Harmonist furniture exhibit at Old Economy

I had the chance recently to visit the new temporary exhibit at Old Economy Village (okay, not SO new, it opened in May). “Harmony in Wood,” which will be up through the month of December in the Visitor Center, explores furniture made by members of the Harmony Society during the 19th century. The exhibit received support from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Although it looks like an art exhibit—beautiful wood furniture against pale blue walls—it does much more than celebrate the aesthetics of the pieces. Not that there isn’t plenty to celebrate.

The exhibit does a great job, in my opinion, of putting the furniture in its historical and cultural context. You’ll learn some basic history about the Harmonists and their settlement at Oekonomie (their third home in the United States). You’ll also get to see some of the tools used to make this beautiful furniture and “meet” some of the people who made these pieces (a guided tour of the site includes the Cabinet Shop where the furniture makers worked).

Throughout the exhibit, period illustrations and photographs, documents, and close-ups of furniture details help to convey the world in which this furniture was made and used.

The exhibit wraps up with information on what happened to some of the furniture between the time the Harmony Society disbanded and Old Economy Village opened as a museum.

A visit to “Harmony in Wood” is included in your admission to the site, as are the museum’s orientation video and exhibit (also in the Visitor Center). Plan enough time to see the exhibits, take a tour, and enjoy some time in the garden. Or come to the Erntefest harvest festival tomorrow (Sept. 26). Check out Old Economy’s calendar for information on special events and programs.

A Busy Summer at the Pennsylvania Military Museum

Summer is usually the busiest season at the Pennsylvania Military Museum and 2009 was no exception. Starting with Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day in May and continuing through to the fall, programs and special events fill the calendar, keeping the staff and volunteers extremely busy.
(photo by William Cawthern, intern)

This year the usual excitement was heightened by the arrival, just before Memorial Day, of two massive guns from the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). These guns, which have been in storage in Virginia for years, weigh in excess of 66 tons each. The effort to move them to PMM has spanned 10 years, so it is easy to see why there was such excitement when the guns arrived in May. The guns are currently on temporary supports while they are prepared for more permanent exhibit as part of a greatly enhanced outdoor (and indoor) visitor experience.

(photo by William Cawthern, intern)

The arrival of the guns was fitting, as they were in their temporary supports just in time for the museum’s Memorial Day weekend program, World War II Revisited. An annual event, WWII Revisited features reenactors of both American and German forces, plus a service canteen and USO show.

(photo by William Cawthern, intern)

Vietnam Revisited, an annual event that started in 2007, is held in July to approximate (as closely as you can in central Pennsylvania) the tropical climate faced by those who were “in-country.” Volunteers and staff share with visitors some of the experiences of combat, including patrols and ambushes, and try to help them understand what they are seeing. The response from Vietnam era veterans to the program has been very supportive and the event was covered by the Associated Press.

Still to come in October is Then and NOW, an encampment program that covers U.S. military experience from the American Revolution through to the present day.

There are many other programs during the year, so be sure to check the calendar for exact dates and times.

Niagara Ready for its Close-up

Many thanks to Linda Bolla (photos and text) and Sally Nuckles (photos) for their contributions to this post.

In August, the US Brig Niagara, her sailing crew, and the Erie Maritime Museum's volunteer Ship's Company participated in the filming of a new documentary about the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 is a two-hour film history currently in production by WNED (Buffalo, NY) and Florentine Films/Hott Productions, Inc. in conjunction with WETA (Washington, DC). Larry Hott and his company have been filming at many of the War of 1812 historic sites and events this past summer, both in the United States and Canada, using living history events to capture battle scenes and paint a more authentic picture. The August 10-11 shoot on Niagara was certainly one of the most interesting the film crew has experienced!

Many of the crew and volunteers doubled as on-screen and off-screen characters and still did all the work needed to sail Niagara throughout the day.

Women were not part of Niagara’s sailing crew during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 (we just celebrated the anniversary yesterday, Sept. 10), but today’s ship carries both men and women as sailors. Niagara is the premier sailing school vessel in the U.S. and attracts a wide array of people wanting to learn how to sail wooden ships. Of course, it’s also possible to enlist for a one-day experience to get just a taste of sailing the open sea.

The documentary is scheduled to air on public television in the fall of 2011, not long before the start of the bicentennial of the war (the War of 1812 ran from 1812 to 1815). One of the least studied wars in U.S. history, the War of 1812 was the first test of the new nation’s ability to deal with former allies and foes, France and Great Britain, as an equal. For those of you who want to read more about it (we all should), there’s a great list of resources here.

Out and About in Lancaster County: Winning Hearts and Minds

Our guest bloggers this week are wordsmith Jim Cawley (right in photo below) and photographer Craig Benner of Landis Valley Museum.

Mission: To gather Intelligence from the surrounding community. Destination: Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Time Frame: a few day-off Mondays in June -- for two intrepid PHMC tour guides. The following is a reconnaissance report from the local tourism industry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, written by two operatives working in the field. It was initiated by several factors, including investigating the recent down-economy/increased-gas-price-induced phenomenon known as "staycations." Our foremost motivation was after having heard a co-worker say to some visitors, "Oh, don't go there -- that's too [Fill-in-the-Blank]...." This event provoked us to ask one another, "Have we at times said something similar?" We took a deep breath and muttered, "Er, ah, hhhmmm, sadly, maybe we have." It is possible the trip became a kind of Redemptive Pilgrimage.

Truth be told, part of the impetus for the exploration was that we were looking for ways to better serve our visitors to Landis Valley Museum. Many, many times we are asked for recommendations for everything from places to eat, to other attractions to visit. So, uniformed in Landis Valley Museum polo shirts, your Adventurous Authors equipped themselves for the expedition with our passports to a "foreign land," the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Books and set out to seek truth and enlightenment -- or a reasonable facsimile. Oh, what a nice perk the Hospitality Books turned out to be. (For those of you unfamiliar with this perk, they are small booklets with spaces for all the participating members in the Bureau. Employees are given them in late Spring and encouraged to visit other sites or businesses for free, or to be given a free sample of product.)

Craig and I were surprised at the very warm reception by other folks working in the tourism industry -- after telling hosts at the sites we visited where we worked. Several told us, "Thanks for visiting us. We will definitely recommend Landis Valley to our guests!" THAT made us feel like our time was well spent. To borrow an old phrase, maybe we won some "hearts and minds."

Among the significant "historic" sites that we visited were The Amish Experience, The Amish Farm, The Amish Village, Hans Herr House, and The Mennonite Information Center. www.mennoniteinfoctr.com/ Of course as amateur anthropologists we also dined on some local fare with the discounts offered in the PDCVB Hospitality Books. We must be truthful, though maybe a bit biased... NONE can beat the cooking of Landis Valley's food guru Tom Martin! (Tom is the author of the recently re-issued Landis Valley Cookbook.)

Jim looking at a chest dated 1737 at Hans Herr House.
We had both visited Hans Herr House in the past, but feel the need to re-fresh ourselves occasionally at "ground zero," if you will. As an aside, 2010 marks the 300th anniversary of the first Mennonites to the area that would become Lancaster County. The Hans Herr House dates to 1719! The site is owned and operated by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. Herr House's staff continue to do a great job of telling the story of this important immigrant group to the region and interpreting a wonderful still-standing piece of the past. We assured our hosts that we always recommend their site to our visitors, especially to those who seem truly curious, have a keen interest in the past, or would appreciate hearing about a distinctive Lancaster group in "their own voice."

In all fairness, The Amish Village and The Amish Farm tell a different story than we do at LVM, but we observed closely the other visitors on the tours; they seemed to find it interesting and clearly a need was filled. At one site the guide pulled us aside at tour's end and asked us, "How did I do? I'd really like your input." We were gracious and told him all seemed fine and that we appreciated his efforts, and his asking for our input. In essence, we felt "proud" that Landis Valley's reputation is such as to have warranted his request.

We believe that some Lancaster County visitors might find it difficult to find “one stop shopping” place that describes differences, or subtleties in the cultural and theological aspects of the county's religious denominations. As historians, if you will, and since Craig is a photographer, both of us were very impressed with the two films shown at the Mennonite Information Center at Millstream Road and U.S. Route 30 (or as we like to say to our visitors, "If you pass the Starbucks you've gone too far."). These wonderful multi-media presentations offer a very good introduction to the spiritual communities in a simple and aesthetically pleasing manner. Craig found the photography absolutely first rate. This place is now at the top of our list of recommendations.

In closing, we agreed that the PHMC's Landis Valley Museum certainly is an outstanding value. The other sites fill a narrow niche, but Landis Valley Museum offers a comprehensive Pennsylvania Dutch experience. Through this travel we gained more confidence in providing answers and guidance to our visitors, and are also now better tourism industry "citizens" and team members. Oh, and we had fun, too!

P.S. Our trip concluded in June. Very recently a German man and his family came to visit Landis Valley (not an uncommon summer occurrence!). He saw Craig (a German university trained speaker, former High School language teacher and long-time student of Pennsylvania German) and asked in his native tongue, "Are you Craig?" As it turns out, the fellow mentioned above that had requested our input regarding his interpretation had kept Craig's business card and when this family visited him he strongly urged them to take a trip to Landis Valley Museum. Upon arrival our supervisor told the family where to find Craig. So, it appears that the "good neighbor policy" put into action by Craig and I has borne some beautiful fruit.