Trailheads presents information and details about the exhibits, events and programs hosted by the historic sites and museums on PHMC's Pennsylvania Trails of History.

As 2021 comes into focus, PHMC’s Trails of History sites are providing exceptional service to the public through online offerings. The annual celebration of Charter Day, Pennsylvania’s birthday, will take place online. Our sites and museums continue to build their portfolios of virtual programs and tours, from lectures to trivia nights to online exhibits. Follow PHMC or your favorite site’s social media for updates, or check our online program listings by going to phmc.pa.gov and clicking on the Events Calendar icon.

PHMC Virtual Collections Showcase, a new multisite program, debuted in December 2020. Five or six Trails of History sites select items from their collections to illustrate a central theme. After the presentations, the audience votes on their favorite object or the one they think best conveys the theme. The focus for the inaugural program was food. The friendly contest resulted in a tie between Eckley Miners’ Village, with their bootleggers’ still, and the Pennsylvania Military Museum, with their array of military rations through the years. The theme for January was winter and cold weather, and February’s program focused on love and relationships.

The collections showcase allows PHMC staff to share an eclectic mix of objects and stories that may not be familiar to visitors and other audiences. What follows are examples from the first three showcase programs. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the programs live (or if you want to watch again), you’ll find a playlist on PHMC’s YouTube channel.

 

In the “Still” of the Night

Charles Hartman built this still in the 1920s in Scranton and used it until the 1970s. It was donated to the Anthracite Heritage Museum in 1991 and later moved to Eckley Miners' Village to help interpret recreational alcohol in a typical patch town. Eckley Miners’ Village, PHMC (AC91.17)

Charles Hartman built this still in the 1920s in Scranton and used it until the 1970s. It was donated to the Anthracite Heritage Museum in 1991 and later moved to Eckley Miners’ Village to help interpret recreational alcohol in a typical patch town.
Eckley Miners’ Village, PHMC (AC91.17)

The visitors’ center at Eckley Miners’ Village features exhibits that document daily life for mining families in a company-owned patch town. One of the objects included is a still, dating from Prohibition but used until the 1970s in Scranton. It is, according to curator John Fielding, typical of homemade bootleggers’ stills in the Anthracite Region. Mining companies generally prohibited alcohol in patch towns, but residents found ways to skirt that. Homemade alcohol was used for medicinal, ceremonial and recreational purposes. Around Christmas, it was used in eastern and southern European recipes for punch, such as krupnikas, a Polish and Lithuanian tradition. In an oral history preserved at Eckley, Mary Marshlik remembers her family’s Christmas Eve toasts, when each child was given a small glass of krupnikas to usher in the holiday. Over time, European punches gave way to boilo, which continues to be served in the Anthracite Region, although most folks purchase the alcohol rather than make it themselves.

Fielding notes that residential stills were usually built and used in small sheds behind the miners’ houses. In addition to being illegal, they were also dangerous. Left burning while the miners went to work, stills were known to explode and cause fires. Local fire companies called to extinguish the flames generally classified the incidents as electrical or kitchen fires.

 

A Tale of Heartbreak?

Some stories are hard to pin down. As volunteer Melanie Hay from Hope Lodge explained to me, interpreters at the site have for many years shared a story about the heartbreaking love life of Samuel Morris (1709–70), for whom Hope Lodge (then known as Whitemarsh Estate) was built. The colorful tale goes that Morris built (ca. 1743–48) his sizeable Georgian mansion for his fiancée in England. At his housewarming party he remarked, “I’ve got the pen; all I want now is the Sow.” The story was repeated to his love, who promptly broke off the engagement.

Built in Montgomery County in the 1740s for Quaker entrepreneur Samuel Morris and originally known as the Whitemarsh Estate, the Georgian mansion Hope Lodge passed through a series of owners until it was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1957. Hope Lodge, PHMC

Built in Montgomery County in the 1740s for Quaker entrepreneur Samuel Morris and originally known as the Whitemarsh Estate, the Georgian mansion Hope Lodge passed through a series of owners until it was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1957.
Hope Lodge, PHMC

It may all be a myth or the conflation of another broken engagement story from earlier in the Whitemarsh property’s history. Efforts have been made to track down the origins of the story. One source is a poem, “Journey from Philadelphia to Bethlehem, June 1753.” According to Lorett Treese in the guidebook Hope Lodge and Mather Mill (2001), the poem appeared in 1893 in an issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. The anonymous poet describes the beauties of the mansion and grounds, upon which “Nature lavish all her stores, and Peace and plenty smile around thy doors.” Alas for Morris, the poet continues, “These scenes but serve each torment to renew, The hapless Owner sickens at the view, In rooms of State his cruel lot bemoans, and lofty chambers echo to his groans.” In the guidebook, Treese explains that the “all I need is the Sow” piece of the story is attributed to a 1912 book by Horace Mather Lippincott.

We may never know the real story, if there is one. Hay notes, “Very little is known about Samuel’s personal life and if he kept a journal, it has never been found. No personal letters from friends or relatives that might have shed light on the way he lived have been unearthed.” It is known that Samuel Morris never married and that upon his death the estate passed to his brother Joshua, who sold it to Philadelphia merchant William West. (An architectural history of the site, also by Lorett Treese, can be found in the Spring 1997 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage.)

 

Collections Highlight

Erie Maritime Museum houses a collection of objects related to Paul Allman Siple (1908–68). Siple spent his boyhood in Erie and was active in the Boy Scouts of America there, earning a record number of merit badges and the rank of Eagle Scout. At the age of 19, Siple was selected as a member of Richard E. Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition in 1928–31 and eventually took part in six Antarctic expeditions. In addition to his work on logistics and documentation for various expeditions, Siple researched ways to measure atmospheric cooling. Working with and building on the investigations of scientists in the United States and England, Siple developed what came to be called the wind chill index. During World War II, he created maps and lists of supplies to help the Quartermaster Corps define operational areas based on climate and to efficiently provide personnel with appropriate clothing (also see “From Erie to Antarctica,” Pennsylvania Heritage, Summer 2009).

It is unclear whether Paul Allman Siple made these seal and penguin carvings before or after his first Antarctic expedition in 1928–31. Erie Maritime Museum, PHMC (seal, FN2016.10.1; penguin, FN2016.10.2)

It is unclear whether Paul Allman Siple made these seal and penguin carvings before or after his first Antarctic expedition in 1928–31.
Erie Maritime Museum, PHMC (seal, FN2016.10.1; penguin, FN2016.10.2)

Among the items in the Erie collection are two carvings made by Paul Siple: a black marble seal and a white marble penguin. It is not clear when Siple carved these, although they certainly relate to his interest in Antarctic exploration. The museum’s Linda Bolla is continuing to research this collection and hopes to be able to provide more information on these whimsical carvings and other materials from Siple’s career.

To learn more about these and other PHMC collections, visit phmc.pa.gov and click on the Museum Collection icon.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites & Museums. She writes a weekly blog also called Trailheads at patrailheads.blogspot.com.