Imagine a world without cell phones or internet, or even television and radio. That world became real for visitors to the Pennsylvania Heritage Festival centered on the Farm Museum Village and Mitchell House in Troy last weekend. There were samples of life in the 1800’s to attract everyone’s interest, from old fashioned toys and tools, to canons and a cast iron cauldron of poor man’s soup.
Throughout the day there were demonstrations to attract young and old, history buffs, and people there just for fun. Home life in the 1800’s was demonstrated throughout. The farm museum was open with guides to share their knowledge of the old days. The buildings in the village were open for visitors to see an old time barber shop and a one room school house. A visitor remarked that the carriage house contained one of the finest antique carriage collections she had ever seen. Old time arts were demonstrated inside the Mitchell House. If you were so inclined you could stop long enough to make an old fashioned doll, by tying fabric pieces together with twine. Children loved washing clothes on a wash board and ironing with an iron made of heavy cast iron. Hoops and stilts were the favorites in the toy area.
Merle Eiffert demonstrated his blacksmithing techniques. He has been blacksmithing as a hobby for about 20 years. Eiffert said he first began when he took an interest in horseshoeing while assisting a friend. He stuck with the metal working, although he never actually continued horseshoeing. Eiffert says it’s a good hobby for frustrations. “Where else can you pound on something for several hours and still end up with something?”
Sandy Voegtlen, from the Columbia Crossroads Grange was cooking and selling bowls of “poor man’s soup.” This hearty potato soup contained potatoes, onions, celery, milk, butter, salt, pepper, and that’s it. What made it so special was that it’s cooked over a fire in a 250 pound cast iron pot. When asked how she moves it, Voegtlen said, “We roll it. The hard part is picking it up onto the truck. When we have four good backs, we say ‘one, two, three’ and we pick it up.” The cast iron pot adds an old fashioned flavor to the soup and Voegtlen added, “It’s letting it cook for a long time that’s the secret for this.”
The canon reenactment offered quite a puff of smoke and bang to attract attention. Randall Smith demonstrated the preparation of a canon prior to its firing. He explained the importance of each step and the tools used. Tools were made of brass because brass won’t spark. Smith explained, “I’m right handed so I use my left hand. I consider it more expendable.”
Rope winding was demonstrated by Ken Boyd and his father William Boyd. Three strands of rope were wound on Boyd’s rope winder. Each strand was made up of multiple strands of twine or rope. The number of strands depends on how thick the type of rope.
Kirt Casler from Armenia Mountain Trading Post demonstrated boot repair. As he worked on an old cowboy boot he said, “Repairing a boot will save you up to half the price of a new one. Plus it’s already broke in and fits your foot.”
Hanging out around the Mitchell House were several celebrities. Tom Wierbowski, the mayor of Mansfield, played his Lyon & Healy concert harp and had some interesting stories to tell about it. It was made in Chicago by one of the first harp builders in the United States. The company started their serial numbers with 501 rather than number 1 so people wouldn’t think they were a brand new company. Wierbowski has been playing harp over forty years. He took classes with Mildred Dilling, who was the teacher of Harpo Marx. And yes, Harpo actually played his harp in the movies!
Along with Wierbowski, Mark Twain made his appearance at the Mitchell House, sitting in his rocking chair. At least he looked a lot like Mark Twain. But upon close examination, one might realize this Mark Twain look alike was really Jim Ketchum, who often does events and stand up shows as Mark Twain. When asked how he got started doing this, Ketchum explained that a friend played an album of Hal Holbrook playing Mark Twain. Ketchum fell in love with the relevance. A freelance writer himself, Ketchum said, “It never ceases to amaze me how relevant Mark Twain’s writing is to today.” He commented how much he enjoyed the day and the festival. “I’m happy to see people. It’s been fun watching people from old age to young kids look at me and do a double take.”
In the lower meadow and grange and merchants buildings of the Troy Fairgrounds different types of vendors were set up, from food and crafts to non-profit organizations and a live band. Rachel Higham, Amanda Eggers, and Missy represented the Animal Care Sanctuary, a no kill facility near East Smithfield completely funded by donations. Missy is one of the 137 dogs ready for adoption. Said Higham, “We’re real excited! This is the first year of adoptions and we’ve had 250!”
It was a great weekend, with perfect weather and a wonderful crowd. Carol Ulmer from the Heritage Garden Club remarked, “I think it’s the busiest it’s been since I’ve been here.” There was certainly something for everyone.