Letters presents readers' comments and reactions to specific articles in Pennsylvania Heritage, the initiatives of PHMC, and other developments in the historical, cultural and museum communities of Pennsylvania.

Hex Appeal

I was pleased to see the article on Don Yoder in the spring 2006 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage. Dr. Yoder is considered by many to be the premier scholar on all things Pennsylvania Dutch and his contributions were well documented in that issue. I was, however, somewhat disturbed by the information provided on the inside page of the magazine regarding the cover picture that featured a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign. The description indicated that the “shapes and colors of hex signs possess special meaning, such as perseverance, fertility, justice, tranquility, and good luck.” Actually this description is precisely what hex signs are not. Within the traditional context of the culture, they have, in fact, no special meaning at all and were originally produced primarily for their aesthetic value.

The purported belief that hex signs have special meanings has arisen due to a number of factors, but seems to have first appeared in erroneous information provided in Wallace Nutting’s 1920s book, Beautiful Pennsylvania. Since then, this myth has grown and has been especially facilitated by self-­proclaimed “hex artists” who attribute various meanings to this traditional art form in order to enhance the sales of their product to unsuspecting tourists throughout the Dutch country of Pennsylvania.

Indeed, even in the text of your article about Don Yoder, it references his book, Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols and Their Meaning, which indicates the book’s purpose is to “debunk many of the widespread misconceptions” about hex signs.

Information given by your cover description only serves to reinforce the world of incorrect information already out there. I really expected better from a magazine of the caliber of Pennsylva­nia Heritage.

Christopher S. Witmer
Mohnton, Pa.

Mr. Witmer is correct in stating that, strictly speaking, hex signs have no inherent meaning based on their shapes and colors. As he rightfully points out, this is made quite clear in the article about Don Yoder, so we must acknowledge a lapse of consistency on our part. However, to be absolutely fair, the symbols represented in many hex signs, like the Distlefink (thought to bring good luck) and hearts (for love) in some cases do seem to be suggestive of particular attributes that the artist may have had in mind.


Thanks for the Memories

Thanks so much for the wonderfully detailed article about the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia [“1876 Centennial Craze Sweeps into Philadelphia!” by James McClelland, Spring 2006]. As a native-born Philadelphian I have always been curious about the event. l knew it was grandiose, but I had no idea of its size and range. I drive by Memorial Hall quite frequent­ly and await with impatience (on behalf of my three-year-old granddaughter) the arrival of the Please Touch Museum. Can I assume that given its monumental size and design, the imposing Civil War monument dates from the exhibition as well, or was that already in place directly following the Civil War? Also, I particularly love the design of the magazine. It’s really first-class.

Sandra Choukroun
Penn Valley, Pa.

The Smith Civil War Memorial located near Memorial Hall was erected between 1897 and 1912. The monument commemorates Pennsylvania’s military heroes of the Civil War. The ambitious project includes fourteen separate figures – some on horseback – by twelve artists. The sculptors included Alexander Stirling Calder and Daniel Chester French. Curiously, the work’s sponsor, Richard Smith, is also shown as a prominent standing figure.


Curtain Call

I just finished reading the winter 2006 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage, in particular the article on the Mishler Theatre. I want to commend you for providing such wonderful and extremely interesting information relating to Isaac Mishler and the theatre itself. As current president of the Blair County Arts Foundation, please thank Fred J. Lauver for his extraordinarily well done piece of writing. We are so excited about our 100th year!

Diane Osgood
Altoona, Pa.