Nancy Sullivan, Archivist

Nancy Sullivan, Archivist

Thursday, 14 January 2021 18:51

Tommy LaSorda

Last week, we heard the sad news that Norristown’s own Tommy LaSorda has passed away at the age of 93. LaSorda was born in Norristown in 1927 to Sabbatino and Carmella LaSorda. Sabbatino was an Italian immigrant, who, at the time of the 1940 census, was a truck driver. The family lived on Walnut Street, and Tommy attended Norristown Public Schools.

According to his entry in the Norristown Area High School Hall of Fame, LaSorda graduated from NHS in 1945 (his Wikipedia page says 1944, but this appears to be incorrect). His picture doesn’t actually appear in the 1945 issue of Spice, Norristown High Schoo’s yearbook, but he is mentioned as a pitcher on the baseball team. He is not listed in the team picture.

The prior year, 1944, he is in the team picture. You can see him in the first row, the second from the right.

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Here’s a close-up.

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You can also spot him in the photo part of the junior class.

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According to his entry in the NHS Hall of Fame, baseball was his only school activity.

Right out of NHS, LaSorda was signed to the Phillies and began a minor league career. In one 15 inning game pitching for the Schenectedy Blue Jays (a farm team for the Phillies) he struck out 25 batters. He bounced around the minor leagues for several years. He played three seasons in the major leagues, two with the Brooklyn Dodgers and one with Kansas City. In 1960 he retired due to injury.

He soon began his career in management, first as a scout, then as a minor league manager in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 1970. After working as a coach for the LA Dodgers for several years, he became manager in 1976 and stayed in that position for twenty years. He managed for 3040 games, winning 1599. The Dodgers won two World Series under his leadership. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Thursday, 31 December 2020 15:12

Tangrams

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The tangram is a Chinese puzzle consisting of seven shapes that are put together in different ways. Usually, a puzzle book provides an outline, and the player must move the shapes to conform to the outline with no overlaps. Often a set of tangram shapes is made of wood blocks or fired clay, but today there are also magnetic sets and even video game versions.

Although Wikipedia reports that the first tangram set in the United States was given to Congressman Francis Wain in 1802, they did not become known to a wider audience until Captain Richard M. Donnaldson returned from a trip to China with two books about the puzzle.

In 1955, Helen Donnaldson of Ambler donated her family’s papers to the Historical Society of Montgomery County, including Richard Donnaldson’s correspondence, a brief diary, and the two original tangram books.

From these two books, a fashion for the new puzzle developed in the US. When it spread to Europe there was even more interest.

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Although some sources report that the tangram is an ancient puzzle, there’s no evidence of it existing before the late eighteenth century (though there were antecedents). The word “tangram” is not Chinese. According to Wikipedia, the name was coined by Thomas Hill (future president of Harvard) in his book Geometrical Puzzle for the Young in 1848.

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Our books are in very delicate condition. One shows outlines of a shapes with Chinese characters and the other gives the solutions by showing the individual shapes separated slightly. The pages of the books don’t match up, the puzzles on page 13 are not shown on page 13 of the answer book.

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The books, or at least the puzzle book, was a gift to Captain Donnaldson, but the name is hard to make out. I couldn’t find a reference to the books among his papers. So we don’t know many details about why he brought the books back to Philadelphia with him or how they reached a wider audience.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020 18:48

Christmas recipes

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St. Nicholas

The above illustration of St. Nicholas filling stockings is from a Christmas card sent by Kirke Bryan, a former president of the Historical Society, perhaps in 1971.  The card was a reproduction of an 1849 illustrated printing of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement C.  Moore.  Bryan, a prominent lawyer in Montgomery County, sent out a creative Christmas card every year.  We wrote about them several years ago in the early days of our blog: https://hsmcpa.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/kirke-bryan-christmas-cards/.

This year, I thought I could share some recipes from our collection.  This one for molasses candy was written on the flyleaf of a ledger kept by the Bryn Mawr Baking Company:

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For breakfast on Christmas or New Years, perhaps some French toast, courtesy of the Rapp family:

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Finally we have from our local Agricultural Extension Association, something called "Surprise Cake."  Perhaps the surprise is that tomato soup is an ingrediant!

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Everyone at the Historical Society wishes you a safe and happy holiday season, and we hope to see you all in 2021!

Thursday, 03 December 2020 19:35

The Mosaic Creation of the Earth

One of my favorite subsections of our library is our small collection of books by local authors. I don’t mean Newbury Award winner Jerry Spinelli, or nineteenth-century bestseller Max Adeler, I mean the weird, self-published books that are sometimes hard to fit into the Dewey Decimal System. A few years ago, I wrote about Pool of Seduction, a novel of the court of Louis XV. If you’ve visited Montgomery Cemetery, you might have seen a small note about Helen Gilbert Slingluff, who wrote of her travels through Germany (and what had been Austria) in 1938-39 and mainly complains about the traffic (oh, that Munich Conference!).

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Today, I’d like to write about another self-published book, The Mosaic Account of the Creation Affirmed and Silent Monitors of the Past Described and Illustrated, with Object Lessons of Each Day’s Part of the Creation… it goes on from there for a few more lines, but you get the idea. It was written and published in 1892 by Jesse King of Norristown.

King goes through the account of creation from the Book of Genesis line by line, explaining their meaning and expanding on them. He is not always literal. For example, he explains that although Moses says that God created the sun on the fourth day, since God created light on the first day, “we unhesitatingly believe that in the morning of the first day of the year one, the sun was created.” What actually happened on the fourth day, he explains, is that the skies clears of clouds and fog, and the sun and other objects in the sky became visible for the first time.

But, it’s not King’s theories or reasoning that makes this book interesting, it’s his evidence. He takes his proof from the local landscape in Montgomery County and the surrounding area. For example, he uses the famous Ringing Rocks of Bucks County as proof of Noah’s flood, and, perhaps, Manifest Destiny. He writes,

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"Some rocks are marked with abrasions of parallel lines from two and half to four inches in width across their faces, much resembling the stripes of our 'national emblem,' which no doubt were made by some prehistoric patriot, prophetic of an era when such emblem would be adopted to proudly float over his country [emphasis in original]; and where he could have left an impression of his imaginative brain more fitting than on those rocks?"

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Many of his arguments focus on proving that Noah’s flood was a real historical event, such as when he uses a local limestone deposit to show the level of the flood waters. He also uses a cave found with many animal bones in Port Kennedy as proof that the animals gathered there in fear during the deluge. King’s book includes many illustrations, including diagrams of the earth and photographs of the local sites he uses for evidence.

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We don’t have any information on Jesse King on our collection, but I found him on Ancestry. He died in 1908, and his death certificate lists him as a salesman. In the 1880 census, he’s listed as a carpenter. So, he was a man of many trades and an interest in geology. He mentions several times that he disagrees with the way geology was being taught in schools, and that seems to have been his motivation. Overall, the books demonstrates King’s passion on the subject of geology, but it’s written in an overly formal Victorian style that can be hard to follow at times.

Thursday, 19 November 2020 19:04

George Bausewine, Chief of Police

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In March of 1944, the District Attorney’s office announced that a “high Norristown Police official” was under suspicion. On March 30th the chief of police himself was placed under arrest and charged with malfeasance, misfeasance, and non-feasance in office, obstruction of justice, and bribery. The charges related to bribes Bausewine was said to have received from the owner of a Norristown social club called the “Orioles.” The owner, Vincent McCafferty, admitted to the DA, Frederick B. Smilie, that he paid Bausewine $50 on three different occasions to turn a blind eye to the club’s illegal slot machines.

George Bausewine was not a native of Norristown. He had been born in Philadelphia in 1869 (though his Times-Herald obituary said 1866). Like many young men of his time, it seems Bausewine played a lot of baseball. According to an article on the website of the Society for American Baseball Research, he started pitching for a semi-professional team called the Kensingtons, and soon after that, he signed with the professional Utica Pent Ups (baseball team names used to be much cooler). In the off-season he worked in a glass factory where an accident led to the amputation of one of his thumbs. He then worked as a clerk in the same factory. He was also a street car conductor.

George Bausewine 1887 Canton

Through the 1880’s, he played for teams in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio before signing on to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1889. His time in the major league was limited however, and he won only one game (ironically, it was against Baltimore Oriels). He was released by the A’s early the following spring. As his playing seemed to be in decline, Bausewine began umpiring games. Bausewine seems to have been a difficult personality. He was described as “conceited” and as an umpire once needed a police escort to leave a game in Omaha. But a later Times-Herald article about his arrival in Norristown described him as “one of the best officials in baseball.”

In 1895, he joined the Philadelphia Police Department reserves, a part-time position that allowed him to play on the police baseball team, but also allowed him to continue umpiring for several more years. Eventually, however, it seemed he had to choose between baseball or the police force. In 1908, he was placed in charge of the 4th District and left baseball. He stayed in Philadelphia until his retirement in 1924. He was briefly Chief of Police in the new town of Hollywood, Florida, but the job only lasted 10 weeks.

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In 1929, he accepted the job of Chief of Police of Norristown, beginning the job on December 1. While, his tenure seems uneventful, by the 1940’s the Times-Herald and the District Attorney seemed to want him out of the position. At first there were only vague criticism that he was too old for the job, but in the 1944, the district attorney struck. First he was put on leave without pay, and two days later he was arrested. He was convicted, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court later overturned the convictions on insufficient evidence.

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Bausewine had been ill with heart disease before his arrest, and though in the end he won in court, his reputation didn’t recover. He died in his sleep in 1947.

 

Source: Lamb, Bill, "George Bausewine," Society for American Baseball Research, accessed 11/19/2020.   https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/george-bausewine/

Thursday, 12 November 2020 18:23

A family photo album

Earlier this year, we learned of the death of long-time volunteer, Martha “Marty” Shinn. Marty spent much of her time at the historical society working on our photo collection. Marty left her collection of family papers to the historical society, and I thought the best way to honor her work was to share some of the photographs.

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The woman in the center might be Mary Stephens, but it was a common name and we can't be sure

This album belonged to Mary Stephens Wentzel (Marty’s mother) and features pictures from about 1912 through 1922. Just like today, many of the photos are from family vacations. The drove this Model T through New England and Quebec.

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Other photos are local. Here are some from Elmwood Park.

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Here’s friends and family being silly at the Stephens’ home on Main Street in Norristown.

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Mary's father, Samuel Stephens, owned Stephen's Music Store in Norristown.  Here he is leading the Boys' Band in a parade.

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And because I’m a total sucker for old time bathing suits, here's some pictures of the family swimming on Barbadoes Island:

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This one is identified as Conshohocken Island.

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And this is from the Perkiomen Creek.

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They went to the beach, too. Here is a photo of an apparently sparsely attended day in Wildwood.

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Mary later married Walter Wentzel, and Martha was born in 1927.  Unfortunately, she died at the young age of 39 in 1935.

Lately, I’ve returned to one of my favorite sections of the closed stacks, the old and rare books. There are some wonderful treasures here, and though many do not relate directly to Montgomery County, they give us some insight into what our county’s inhabitants were reading 200 years ago.

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On a bottom shelf, I found several volumes of the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, the society’s purpose is the “promoting of useful knowledge.” The word “philosophy” had a broader meaning in the Eighteenth Century, encompassing all scientific knowledge. The broadness of the society’s interests is demonstrated by the variety of subjects covered by the papers delivered before the society in its early decades.

The first volume was published in 1789, but the papers contained in it go back to 1768. The first article is an account of an orrery (a model of the solar system) built by David Rittenhouse of Norriton. Several articles are dedicated to the transit of Venus, an event Rittenhouse was the first to document from North America.

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Several of the papers have wonderful illustrations, some included in the text and some on large foldout sheets. This small illustration of a German double pick or sarkling iron is from a paper on vine cultivation. The first volume also contains letters and papers on curing raisins, distilling persimmons, and extracting oil from sunflower seeds.

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Much of the second volume, published in 1825, is devoted to insects of North America, though I’m not sorry to say there are no illustrations of them. There is this cool drawing of an alligator. While much of the volume concerns animals, plants, and minerals in North America, one paper is a study of the language of the Berbers in North Africa by the US Consul at Algiers, William Shaler.

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Thursday, 22 October 2020 19:54

Boehm’s Church

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While wandering around the upper stacks looking for my next project, I came across an old Bible with a tag that claimed it was once owned by John Philip Boehm, founder of Boehm’s Church in Blue Bell.

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Title page from the Bible

This massive book was published in Nuremberg in 1733. The Bible has many illustrations and additional material. Like most of the 18th and 19th century German Bibles in our collection, this one was translated by Martin Luther, and it includes an illustration of Luther and a biography. There are also brief biographies of the rulers of Saxony, the German state that protected Luther from the Holy Roman Emperor starting with Friedrich III or Wise. There is also an index of names and a chronology of events in the Bible.

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An illustraion of Friedrich III

 

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Martin Luther

The man who owned the Bible, John Philip Boehm, was born in 1683 in the town of Hochstadt (now part of the city of Maintel) in Germany. His father was a minister in the Reformed Church (the Reformed churches followed the teachings of John Calvin). The young John Philip Boehm was an innkeeper and later a teacher at Reformed schools in Worms and Lambsheim. In 1720 he emigrated to Pennsylvania where he became a farmer. One of our books on Boehm says that he left because he was persecuted by Catholics, but the much more detailed book Life and Letters of the Reverend John Philip Boehm, says there was a dispute in Lambsheim over the use of land by ministers and schoolteachers, and that the Catholic schoolmaster joined Boehm in protesting the town’s policy.

Really, we don’t know exactly why Boehm left Germany, but in 1720 he begins to appear in Pennsylvania records. At that time, the German population of Pennsylvania was increasing, but there were no Reformed ministers in the area. Some joined other churches or worshipped with Quakers, but when the well-educated Boehm arrived, his neighbors asked him to serve as their minister. Boehm demurred because he wasn’t ordained, but after five years of asking, he gave in and began preaching in three places: Skippack, Faulkner Swamp, and Whitemarsh.

This led to problems a couple of years later when a Reformed minister arrived from Europe and ordered Boehm to end his ministry. In response, Boehm and his supporters contacted the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. The New York ministers forwarded his request for ordination their leaders in Amsterdam, who recognized Boehm’s ministry and gave permission to the New York ministers to ordain him.

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From the book Life and Letters of the Reverend John Philip Boehm

Boehm was actually the founder of several congregations in southeastern PA, and the one known as Boehm’s Church (pronouned "beems") was his last. According to the church’s website, as Boehm got older, traveling to all the different churches became more tiring. In 1847, a small stone church was built near his farm in Whitpain.

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The church as rebuilt in 1818; the spire was added in 1870

Boehm's Church, now a United Church of Christ, continues his ministry to this day.

Source:

Hinke, Rev. William J., Life and Letters of the Reverend John Philip Boehm (Philadelphia: Publication and Sunday School Board of the Reformed Church in the United States, 1916)

Thursday, 15 October 2020 19:24

The DeKalb Street Bridge Fire

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At 3:40 pm on April 14, 1924, flames appeared near the middle of the DeKalb Street Bridge. In ten minutes the entire length of the bridge was alight. Although fire companies from both Norristown and Bridgeport responded quickly to the alarm, there was nothing they could do to save the bridge. At 4:05, the first span fell and more soon followed.

Originally built in 1830 by a joint stock company, the bridge was taken over by the county in 1884 and made a free bridge.

This photograph of the destroyed bridge is from a collection recently donated by Luther Kolarik.

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Besides cutting off traffic between Norristown and Bridgeport, phone service between the two boroughs was also suspended for two days.

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Authorities originally believed the fire was arson because it spread so rapidly and burned so fiercely. But decades of oil and gasoline dripping from passing vehicles had soaked into the wood. Once the fire started it was impossible to stop and the fire companies focused on keeping the fire from spreading.

A temporary bridge was opened a few months later. Shown here in a photograph from Kolarik collection and below that is the blueprint for the same bridge.

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This drawing of a proposed concrete bridge appeared in the Times Herald just a day after the fire.  People had been calling for the old wooden bridge to be replaced for sometime.  In 1923, a pedestrian had been killed on the bridge, which led to increased concern that the birdge was outdated.

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But, it was a few years before the new bridge reopened.  These blueprints from our collection are dated 1926.

DeKalb St. Bridge

Thursday, 08 October 2020 18:25

Col. William Allebaugh

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Members of the Historical Society of Montgomery County may already be familiar with our county’s record in the Civil War: Generals Hancock and Hartranft, Col. Bolton who famously coughed up a bullet years after the war, and nurse Anna Morris Holstein. But, you might not be familiar with Col. William Allebaugh.

Allebaugh was born in Bucks County and came to Norristown as a young man where he worked as a tailor. He was involved in one of the “National Artillery” companies in Norristown that was commanded by Col. John F. Hartraft. When war broke out the unit signed up for three months. For this initial enlistment, Allebaugh was captain of Company A.

He did not see action during those first three months, being stationed in Havre de Grace, MD, but upon re-enlistment for 3 years he was made captain of Company C of the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers. He fought at Roanoke Island, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. After a brief furlough at the end of his three years, Allebaugh re-enlisted, and the regiment was sent to Virginia for Grant’s push on Richmond.

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Photo of the monument to the 51st PA at Antietam, from the National Park Service

At the Battle of Spottsylvania in May of 1864, company C had the honor of carrying the regimental colors. They stationed in open ground and overwhelmed by the Confederates who captured the colors. In an attempt to recapture them, Allebaugh was surrounded and forced to surrender.

Here, the story gets a little murky. In the obituary that appeared in the Herald and Free Press, it claims he was held in Richmond, then transferred to the notorious Andersonville prisoner of war camp in Georgia. He escaped with three others and reached Sherman’s lines on the march from Atlanta to the Sea. That took place from November 15, 1864 to December 21, 1864, meaning that Allebaugh was held prisoner for about 6 months.

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Andersonville prison camp, HSMC 1952.10201

However, the very same issue of the newspaper has a somewhat different story. Under the headline “The Story of his Adventures while a Prisoner in the Hands of the Rebels as Told by Himself,” this article says Allebaugh and two others escaped while marching through Augusta, Georgia, an area settled by Pennsylvania Germans before the war. However, there was no way to get them out of the area, and the men re-surrendered to the Rebels. They were taken to Andersonville. Again, Allebaugh escaped with two men from the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but they were recaptured two weeks later.

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As the Confederacy collapsed, the prisoners were transferred for Charleston and then Columbia, South Carolina. Just before Columbia fell, the prisoners were loaded onto a train that moved so slowly Allebaugh and some other prisoners cut a hole in the floor and dropped through. He arrived back at Columbia just as the rebels were fleeing the city and Sherman’s men were entering. That puts Allebaugh reaching Union lines in February, 1865 (the city surrendered on February 17).

Upon rejoining the 51st at Alexandria, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and later breveted a colonel. He returned to Norristown after the war, and served two terms as burgess. He died at the age of 55 of erysipelas, a skin infection now curable with antibiotics. The battle flag of the 51st was carried at his funeral which was attended by many surviving members of the regiment. He left a wife and several children, but his wife Mary passed away about one week after him. They are both buried in Montgomery Cemetery.

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