Bookshelf

Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Outposts of the War for Empire

by Charles Morse Stotz
Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1985 (203 pages, cloth, $24.95)

For the type and scale of study it undertakes, this massive – larger than “coffee table” type – volume proves as enjoyable as it is informative and educational. Divided into three sections, it concerns the crucial years between 1749 and 1764, when the control and future of North America was being determined; and it discusses the people, the armies and the frontier forts, yielding a graphic, under­standable portrayal of the struggle and sacrifice involved in securing the borders. A well-known Pittsburgh archi­tect, the author had exten­sively researched the period and directed the restoration and interpretation of two forts. His three-pronged approach is particularly effec­tive. The first section is a fast­-paced, episodic narrative devoted to the relationships among the Indians, colonists, and the French and English settlers scrambling for control of the area during the second half of the eighteenth century. This section Is followed by a discussion of twenty-four forts situated in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. The third section chronicles the restoration of Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County which the author directed. The entire restoration section is well illustrated by many excellent photographs which help clarify the complicated and intriguing task faced by researchers and restoration experts. Outposts of the War for Empire evidences exhaustive study of both European and American libraries and provides a thoroughly documented and skillfully presented interpretation of a significant crossroads in the history of Pennsylvania and the nation.

 

This Is How I Pass My Time

by Ellen J. Gehret and others
The Pennsylvania German Society, 1985 (292 pages, cloth, $45.00)

This handsomely illustrated volume – containing more than six hundred drawings and photographs! – is devoted exclusively to the study of Pennsylvania German decorated hand towels, a little known folk art form practiced by adolescent girls which reached its peak of popularity between 1820 and 1850. In fact, this is the first volume of such magnitude to scholarly address the incredible needle­work, almost all of it learned by observation and from elders rather than in school. The decorated hand towels were worked by the young women as pleasure and pastime as they prepared sheets, pillowcases and table­cloths in anticipation of marriage. The illustrations recapture the charm and beauty of their labors and attest to.the patience, industry and discipline needed to complete a towel for display. The authors examined more than twelve hundred hand towels especially for This Is How I Pass My Time. They also categorized the subjects and motifs found on this unusual form of textile art: flowers, animals, birds, religious figures, even architecture. The authors also investigated the types of borders and other decorative elements employed by the many makers. The book offers a social history of the generations of women who handcrafted the pieces and offers a pictorial sampler of their beautiful – and now eagerly collected – works of art.

 

The Breaker Whistle Blows

by Ellis W. Roberts
Anthracite Museum Press. 1984 (166 pages, cloth, $12.95)

A look at the often turbu­lent, sometimes bitter, relationships between hard coal miners and management, exacerbated by numerous accidents (see “A Most Deadly Business” by Charles T. Joyce, Jr., in the fall 1985 issue), forms the backdrop for this study of anthracite history. The author concurrently explores two theses: that a major champion of labor had emerged follow­ing the most catastrophic mining accidents; and that the casualty lists resulting from each of these accidents is indicative of the composition and changes in the largely immigrant mining popula­tions. A chronology of the anthracite region’s history reveals the basis of his conclu­sions. The 1869 disaster at Avondale claimed the lives of 110 Welsh miners. Young Terence Powderly traveled to the scene; spurred by the devastation he witnessed, he helped organize the controver­sial Knights of Labor. An earthquake rocked Pittston in 1896 and those who died were mostly Irish. A confrontation the following year at the Latti­mer mine led to a massacre responsible for the deaths of Eastern European miners. John Mitchell, later president of the powerful United Mine Workers (UMW), was devel­oping his influence and inimi­table style during this period, and Monsignor John J. Curran, also prompted by the tragedies, began exerting his leadership to garner aid for the laborers. An explosion in 1919 at Wilkes-Barre’s Balti­more Tunnel killed 92 Eastern European coal miners and not long after John L. Lewis, UMW president, led a series of strikes throughout the anthracite region. The survey closes with the 1959 Knox mine flood signaling “the end of anthracite in Wyoming Valley.” The Breaker Whistle Blows is complemented by lists of the fatalities resulting from the major disasters and a bibli­ography.