Found in Collection (167)
Does anyone know how to play the Pennsylvania Polka?
Concertina at HSMC
This lovely instrument is known as a concertina. A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument that uses bellows and buttons to produce sound. It was first patented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in London in 1829. A German model was developed independently by Carl Friedrich Uhlig in 1834.
Bellows design on HSMC concertina
The original design had one row of five keys on each side of the instrument. It was eventually improved with the addition of more rows of keys. The English concertinas are normally shaped like a hexagon and play the same note when you press a key and pull or push the bellows. The German concertina can sometimes be square shaped and uses a diatonic scale. This means if a musician presses a key and push the bellows inward it makes a different note than if they press the same key and pull the bellows.
Black youth with early square-ended German Concertina, ca. 1864. From the online gallery of Musurgia.com
The concertina was popular in the United States from 1840s to 1900. Unlike other instruments, the concertina was small and affordable for many people. A single row German concertina cost roughly $1 in the late 1860s. A two-row cost roughly $5 in the late 1880s, which would be roughly $30 in 2020. The German concertinas were the least expensive and were thus more popular with the middle and lower class. The English concertinas were generally more expensive and favored by the upper class.
German concertina, mid 19th century C. Coule - New and Complete Method (or Self-Instructor) for Playing the German Concertinas. London: C. Coule
Seeing the popularity of the German concertinas, some English concertina makers started making their own hybrid models. This combination of English and German concertina designs is referred to as an Anglo-German Concertina. These typically have a hexagon shape and use a diatonic scale.
By the early 1900s, accordions replaced the popularity of the concertinas. Today, concertinas are still used to play traditional tango and polka music from countries such as Ireland, England, and South Africa.
Worrall, Dan. “A Brief History of the Anglo Concertina in the Unites States,” 15 April 2007 http://www.concertina.com/worrall/anglo-in-united-states/index.htm#anchor-1
A couple of weeks ago, one of our regular researchers asked me about some photographs he once saw here of funerals for service men killed in World War I. I’ve been through most of our photographs, but I wasn’t aware of the photos he was talking about. Since he was interested in WWI, I pulled down a large book we have titled Roster of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines from Norristown, Pa., in US Service, World War, 1917-1919. And…surprise! There were the photos.
In addition to photographs of several funerals, there are photographs of soldiers before they left for Europe and Liberty Bond drives.
This photograph shows Civil War veterans hailing the new recruits.
After a few pages of photos, the book becomes a record of the all the men from Norristown who served in the war. There’s no indication of who produced the book. The rosters look as though each man signed his own name. It also lists the dates of their service and the branch they served in.
This invaluable record was donated to the Historical Society by B. Frank Stritzinger in 1929.
Many of you likely read the Times Herald, but did you know it's one of the longest running papers in our area? We have a few items in our collection that relate to the historic newspaper, such as this commemorative cast of David Sower Jr., one of the first owners of the paper.
Copper Cast of David Sower Jr.
David Sower Jr. was the son of David Sower Sr. the founder of the Norristown Gazette. As a bookbinder and seller in Norristown, David Sr. wanted to create a paper for local news. He published the first copy of the Norristown Gazette on June 15, 1799. The paper's name changed to the Norristown Herald and Weekly Advertiser in 1800. David Jr. took over the Norristown Herald in 1816.
While running the paper, David Jr. enlarged the pages and added office equipment. At some point in his eighteen years as editor and publisher, David Jr. changed the paper's name to Norristown Herald and Montgomery county Advertiser (the "c" in county was lowercase). He sold the paper to John Hodgson in 1854. Its name changed slightly a few times as it changed owners in the following years. By the early 1920s, it was known as the Norristown Daily Herald.
In 1921 Ralph Beaver Strassburger bought the Norristown Daily Herald and the Norristown Daily Times, which was founded by Civil War veteran Captain William Rennyson in 1881. Strassburger merged the two papers, creating the Norristown Times Herald. The business operated at 410 Markley Street for 98 years.
The paper changed its name to the Times Herald in the early 1960s to emphasize its focus on local county news. Today, the Times Herald continues to operate both in print and online.
Russell Rubert(President of Norristown Preservation Society). “Guest Commentary: The Times Herald and the Changing Way of News.” Times Herald, February 13, 2020.https://www.timesherald.com/news/local/guest-commentary-the-times-herald-and-the-changing-way-of-news/article_343e1888-4e62-11ea-be0b-a33ec8863426.html
Stan Husky. Remembering Norristown: Stories from the Banks of the Schuylkill River.
This week we received two items that had me nostalgic for … February. They were handbills for local theaters. Remember theater? Remember going out and doing things?
The first handbill is from about 1931, when the Norris Theater was less than a year old and showed both live vaudeville acts and movies. Both shows illustrate trends in American entertainment in the early 1930’s. The first is hillbilly music, a phrase coined in the 1920’s for what we now might call bluegrass, folk, or Americana. Groups like the Blue Ridge Ramblers toured the country on the vaudeville circuit and recorded 78rpm records. They played traditional songs like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “Golden Slippers.” Radio shows also featured groups like this, as the advertisement points out at the bottom, “You’ve heard these Hill-Billies on the air – now see and hear them in person.”
The show is combined with the movie, Svengali, starring Hollywood megastar John Barrymore. Svengali was a horror movie about a singing teacher who hypnotizes a tone deaf milkmaid (people’s idea of “scary” has changed). Horror was a popular genre in the early sound days of film. Universal Studio’s monster movies are probably the best remembered examples. Svengali was released in May of 1931.
The other handbill is from 10 years later and features Norristown’s three theaters: the Norris, the Grand, and the Garrick. The three theaters were all owned by the same family so they advertised together. The Norris still seems to be the premier theater, showing the biggest movies, in this case A Yank in the RAF with Tyrone Power and Nothing but the Truth with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The other two theaters show “B” movies, like The Smiling Ghost, an example of the horror comedies popular in the 1940’s.
Hopefully we’ll all be back in theaters someday soon whether it’s for a movie or clog dancers or whatever “Spark Plug – the 16 year old boy wonder” is. If you’re curious to hear what the Ramblers sounded like, you can hear some of their songs here.
Can you identify these objects? Here's a hint, the manufacture's name "Dettra" is engraved on each item.
Dettra was a flag company based in Oaks, Pennsylvania. John Dettra founded the company in 1902. The company made flags, pennants, banners, bannerettes, and flag accessories.1 So what are these two mystery items at HSMC...flag holders for your car! Believed to have been made around the mid 1900s, these metal items were designed to attach to your car's bumper and hold a small flag.
The flag business appears to eb and flow depending on current events. For example, when the United States added a star to the flag when Alaska became a state in 1959, Dettra saw a huge uptick in orders for a new flag. When Hawaii became the 50th state later that same year, Dettra lost roughly $150,000 in canceled orders and unsalable inventory.2 However, the company quickly recovered when they made and sold roughly 2 million new flags, roughly double what Dettra normally made in a year.3
At its peak, Dettra employed about 150 people and had a large network of roughly 5,000 distributors, retailers, and wholesalers.4 Dettra even had special shops for custom flag and banner designs. They made signals for Frank Sinatra's yacht and pennants for the Seminole Tribe in Florida.5
Flags and banners were tested for durability against wind and sunlight, sometimes even sent to places like Florida and the South Western United States for testing. Depending on where the custormer lived, they would recommend a certain type of fabric. For example, polyester and cotton are more durable, but due to their heavy nature it takes more wind to fly it on a flagpole. Alternatively, nylon is more lightweight and easier to fly.
Photo credit: flagguys.com
In addition to his flag manufacturing company, it appears John Dettra also trimmed hedges at some point in his life. Here is an advertisement for his "little wonder hedge trimmer" invention.6
Photo credit: flagguys.com
Based on this instruction manual, it appears that at some point Dettra was once named the Detco Manuafacturing Co. The company was eventually purchased by one of their major competitors, Annin & Co., in 1998.
2 Nilsson, Jeff. “More Than a Flag.” The Saturday Evening Post. June 6, 2009. https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2009/06/flag-day-history/
3 Kita, Joe. “Stars and Stripes Forever Turning Red, White, and Blue into the Fabric of American Patriotism.” The Morning Call. June 14, 1984. https://www.mcall.com/news/mc-xpm-1984-06-14-2418444-story.html
6 Flag guys. https://www.flagguys.com/state.html#dettra
With schools closed this spring, many students missed out on their annual science fair. Montgomery County started holding fairs in 1958, one year after the Soviets launched Sputnik. Sponsored by the Montgomery County Science Teachers’ Association, the annual fair includes middle and high schoolers competing for prizes.
We have a few programs from science fairs in the early 1960’s (1962-1965). They show students examining diverse issues in science: biology, engineering, mathematics, chemistry, and physics. The biggest winners received scholarships to local colleges. In these early years, boys and girls were judged separately.
My favorite thing about these programs is the seal for the science fair. It shows what is a perhaps an artificial satellite in the upper left, a Tesla coil on the bottom, and perhaps a moon settlement in the middle.
The Montgomery County Science Teachers’ Association still sponsors an annual fair, now called the Montgomery County Science Research Competition.
This piece is reposted from April 2014.
Currently at the Historical Society, I’m cataloging our collection of several hundred family histories in order to provide better access to our members and patrons. In the course of the project, I noticed something interesting. About twenty family histories were written by the same man, J. Montgomery Seaver.
Seaver’s photograph appears at the beginning of each book, along with a few pictures of illustrious members of the family. These photographs are followed by “The Battle Hymn of the [family name].” The lyrics to each one is a little different.
The main part of the book consists of lists of prominent people with the family name and genealogies that usually link the family to King Edward I of England or William the Conqueror.
In 1930, Seaver was charged with fraud by the Post Office Department. Apparently, he picked 49 common last names (the “best” families, as he called them) and sent post cards to everyone in the phone book with those names. The hardcover, cloth bound books cost $10.00 apiece. Seaver was convicted of fraud, but the judge was lenient. He suggested that if Seaver put his skills and determination to honest work, he could be very successful.
Seavers books are still cited by researchers, but here at HSMC, we’ve decided to put a disclaimer in the books about the suspected fraud.
It looks like Seaver was out to make money, but other frauds are caused by family legends or the hope to inherit a fortune. A famous legend concerns Anneka Jans, an early settler in New Amsterdam rumored to be of royal descent. This article from our archive tells of a family in Lansdale that claimed to be her descendants.
Many people claimed descent from Anneka Jans and sued in the hope of claiming part of a Manhattan real estate fortune. The real Anneka Jans did own about 62 acres of modern Manhattan, but she was not the granddaughter of a Dutch king (the Netherlands didn’t technically have kings in the 17th Century). She was from what is today Norway. A good account of the legend and facts can be found here.
Have you come across any hoaxes or frauds? Have you discovered any family legends that turned out to be false?
Although this prosthesis looks ‘steampunk,’ it dates to around the Civil War. Its owner, Joseph Detweiler Hagey, enlisted as a private in July of 1862 with Company I of the 138th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, under the command of Captain Augustus G. Feather of Norristown. He fought in a long list of battles and skirmishes, such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. At the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864, Hagey was wounded in the leg. The injury required his leg to be amputated below the knee.
After he was discharged in June of 1865, he returned to Hatfield and worked as a bootmaker. He became dissatisfied with his government-issued prosthesis, so he decided to make something new and different. His hand-crafted prosthesis is made of wood covered in leather, with metal springs. The foot is made of two separate pieces of wood shaped like a human foot and held together with leather, so that the toe can bend. The bottom of the foot is covered in leather to make for more cushioned walking. The ankle is movable due to the metal springs which attach it to the metal calf. Leather straps act like a garter to hold the prosthetic leg in place around the knee. This fascinating piece of technology is in the collection of the Historical Society.
Since I can't get into our headquarters to write any new blogs, I thought I would share some highlights from the past 6.5 years. This is a very early one from November, 2013.
In 1875, Blasius Pistorius, a German priest on a visit to his brother in Norristown, was arrested for the murder of Isaac Jaquette. The trial caused great excitement in the county and was prominently featured in local newspapers. The Historical Society of Montgomery County holds the complete transcripts of Pistorius’s two trials. His trial was the first in the county to use a court stenographer.
The dispute between the two men involved Jaquette allowing his cattle to graze on Pistorius’s brother’s land (John Pistorius was also tried for murder, but he was not present at the time of the shooting and so was acquitted). On July 24, 1875, when a boy working for Jaquette, Henry Muloch, allowed the cattle to cross over to the Pistorius farm, Blasius Pistorius came out with a pistol and threatened to shoot the cattle if they were not removed. Muloch ran for Jaquette, who picked up two stones and threatened Pistorius with them. The two men exchanged some more threats before Jaquette lunged for the pistol. The pistol fired, killing Jacquette.
Pistorius’s lawyers argued that their client acted in self-defense and that Jaquette chose to undertake the risk of the gun firing when he attempted to take it from Pistorius. Nevertheless, the priest was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Since he was a subject of the German Empire, the German consulate stepped in, and his sentenced was change to life imprisonment. Pistorius died in Eastern State Penitentiary in 1888.
This morning I came across two photographs of a rally for the Fourth Liberty Loan in Norristown. Described in the Times-Herald as a “monster demonstration,” the parade was to encourage people to buy bonds to help pay for World War I.
The Fourth Liberty Loan officially got underway on September 28, 1918. The parade took place on the 27th. The large parade included local companies, like Alan Wood Steel, scouts, the Red Cross, veterans, fire companies, marching bands, and even some cowboys from Betzwood Studios.
The man speaking in this picture is Judge William F. Solly, who spoke as a last minute replacement for Henry I. Fox, a local attorney who was ill.
The United States entered World War I in April of 1917, but it was a year before American troops began traveling to Europe. Propaganda showed the dire possibilities of the war. This small poster is from our collection:
Liberty Bonds could be purchased in multiple denominations. The government was authorized to issue them through the Second Liberty Load Act of 1917. That act is still the basis for the issue of treasury bonds today. Initially, Americans were slow to buy the bonds, perhaps because it was not a common thing in American life to loan the government money. By the time of the Fourth Liberty Loan, however sales were good. This small notebook from a women’s committee in Lower Gwynedd records the sales.
The Fourth Liberty Loan would mature in 1938. They were to pay 4.25%, but the government defaulted on the Fourth Liberty Loan, making it the only federal bonds to default. When issued, the bond stated that it would be paid according to the “present value of gold” but in 1933, the US abandoned the gold standard. So the government refused to pay the full value of the bonds.
Lee Templeton car dealership in Norristown
I started on a new shelf in the stacks this morning and discovered 42 photographs of buildings from all over the south-eastern side of Montgomery County. The large format black and white photographs are mounted on cardboard. With the cardboard backing, most measure 18 by 24 inches.
The cardboard backing is signed by the photographer, Ellis O. Hinsey. A few have a date, 1959. I suspect that they’re all from that year or year before. They might have been mounted on cardboard for an exhibit.
All of the photographs are of buildings and several are of churches and parochial schools.
St. Gertrude's Parochial School, West Conshohocken
Epiphany of Our Lord (now Holy Rosary), Plymouth
Mother of Divine Providence (now Mother Teresa), King of Prussia
There are also a few businesses.
Two shops in downtown Norristown
Hale Fire Pump Company, Conshohocken
Ellis O. Hinsey was born in 1902 in Akron, Pa. For his day job, he was an English professor, first at Temple and then at the Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University. He lived in Wyncote, and according to his obituary in the Glenside News, he was a freelance portrait photographer of 20 years. He died at 58 from complications of lung cancer.
We recently acquired this wanted poster from board member Charles Kelly. I can’t be sure because I still haven’t opened every box in our stacks, but so far, it seems this is our first wanted poster.
Wendell Bowers was a kid with a troubled past. Born in Ambler in 1918, his mother died when he was 14 months old. Although his father was still alive, and he testified at his sentencing to having an aunt in the area, Bowers was sent to live with an unrelated family. He described himself as a child who always got what he wanted. When told “no” he would cry until he got it. He also stole toys and bicycles.
He attended school until the 5th grade. When his foster mother died, he moved back in with his father and stepmother. His misbehavior escalated. He frequently ran away, getting as far as Virginia and Michigan on different occasions. When he once skipped school, his father beat him. Twelve-year-old Bowers then stabbed himself with a knife, leaving the knife in until his father removed it.
He was in and out of reformatories through his teenage years, and it was in the reformatory that he learned housebreaking.
On December 13, 1937, Bowers broke into the Dreshertown home of Mrs. Wilma V. Carpenter, a 38-year-old widow who owned a beauty salon in Germantown. The house was empty when he entered at 4 p.m. He testified that he searched for money but found none. He did find Carpenter’s .38 caliber revolver and drank some of her liquor and read her magazines. A little while later, Carpenter came home with her employee, 22-year-old Mary Griffin. He demanded money from the two women who handed it over. He then decided to tie them up.
He hit Mary Griffin on the head with the gun to knock her out, then told Carpenter to tie her up. While doing this, Carpenter reached for the gun. They struggled and Bowers knocked Carpenter to the floor. As she rose, he shot her twice, killing her.
After, Carpenter assaulted or attempted to assault Mary Griffin. The Times-Herald of February 8, 1938, quoted extensively from Bowers’ testimony, but glosses over the assault, and I will, too. Bowers said that he then dressed Griffin’s wounded head and left the house through the window. He made his way to the train station and bought a ticket to Pittsburgh.
A few days later, Mary Griffin identified Wendell Bowers from her bed at Chestnut Hill Hospital, and a nationwide manhunt began. The local police sent latent fingerprints from the Carpenter home to the FBI, who identified them as Bowers’.
On December 20th, Bowers was picked up in Louisville, KY, for vagrancy and housebreaking. He was using an alias, but his fingerprints identified him as the killer.
Bowers was sent back to Montgomery County to face his trial. Judge Harold Knight was to preside, but Bower surprised everyone by pleading guilty. Judge Knight described Bowers in his diary as a “pasty faced youth.” The court went straight into the sentencing phase. Knight wrote, “The three judges then heard the evidence of one of the most cruel, brutal and unnecessary crimes I have ever heard.”
Bowers testified for some time about his early life and the murder. Knight described Bowers as being “without emotion.” The county’s three president judges went over the evidence on the evening on February 8. On the morning of the 9th, they sentenced Bowers to death. Knight wrote, “He took it calmly and apparently was not as nervous as the judges.”
The Times-Herald of February 9, 1938 reported that he took the sentence calmly, although it also reported that Bowers did not expect to be executed. He returned to cell number 2 at the county jail, lit a pipe and read a magazine. Wendell Bowers was executed by the electric chair on June 13, 1938.
Recently, the Historical Society of Montgomery County received a very interesting donation: 6 ledgers from O’Brien Funeral Home in Bridgeport. The ledgers show a little of the evolution of funeral rites.
The earliest ledger begins in 1899. We see the cost of the hearse, the burial permit, and the cost of the service. Occasionally, we also see the cause the death, as in this entry.
As we move into the 20th century, the funeral business becomes more regulated, and the ledgers become forms filled in for each deceased person. They list place of birth, parents’ names, and cause of death, among other things (though not all the fields are always filled in). For our genealogy interested patrons, these records could be very valuable.
The other half of the form shows the costs of the funeral. You can see that there were many more options, including pall bearers, tent rentals, “aeroplane service,” and telegram charges.
This listing includes “advertising.” That might include placing a funeral notice, or it might mean the invitations that were common for funerals in the past.
I researched funeral customsin our library to find out more. Edward Hocker (as “Norris”) wrote two articles on funerals in Montgomery County. In the past, funerals were famous for their feasting and heavy drinking. Needless to say, they were also well attended. He reports on a Pottstown woman who had, by 1909, attended 3,094 funerals. She was 80 years old and had kept a record of each funeral.
He also wrote of the funeral hostlers, usually teenage boys who watched the horses of those attending the service. They were never paid or tipped for their work but were well-fed, and I guess it beat farm chores.
If you are a snow lover like me, this sled may have you reminiscing snow days from your childhood. This sled was owned by Ethel Mullineaux. We do not have much information about Ethel, but we believe she lived in the Philadelphia and southern Montgomery County area in the early 1900s.
1971.11533.001 – Flexible Flyer
Made by S.L. Allen Company, this type of sled is known as the Flexible Flyer. Compared to other sleds, the Flexible Flyer became popular for its speed and maneuverability. One downside to this sled, as many of you have probably experienced firsthand, it does not work well in soft, deep snow.
Samuel Allen started his company, S.L. Allen Company, as a farm equipment manufacturing business in 1868. To be close to the railroads and workers, the company was established in Philadelphia. Allen’s Planet Drill (a fertilizer drill) and Planet Junior (a seed drill) were designed to help farmers plant their crops more quickly.
Samuel Allen, Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
Although Allen’s business was a success, he wanted to provide work for his employees during the summer (farm equipment was only made in the winter so it was ready for sale by the spring). Allen designed several sleds in the 1880s and eventually patented the Flexible Flyer in 1889.
It took a few years to gain momentum, but by the early 1900s Wanamaker’s and other large retailers began selling the Flexible Flyer. In 1915, an estimated 120,000 were sold and nearly 2,000 Flexible Flyers were sold in a single day!
Photo Credit: Hagley Museum
The company continued to make both farm equipment and Flexible Flyers after Allen’s death in 1918. When the company closed in 1968, the rights to the Flexible Flyer design were sold to Leisure Group. The rights to manufacture this sled have changed hands a few times since then and you can still buy a Flexible Flyer today!
“It’s All Downhill From Here!: The Iconic Flexible Flyer Sled.” Hagley Museum. January 22, 2018. https://www.hagley.org/librarynews/it%E2%80%99s-all-downhill-here
Masciantonio, Robert. "Flexible Flyer Glides into Obscurity,” Hidden City. Febrary 8, 2016. https://hiddencityphila.org/2016/02/flexible-flyer-factory-glides-into-obscurity/