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

Connie Mack’s ’29 Triumph: The Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Athletics Dynasty

by William C. Kashatus
McFarland & Company, Inc., 1999 (216 pages, cloth, $28.50)

To baseball historians, Connie Mack (1862-1956) is a star among managers. His professionalism, penetrating knowledge of the game, and ability to handle his players helped him claim nine pennants, win five World Series, and build two championship dynasties during his fifty years as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. The son of Irish immigrants, Mack was born Cornelius McGillicuddy in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. He worked in a shoe factory and played baseball for a local team until 1886, when at the age of twenty-four he entered professional baseball as a catcher. He began managing in 1896 with the Pittsburgh club of the National League, but left three years later to establish a new league, hoping for freedom in running his own team. With two businessmen, he formed the Western League, which became the American League the following year. As hard times forced the National League to drop teams, Mack’s American League inherited the Philadelphia Ath­letics. In his first full year as the Athletics’ manager, Mack offered sizable pay increases to attract National League stars to his team, including several of his greatest catches from the rival league’s Philadelphia Phillies. Yet Mack’s real genius came from his ability to discover and harness the talent of “collegians and dim-witted roustabouts alike.” He was the first to use college ball as a proving ground for the majors at a time when other managers scouted the sandlots for talent. But be kept his eyes open in all places and also brought into the majors more roughly hewn, eccentric players such as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and George “Rube” Waddell. The author, an astute historian, gifted writer, and regular contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage, is a highly engaging chronicler of the Life and times of Philadelphia and of the Athletics, who made their home in the City of Broth­erly Love for fifty-four years (see “Philadelphia’s Mr. Baseball and His Amazing Athletics,” Summer 1990). Most important, he recounts the gripping story of how, when he was well into his sixties, Mack transformed his losing team into a second dynasty – one that gave the great 1927 Yan­kees, which many consider the greatest team ever assembled, a run for their money and went on to win the championship in 1929. “Time has left the ’29 A’s in the shadows of the 1927 Yan­kees,” he laments. But thanks to his diligent research, the story of the Philadelphia Athletics and its peerless manager Connie Mack has been resurrected and can now astonish and delight general readers as well as baseball fans everywhere. (The author recently organized an exhibition entitled “Baseball’s White Ele­phants: Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics,” on view through Friday, October 15 [1999], at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester.)

 

Points in Time: Building a Life in Western Pennsylvania

by Paul Roberts, editor
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998 (124 pages, paper, $30.95)

Published in conjunction with an exhibition by the same title at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Points in Time: Building a Life in Western Pennsylvania is a rich collection of essays, photographs, and quotations that offers an intriguing look at Pittsburgh’s past as an important river port while chronicling the story of America’s industrial heritage. These essays, and the exhibit they accompanied, recognize the multiplicity of historical evidence that survives from the past and the multitude of historical narratives that can be told by such material. Both the publication and the exhibition emphasize physical, visual, tangible, and tactile artifacts, arguing that as important as the ideas that western Pennsylvanians wrote down, so too are the innumerable things they left behind. While essayists address most of Pitts­burgh’s major historical events – for example, the nationwide railroad strike of 1877 – and note many of its important figures – David L. Lawrence, for instance, who served as the city’s mayor and governor of the Commonwealth – their overall emphasis is not on the area’s most dramatic episodes or its most famous (or infamous) citizens. Although Points in Time presents such well known Pittsburgers as Edward Braddock, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon, it also introduces many less familiar individuals: Colonel George Morgan, a Revolutionary War officer stationed at Fort Pitt; banker and real estate promoter John Thaw, who managed the finances of the Monongahela Bridge Company prior to the Panic of 1837; African American businessman Gus Greenlee, owner of the Crawford Grill on Wylie Street and the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team; and Ann McCastland, a West­inghouse factory worker during World War II (see “Wanted: Women to Meet the Wartime Challenge! A Pictorial Essay” by Diane B. Reed, Spring 1995). The significance of place – be it regional, urban, neighborhood, suburban – overlaps the authors’ interpretations. The book’s many maps, city plans, bird’s eye views, lithographs, and aerial photographs attest to the enormous importance of topography and geography in shaping western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh history. It is the objects and artifacts that bind the various essays in a cogent, cohesive way, however. Academics lump all these things left behind as “material culture”; one of the contributors defines the term “as the vast universe of objects made and used by humankind to cope with the physical world, to facilitate social intercourse, to delight our fancy, and to create symbols of meaning.” Examples of western Pennsylvania material culture include David Shaw’s fowling rifle, George Mor­gan’s silk waistcoat, Mary Mejer’s lace engagement cap, the dagger Alexander Berkman used to stab Henry Clay Frick, several fire company parade hats, and a pianoforte made in Pittsburgh by Charles Rosenbaum about 1815. Points in Time: Building a Life in Western Pennsylvania graphically illustrates – in words and with pictures – Pittsburgh’s unique history as a river port that helped transform the interior of the continent and, later, as an industrial workshop with few rivals.

 

Amish Arts of Lancaster County

By Patricia T. Herr
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1998 (160 pages, paper, $29.95)

This beautiful compendium covers the entire range of Amish artistic workmanship – floor coverings, bedroom linens, boxes and containers, toys, furniture – offering an ideal mixture of pictorial and narrative detail. The author, who practices veterinary medicine in the Lancaster area, first became interested in the subject in 1972 when she lived briefly on an Amish farm. An artist in her own right, she was fascinated with the way Amish things “just fit in,” and was intrigued by their modern look and feel. “Naive, playful, informal, and funky,” she recalls, “they were the perfect furnishings for me, and they were expressive of a singular way of living that I witnessed with growing interest and admiration,” For the next thirteen years she gathered Amish objects at local auctions and antiques markets. The second phase of assembling her collection extends from 1991 to the present. During this period she has had a shop in Intercourse, Lancaster County (the heart of Amish country) and has attended auction sales regularly, buying all that she could and “living” with the objects before making historical or aesthetic judgments. From this practice and from talking with many people in the Amish community, the author has developed a sensitive appreciation and scholarly knowledge of one of the world’s most appealing indigenous folk art repertoires. Page after page of the more than three hundred color photographs attest to the bright world the Amish have created with needlework pictures, bed quilts, wall boxes, decorated chairs, and doll cradles. Neither dark nor austere, their artistic endeavors seem to follow one of their favorite Biblical instructions: “Be of good cheer.” Herr explores the development and use of artworks found in Amish homes. She is as adept at tracing the swan motif in hooked rugs as she is at exploring the development of “whimsies” such as bead­work and carved wood in bottles and (gas) refrigerator magnets. Herr conducts the reader on a rich and rewarding journey into the unique legacy and history of art that was never intended for “art’s sake” but for the sake of bringing joy through the adornment of useful objects.

 

The Jews of Wilkes-Barre: 150 Years (1845-1995) in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania

Marjorie Levin, editor
Jewish Community Center of Wyoming Valley, 1999 (368 pages, cloth, $39.95)

Jewish experience in small cities, such as Wilkes-Barre, according to The Jews of Wilkes-Barre, was far different from that in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. “We’ve all read about the lower East Side, and the hard struggles of Jewish immigrants to get themselves out of a sweatshop environment and culture,” contends the author. “There really wasn’t any such culture in Jewish Wilkes-Barre; the trajectory of the community’s path was different from the start. It’s a very American story that really hasn’t been much represented in the literature thus far.” Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley includes an area in and around Wilkes-Barre that Lies at the foot of the Pocono Mountains and on the banks of the Susquehanna River. By 1843, when there were sufficient Jews in the valley to establish a burial society, and then a congregation, there were fewer than twenty Jewish communities in all of America. The mix of ethnic groups in the Wilkes-Barre area – first the Connecticut Yankees and Scots-Irish, then Irish and German Christians, then the small band of Jews, together with thousands more English, Irish, Germans, and the Welsh – turned out to be a happy one. For the Jews there was acceptance and integration into the leadership structure and an atmosphere to this day remarkably free of significant antisemitism. Seven principal authors have contributed to this appealing and surprising study of a community existing within and as part of a greater community. Voices from the past and present are interlaced with engaging profiles of the Jewish citizens of the Wyoming Valley, whose experiences reflect the American ideal of firm loyalty to religious and ethnic traditions with full participation in a wider brotherhood.