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

“You can give humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it historically.” So wrote American philosopher William James in an address he delivered in 1907. Even such disciplines as “geology, economics and mechanics,” he continued, are “humanities when taught with reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which these sciences owe their being.” By extension, the features in this issue of Pennsylvania Heritage aptly illustrate this point by highlighting the human element in subjects as diverse as wartime bus travel, split cane fly fishing rods, and a cave full of extinct mammal bones.

Our knowledge of ancient lifeforms is based largely on the organic remains and traces that have been unearthed by paleontologists through the years, but the stories of these fossil discoveries are often as interesting as the creatures themselves. In the 1870s, in a part of what is now the Valley Forge National Historical Park, a large sinkhole was uncovered, yielding the 750,000-year-old remains of mastodons, giant sloths, short-faced bears, saber-tooth cats and lots of tapirs — all mysteriously in one location. In “Pleistocene Preserved: The Lost Bone Cave of Port Kennedy,” historian Lorett Treese takes us through the modern history of the cave, including the original excavation with classification of the fossils by famed Philadelphia paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, a subsequent dig in 1894–96 involving Pennsylvania archaeologist Henry Chapman Mercer who was searching for concomitant human remains, and the concealment of the cave after flooding and industrialization in the area. The author then examines the recent work of paleontologist Ted Daeschler of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences who, beginning with documentary research, rediscovered the cave with a team of professionals in 2004 using noninvasive imaging technology and here gives his conclusions on the significance of the find.

In our continuing series of articles for PHMC’s Pennsylvania at War initiative, commemorating the anniversaries of the World Wars, highway historian Brian Butko presents a rare look at the home front during the Second World War in “Bubley by Greyhound.” Mostly a photo essay, the piece takes us on a journey with young photographer Esther Bubley, sent on a mission by her employer, the U.S. Office of War Information, to document with her camera the success of wartime rationing through interstate bus travel. The photographs in the piece focus on the Pennsylvania portion of Bubley’s jaunt, including a stretch over the Lincoln Highway from Gettysburg to Pittsburgh, not only giving us insight into how mass transit was employed as a means of counteracting shortages of gas and rubber during the war but also glimpses into an era of streamlined buses, Art Deco stations, 40-cent box lunches, and a diverse America represented by the passengers and workers Bubley encountered.

“Pennsylvania is one of the cradles of American fly fishing,” archaeologist Joe Baker notes in his article “Backcast,” stressing that an important part of the sport has been the tradition of handcrafting split cane fly rods. A rod maker himself, Baker explains the intricacies of cane rod construction and traces the development of the craft in the Keystone State from the earliest cane rods built in America by gunsmith Samuel Phillippe in the 1840s to those of legendary 20th-century rod maker Vincent C. Marinaro, who inspired a new generation of individual artisans. Baker then visits the shops of practicing Pennsylvania rod builders William A. Harms of Perry County and Tom Smithwick of Shippensburg to chat with them about their influences and innovations, emphasizing the recent renaissance in handcrafted cane rod building and connecting their work to a distinctive Pennsylvania crafts tradition.

Kyle R. Weaver