Travelog Part 4 – Bethlehem, PA

The train station in Rochester was pretty empty and pretty depressing. We obtained a cab straightaway to the airport where we picked up our rental car from Alamo. We would have the car for two weeks and two days, no charge for mileage. We ended up putting 3,000 miles on the little Pontiac Grand Am. It was little, but plenty big enough for the two of us. We navigated our way out of Rochester and headed for Pennsylvania. We looked in vain for signs of the Spring we had left behind in Portland. It was our plan not to drive at night if at all possible since both of us a pretty much night blind. This meant that we had to start looking for a place to rest our bones well ahead of nightfall. The first night we grabbed the first likely looking cheap motel we saw. It was Tuckhannock, north of Scranton. Truck stop. Had no deadbolt and the bottom of the door looked as if it had been kicked through. We got a good price, but were all the way at the end of the motel and there were at least five or six empty rooms between us and the nearest occupied room. We felt a little vulnerable and because there was no good way to secure the room, I stayed in the motel while Duane went looking for a grocery to get something to eat.

As I had done all along the way, I made notes in my trusty notebook. The name of the town and the name of the motel.

Our target the next day was Bethlehem where we wanted to see the old Moravian settlement. We found it without any trouble. Well, one wrong turn that was quickly corrected. We took a number of photos of the old stone buildings and visited the Gemeinhaus. The tour was conducted by a member of the Unitas Fratum who has compiled two books on elements of the Moravian past. One having to do with the Trombone Orchestra. I don’t recall what the other was about and I don’t think I wrote it in the notebook. She took us first into the Saal, German for hall. She explained that Gemeinhaus meant community house. The museum is housed in the first structure built in Bethlehem. The original log structure was covered with stone on the outside and plastered on the inside so that now one would never know that there were logs in the walls. There is a place in the museum where they have removed the plaster so that you can see the logs. The Saal is a large room, very simply furnished with two rows of long wooden benches. The backs of these were added for the comfort of the elderly members of the congregation, but this was many years after they were made. On the perimeter of the room was an old piano, a woodburning stove of curious design ( a rectangular hole in the center of it), and one or two other wooden furnishings that I cannot now recall the nature of. In front, and centered is a podium with an open, very large bible. On the walls are several masterfully painted oils of religious theme. The central painting is of Christ, post-crucifiction, clearly depicting the wounds that are central to Moravian theology.

The adjoining room was where visitors were brought. Strangers, as they were called, were people who were not members of the Unitas Fratum, not Brethren. They could not participate in the services conducted in the Saal, but could watch discretely by means of a “window”. This was an opening with a hinged door that was at about head height and about 18” square. When partially opened, a visitor could see whomever presided in front of the congregation, but would not have much view of the congregants and they would not be distracted by the visitor’s presence from their devotions.

We saw many other rooms in this large museum. Rooms that contained daily use items, spinning wheels, looms, cards for wool. There were examples of clothing and our tour guide explained that members owned two sets of clothing and that they did not remove the nightclothes, but put their day clothes on over them. The beds were so tiny. It is very hard to believe that a couple could sleep in what she said was a double bed. It looked no wider than a twin bed and not as long. It was indeed a fascinating tour.

Old Bethlehem has many of the original Moravian buildings and has preserved a many other 18th and 19th century buildings. There is a Moravian graveyard situated next to an academy still in use and still Moravian. All the stones are slabs placed flat on the ground. The thickest are perhaps three inches. After visiting this graveyard and the ones in and around Winston-Salem, I became very impressed with the idea that in their graveyards, the Moravians demonstrate that no one is higher than anyone else in death; that all are equal in the eyes of God and are no statues or unnecessary ornamentation. In Customs and Practices of the Moravian Church, Adelaide L. Fries writes, “There are no monuments. On each grave is a slab of marble, bearing the name of the person interred thre, the dates of birth and death, and often a Bible verse or a few suitable words. These gravestones are of uniform size for adults, somewhat smaller on the smaller graves of children and in the cremation section.”

We ventured over to the library where Duane used the bathroom and I mused on the modernity of the library and city hall. In contrast to the old Bethlehem a few blocks away, these squat rather ugly buildings seemed futuristic and out of place. From this location one can see across Jordan Creek to the new Bethlehem and its mills, not so many functioning now, and factories. In addition to the museum, we visited a bookstore and bought two books, Moravian Women’s Memoirs and Preserving the Past: Salem Moravians’ Receipts & Rituals. From there we wandered down to the creek and saw the wall of the pottery recently excavated and what is left of the mill which partially burned. An old millstone lies on the ground along with some concrete ornamental pieces that must have decorated the buildings.