Monday, September 8, 2014

Keeping up with Appearances: the Habit of Washing and Wearing at Ephrata

I know it; my Cloister habit is wrinkled.  I iron it after washing, but the linen and cotton fabric wrinkles after 15 minutes of wearing.  I consider it an authentic look. 
The other day, however, an older woman said to me with a disapproving tone, “you know they did make irons in the colonial days.”  That started me thinking about the appearance of the original residents.
The Rose, the volume we call the rule book for the Sisterhood, describes 2 sets of clothing:   a white set for worship services on Saturday, and a gray set for the rest of the week.  By gray, I think it means natural, unbleached fabric.  These were practical people so it’s not surprising to find white robes reserved for only one day of the week.
If you don’t like doing laundry today, consider the colonial chore:  hauling water, kettles, and wood to build a fire, then heating water for washing and rinsing, lifting the wet laundry from one kettle to the other, wringing out the water, spreading on fences or bushes to dry—and that doesn’t include the bleaching process—ugh!  What a day!
We all hate ironing, but at least we have electric irons.  In the old days some irons were cast as a solid piece of iron and had to be placed directly on the fire to heat. These are called sad irons.  The name comes from the Old English word “sad” meaning “solid.”  Others, called box irons, had a hollow body and interchangeable blocks of iron to be heated and inserted.  Archaeologists found one of these iron blocks at the Cloister.

The humble living conditions of Ephrata were reflected in the clothing of Sister Maria who “often wore a garment with one patch upon another.”  I suspect she was not alone with multiple repairs.  After all, there was no “off the rack” clothing in the 18th century.
Some visitors must have thought the people of Ephrata looked silly.  A group of young Moravian women who saw Ephrata Sisters in 1766 said, “We laughed and laughed at their costumes, for their hoods had long tails that extended in the front and rear down to their shoes.” 
Probably the most memorable description of Peter Miller was provided by a 1788 visitor:
Their dress, likewise, is most unfavorable to cleanliness: and in fact, my friend Peter had a most unsavory smell; his winter dress was not laid aside, though it was in the middle of May, and very warm weather; and his gown of white flannel had attained a yellow hue from the perspiration, which really proved a most unseemly sight. 
Perhaps that is why another visitor noticed the Brothers sprinkling sweet smelling rose water on their clothing before going to the Sabbath worship service.   
I suspect that washing and ironing were not large priorities in early Ephrata.  So with all this, are my wrinkles really that bad?

-Michael Showalter, Museum Educator

Friday, August 29, 2014

Every Man His Own Doctor- What do you do to maintain your health?

On average, Ephrata’s celibate members seemed healthy.  Many lived into their late 60s and early 70s, a few years longer than the average age of their neighbors.  How did they do that on so little sleep and sparse diets?  What do you do to maintain your health?  What will give you a long life?
  I’ve been spending several days this summer in the Physician’s House, sharing information on health care in early Ephrata.  When young people come in, I usually start by asking “how are you feeling today?” and no matter what the answer, I usually follow with “we can fix that!

The Physician's House
Records about medicine at the Cloister are scarce.  Certainly Ephrata’s Sisters knew how to use the herbs from their gardens to make medicines. 
Several books were available to help with medical recipes.  Doctor John Tennent wrote a book called Every Man His Own Doctor in the 1730s.  The book was reprinted several times including by Benjamin Franklin.
It is presumed Peter Miller printed a German translation of Every Man is own Doctor in 1749.
Always thinking of his fellow man, Franklin advertised that a discount would be give on the price if the book was given away for charity. 
Franklin was also a business man who knew Pennsylvania had large German population.  With the help of someone he identifies as “P. M.” he did a German edition of the book in 1749.  It’s believed that P. M. is Peter Miller of the Ephrata Cloister.  Later this year, the book will again be available in The Museum Store-- but I wouldn’t recommend any of the treatments.
Here’s a sample cure prescribed by the book:  for a fever make 2 gallons of chicken broth and drink all of it in the space of 2 to 3 hours.  Wow!  The book says, “some of this will come up, some go down, and cleanse your stomach and bowels and make you well before you least expect it.
Doctor Philip Jacob Meder came at Ephrata in late in 1751.  When he arrived Brother Gideon (Christian Eckstein) became his apprentice to learn medicine.  That is the way most American doctors were trained  in the colonial period. 
By December 1752, Dr. Meder left the Cloister.  From that point onward, Brother Gideon considered himself the community’s doctor.  Would you let Brother Gideon treat you?

-Michael Showalter, Museum Educator

Monday, August 25, 2014


We, the staff and volunteers of Ephrata Cloister would like to send a big thank you out to our summer interns, Avery Fox, Kristin Kachel and Caleb Bean.  Each made a substantial contribution to Ephrata Cloister through our expanded summer interpretation and their special projects.   Staff, volunteers and visitors alike greatly appreciated the enthusiasm and energy they brought to this historic site.   I hope you’ve been following along with our Blog this summer as they reported on their experiences here at Ephrata Cloister. 
We also hope they took something away from the internship too. Every year we offer our interns a well rounded public history experience as a method of exploring future career possibilities. While a very rewarding career choice it is also an extremely competitive field.  Committing to an internship allows for valuable hands-on experience and gives students an advantage over those who are relying strictly on the class work to land them a job.  
For more on exactly what public history is check out this article from the Public History Resource Center
-Elizabeth Bertheaud, Site Administrator

Friday, August 15, 2014

How many Sisters' Houses exist today that are still standing at the Ephrata Cloister?

Ephrata Cloister Trivia Question
How many Sister’s Houses exist today still standing at the Ephrata Cloister:
a. One,   b. Two,   c. Three or More,  d. None of the above.
Nick taking measurements of one of the windows inside the 2nd story of the Weaver's House
I bet that most of you answered “a". And, you might be right. But on the other hand, you might be wrong.  It is generally accepted that the Saron, one of the most prominent buildings here at the Cloister is the only remaining women’s residence still standing here at Ephrata. According to the Chronicon, the official history of the community written in 1786 by Peter Miller, celibate sisters lived in three different communal structures here at Ephrata: The Kedar, built in 1735 and demolished at some unknown time, an unnamed building, built around 1739, its where bouts and fate unknown, and the Saron, built in 1743, and occupied by the sister’s, reorganized as the “Roses of Sharon”, from 1745 until the demise of the celibate order. Of these three structures, only the Saron was thought to remain, but current research is challenging that idea.

Nick making architectural notes inside the 2nd story of the Weaver's House
Currently I have the great opportunity and honor of working on a research project with Dr. Jeff Bach from the Young Center, Elizabethtown College. Dr. Bach wrote the best book on Ephrata: “Voice of the Turtle Doves”. We believe (and we have some circumstantial evidence to support our claim) that we have located this unnamed missing sister’s house. It was actually under our noses the whole time.  Dr. Bach and I are not the first ones to have developed this theory. Other staff members over the years have had some of the same thoughts. We believe that this building exists today, but it is known as the Weaver’s House and it is located next to Gods’ Acre Cemetery that sits along Main Street across the street from the Cloister Diner. The interior of the building has very little surviving material from the 1700’s, but we feel that enough evidence in this building and in the Saron survives for us to build a   case. We plan to present this case in a paper to the Communal Studies Association Annual Conference in Amana, Iowa this October. In the past few weeks we have been prowling around these buildings taking measurements, getting dirty, and having a lot of fun.

-Nick Siegert, Custodial Guide Supervisor

Are you intrigued by our ongoing research? Drop in and talk with Nick or email him at We'd love to hear your feedback.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A farewell to Kristin & her personal discovery

Kristin & her distant descendants Marie & Daniel Kachel

Kristin Kachel here with some exciting news. At least, it’s exciting for me!
After learning that some of the last members of the German Seventh Day Baptist Church here at Ephrata were Kachels, I decided that one of my side projects this summer would have to be genealogical research. After all, there aren’t many Kachels around, so I simply had to find out whether we were connected. I just found out that we are.
Searching around, checking and double-checking the dates of birth and death and the names of spouses and children, I was able to trace Marie and Daniel Kachel’s family tree all the way back to Johan Hans Andreas Kachel and his wife, Ursula Anna Vers, who came to America in 1750. Those two are the same Kachels that my family is descended from. Marie and Daniel Kachel are descended from one of Hans and Ursula’s children, Simon Samuel Kachel, and my family is descended from another one of their children.
So what does all this mean? Basically, this Ephrata Cloister intern is a distant cousin of the last surviving member of this community. I’m beyond thrilled to have finally made the connection. After finding that out, it almost seems like fate that I ended up here.
As far as my internship goes, the survey I made is now being distributed. By the time the results get back, my internship will be over, so I’ll be compiling those on my own time and returning the results. I also have to write a paper in the next few weeks so I can get class credit. I’ve come up with an outline and structure for the summer camp, and will be using the results of the survey to possibly tweak things a bit. At some point, I will have to meet with the ECA Board of Directors to propose my ideas, according to the outline I was given on my first day here.
In my downtime, I’ve been trying to find scholarly articles that I can cite in my paper. When I’m not researching, I’m giving tours or interpreting the Weaver’s House or Bakery.
My time as an intern here is just about finished. I’ve done quite a lot. Now all that’s left is to wait and see whether next year’s summer camp is a success.
 -Kristin Kachel

We enjoyed working with Kristin this summer and our education program staff look forward to incorporating her ideas and results from her survey report into their research and development of summer programs. Kristin continues her graduate studies this fall at Millersville University and we wish her the best in her academic and professional endeavors. While we may have titled this post as a farewell, it's only as an intern. Kristin's personal discovery and her professional experience at the Historic Ephrata Cloister will always connect her with our institution and our history.
The views contained within do not necessarily reflect those of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), Historic Ephrata Cloister or Ephrata Cloister Associates, as a whole, nor the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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