Songs of the Saron: Ephrata Cloister’s Women Composers

  In the mid-18th century, a small religious community thrived at what is known today as Ephrata Cloister on the banks of the Cocalico Creek in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. Founded in 1732 by German immigrant Conrad Beissel (1691–1768), the group was composed of celibate Brothers and Sisters who lived lives of religious devotion and self-denial, supported in part by the married members...
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Quecreek: Remembering the Remarkable Mining Rescue 20 Years Later

The site of a massive multigovernment rescue effort to save nine miners trapped hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface is today a placid meadow with a memorial park and a museum dedicated to telling the story of four desperate days in July 2002. “It’s been a life-changing 20 years,” says Bill Arnold, executive director of the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation, located at the rescue site, part...
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Agnes: Pennsylvania’s Most Devastating Natural Disaster

The late Paul Beers, the longtime columnist for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, once wrote that some Pennsylvanians are “amazingly complacent” about the threat of flooding despite living in a state that is quite vulnerable. Back in the day, around the midpoint of the 20th century, when old-timers in Pennsylvania spoke of “the big one,” they were referring to the 1936 flood — floods plural,...
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The Paoli Local and the Birth of Pennsylvania’s Main Line

“In the year 1857, when the Columbia Railroad passed into the possession of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company . . . the local travel was very light, very few of the business men of the city having residences out of town,” wrote William Hasell Wilson (1811–1902) in his memoir of life as a railroad engineer. During the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries, Wilson, his family and the Pennsylvania...
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The Fastest Man on Earth: Barney Ewell and the Story of Two Missed Olympiads

Who is the fastest sprinter of all time? Usain Bolt won eight Olympic gold medals between 2008 and 2016. He also secured 11 World Championships, and his world records in the 100 metres and 200 metres have yet to be broken. Before Bolt was Carl Lewis, winner of nine Olympic golds and 10 World Championships in the 1980s and 1990s. A generation earlier was Tommie Smith and Bob Hayes. Before Smith...
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Two Faces of Molly Pitcher

Perhaps one of the most enduring legends of the American Revolution is that of a woman, who while carrying water to thirsty troops during the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, witnessed the death of her husband as he was manning a cannon in the heat of battle. Desperate to secure a victory, this woman takes his place, continuing to fire the cannon and inspiring the men around her to fight on as well....
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Searching for Mountain Mary: The Life and Legend of an Early Pennsylvania Saint

“There, underneath this mountain stone, Lies Mary Young, who lived alone, High on the lofty mountainside, Beloved and honored till she died.” —Ralph Bigony, 1846   Enshrined in works of art and immortalized in poetry, the life and deeds of Mountain Mary, or Anna Maria Jung (1744–1819), has become one of the preeminent legends of early southeastern Pennsylvania, embodying the spirit of the...
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The Early Days of the William Penn Highway: How Present-Day U.S. Route 22 Got its Start

At the dawn of the automobile age, the major roadways crossing Pennsylvania were rutted, dusty, farm-to-market thoroughfares traveled mainly by horses and wagons. Many of these were still privately owned turnpikes, some with wooden-plank road surfaces. Most towns had improved streets, but the paving, if any, usually ended at the city line. Stagecoach lines still operated here and there, but...
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A Gift to America: Maxo Vanka and the Millvale Murals

“This is my gift to America,” declared Croatian artist Maksimilijan “Maxo” Vanka (1889–1963) in 1941, when he completed a vast mural cycle for a small Catholic church in Millvale, Pennsylvania, a working-class town just across the river from Pittsburgh. A recent émigré, Vanka had not yet been in the United States a full decade when he completed the 4,500 square feet of wall painting for St....
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Run-Up to the Revolution: Philadelphia’s Response to the Taxation Crisis

Colonial America in the 18th century was a dynamic environment — constantly shifting, changing and growing as its population increased and governments and institutions developed to support it. More merchants progressively established shops in cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and New York, selling a dizzying array of necessities and luxury goods both domestic and imported. These goods,...
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