Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

With this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage, we mark the anniversaries of two events that not only sent shock waves across Pennsylvania but also awakened communities to concerns about public and worker safety. Fifty years ago, in June 1972, a tropical cyclone made its way from the Yucatán Peninsula, up the Atlantic Seaboard of the U.S., shifting its strength as it advanced over land and sea. Although the storm touched communities along its entire stretch, it had its greatest impact in Pennsylvania, where it caused an estimated $2.1 billion in damage, destroying houses and infrastructure and leaving thousands of people temporarily homeless. In this issue’s cover story, “Agnes: Pennsylvania’s Most Devastating Natural Disaster,” newspaper and magazine veteran Don Sarvey weaves together historic, meteorological and journalistic perspectives on the flood saga with insights from analysts today about the probability of future devastating storms in the state and what measures have been put into effect or considered — from dams and levees to floodwalls — to safeguard vulnerable areas.

Twenty years ago, in July 2002, nine coal miners became trapped in the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County after a drilling accident caused water from an unmapped adjacent mine to rush into the tunnel where the men were working. A massive rescue effort was quickly initiated, involving federal, state and local officials, emergency responders, and volunteers — with rescue crews employing water pumps and drilling equipment to reach the miners waiting 240 feet below ground and extricate them. In “Quecreek: Remembering the Remarkable Mining Rescue 20 Years Later,” journalist Peter Durantine unfolds those tense 77 hours, combining his research with the voices of those involved in the rescue from recent interviews he conducted with Gov. Mark Schweiker, Schweiker’s press secretary at the time David La Torre, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection David Hess, owner of the farmland above the mine Bill Arnold, and surviving miners Robert Pugh and Mark “Mo” Popernack. The article ends reflecting on the lessons of Quecreek and the subsequent reforms in mine mapping and family first response and communications that went into effect soon after the incident.

The third feature in this issue takes us to Ephrata, Lancaster County, where on May 14 of this year, a Pennsylvania Historical Marker was installed and dedicated on the grounds of Ephrata Cloister, the former home of an 18th-century religious community’s celibate orders of Sisters and Brothers. The marker, titled Ephrata Female Composers, was inspired by recent research on the community’s choral music, which determined that three of the Sisters had composed the melodies of several hymns that appear in a handwritten volume known as the “Ephrata Codex.” The hymns were written in the 1740s, making the Sisters the earliest documented female composers in North America. Elizabeth Bertheaud, director of Ephrata Cloister, wrote the nomination for the marker, and here she tells the story in “Songs of the Saron,” describing the Sisters’ austere and structured lifestyle, the systematic methodology of hymn writing laid down by community founder and leader Conrad Beissel, and the known details of the lives of the three composers, Sister Föben, Sister Hanna and Sister Ketura.

Two department articles in this edition also focus on anniversaries — the 300th of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Our Documentary Heritage and the 300th of the Keith House at Graeme Park in Trailheads — for what is truly a multicommemorative issue.

Kyle R. Weaver
Editor