More Than Decoration: Barn Stars Sustain the Spirit of Folk Tradition

The rungs of the extension ladder echoed across the hollow as the barn star painters prepared to ascend the facade of the barn to begin their third and final day of work. Carefully selecting their brushes and colors, the painters took their places 20 feet above the barnyard where they worked their magic. With rapid and calculated movements, they began applying the paint to the rough contours of...
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Delivery, Ritual and Discretion: Discovering the Past in an Early Pennsylvania Midwife’s Register

Hoofbeats on the dirt path announced the arrival of the midwife, who traveled on horseback from her home at Lower Salford in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County to attend a birth at the residence of the Haag family in nearby Franconia Township on August 1, 1770. Johannes Haag was the first delivery attended by Rosina (Krauss) Heydrich (1737–1828) when she began her Hebamme Büchlein, or midwife’s...
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The Easter Egg: A Flourishing Tradition in Pennsylvania

The hen cackled in the early morning light as the door of the chicken coup opened and the boy walked in with his basket. He had risen before dawn to help with the farmwork as usual. But on this most suspicious of days, Karfreidaag, or Good Friday, gathering the eggs was no mere ordinary task. As on all other mornings, the boy deftly reached under the clucking hens, soothing the birds with a few...
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Mather Mill: A Model for Developing Resiliency for Historic Properties

The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO), a bureau of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) that administers federal and state programs for protecting historic properties in the commonwealth, hosted a demonstration workshop on October 3, 2018, to explore resiliency options for Mather Mill, a National Register–listed gristmill constructed circa 1820 in...
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Pleistocene Preserved: The Lost Bone Cave of Port Kennedy

On October 29, 1895, more than 90 members attended a meeting at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Following the routine business of the publication committee’s report and the announcement of one member’s death, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856–1930) rose to speak about the ongoing exploration of a geological feature known as Irwin’s Cave in Montgomery County. The Philadelphia Inquirer...
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Backcast: Pennsylvania’s Legacy of Split Cane Fly Rods

  It’s important not to rush this. A mistake will obliterate a month of work. I take care to make sure that my workbench is uncluttered, the lighting is adequate to the task, and the tools I’ll need are handy but not in the way. Before me is a tapered hexagonal shaft composed of Tonkin cane (Arundinaria amabilis McClure), a type of extraordinarily tough bamboo found mostly in southeastern...
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American Helicopter Museum & Education Center: Commemorating the Delaware Valley’s Contributions to Vertical Flight

Nestled in a large but unassuming building at the Brandywine Airport, just northeast of  West Chester, Chester County, is a museum that may seem out of place in Pennsylvania: the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center. After all, Russian émigré Igor Sikorsky (1889–1972) flew the first successful helicopter in the United States at Stratford, Connecticut, on September 14, 1939, many...
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Der Belsnickel: Nicholas in Furs or Hairy Devil?

“There was a rush of noise outside that broke the silence of the winter night — a clanking of chains and a scratching at the kitchen window. Mother encouraged my brother and me to leave the dinner table to see who was outside. At the window, a ghastly masked face greeted us with an unearthly cackle. Clad in a rumpled fur overcoat, the figure carried an old gunnysack in one hand and a bundle of...
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Washington Memorial Chapel

In December 1777, in the midst of the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington directed the Continental Army to set up a winter encampment in an area known as Valley Forge, less than 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, the U.S. capital that had been captured by British troops in the Philadelphia Campaign. Approximately 12,000 troops endured the winter at Valley Forge, training and drilling...
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Powwowing: Ritual Healing in Pennsylvania Dutch Country

It was just after dark when the powwow doctor arrived at the elderly woman’s home in Lebanon County. The woman had been suffering from swelling in her legs that made walking difficult. Regular medical treatment had proven to be unsuccessful, so after enduring several months of painful discomfort, she called a powwower on the advice of a friend. Tonight would be the third successive...
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