Parkland Press

Sunday, December 16, 2018
Dr. William Donner wrote a book about the “Serious Nonsense: Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge and Pennsylvania German Heritage,” which was offered for sale at the banquet.PRESS PHOTOS BY ELSA KERSCHNER Dr. William Donner wrote a book about the “Serious Nonsense: Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge and Pennsylvania German Heritage,” which was offered for sale at the banquet.PRESS PHOTOS BY ELSA KERSCHNER
Each year, Richard Metzger brings along some of his historical treasures to see if people can identify them. He is holding a trapper’s hook. Each year, Richard Metzger brings along some of his historical treasures to see if people can identify them. He is holding a trapper’s hook.
Society President Neil Oswald introduces speaker Dr. William Donner of Kutztown University. Society President Neil Oswald introduces speaker Dr. William Donner of Kutztown University.

Historical society presentation celebrates Pa. Dutch culture

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by Elsa Kerschner ekerschner@tnonline.com in Local News

Neil Oswald, president of the Lynn Heidelberg Historical Society, welcomed members, friends and families to the group’s 19th annual banquet.

The program, given by Dr. William Donner, was on the “Evolution of Pennsylvania Dutch Culture.”

Donner is coordinator of the Pennsylvania German Studies at Kutztown University.

Oswald told a short story about a man who visited the Grand Canyon and took a wrong step and fell.

He caught a bush and yelled for help. A voice came down saying, “Son, if you want me to help you just let go. I’ll take care of you.”

The man looks down and doesn’t want to let go. He looks up and asks, “Is there anyone else up there who can help me.”

Oswald also announced this year’s Pioneer Day, at Ontelaunee Park 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Oct. 6, is expected to be bigger and better with an apple festival included.

Donner then began his presentation saying Pennsylvania Germans were a close community and residents of the little towns in the commonwealth helped each other. They formed fire companies and historical societies.

He, too, had a story to tell.

One day, Donner began, he went to a little town and saw bulls’ eyes everywhere. He asked a man if he had shot the arrows. He said he shot an arrow and then painted the bull’s-eye around it.

He said the Pennsylvania German culture is being eroded.

Culture is about the past and created in the present, Donner said.

He asked how many in the audience could speak Pennsylvania Dutch; how many heard it when they were growing up; how many eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, fastnachts, and potpie with noodles.

He also asked who knew Patrick Donmoyer or the word “gretzie.”

“With loss of a language, changes come fast,” Donner said.

According to the 1850 census, the Germans had built German Reformed and Lutheran churches. Twenty-five percent of schools taught in German in Lehigh County but after the Civil War, the switch to English began.

Known as hex signs in English and barn stars in Pa. Dutch, the pieces of artwork began to symbolize the Pa. Dutch.

They decorated Frakturs and blanket chests.

By 1800, newspapers helped spread culture and High German was spoken instead of Pa. German dialect.

By 1900, English had replaced High German.

Henry Harbaugh wrote poems in Pa. Deitsch. The most famous is “The Schoolhouse by the Creek.”

Edward Rauch wrote humorous stories for the newspapers.

As newspapers switched to English, many of them kept a column in Pa. Dutch.

Heritage events were held. The first were by the Pa. German Society, which stopped activities during World War I when Germans were despised.

After World War I, creative plays were written in Pa. Dutch. Landis Valley is the best German homestead. Conrad Weiser homestead is also open to the public.

Folk festivals were not common until 1930. At first, they offered mostly singing. By 1935 with people like Pumpernickel Bill writing for local newspapers, Pa. Dutch events became tourist attractions.

In addition, Versammlinges, dinner gatherings for groundhog lodge members were held with everyone speaking Pa. Dutch.

They were get-togethers with lots of food, but eventually some people began speaking English.