Visitors to the Antes Plantation in New Hanover Township last weekend took a step back in time to enjoy the music, merriment and mirth of the 48th annual Goschenhoppen Folk Festival.
The festival, which began in 1966, highlights the ways of life for 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania German settlers in the region - with an emphasis on authenticity.
This year's festival centered around the theme: "Am butze, immer am butze (Cleaning, always cleaning)." Various demonstrations illustrated just how labor intensive cleaning actually was in the 18th and 19th centuries, from soap-making to laundry and other washing. Lye soap was also for sale at the festival for visitors to try out themselves.
Of course no visit to the festival would be complete without sampling the many treats being prepared on site. From sauerkraut to buttermilk, sausage pot pie to elderberry pie, tasting your way through the festival is a must! Demonstrators offered apple butter atop fresh-baked German rye bread, two styles (Boyertown and Goschenhoppen) of Apea Cake - a local cake made without eggs that would last the week and be soaked in coffee to soften before eating - and freshly chilled peach ice cream. Snacks could be washed down with shrubs (vinegar-based drinks) or mint water.
Women in the 18th century portion of the festival also showcased their skills in weaving and needle-working, including techniques in cross-stitch, pulled thread, needle lace and more. Other 18th century skills showed how to make flax thread, rope, corn husk dolls, pipe organs, wood carvings and numerous other items.
A hornsmith, or horner, was also on hand discussing how to turn various horns into drinking vessels, needle cases, salt holders and bowls. Horns would be heated in tallow to make them flexible and then the horn would be formed into the desired shape. Artisan cups made of horns were a luxury item that inferred status upon the owner. The leather-man also used a "leather jack" for his beverage - a leather stitched mug sealed with birch pitch (although he said the mug had fallen out of fashion by the 19th century).
The 19th century portion of the festival also offered many perennial favorites, including farm animals, farm equipment demonstrations, net making, blacksmithing, butchering, cigar rolling and broom makers, as well as children's games, including the barrel hoop and stick and stilts.
New at the festival this year were corn husking contests. According to Stage Committee Chair Bill Daley, husking bees are an "old folk custom."
"It would give young people a chance to get together," he said, adding that a certain amount of wild corn would grow in farmers' fields and the girl who found that red (wild) ear would soon be married. At the folk fest, the locally grown field corn was seeded with some red cobs grown by the green grocer. Three separate husking bees were held over the two-day event: single guys and gals, grandmas and grandpas (to show the young folk how it's done) and veterans. Everyone who found a red ear received a prize.
The husks were then gathered and taken down to the corn-husk doll demonstration for future use and the corn was returned to the farmer for use as animal feed.
The festival showcases many other customs of the region's forebearers, such as the Grand Fantastical Parade around the festival grounds each day. Daley explains that the parade custom "harkens back to an early age in small towns around here," when members of the community would gather together for Muster Day - a training day for local militias. However, Daley notes that those settling in the area had "no love for the military" after leaving their homeland amid religious persecution and war.
So, "Muster Day was more about getting drunk and having fun," Daley said. "Our parade may seem silly, but it harkens back to something real." Community member who played instruments would form the basis of the parade. There would be picnics, fireworks and general banter, and the men would gather in the fields to run drills, likely with pitchforks and walking sticks instead of guns.
The festival also hosts an old-fashioned cake walk, as well as informal historical discussions (straw bale seminars) about the region's past. This year's straw bale seminars featured local historian Bob Wood discussing the rigors of the voyage to Pennsylvania in the 1700s and Nancy Roan and Linda Szapacs discussing PA German textiles and their care. Both talks involved the festival theme: "Cleaning, always cleaning."
Music is also a staple of the festival. The Schultzville Band, a brass ensemble - the location of which allows Daley to engage in plenty of Pennsylvania German-style banter with listeners - played several sets throughout the weekend. The historians' Strolling Fiddlers also entertained visitors throughout the festival grounds with 18th and 19th century tunes created by local musicians.
"Basically all of the music they play is local music [from Berks, Lehigh and Bucks counties] that has been found and translated," Daley said, adding that many musicians of that period just jotted down notes about how something should sound, leaving modern musicians to decipher the melodies.
Daley of New Hanover has been involved in the festival for about eight years, working as a candler and in the kitchen garden in past years, along with his wife. He took over as stage committee chair four years ago and enjoys the opportunity the role affords him to engage people on a one-on-one basis.
Daley said his favorite part of the festival is discussing with visitors "not so much the differences [in how early PA Germans lived and worked], but that the human side is quite the same - how similar it is in a different time."