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

Because each edition of the magazine has a long lead time – from manuscript development and illustration acquisition to final design and printing – it’s sometimes challenging to write about a season that’s several months in the future. The nor’easter in late October that deposited nearly a foot of snow on parts of central Pennsylvania – and brought the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore to the state capital – certainly made editing the Winter 2012 issue feel seasonal. Don’t miss Trailheads in this edition – colleague Amy Killpatrick Fox sums up the season’s sights and sounds at the historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trails of History.

With this edition, Pennsylvania Heritage marks its thirty-eighth year. What began as a modest house organ in 1974 has evolved – thanks to contributing writers, interviewees, staff and, of course, Pennsylvania Heritage Society members – into a standard-bearer for history magazines throughout the nation.

In this issue, Spencer G. Lucas, curator of geology and paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, tackles a fascinating individual, Henry Darwin Rogers, the first State Geologist of Pennsylvania. Spencer takes readers back to the late 1830s and early 1840s and what life was like for the survey field teams when Pennsylvania was “a rugged landscape of steep ridges and river valleys, often choked with vegetation and swarming with insects.” A complex individual, Rogers was misunderstood by many, including his survey staff, which contended he was maddeningly disorganized and tyrannical, and his peers, who frequently discounted or ignored his theories.

Contributor Gretchen Dykstra’s grandfather, Franz Lee Rickaby, a popular professor at California’s Pomona College, was one of the fewer than twenty-five thousand Americans cremated in 1925. In her article entitled “Cremation’s Fiery Beginnings,” Gretchen traces the nation’s cremation movement to its origins in Pennsylvania’s “Little Washington.” On December 6, 1876, Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne unceremoniously incinerated the corpse of Baron De Palm, an impoverished European aristocrat, in his tiny crematory, attracting national attention (and not all of it positive).

On a lighter note – and on a much more recent subject – Daniel R. Clemson celebrates the vocal genius of The Mills Brothers, the iconic African American quartet tracing its family roots to Bellefonte in Centre County. There’s no one better to tell the quartet’s story; Dan has been researching the singers for many years and serves as curator of the Mills Brothers Archives for Sound Recordings and Memorabilia.

Several departments in this edition, among them Wish You Were Here! [see “Erie County: Wayne Brewery“], Marking Time [see “Lorenzo L. Langstroth (1810-1895)“], and Our Documentary Heritage [see “Diet Table for General Hospitals, United States Army“], kick off the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s annual theme for 2012, “The Land of Penn and Plenty: Bringing History to the Table.” Future editions will discuss our culinary traditions and customs, as well as individuals and companies that pioneered agriculture, food processing, and winemaking. Our theme promises to be a savory experience for all involved!

I heartily hope you enjoy this issue.

Best wishes,

Michael J. O’Malley III