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

Pennsylvania is home to some of the most acclaimed mural paintings in the nation, including those in our own State Capitol created by Violet Oakley, the first woman in the country to receive a public mural commission in 1902 (see “To Form a More Perfect Union,” Fall 2019), and those found on the walls of many U.S. post offices in the state, installed as part of public work projects between 1934 and 1943 (see “Rediscovering the People’s Art,” Summer 2008). In this edition’s cover story, “A Gift to America,” Sylvia Rhor Samaniego, director and curator of the University Art Gallery at the University of Pittsburgh, examines a series of extraordinary murals at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in the borough of Millvale, across the Allegheny from Pittsburgh. Painted in 1937 and 1941 by Croatian immigrant Maksimilijan “Maxo” Vanka on a commission from the church, these dramatic murals feature intense, haunting images that reflect themes of war, social injustice and the immigrant experience. The author follows Vanka’s life, from his formative years in Croatia to his subsequent flight to America escaping fascism in Europe, all leading to an insightful study of his magnum opus in Millvale. The article underscores the recent restoration of the paintings by the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka, which received a Community Initiative Award for its preservation success from the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.

There are 120,852 linear miles of paved highway in Pennsylvania today, all part of a large network that links the commonwealth with the rest of the continent. In the early years of the automobile age, however, roads were still mostly dirt, and few were conducive to long-distance travel. The transcontinental Lincoln Highway opened in 1913, providing a route from New York to California, passing through and connecting key towns in the several states in-between, including Pennsylvania. In “The Early Days of the William Penn Highway: How Present-Day U.S. Route 22 Got Its Start,” transportation historian Dan Cupper picks up the story as automobile travel began to boom in the commonwealth and boosters for an alternative cross-state auto trail that would pass through towns that had been left off the Lincoln made their voices heard. Illustrated with popular postcards featuring highway landmarks, the article takes us from the rise of the dynamic William Penn Highway Association to promote the need for the roadway, and the often-contentious planning meetings for determining its route, to trips in Reo touring cars to map the road that became the eastern end of the new Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway.

In the annals of American folk heroes, you are unlikely to find the name Mountain Mary; however, if you ever visit southeastern Pennsylvania, especially the Oley Valley in Berks County, you will be sure to find that her legend still reverberates among the Pennsylvania Dutch people living there. In “Searching for Mountain Mary,” regular contributor Patrick J. Donmoyer first explores the documented life of Anna Maria Jung, a healer, farmer and community leader who lived on the outskirts of the Oley Valley in the period of the Early Republic and became venerated as Mountain Mary. Donmoyer then examines the mythological narratives about Mountain Mary that appeared in books and local newspapers following her death, finding parallels to the stories of traditional European female saints and discovering why Mountain Mary’s legend persists in the region today.

Kyle R. Weaver