Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Pennsylvania’

Scootering through Covered Bridges of Lancaster County

On my Bucket List: Ride a motorcycle! Well, how about a scooter instead?

Riding a motorcycle has always been on my “gotta do list,” but I always asked myself how would I secure a motorcycle, find an instructor, and meet insurance requirements without spending lots of money? So when I saw an advertisement for an opportunity to scooter through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I said to myself, “Here’s my chance!” Several years ago, I visited the area to see the Strasburg Railroad and Museum and to take a ride on a steam-powered train through the cornfields. I remembered that the views were spectacular.

Strasburg Scooters advertises several tours, and I opted for the covered bridge tour and signed up for the scoot coupé, a two-seater in the moped category. One of my friends kindly offered to drive so that I could take photos and videos.

scooterWe found Strasburg Scooters right next door to the railroad museum. We introduced ourselves to Marc, our guide, who fitted us with helmets, followed by a quick tutorial on operating the scooter. He then sent us off on a trial run around the block. The coupé handled well and chugged nicely along between 20 and 30 mph. After the other tour participants took turns practicing on the their scooters, we started down one of the narrow roads.

Marc stopped along the Amish farmland to explain some of their cultural traditions and practices. Horse and buggies passed by, and folks acknowledged us with a peace sign or a wave. Children peeked out from the back window of their coaches, smiling at us. At one house, little children, girls wearing bonnets and boys donning straw hats, ran over to the side of the road to watch us ride by.

Horse and Carriage through the Bridge

The farms stood like jewels on the landscape, silver silos gleaming in the afternoon sun. Rolling hills supported squares of various shades of green. The Amish keep all their buildings and houses in pristine condition. Black and white cows and tan horses grazed on grasslands while fields of corn, tobacco and alfalfa swayed with the light breezes.

Countryside by Scooter

Window in BridgeWe stopped at three of the 29 covered bridges, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Huge beams which supported the structure, arched on each side, called the Burr arch truss design. The bridges were painted red, with white portals standing at the entrances. A central window allowed travelers to look out to the stream and countryside beyond.

Our final stretch included a spin through the historic village of Strasburg. We saw several log homes from the 1700s along the main highway through the town. Inns and restaurants were tucked between 19th century houses, each one a study in different architectural styles.

Strasburg Downtown

Riding along the quiet country roads offered us views of expansive scenery of fields, forests, farms, flowing streams–every turn a different postcard scene. The scoot coupé delivered us in the landscape and in the moment, the scent of the land filling the air. I was thoroughly thrilled with my first scooter ride.

I hope to return in the Fall, and repeat the ride all over again.



Summer Camp, Fifty Years Ago, and Almost Not Making it Back Home

Rite of Passage: the Summer Camp Experience 1957

For many children in the U.S., the summer camp experience has become a right of passage: separating from parents, friends and a familiar neighborhood to live in “the great outdoors” and learn life strategies of how to get along with adults and other children. According to the American Camp Association, nearly 11 million kids attend one of the 7,000 overnight camps each summer, with stays ranging from a week to two months. I had classmates whose parents sent them to camp for the entire summer. Research suggests that camp can build confidence, social skills, and independence. Probably for most kids, the experience is a mixed bag, like life.

Girl Scout camp Hidden Falls provided that experience for my sister, Jean, and her two friends. Jean wrote my parents the quintessential camp letter, “Please, please come get me! I hate it! . . . almost mimicking to a tea Allan Sherman’s hit single record years later, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” a comic song in which a camper bemoans his experiences to the tune of Ponchielli‘s Dance of the Hours.

Take me home, oh Mudda Fadda
Take me home, I hate Granada
Don’t leave me out in the forest where
I might get eaten by a bear

Camp Nik-o-Mahs, in the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania 

I remember being intrigued by the Camp Nik-o-Mahs brochure. The camp was once a scout camp founded in the 1920 and named for the nearby town of Shamokin, spelled backwards, that is. The Hall family, who lived in my hometown of Springfield, operated the camp. The list of activities sounded exciting: archery, swimming in a creek, campfires, canoeing, all in a woodsy atmosphere. The cabins resembled little clapboard houses with porches. The camp sponsored overnight hikes and a trip through a water cave. In 1958 the brochure read that campers can “frolic to their heart’s content” in the creek. [1] An adventurous 11-year old, I loved all of that so I begged my parents to let me go. They were not so enthusiastic. My folks were protective and not convinced that the experience would be as joyful as I was imaging. The begging paid off, however, and they submitted the application what I think was about $35 for a week. What could happen in a week, after all?

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

Introduction to Latrine Duty

After a four-hour drive, but which seemed endless–due to my excitement, we arrived at the camp. Each cabin had three sets of bunk beds, with four to six sharing girls the quarters. About nineteen cabins lined along a dirt path, the girls’ cabins grouped together, then the boys’ cabins further down. I think there was a rule about not being allowed on the boys’ side.

After saying good-bye to parents, counselors explained the rules and regulations and gave us a tour of the camp. They pointed out the shower room. You could take a bath, but you had to do something with water, like build a fire, to make it hot. I didn’t take any baths.

I was nervous about getting along with the counselor and other girls in the cabin. I recall that I thought the counselor was a bit bossy, but I soon became friends with the other campers and enjoyed their company.

The next morning we dutifully cleaned our cabin, as instructed, and awaited inspection. Beds had to be neat, clothes put away, and the floor clean. Counselors marched in with clipboards and pencils and snooped around the corners of the cabin and found two “dust bunnies” under my bed. For the offense, they assigned our cabin the dreaded latrine duty. Later I would tell my mom about what happened, and she was quite indignant that she was paying good money only to have her daughter clean toilets. The job wasn’t that bad, actually, it was more the idea of cleaning toilets. Our cabin passed all subsequent inspections.

Campfire Philosophy

At the first evening campfire, the camp director introduced us to the hierarchy of swimming privileges. The top place was reserved for the members of the Walrus Club, who carried a card with their special designation and were permitted to swim in the deep water. I made up my mind that night that I would take the swimming test the next day, as I wanted to enhance my status with a Walrus Club membership.

Campfires were held almost every evening, and we would sing the typical camp songs.  Looking back on these songs, I’ve realized that the theme of mortality ran through the lyrics of many of these songs.

There was a ship Titanic that sailed the ocean blue,
And they thought they had a ship that the water wouldn’t go through,
It was sad when the great ship went down.
Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives (in a high voice)
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Can’t Get to Heaven
Can’t get to heaven on roller skates, you’ll roll right past those pearly gates.
I ain’t going to grieve my lord no more, no more.

Found a Peanut
Found a peanut, ate a peanut, got a stomach ache, called the doctor, died anyway, went to heaven, said go the other way.

Maybe these songs were trying to tell us we wouldn’t always be carefree kids and that we’d better wise up to the ways of the world.

Not sure if singing these other lines from the Titanic song also put a psychological bent into my head for class consciousness, which I’ve been confronting of late?

They were nearing to the shore, when the water began to pour.
And the rich refused to associate with the poor,
So they sent them down below
Where they’d be the first to go.
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Food, Glorious Food

Reveille played over the intercom to wake us in the morning, and we lined up at the mess hall for breakfast. We sat on benches in front of long tables, food served in large bowls. At home, we didn’t usually have bread with our dinner, but here everyone scoffed up the bread. Mom told me that after I returned from camp, I ate everything. The camp experience had expanded my palate!

The camp operated a little store, and parents left an allowance for incidentals. I became totally addicted to string, red liquorice, which I considered the yummiest of candies and spent just about all my allowance on the red stuff.

Jumping into Penn's Creek

Jumping into Penn’s Creek

Notoriety on My Second Day: “Can’t get to Heaven”


At the bottom of the slide

Standing on the pier over Penn’s Creek, I asked the adult counselor if I could take the swimming test for the Walrus Club. She said ok, and pointed to a wooden raft in the creek. Part of the problem may have been that I am nearsighted, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t see where she was pointing. Two rafts floated on the creek, one just beyond the sliding board and another way down the creek in the deep water. “Well,” I thought, “that raft beyond the slide couldn’t be the destination, it was far too close for any test for the Walrus Club.” I jumped into the water and swam toward the far raft. I was a good swimmer, I knew I could do the swim. On my return trip, I passed by the sliding board, and at that very moment, an inexperienced camper took off down the slide and panicked, grabbing me for support, pulling me under the water. I was tired by that point and could not cast him off. I told myself, “If I could just get one breath . . ..” Then realizing that was hopeless, I thought, “This is it.”

I blacked out. I came to as the lifeguard carried me to the shore. I was crying, but not sure why as I couldn’t remember deciding to start to cry. The waterfront came to a standstill as I sat sobbing on the sand. From that moment on, I was known as “the girl who almost drowned.”

By the next day, I had completely recovered from the ordeal. I wasn’t fussed over, not even sent to the infirmary. What occupied my thoughts now: did I pass the Walrus Club test? I was ready to retake the test. When I asked the swim counselor, she told me, yes, I had passed, and remarked, “It was a good thing I had been watching you.”

Summer Romance 

One serendipitous happening from the almost drowning incident: I met my first love. A seasoned camper at Nik-o-Mahs, “Plottsie,” as everyone called him, approached me on the path to the waterfront, “Are you the girl who almost drowned?,” he asked. Thus, began the romance. Plottise was a thin boy with glasses and usually wore a plaid shirt. We hung out and sat together, and of course, we were teased by the other campers for our attachment.

A special event on the night before we left marked the end of our stay. The counselors handed us candles on little cardboard floats, and we gently placed them on the creek, watching them glide downstream until they fell over the waterfall. The flickering lights in the dark forest reflected on the water, and Plottsie and I held hands as we walked along the path that followed the creek. All was perfect.

Then Plottsie popped a question, “Can I kiss you?” Thrown into confusion, I asked myself, “Was I old enough to kiss?” “Was I allowed to kiss?” “What did this mean?” I replied, “I don’t think right now,” and with that remark, coolness came over the night. The next day, I went looking for Plottsie as I wanted to take his photograph before I returned home. He stood at a distance as I snapped the photo and hurried off. When I returned home, I mistakenly opened the camera, exposing the picture to light. Plottsie had disappeared in a cloud of whiteness.

The Following Year

The next summer I returned to Camp Nik-o-Mahs. The red liquorice had lost its appeal, and the trips and hikes were no longer new experiences. The candle ritual on the last evening was still beautiful, but I stood alone looking through the silhouettes of the trees thinking I probably wouldn’t be back.

De Ja Vou, Returning to the Camp, 50 Years Gone By

For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to return to Camp Nik-0-Mahs, which had been closed for years. I wasn’t sure what I’d find there, but a road had been named for the camp. I thought that I might be able to recognize the place along the creek, even if the buildings were no longer standing.

Returning to the camp meant a road trip through the Allegheny Mountains, part of the Appalachian Range that runs through the eastern United States. Traveling in mid-October the leaves were at their colorful best with reds, yellows and oranges between dark green trees not yet turned. The sun would occasionally peek out from behind heavy cloud cover, casting a glow on the landscape, highlighting nature’s pallet of colors. The road twisted around the mountains as we drove upward, only to come back down on the other side. Farmlands spread out in the valleys with fields of dried cornstalks and sunflowers against meadows of green clover. Barns, some unpainted and rustic, others vivid red, dotted the landscape. Little villages of clapboard houses clustered along crossroads.


Penn’s Cave

An outing to Penn’s Cave was one of the trips we made during our stay at camp, so on this trip, I planned a stop there. Penn’s Cave had been a popular tourist stop back when I was at camp and is still is today, as it is one of the few caves accessible only by boat. Since my camp days, the cave had been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Entrance Penn's Cave

The area looked much the same, with the Penn’s Cave House, the three-story frame house built in 1885, standing near the entrance. Steep stairs still led down to the cave and the familiar flat-bottomed boats that took us through the watery cavern were the method of transport. After gliding through the cave, we came out on the other side to a large pond and then returned through the cave again. The tour was almost exactly as I had remembered it.

Finding The Camp

We followed Route 235 through the towns of Laurelton and Glen Iron, making a turn at Creek Road, near the end of which we found Nikomahs Drive paralleling Penn’s Creek. We drove until the road disappeared into the forest, so we got out of the car to look around for any sign of the camp. The house at the end of the road looked very much the era that I had remembered, painted cream with green trim. A sign confirmed the name of the house, Windy Inn, which the Mifflin Times reported was built sometime before 1920. [2] We found several stone structures, now abandoned and left to the elements. One lone building stood intact with a slab inscribed with the date, 1926. A stone sign above the door read: “Erected in Honor of our Mothers.” I guessed that the building may have been the old mess hall. I couldn’t find any trace of the cabins.

I walked to the edge of Penn’s Creek, which looked quite impressive as the current moved swiftly from the heavy rains on the previous day. I guess those many years ago I could have been lost in those waters, but the fates prescribed that my destiny would be to stand here on the bank of the creek decades later.

[1] “Camp . .  Nik-o-Mahs, In the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania,” Millmont Times, Vol 14, Issue 2, June 1, 2013, p. 1-12.

[2] Ibid.

<a href=””>Finite Creatures</a>


Since writing this post, I’ve learned more about the history of the camp, from the comments here and on About Me.  Many thanks to everyone who shared their histories. Tom Hall, whose parents ran the camp, wrote me about some of the other camp traditions. The citing of the ghost of Penn’s Creek was always a favorite. Can never go wrong with ghost story. Besides the Walrus Club, campers could join the Old Timers Club. Another camp event was the funeral service for Jake Hopper (the outhouse that got too full). Tom relates about the “big time campfires where the fire would come out of the sky to light the main fire.”  I recall that we hiked somewhere out of the camp, maybe in was to to Tall Timbers. One of counselors took a wrong turn, and we wandered around a backroad until we were rescued.  Campers visited Rolling Green Amusement Park, which went out of operation in 1971. The camp closed its doors in 1966.

Civil War Reunion: Pennypacker Mills, Pennsylvania, May 2014


The farmland, forests and fields of the Pennypacker Mills County Park provided the setting for the Civil War Reunion. The park lies 15 miles north of Valley Forge National Park and just across the Perkiomen Creek from the town of Schwenksville. “Perkiomen” is a word from the Lenape, a tribe of Native Americans who settled in the area, that means “muddy waters” and “where the cranberries grow.” As I walked down to the creek, tall grasses waved in the gentle breeze casting an incense over the landscape. Purple, white and yellow wildflowers peeked out from under the canopy of grasses. I stood on the bank of the creek as the melody, “Wade in the Water,” a song associated with the Underground Railroad, played in my mind.

The Perkiomen Creek and Underground Railroad share a connection. In a famous case, a slave named Rachel had to flee from West Chester when her owner, who lived in Maryland, showed up in town with a warrant for her arrest. Fleeing from her pursuers, Rachel jumped a seven feet high fence, escaping once again. After hiding in an attic, her friends smuggled her out of town to Phoenixville, crossing the Schuylkill River and then the Perkiomen Creek at Tyson’s Mill in the middle of the night. (The Underground Railroad in our Area)

The centerpiece of the park is a colonial revival mansion built around 1720 and owned by the Pennypacker family for eight generations. Pennsylvania governor Samuel Pennypacker, who served the state between 1903 to 1907, lived in the house and collected many of the antiques that are displayed throughout the rooms of the mansion.

Mansion at PPM

Having filmed two other Civil War reenactments, skirmishes on the Wilmington Railroad and at Rising Sun, Maryland, I looked forward to a new adventure on the rolling hills of Montgomery County. Although no Civil War battles were fought here, in 1863 Samuel Pennypacker enlisted in the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia and confronted Confederate forces at a skirmish north of Gettysburg at Witmer Farm.

American Civil War: History and Recreation

Other than a few history classes in college, I hadn’t studied much about the Civil War. In order to learn more, I’ve watched the recent PBS series, Civil War: The Untold Story, the central theme, which some view as controversial, establishing that the Civil War was fought over slavery and not the issue of states’ rights. Producer-director Chris Wheeler stated that the film brought hate mail from groups on the radical right. The film also included the relatively unknown history of the contributions of African-Americans to the conflict. I admired the filming of the battle scenes. What Wheeler and I have in common is that we both photographed reenactors, who are dedicated to accurate portrayals of the Civil War.

General John F. Hartranft

General John F. Hartranft

General John F. Hartranft (a.k.a, Mark D. Grim, Jr.), a native of Montgomery County who fought in both the Eastern and Western battles, presented a lecture on his experiences during the war and as provost-marshal during the trial of those accused of assassinating Abraham Lincoln. The General stated that when Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers became confused as to the reason they were fighting. They understood the cause as preservation of the union and not for the freedom of the slaves. General Hartranft reaffirmed to the soldiers that preserving the union was the purpose of their sacrifice. As strongly as I believe that the preservation of the union was important, seems like freeing an oppressed population would be a more compelling reason to take up arms.

The event planners filled the weekend with activities and demonstrations including musical performances, battle reenactments, children’s events, speakers and sutlers displaying their wares. I took advantage of an early start on the day and attended every event on their schedule.

Mansion Tours

Visitors could walk through the house, where guides in each area presented a history of the rooms. The house was not electrified until after the Pennypackers left, but in 1900 much of the building was updated and renovated. Many of the original furnishings, books and paintings remained with house and in remarkable condition.

Included in the slide show below, is a portrait of Governor Pennypacker, whose veto in 1906 blocked what would have been the first compulsory sterilization law in the United States. Pennypacker stated:

“It is plain that the safest and most effective method of preventing procreation would be to cut the heads off the inmates, and such authority is given by the bill to this staff of scientific experts…Scientists like all men whose experiences have been limited to one pursuit…sometimes need to be restrained. Men of high scientific attainments are prone…to lose sight of broad principles outside of their domain…To permit such an operation would be to inflict cruelty upon a helpless class…which the state has undertaken to protect…” Wikipedia

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Songs & Stories of the Civil War

Dressed in a Confederate soldier’s uniform, Matthew Dodd played banjo and guitar, singing songs of the Civil War era, as well as telling stories. He plays “Dixie” in the video at the end of this post.

Matthew Dodd

Civilian Street Demonstrations and Families

Union Patriotic League, an organization that represents domestic life during the Civil War era, often accompanies the reenactors, displaying their specialized interests, whether basket weaving, cooking or sewing. They created charming vignettes inside their tents, with rugs, quilts, flowers and lamps.  In the real Civil War encampments, women and children rarely accompanied the soldiers, so these tents are representative of domestic life at that time and not actually recreating camp life. Photographs that follow are from the both the Union Patriotic League and Civil War reenactor camp sites.

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 Confederate Artillery Demonstration

John Houch presented a history lesson to the gathered crowd, who came to watch the firing of the cannons. John mentioned that in the filming of Gettysburg, the director borrowed 50 cannons from reenactors. In addition to the seasoned adults, children and teens also took part in the demonstration. The Confederates represented the 37th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, Company A.

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Becks Philadelphia Brass Band

Becks Brass Band

The Becks Philadelphia Brigade Band, a Civil War/Victorian-era brass band, performed military and social music of the Civil War period through the late 1800s. Authentically uniformed, the band played both reproduction and period instruments including a piccolo, Eb cornet, Bb cornet, Eb alto horn, tenor horn, baritone horn, bass and percussion. Today’s band serves as representatives of the brass band of the 2nd Division, 2nd Corps, 2nd Brigade of the Union Army of the Potomac in 1863.

Battlefield Enactment

Like the little girl whirling in circles, controversies swirl around the authenticity and ethical debates on battle enactments. For someone who would melt down every bullet and bomb ever produced, I have had to ask myself what is the attraction to watching battles, which in reality brought untold suffering and grief? Can someone so committed to peace derive an uplifting message from living history enactments?

My argument is in support of the reenactors. They have been extraordinarily kind in sharing information they have learned and generous with their time in making an honest effort at historical representation. Reenactors have every right to role play, as any movie director or documentarian has to present their view. These are regular folks who are portraying regular folks. Just like critics analyze films and television, visitors and observers may also critique these enactments. Just being present, reenactors encourage discussion, debate and further research. Historical reenacting, as well as for those of us making videos, carries the responsibility to authenticity and an understanding of the implications how the history of the Civil War might be presented.


Friends of Pennypacker Mills Museum Facebook Page

Pennypacker Mills: Montgomery County, PA

A Moment in Democracy’s History: Bob Edgar Elected to Congress 1974

B Edgar Button

When grew up in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in the 195os and 60s, I was very much aware that the Republican machine ran the politics of the town, as well as the county, going back to the Civil War. My parents were Democrats, and I remember my father remarking how a Democrat didn’t have a chance of being elected to any office in the county. As a teenager I became interested in supporting the Democratic underdogs, and I attended several events for John J. Logue of Swarthmore, who tried to unseat the entrenched Republican congressman in the 7th district. Young and idealistic, I felt betrayed by the democratic process and wondered how the voices of the people could be drowned out by the powerful Delaware County Board of Republican Supervisors, nicknamed the “War Board.”

In 1974 the Republican machine still controlled Delaware County, and the War Board monopolized local politics. The break came when the public became outraged over the Watergate scandal. What fired me up was when President Nixon demanded the resignations of Attorney General Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus. Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister, decided to run for the 7th Congressional seat, and I signed up to join his campaign.

I canvassed with Bob and stood train stations and malls, handing out flyers. His parents lived a few blocks away, and his Dad and I would walk through the neighborhoods of Springfield talking up the cause. I attended strategy meetings with his dedicated campaign staff and spoke to union representatives. Bob had a platform we could believe in:

Bob Edgar Platform

Bob Edgar Platform 2

I wrote several letters to the local newspapers. The first letter was published in The Evening Bulletin, June 15, 1974, Saturday Forum: Bulletin Readers Speak Out. The subject was Church and State: Clergy in politics, in favor and against.

Church and State Letter

The second letter appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times, Friday, July 5, 1974.

Select Man, Not Party

As election night approached, we were still very much uncertain of the outcome. We faced a voter registration of 3:1 in favor of Republicans. The Republican party ran a new candidate, county district attorney Stephen J. McEwen. The G.O.P. had plenty of monitory resources while Bob’s campaign spent only $3,000 on his primary. Even the Associate Director of the Democratic National Committee stated that “the national party does not rate the chances of winning the 7th district seat as high as other districts.”

Edgar Campaign Literature

Undaunted, the campaign soldiers solicited friends, neighbors and family members to help Bob’s campaign. We were determined to keep the momentum going. I signed up to distribute campaign literature outside the polls at the old Central School in Springfield on Election Day. After the polls closed, my job was to call in the voting tallies to the Edgar headquarters.

Bob Edgar Post Card

That evening after the voting was complete, I held my breath as they opened the voting machine and read the numbers. Bob had won with a clear majority. I called in the tallies, and headed over to the headquarters. We were still waiting for final results to come in from the other precincts when Stephen McEwen entered the room with his entourage. I could hardly believe Steve was conceding as we expected a long night of vote counting. The joy of the victory spread through the crowd as we shared that moment of celebration with each other.

Bob passed away on April 23, and his contributions to Common Cause, as well as his accomplishments when serving six terms as a progressive congressman, are being remembered in The New York Times, the Nation and Huffington Post. For me, Bob’s greatest legacy is when he stood with the people of the 7th Congressional District to restore democracy from control of one-party rule.

B Edgar Thank You

Thank you, Bob.

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