As an undergrad and graduate student in history, we are taught to seek out sources, leave no stone unturned.  Your best resource is the bibliography, or works cited, pages in the back of secondary resources.  They provide ideas on where to turn next.  They list primary resources and where to find them.  Unfortunately, the new generation of researchers, don’t know how to use indexes in the back of books to find information on a specific page.  Because they only seek out to collect information, and only specific information, they cannot create the story, nor do they see the whole picture.  These researchers tackle their research with the understanding that, if it is not online, it does not exist.

At the Henry Janssen Library, and other research archives across the country, we have a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond names and dates.  The documents kept in our walls tell the stories of the county and the people who forged through the wilderness to make a home.  These same people, helped to alter State and National events.  History does not exist in a bubble.  What happens elsewhere ripples across time and space and influences the course of events.  These resources are not online, not because archival institutions are being mean, or preventing researchers from accessing the information.  This information is in countless boxes and folders and need to be used as a whole.  These collections provide insight into the stories that make history.  Holding a 200 year old document has more impact on learning, then just reading the words on the page.  It reminds us that living, breathing, human beings existed, created, lived and left their legacy for the future to find.  This experience happens when you visit the Henry Janssen Library

Interest in our history is waning, which is surprising when there are always Berks County connections to State and National events.  Our collections are waiting for someone to come and uncover their secrets.   And yes, there will be secrets…good and bad.  Write an article for the Historical Review.  Come in and volunteer.  Record your history, not just names and dates.  History is the story of us; without us, the story stops.

Written by former Archivist, Kim Brown.

Scholla: Thanks to Good Queen Anne November 19, 1941

11/19/1941 Thanks to Good Queen Anne

Two Hundred and Thirty Years ago there were thousands of refugees from the German states of Europe, cluttering the ports of London, seeking refuge from the unspeakable horrors of wanton lust and religious persecution. The great mother-heart of Queen Anne Stuart of England had been touched by the plight of these people. The long purse of the kingdom was opened for their sustenance, while they waited for ships to carry them to America.

Beneficiaries of this bounty were not ungrateful to Her Majesty and the British people, as is shown by the accompanying testimonial which the writer found in the Public Record Office in London in 1939. It is an acknowledgement of indebtedness which we do well to review at this time…

The early settlers of western Berks were among those who received the benevolence of the British Crown.

Here are a few of the names of the early Palatines who finally settled in the Tulpehocken valley:

Martin Batdorf

Phillip Brown

John Christman

Conrad Diffenbach

Michael Emmerich

Lenhart Feeg

Godfrey Fidler

Micahel Harner

Peter Klopp

John Lantz

Abraham Lantz

Abraham Laucks

Adam Lesch

Nicholas Riem (Ream)

Lenhart Rieth (Reed)

Frederick Schaeffer

Marden Stupp

Adam Walborn

John Troutman

Baltzer Anspach

Ludwig Blum

Hans Boyer

Francis Brossman

Nicholas Deck

Michael Ernst

Sebastian Fisher

Nicholas Kinzer

Jonas Kitzmiller

Peter Lebo

Conrad Long

Mattias Minnich

Peter Schell

George Unruh

Conrad Weiser

Franz Wenrich

Frederick Winter

John Zeller

Peter Zerbe

In some cases the spelling has been altered to conform to current usage. Anyone who is familiar with the family names of the Tulpehockens and the Heidelbergs in Berks will readily recognize that almost all of these names still prevail. Of course there were thousands of other names among the Palatines. We have selected those which appear most familiar.

Blessed Land! And Happy People! Govern’d by the Nursing Mother of Europe and the Best of Queens! Whose unbounded Mercy and Charity has receiv’d us, despicable Strangers from afar off, into Her own Dominions where we have found a Supply of all things necessary to our present Subsistence; for which we bless and praise Almighty God, the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty and all Her Good Subjects, from the highest Degree to those of the meanest Capacity; and to sincerely and faithfully promise to our utmost Powers for the Future to render ourselves Thankful to God and Serviceable to Her Majesty and all her good subjects, in what way soever Her Goodness is pleas’d to dispose of Us:

And, in the meantime, to be instant in our prayers, that God would return the Charity of well disposed people a thousand-fold into their own Bosoms, which is all the Requittal that can, at present, be made by us poor distressed Protestant Palatines.

London

1710 A.D.

Queen Anne. Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705
Queen Anne. Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705