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Pennsylvania Deitsche culture and language presented

  • Lee Haas, president of Groundhog Lodge No. 6 in Monroe County, told of Pennsylvania customs and dialects at the Lehigh Township open house.
    Lee Haas, president of Groundhog Lodge No. 6 in Monroe County, told of Pennsylvania customs and dialects at the Lehigh Township open house.
Published August 02. 2011 05:01PM

Lee Haas of Slatedale was invited to speak at the Lehigh Township Historical Society's ice cream social and open house at St. Paul's Indianland one-room school. The event was held July 30.

It was not considered a fundraiser even though there were some historical society items and books for sale and there was a small basket raffle. All food was free.

It is just a social event, said Beverly Putt. The society was formed in 2001 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It is the official society for Lehigh Township.

Due to the hot weather the program was moved from the school, which was open before and after Haas' talk, to the church basement where it was cooler.

Putt said it was wonderful to see everyone and was overwhelmed by the numbers of people who turned out. Lee and Evelyn Haas were married in St. Paul's United Church of Christ. He is Haaptman (president) of Grundsau Lodgch No. 6 in Monroe County, and would talk about the German migration.

No. 6 had a live groundhog for many years. It was cared for by a local farmer, and would come running out when it saw the television lights.

In the 1600s there was great turmoil in Europe with religious persecution and no freedom, said Haas.

The king of England owed Sir William Penn $80,000 and paid the debt with a large land grant in America. The son, William Penn, a Quaker, saw that it was a way of getting away from religious persecution. He urged people, not only Germans or Quakers, but other Europeans, to emigrate to America. The first ship, The Concord, arrived in 1683 and landed in Germantown.

In 1741 Haas' ancestor, Johann Peter Haas, came over on the Snow Molly. Between then and 1780 16 more ships brought immigrants and each one had a Haas on its passenger list.

Peter Haas received a land grant of several hundred acres in the area of today's Macungie. From there the family spread to Fogelsville and Lowhill Township.

They landed with a satchel in one hand and a Bible in the other and laid the foundations for today's people.

The Germans fought in all wars. They supported George Washington at Valley Forge and served as his personal bodyguard.

Each group had its own dialect and customs. The one thing that lasted were the groundhog lodges. Haas said there are 17 between the Poconos and Philadelphia. There had been one at Temple University but it died out because there were too few language speakers.

After World War I the Pennsylvania Germans were frowned upon. "When I was a kid they didn't want us to learn German but people such as Pumpernickel Bill (Dr. William Troxell) kept it alive with newspaper columns.

In 1933 a group met who wanted to continue the customs and dialects. A year later the first Grundsaw Lodsch was formed in Northampton with 300 men - who all wore suits and ties. Haas compared it to the casual styles of today.

The reason for forming was "just to have a good time." Feb. 2 was chosen as Groundhog Day, which just happened to be Candlemas Day when the Feast of Purification is held. It was 14 days after Jesus birth and Mary took him to be purified.

In Germany there were no groundhogs but they had the same customs with a badger being the guest of honor.

"When the groundhog sees its shadow, it means there will be six more weeks of winter. When it doesn't see its shadow there will be six more weeks of winter. After the six weeks farmers start to plant.

Lodges continued to form from 1934 to 20 years ago when Emerald was the last one.

Sterling Zimmerman and Carl Snyder from the area of the Northwestern School District formed a grandfather lodge. Snyder held the head position. On his death, Haas took over.

"We started forming schools to teach the dialect - Pennsylvania Dietsche. In the southern part of Germany there are still 13 dialects as well as regular German, said Haas.

"We designed a Pennsylvania German flag which is flown at the Lehigh County courthouse every October for Pennsylvania German Day. We created a German-English and English-German dictionary which is used as part of a 24-week course at Kutztown University." Over 5,000 have been sold.

The Cultural Heritage Center as part of the university is a restored farm. A one-room schoolhouse was moved onto the property, and there is a genealogy department. Haas said a lot of good has come from the Pennsylvania German studies program.

Lee turned the microphone over to his wife, Evelyn, who told about the meaning of the flag. She said 4,000 people contributed to the design.

The ship in the center, The Concord, sails on a watery keystone - the symbol of Pennsylvania. The red, white and blue in the design is for America. The plow is for the farmer, the church for religious freedom, a Conestoga wagon for transportation that permitted people to spread out and tulips on a heart symbolize the crafts that made life easier.

Lee said people are afraid the language will die but there are many authors that write in Pennsylvania German. Frank Kessler, a member of the Pennsylvania German Association in Germany puts out a newspaper that he sends to this country - and materials from here are sent to Germany.

"We get letters from all over the country - people in every state and Canada," he said.

Beverly Putt gave Haas a certificate of appreciation, and said Haas' had donated a Pennsylvania German flag to the society.

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