From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Travel Diary – Autumn 1997

A busy week of commem­orative events in September calls attention to important themes in our history. I cannot help but notice the growing number of historical figures – known to many as living historians, reenactors, first-person interpreters, impersonators, or character actors – participating in these occasions. Apparently an appropriately costumed celebrity from the past provides a focus for the audience and gives a sense of reality to otherwise distant days.

Harrisburg. The opening of an exhibit on the history of voting in Pennsylvania inspires a visit from Benjamin Franklin, who reminds guests of the difficulties of establishing the institutions of self-governance in the New World. Sponsored by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the exhibit documents the issues and the chronology of extend­ing the franchise to all adult citizens and reminds us that these rights cannot be taken for granted.

Chadds Ford. The two hundred and twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine summons George Washington and troops to a ceremony establishing the battlefield as the very first Commonwealth Treasure. General Washington might have felt vindicated for his strategy of fighting a war of attrition, but in autumn 1777 the British invasion of Pennsylvania appeared to be a resounding success. The impact of that period on our public memory can be measured in the widespread effort to preserve the historic sites that tell the story: Fort Mifflin, Paoli, Germantown, Valley Forge and, of course, the Brandywine Battlefield. Memorials in Ephrata, Bethlehem, and Allentown remind us, too, that this stage of the American Revolution exacted a terrible toll on a large portion of the Commonwealth.

Hazleton. Mother Jones presides over a state historical marker dedication, a memorial march, and a symposium commemorating the centennial of the Lattimer Massacre, one of the pivotal events in American labor history. The mixture of Polish, Slovak, and Lithuanian ethnic groups, union leaders, and historians generates a lively and sometimes provocative discussion of a tumultuous period when ordinary working people became participants in an extraordinary age of change. The most moving tribute of the weekend comes from the descendants of coal miners who died at Lattimer, as they unveil the marker where the march began. “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!” shouts Mother Jones. The crowd roars its approval and not a few tears are shed.

Boalsburg. We end our week with the dedication of a Memory Wall honoring the members of Pennsylvania’s 28th Division killed in action during World War II. The wall is part of a memorial landscape that complements the 28th Division’s World War I shrine, and the Pennsylvania Military Museum which tells the story of our brave citizen-soldiers during two and a half centuries of conflict and peace. But there are no reenactors or interpreters present. The real heroes – the veterans who fought a half century ago – gather to salute their buddies and to remember an age when patriotism and duty drove them to triumph over tyranny.

Visitors from the past and present help us tell significant stories from every century in meaningful ways. Their presence is powerful testimony that history is about people, famous and not­-so-famous, but all extraordinary, who have left us a rich and wonderful legacy.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director