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Folk-Lore of the Pennsylvania Germans by W. J. Hoffman - Read online


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Contents

Part 1

Part 2





Part 1

Journal of American Folk-Lore 1:2 pp. 125-35 [1888]

BEFORE describing the customs, folk-medicine, and folk-lore of the Pennsylvania Germans, it will be necessary to present a brief sketch of the people to which they relate, and to explain the origin of the dialect generally, though erroneously, denominated "Pennsylvania Dutch."

Swedish settlers appeared at Tinicum Island, on the Delaware River, about the year 1638, where they held possession until 1655, when they were displaced by the Dutch, who in turn (in 1664) were compelled to give way to the English. A few adventurers had already arrived and established themselves where Chester now stands, a year before the arrival of Penn in 1682. Previous to this, numbers of Germans from the Palatinate--Rhenish Bavaria--had been induced to come to England upon the invitation of Queen Anne, the object of the English authorities being the rapid colonization of the new possessions in America; therefore many of the immigrants who came with Penn, and during the following years, were retained for a greater or less period of time to indemnify that government for the expense of transportation and maintenance. Some sold themselves to settlers from the interior, for whom they worked for a specified time. Numbers of these German colonists were transported to Georgia and to New York, but most of them ultimately made their way to Pennsylvania, where their friends had previously settled.

During the years 1683 and 1684 the immigration steadily increased, and was represented chiefly by Welsh, English, a few Dutch, and, above all, by Palatines. According to Proud, some of these lodged in the woods, in hollow trees, and in caves and dug-outs made along the banks of the Delaware and the Wissahickon, while others hastily erected rude huts.

Thousands of new arrivals flocked in between the years 1708 and 1720, these being chiefly Palatines, with a few natives of Würtemberg and Darmstadt. Franconia, Baden, and Saxony were also represented at various intervals. Irish, from the north of Ireland, began to arrive about the year 1719, and the Welsh had been among the first to purchase land of Penn, selecting that on the west bank of the Schuylkill. Previous to 1692, the latter settled six townships in Chester County. The Irish, on the contrary, established themselves on the Lehigh, at a point between the present sites of Bethlehem and Allentown, which was long known as "Craig's Settlement." North of the Blue Mountains, near the Delaware, a few Dutch families from New Jersey and New York took up land, as did also a number of French and Spanish.

Philadelphia County was established in 1682, and on account of the number of Germans at the northern extremity of the settlement that spot received the name of "Germantown," which it still retains. From this point north and west the country was rapidly penetrated and clearings were made, so that during the eighteenth century all that portion of the State east of the Blue Mountains, from the Delaware to Maryland, contained thriving settlements and the beginnings of future cities.

Intermarriage between the various German immigrants, among whom the dialects of the Palatinate, Franconia, etc., predominated, has resulted in the formation of a dialect which is known as "Pennsylvania German." This more strongly resembles some of the Bavarian dialects than any other of the German, as was recognized by the present writer during his service as staff-surgeon in the Prussian army during the war of 1870-71. Although Pennsylvanians read German newspapers and books, they are generally unable to converse in that language, and experience great difficulty in understanding a recent German immigrant, whom they regard in the light of a foreigner, as much as do people of English descent.

German names were gradually Anglicized, so that few original forms, comparatively speaking, are now found. Some could not be satisfactorily treated in this manner, and were allowed to survive, such as Knappenberger, Lichtenwalner, Fenstermacher, Nunnemacher, Oberholtzer, Lautenschläger, Katzenmoyer, Trockenmüller, Himmelreich (= Kingdom of Heaven), etc. Others are found to-day, both the German and the English equivalent, possessed by different branches of the same family, as the following will illustrate:--





Schreiner

= Carpenter.

Buss (= Busch)

= Wood.

Schreiber

= Scribner, Writer.

Rothstein

= Redstone.

 

 

Klein

= Small.

Dreher

= Turner.

Jerk (= Georg)

= George.

Schwarz

= Black.

Hön

= Hain.

Vogel

= Bird.

Zimmerman

= Cooper.

Vögeli

= Fegley.

Becker

= Baker.

Rothrock

= Redcoat.

Ox (= Ochs)

= Oaks.

Jung

= Young.

 

 

Haas

= Hare.

Schneider

= Cutter, Taylor.

Yeager,

Hunter, Yeager, Jaeger.[1]

Heffner

= Potter.

 

 

Herzog

= Duke.

Another change is discernible in quite a number of names, i. e., a change of spelling to simplify pronunciation, or to disguise or conceal ideas apparently absurd, as Wetherhold, from Wedderholtz; Balliet, from Pollyard; Hendershott, from Hinnershitz; Sheetz, from Schitz, etc.

Although impracticable, in the present paper, to treat of the philologic peculiarities of this dialect, it is necessary to submit a short scheme to facilitate in the proper pronunciation of such words and phrases as may be given from time to time. Consonants are sounded as in English; vowels are short, unless indicated by a line over the vowel prolonged in sound.

a, as in fartar.

i, as in pit.

ä as in hat.

ī, as e in neat.

â, as in law.

o, as u in nut.

ai, as ai in aisle.

ō, as in note.

âi, as oi in oil.

u, as u in put.

e, as in net.

ŭ, as oo in fool.

ē, as a in ale.

 

ch, as in German nicht.

gh, as the soft sound of g in Tagenschlagen.

z is represented by ts.

c "      "        by k or s.

' the acute accent, is used to indicate accented syllables.

n, the superior n indicates a nasalized sound of the letter to which it is attached. This sound appears to be one of the most striking peculiarities of the dialect, and resembles the nasalized n of the French language. The final en of all German words becomes a or ä, as schlagen (to strike) = shla'gha; essen (to eat) = es'sä.

It is extremely difficult for people of the rural districts to acquire the proper sound of j and g, as in the words James and gem, the usual result being tsh, as ch in Charles; words beginning with ch are sounded like the English j, and the final th becomes s, while the same sound as initial, in this, becomes d.

This dialect is still in common use, particularly in the country and small villages, though through the agency of public schools the English language is rapidly replacing it. As pronounced and spoken by the country folk, the dialect is frequently very amusing to those speaking it in the cities, as the former have a peculiar drawl or prolonged intonation not often heard in business communities, where everything is done with promptness and dispatch. There are marked differences, too, in words and phrases, so that one who is familiar with this dialect can readily distinguish whether the speaker be from Lancaster, or Berks, or Lehigh County.

The descendants of the early German colonists, after having received during several generations the benefits of education and mingling in cultured society, cannot be distinguished from the offspring of other nationalities, and it is only in the rural districts, and in what is frequently termed the "backwoods," that we find the ruder and more primitive customs and superstitions surviving.

The country folks (bush'lait) are very averse to the adoption of the usages of polite society, and consequently adhere to many curious customs and manners with great tenacity. A common response, when questioned in regard to this, is, "As my father did, so I do" (Wi dĕr fádĕr gedún hŏt, so du ich â).

Occasional newspaper articles have appeared from time to time purporting to present accounts of the customs and superstitions of this people; but as the writers were generally not of the people, and in addition many were unfamiliar with the dialect, the accuracy of such descriptions may reasonably be questioned.

Many of the customs and superstitions are the remnants of what were imported into this country at the time of the first settlements, and it is only natural, therefore, to expect parallels in various portions of Great Britain and on the Continent. Still, the colonists had invariably to adapt themselves to their new environment; and as most of them had no money wherewith to secure the comforts of civilization, they began life de novo. Houses of moderate size were erected upon the clearings, usually having two rooms, sometimes three; the chimney being erected on the inside, as was also the oven. Windows consisted of small square openings, with a sliding board on the inner side, to serve as a shutter. Furniture of all descriptions was home-made and of the most primitive patterns. All clothing was made by the women, and they frequently resorted to buckskin skirts when working in the fields. Squirrel-skin moccasins were considered a luxury, and when the young women went to church on Sunday, in order to make them last as long as possible, they walked barefoot until within sight of the building before putting them on. In time, however, the condition of things and persons improved, so that the account which follows pertains chiefly to the early and middle portion of the present century.

Nearly every farmer raised sufficient flax or hemp for home consumption. The preparation of this, so that the spun fibre could be delivered to the weaver, entailed much labor and time, as many well remember. Wool was also prepared, dyed, and woven for garments and bed-covers. Dyes were made from the bark of trees and from plants. Sassafras bark produced a substantial yellow for woollen materials; a decoction of the bark of the red maple was employed, though a quantity of copperas had to be added. The bark of both the hickory and the oak were employed, chiefly for linen goods, and the loose skins of old onions produced a light yellow. As a substitute for alum, urine was employed, and this was carefully poured into large vessels, until sufficient had accumulated for the desired purpose.

Barns, were then, as now, always larger and frequently more comfortable than the dwelling-house. The ground floor is divided into compartments for the stabling of horses and cattle, one end being left open as a driveway, where farm implements are placed during inclement weather. The main floor, extending over all, is usually from ten to twelve feet above the ground, and is divided into three parts. The middle third is reserved for threshing and the temporary storage of carriages and wagons, while upon either side are located the granaries, above which is stored the hay or straw. The roofs are of shingles. According to an old superstition, the shingles must be nailed on during the waning of the moon, or they will soon curl tip and split. It is a common sight to find a horse-shoe nailed upon the lintels of the stable doors, to insure good luck and safety to the animals, and it is still better if the horse-shoe be one that was found upon the highway.

The writer is inclined to believe that this custom had its origin at a time more remote than the superstitions relating to "thirteen at a table" and the "spilling of salt," both of which are generally conceded to have originated at or with the Lord's Supper and consequent events. The Romans drove nails into the walls of cottages, as an antidote against the plague: for this reason L. Manlius, A. U. C. 390, was named dictator to drive the nail (Brand's "Antiq.," 1882, iii. 18), In Jerusalem, a rough representation of a hand is marked by the natives on the wall of every house whilst in building (Lt. Condor, "Palestine Explor. Fund," January, 1873, p. 16). The Moors generally, and especially the Arabs of Kairwan, employ the marks on their houses as prophylactics, and similar hand-prints are found in El Baird, near Petra.

That these practices and the later use of the horse-shoe originated with the rite of the Passover is probable. The blood upon the door-posts and upon the lintel (Exodus xii. 7) formed the chief points of an arch, and when the horse-shoe was invented it was naturally adopted by the superstitious as conforming to the shape, or outline, upon the primitive doorway, and in time it became the symbol of luck, or "safety to those residing under its protection."

The fence around the barn-yard, as well as others upon the farm, is also made during the waxing of the moon, or the posts will sink and soon rot away (Fayette County). In the eastern part of the State, fences must be made when the horns are turned up, when they will remain; if built when the horns of the moon are directed downward, the posts will sink until the bottom rail touches the ground. So also with the planting of vegetables, etc. Peas, beans, and other plants growing as vines are planted when the horns of the moon are turned up, so that they may grow vigorously. If planted when the horns of the moon are turned down, they will remain low and stunted. [2]

Potatoes are planted in the new moon, so that they will have sufficient light and all strike root; "the sign of the moon must be in the feet" (Mr. Brown, Fayette County). The same authority also says that corn should be planted during the new moon, "when the sign is in the head," so that it may all go to ear. In Lehigh County, the first day of May was the day set apart for planting corn.

Cabbage should be planted on the seventeenth day of March, to insure its heading well.

Cucumbers must be planted in the morning, before sunrise, as otherwise they would be destroyed by bugs.

Wheat must not be cut before full moon, as it will not be fully ripe; "and if Ember-days are high [sic] one may expect to obtain a good price therefor." This last is from Mr. L. W. Brown, of Fayette County, but the description is not clear.

A curious belief is still extant in Lehigh County respecting the transplanting of parsley, Should any one obtain one or more plants, and replant them in his own garden, it is believed that such person's death will soon follow.[3]

It is but a few years ago that hogs were slaughtered during the waxing of the moon, as at any other time the meat would shrink and not be as good.[4]

It is still confidently asserted, in many localities, that the cattle kneel and low at midnight before Christmas.

To kill a toad or a barn-swallow will cause the cows to give bloody milk.

In Fayette County, according to my informant, Mr. L. W. Brown, it when a colt opens its mouth for the first time, it drops what is usually called a 'false tongue;' this should be picked up and suspended in the stable, when the colt will always be easily caught when out in pasture."

As counter-charms, the following are still believed in. When corn and beans are reserved for the next year's planting, the cobs, husks, and vines are carefully carried out into a field or upon the highway, that they may be quickly destroyed. Should they be burned, the next crop of corn and beans will be attacked by black fungus (brâut).

To exterminate briers and alders, cut them when the waning moon is in the "sign of the heart."

One will frequently observe, even at this day, the bodies of birds of prey, with outstretched wings, nailed against the gable ends of barns. Birds of this kind, shot upon the farm, were thus exposed to keep away others. A quarter of a century ago it was the custom for the young men to organize a party and shoot all obnoxious birds, and frequently those beneficial to the farmer, on Ascension Day. The origin of this custom, and the reason why that particular day should be selected, is not known.

Corn-husking parties and the merriment incident thereto is well known and indulged in even at this time, but there were also gatherings in the fields at night, after the husking had been completed, one of which the writer witnessed some years ago in Monroe County. In making a journey across the Blue Mountains, the summit was not reached until near midnight, and, just as the country beyond was dimly outlined in the moonlight, occasional strains of music and laughter could bc detected floating up from below. Presently large fires were seen, and around them the rapidly moving bodies of the merrymakers. The husking had been completed, and a dance was in progress,--"a genuine jig," as it is termed in that region. The fiddler was seated upon a stump, while the couple who had the "floor" were stationed vis-à-vis, and in this position danced out the set, after which their places were taken by another couple. After several rounds, the whole party would promenade round the fire, which served both for illuminating the grounds and to furnish warmth, as it was late in the month of October.

When dances were held in the barn, light was afforded by lanterns and tallow candles. Husking parties (husk'in matsh'es) were then held during the day, and the finding of a red ear of corn entitled the finder to kiss any one of the girls present; if a girl found such an ear, and wished to avoid being kissed, she would hide it quickly as possible, though, if discovered, the first of the young men to reach her was entitled to the kiss.

That curious custom of courting termed bundling still survives in a few isolated localities along the eastern foothills of the Blue Mountains. It was rather common during the early portion of the present century, and survived and was considered a not improper practice even until the outbreak of the late war. It is more than probable that the young men discovered the absurdity and indecency of the custom during their enlistment, when they came in contact with more enlightened people, to whom such practice no doubt seemed criminal.

Among the uncultured this form of courtship was conducted with propriety and sincerity, but by the educated classes the proceedings were looked upon as decidedly immodest. No young man was esteemed a desirable beau unless he possessed at least a horse and buggy, so as to be enabled to take his sweetheart to local gatherings on holidays, and to church on Sunday.

Saturday evening was considered the proper time for courting (shpär'iya), though this delightful pastime often extended over the whole of Sunday. As before stated, houses were limited as to rooms; and as the distance travelled by the lover was often too great for him to return home late Saturday night, and to be at the command of his fiancée on Sunday morning, the matter was compromised by his remaining and sharing her bed. At sunset, the old folks were wont to retire, both to rest from the labors of the day and to save the unnecessary burning of tallow candles, which were homemade and a luxury.

The custom of bundling was, in early times, not confined to Pennsylvania alone, but extended into the New England States, as the following quotation will illustrate. William Smith, in the "Gentleman's Magazine" 1747, p. 211), says: "It must be noted that it is the custom in this country [New England] for young persons between whom there is a courtship, or treaty of marriage, to lye together, the woman having her petticoats on, and the man his breeches; and afterwards, if they do no fall out, they confess the covenant at the church, in the midst of the congregation, and to the minister, who declares the marriage legal; and if anything criminal has been acted, orders a punishment accordingly, sometimes of forty stripes save one."

In Pennsylvania, however, superfluous clothing was frequently dispensed with, and, if a like rule had existed, it would have been rarely found necessary to inflict such punishment.

That bundling received judicial recognition by the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania is evident in the case of Kenderline v. Phelin, about the year 1852. This was on appeal from the case tried before Chief justice Gibson, holding court at nisi prius in Philadelphia, who, in a decision on a point of evidence, ruled that in that part of the country where the custom was known to prevail, "that the female being in bed with a man, or different men, was not conclusive evidence as to her want of chastity;" and, on appeal, the decision was sustained.[5]

Another case, tried at Allentown, resulted in favor of the defendant, for the reason shown in the following extract from "The Pennsylvania Law Journal" (v. 1846, p. 30): "In an action brought to recover damages for the seduction of the plaintiff's daughter, it appeared that the defendant and the daughter slept together on the occasion of the seduction, according to a custom which prevailed in the part of the country where they resided (known as bundling), and with the knowledge of the plaintiff: Held, that the knowledge of the plaintiff amounted to connivance, and he could not therefore recover damages."[6]

Thirty years ago it was common, at church, to see all the marriageable girls--or at least those who had lovers--wearing white scarfs or handkerchiefs around their necks, to hide the scarlet blotches caused by the kisses and "love bites" of the preceding evening. When visiting the larger towns, numbers of young couples would stroll along the streets with clasped hands or linked fingers, like children, totally oblivious to all comment from the amused lookers-on and the writer distinctly remembers seeing such visitors sitting upon the butcher's block, in the public market-place, clasped in each other's arms and sound asleep!--this, too, in the midst of a multitude of people who had been attracted to the town on account of a public demonstration.

The marriage ceremony was generally performed at the minister's residence, and it was he, also, who furnished refreshments, consisting of home-made wine and small cakes. The bride and groom, sometimes attended by friends, usually went on horseback, and wedding trips were unknown to most people. Upon the return of the party to the temporary or future home of the newly wedded couple, dancing and other festivities were indulged in until long after midnight.

It was the custom for the bride to furnish the household linen, bedding, etc., the husband being supposed to have secured a house and plat of ground, either by purchase or renting. The habit was never to take an old broom into a new house, as bad luck was sure to follow.[7]  It must be a new broom, and first carried across the meadow, to avert any evil consequences.

Both at wedding feasts and upon other occasions it was usual, when dancing to "dance for flax;" that is, the higher the feet were raised from the floor, the higher would be the host's crop of flax at the next harvest.[8]

The young, wife, in the absence of farm help, often lent a helping hand in the heavy work of farming, such as plowing, threshing grain, clearing the fields of large stones, etc. From spring until autumn it was her duty, to gather the various herbs, barks, roots, and flowers supposed to contain medicinal properties, which were subsequently employed in domestic practice, as occasion required. Garden-seeds were also selected for the next year's planting, and, altogether, these various packages and bags, suspended from the rafters of the loft or garret of the house, formed quite an important and interesting collection. The subject of folk-medicine and the superstitions relating thereto will be presented later on.

"Quiltings" and apple-butter parties were looked forward to by the young folks with much interest. At the former the young women assisted in finishing bed-quilts, which consisted of many-colored patches of calico, and sometimes silks, the evening terminating with a dance and a supper; while, at the latter, much of the day was spent in boiling down cider and paring apples, which were subsequently reduced therein to the proper consistency. As this required constant stirring to avoid burning, the labors sometimes extended far into the night, and were then followed by a dance.

In some localities it is believed that if vinegar be disturbed while the apple-trees bloom it will again turn to cider.

With the exception of very few articles, nearly every variety of food was of farm production. Such as was obtained at the country stores was received in exchange for butter and eggs.

The housewife sometimes found difficulty in butter-making, the "spell" being believed to be the work of a witch, as every locality boasted of such a personage. The remedy was to plunge a red-hot poker into the contents of the churn, when the spell was broken, and the butter immediately began to form.

To refuse a witch any request was sure to be followed by misfortune. The following incident was related to the writer by Mr. A. F. Berlin, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who received it at first hand. A farmer who lives at Alburtis, Lehigh County, had two cows. One day an old woman, who lived but a short distance away, and who was suspected of being a witch, came to the house, and, during the course of conversation, asked which of the two cows gave the greater quantity of milk. The one which was indicated was then with calf. Upon the following day the two cows were driven, as usual, into the fields to pasture, but on attempting to drive them home, later in the day, the milch cow was found lying helpless upon the ground. The farmer, upon hearing of this, went into the field with his sons, to endeavor to get the animal upon her feet. The sons took hold of the horns, while the father grasped the tail, but all attempts to move the cow were ineffectual. The father then directed the boys to gather some wood to make a fire, which was to be placed near the cow. During all this time the witch was standing on the portico of the farmer's house, watching the proceedings; but the instant she saw that fire was to be kindled, she came forward, and inquired after the purpose of the proceedings. The farmer accused her of bewitching the cow, but this she denied most vigorously. The witch then bade the farmer call his wife, who, upon her arrival, was told to take hold of the cow's tail while the witch went to the head. After a few caresses and the utterance of some words of endearment and encouragement, the cow rose from the ground, and walked away as if nothing had occurred.

W. J. Hoffman, M. D.


Part 2

Journal of American Folk-Lore 2:4 pp. 23-35 [1889]

As before stated,[9]  nearly all the food required for home consumption was the product of the farm, and in the endeavor to vary the monotony of dishes some curious combinations resulted.

Among the common people in the rural districts table etiquette was unknown, and even common decency was frequently disregarded. The various members of the household congregated at the table with the servants and hired laborers, each helping himself and totally oblivious of the presence of his neighbor.

The chief dish, whether a roast, fowl, or shnits un knep, was common property, and each, after helping himself, would break his bread into small pieces, and sop them in the gravy on the central dish, generally by means of a fork, though sometimes even with the fingers.

Shnits un knep was prepared by first making small dough balls, or dumplings, of flour, and adding thereto a sufficient quantity of sliced, dried unpared apples, and a piece of meat. These, being deposited in a kettle, were covered with water and thoroughly boiled and then served in a large, deep plate.

Saur kraut is now less extensively used. It is prepared by cutting the cabbage into slaw, which is then packed and stamped with salt in a tall wooden vessel termed a shten'ner. When filled, and the brine has formed, the mass is kept submerged by means of a piece of board and a heavy stone. The usual accompaniment to saur kraut was mashed potatoes, while apple-butter was eaten with the bread in the belief that the acidity of the former helped to neutralize the grease of the cabbage and meat and prevented liability to nausea from over-indulgence.

The present writer has frequently been told of families who invariably had one of the children to press down the cabbage with the bare feet, as the kraut was, by this method, not so bruised as when stamped with a heavy wooden pestle.

Hot boiled corn meal mush was often used at supper, and served in one large dish. Milk was poured over it, and each helped himself directly therefrom with his own spoon. At such times quarrels among the children frequently resulted on account of encroachments upon the recognized portion or space of a less rapid neighbor.

Rye bread--shwarts bröd (black bread)--was generally used, wheaten bread--wais bröd (white bread)--being considered a luxury, and served only on Sunday or during the visit of friends.

The corn mills[10]  used by the earliest settlers were but a slight improvement upon that of the aborigines, and the early erection of grist mills was considered with as much interest as the construction of houses of worship.

The presence of visitors--generally on Sunday after church service--sometimes necessitated the opening of the parlor or best room, which under ordinary circumstances would remain with closed shutters and locked doors from one year's end to the other. There are many families even at the present day, both in the rural districts and in the towns, who never enter the parlor except upon similar occasions.

The following signs are believed to foretell the coming of visitors:--

If any one drop a fork at the table the visitor will be a man; if a knife, it signifies a woman (Fayette County).

If a cock crows some one is coming; if two hens get to fighting the visitors will be women (Eastern Pennsylvania).

If any one helps himself to food of which he still has some remaining upon his plate the visitor will be hungry.

When the cat washes her face it signifies that visitors are coming. This is also a sign of clearing weather.

There are certain days in the year for which special articles of food are prepared in accordance with time-honored customs. One of these is Shrove-Tuesday [11]--Fās nacht--when peculiarly shaped doughnuts are eaten. The custom appears to have originated in England, where the eating of "pancakes" was an old one. A correspondent in the "Gentleman's Magazine"[12]  respecting this practice says, "as the Romish religion has given way . . . yet the custom of ringing the great bell in our antient parish churches, at least in some of them, yet remains, and obtains in and about London the name of Pancake-bell; perhaps because, after the confession, it was customary for the several persons to dine on pancakes or fritters. Latter churches, indeed, have rejected that custom of ringing the bell on Shrove-Tuesday; but the usage of dining on pancakes or fritters, and such-like provision, still continues."

Dances were held on Shrove-Tuesday "for a good yield of flax for that year," or, in other words, the host's crop of flax would be tall in proportion to the height to which the dancers raised their feet from the floor.

The Easter breakfast usually consisted of eggs. Children received presents of dyed eggs, which they carried around to their friends, receiving others in exchange therefor. Sometimes to rabbits,--or hares,--made of canton flannel and stuffed with cotton or saw-dust, were given as presents. Children were told that the Osh'ter hâs laid these eggs in the nests which were previously arranged somewhere about the house, a practice similar to hanging up a stocking on Christmas Eve.[13]

In the rural districts even at this day, pastry, cakes, and preserves are served at almost every meal, and if anything remains over it is served again and again at subsequent meals until it is consumed or unfit for use.

Unusual quantities of pastry are prepared at various seasons, such as when an extra number of laborers are subsisted, during the harvest season, at "apple-butter boilings," quiltings, corn-huskings, and in case there is a funeral.

Saturday was the cleaning-up day of the week, and although the custom of washing pavements was common, and still is so, the writer does not remember to have observed as much importance attached to this practice as stated by a writer in the "Gentleman's Magazine"[14]  in the following words: "There is also another custom peculiar to the city of Philadelphia, and nearly allied to the former [white washing]. I mean, that of washing the pavement before the doors every Saturday evening. I at first took this to be a regulation of the police; but, on further inquiry, I find it is a religious rite, preparatory to the Sabbath, and is, I believe, the only religious rite in which the numerous sectaries of this city perfectly agree. The ceremony begins about sunset, and continues till about ten or eleven at night. It is very difficult for a stranger to walk the streets on those evenings; he runs a continual risk of having a bucket of dirty water thrown against his legs: but a Philadelphian born is so much accustomed to the danger that he avoids it with surprising dexterity. It is from this circumstance that a Philadelphian may be known anywhere by his gait."

In connection with the preceding may be mentioned the almost universal custom of white-washing. Fences, out-buildings, cellars, and in the houses of many the rooms, are white-washed at the approach of spring,--the period of house cleaning,--both for the purpose of cleanliness and appearance. In the publication just quoted[15]  a writer makes mention of a custom which does not appear to be recognized at the present time. He says: "When a young couple are about to enter into the matrimonial state, a never-failing article in the marriage treaty is, that the lady shall have and enjoy the free and unmolested exercise of the right of white-washing, with all its ceremonials, privileges, and appurtenances. A young woman would forego the most advantageous connection, and even disappoint the warmest wish of her heart, rather than resign the invaluable right. There is no season of the year in which the lady may not claim her privilege, if she pleases; but the latter end of May is most generally fixed upon for the purpose." A lengthy and amusing description follows, noting the removal from the house of every article of furniture and ornament, when white-wash is spread over the walls, with a brush, and windows and floors scrubbed.

As before stated, it is customary for the bride to receive from her parents or guardian a wedding outfit,--haus shtai'er,--consisting of household linen and other articles necessary to assist in furnishing a house. A case has just been decided in one of the courts in Pennsylvania in which the husband had brought suit against his wife's guardian in default of the latter furnishing the usual gift. The plaintiff was awarded the sum of one hundred and twenty-five dollars.

Professional medical services were seldom demanded, as ordinary complaints were treated by the administration of infusions and decoctions of plants and roots collected and preserved for such purpose.

Lying-in women were generally attended by an old woman of alleged skill and experience; and numerous instances are known where no such assistance was at hand at the critical period and the patient successfully passed through it alone.

Infants were disposed of by putting them into a cumbersome cradle, almost smothered in feather beds, and removed only when occasion demanded.

Children were permitted to nurse at their mother's breast for a longer period than is now customary. One instance is known to the writer in which a boy of seven years of age daily earned this privilege by splitting the amount of kindling wood necessary for his mother's use.[16]

The following superstitions relate to children:--

The child will have the colic if the empty cradle is rocked.

If any one step across a child it will cease to grow.[17]

A cat, when left alone with an infant, will strangle it by sucking its breath.

If a child be permitted to see its image in a mirror before it is one year of age it will become proud.

In western counties the saying is that the child will be unlucky if allowed to see itself in a mirror before it is nine months old.

A child will receive lofty thoughts if a louse is placed upon its head and it is carried to the upper story of the house, before it is nine days old (Fayette County).

A more common practice is to put a silver spoon within a child's hand, and then carry the child to the attic. This must be done before the ninth day has passed. In some of the eastern counties the Bible is used instead of a spoon, and there are some persons who believe it of sufficient value to the child to merely mount a chair with it, or anything higher than the floor of the room in which it was born.

To pare an infant's finger-nails may cause it to become a thief in after years.

The following superstitions pertain to children's complaints and the methods of treatment.

Slabbering is cured by passing a live fish through the child's mouth.[18]  This practice still obtains in Berks County.

To cure pleurisy, pass the child beneath a table to an assistant.[19]

It is necessary to state, in this connection, that pleurisy is believed to be caused by the attachment of the liver to the ribs; the cure being to break this adhesion by stretching the body. The disease is commonly known as liver grown--ân'gewâk'sa, lit., grown fast.

A fretful baby is believed to long for something for which the mother herself had an ungratified desire previous to the infant's birth, The only remedy is to ascertain what this is, and to give the infant a taste of it.

Incontinence of urine is cured by whipping the afflicted one with a hud'l lum'ba. This is a cloth used to remove ashes from the oven previous to depositing the bread for baking.

When the patient reaches the age of adolescence the alleged relief is obtained by urinating into a newly made grave, the corpse must be of the opposite sex to that of the experimenter. [20]

Blisters on the tongue (Stomatitis) are caused by telling fibs. When they show no disposition to leave, the following process is adopted: three small sticks are cut from a tree, each about the length of a finger and as thick as a pencil. These are inserted into the mouth and buried in a dunghill; the next day the operation is repeated, as well as on the third day, after which the three sets of sticks are allowed to remain in the manure, and as they decay the complaint will disappear.

The following procedure for the cure of bronchitis is still practised in Berks County. Make a gimlet hole in the door frame at the exact height of the top of the patient's head, into which insert a small tuft of his hair and close the hole with a peg of wood, then cut off the projecting portion of the peg. As the patient grows in height beyond the peg, so will the disease be outgrown.

To cure whooping-cough, administer milk stolen from a neighbor's cow.

A common remedy for croup is to administer a mixture of goose-grease and molasses, to induce emesis.

One less frequently adopted for the same complaint is to make a poultice of grated poke-root and vinegar and apply to the feet.

In Lehigh County the emetic for this purpose is prepared by boiling three (or five) onions until soft, and mixing the juice therefrom with honey.

In Fayette County an emetic for croup is made by mixing urine and goose-grease and administering internally, and also rubbing some of the mixture over the breast and throat.

For diphtheria a poultice consisting of the fresh excrement of a hog is worn about the neck for one night (Fayette County).

A Lehigh County remedy for ordinary sore throat is made by boiling either three or five onions, pressing out the juice, and mixing it with strong sage tea; this is sweetened with brown sugar. Sometimes a small lump of butter is added while the decoction is still hot.

A common practice for the same complaint is to turn a stocking wrong side out and wear it tied around the throat at night.

For ordinary febrile complaints strawberry leaf tea is administered to produce diaphoresis. Elder-blossom tea is also given in fevers, and especially to hasten the eruption in measles and scarlatina.

For measles, both mare's milk and a tea made of sheep cherries (gen. et sp.?) are given (Mr. Brown, Fayette County).

To cure mumps, the swollen parts must be rubbed against such portion of a hog-trough as has been worn smooth by that animal.

A decoction of dog-wood bark is given as a purgative to adults as well as to children. The same remedy, if properly prepared, is also taken to produce emesis. The belief pertaining to these properties and the special preparation of the bark is as follows: When the remedy is to act as an emetic, the bark is scraped from the branches from below upward when the sap is rising in the spring. This is put into boiling water and a strong decoction made, which, if taken internally, will readily produce the desired effect. If, however, a purgative is wanted, the bark must be scraped downward, in autumn, when the sap is believed to run downward. The scrapings must be put into a vessel of cold water and boiled for a considerable period of time. If sufficient be taken of the decoction, purging results.

That the desired effect is generally attained by adults may appear singular, but it may readily be attributed to the will and conduct of the patient himself. The decoction, if taken as an emetic, is readily gotten rid of at the first indication of nausea, but when the purpose is to purge, the patient, with some effort on his part, retains the obnoxious mixture until it has passed beyond the control of the stomach into the intestines, when the desired result follows.

Household remedies, usually resorted to for the ailments of adults, will be treated of later.

Several curious customs relating to death and burial are worthy of mention. A death was announced by tolling the church bell, the number of strokes corresponding to the age in years of the deceased. After a short interval the taps of the bell denoted the number of days that would elapse before the funeral.

Immediately upon the death of a member of any household, the women of the neighborhood congregated and prepared for the funeral dinner. This was done to feed the friends and relatives who came from a distance. Pastry, cakes, fowl, and hams in great quantity were prepared, and previous to the departure of the funeral a lunch was handed round, followed by hot coffee, and frequently the bottle of whiskey. If it was known to the lovers of ardent spirits that the latter was to be had, there was frequently an unusual number of attendants at the funeral, and some of the mourners consequently failed to accompany the remains of the departed, preferring to await the return to the house of the funeral cortege.

The regular dinner was then served, after which each one returned to his respective home With reference to the burial custom of the Moravians at Bethlehem, Mr. Rupp says: "The Corpse House, where, on the death of a member of the society, the corpse is deposited for three days, is worthy of a notice. When a death occurs, a part of the choir ascend the church cupola or steeple, where a requiem or funeral hymn is played for the departed, and the melancholy notes as they fall on the ear in a calm morning are peculiarly solemn and impressive. The body on the third day is removed from the corpse house, the mourners place themselves around it, and after several strains of solemn music, the procession forms a line of march to the grave, preceded by the band, still playing, which is continued some time after the coffin is deposited."[21]

Coffins were made of walnut or stained wood. Hearses were rarely used, the coffin being placed upon the floor of a large wagon with chairs around it for the chief mourners, the children generally sitting upon the coffin itself.

The eyes of the corpse were closed by placing copper cents upon them, and a small piece of linen with embroidered edges, called a shwēs duch (sweat cloth), covered the entire face until the day of the funeral, when both the coppers and the cloth were deposited inside the coffin and buried with the body.

Upon the death of any inmate of a house the mirrors are turned round so as to face the wall, otherwise the first person to see his image in any one of them will be sure to die within a year.

If any one wear crêpe when not in mourning, his or her death is sure to follow.[22]

The chirping in the house of a cricket, or the clicking of a deathwatch, foretell the death of one of the inmates. When horses in pasture are seen running and playing, it is a sign that a funeral will soon be seen.

That a dog howling at night should be a presage of death is a superstition of almost world-wide belief, and is abundantly observed in classic literature. [23]

A white Christmas makes a full graveyard.[24]

When apple-trees bloom out of season it is an omen of death to some one connected with the household.

If any one suffering from corns takes a small piece of cotton, rubs it over the offenders and hides it, unobserved, with a body about to be buried, the corns will leave him.

If the hand of a corpse be rubbed over a goitre the afflicted may be certain of recovery.

Under-garments cut out on Friday are sure to be used for a corpse.

It is unlucky to undertake a journey on Friday.

A piece of work begun on Friday will not be finished by the cutter; death is sure to follow.

The custom of casting stones on the graves of suicides, those who had met with a violent death, or bodies buried in canny places or in unconsecrated ground, was extensively practised until a very recent period, if, indeed, it does not still survive. Any passer-by who neglected to throw a stone upon such a grave was in imminent danger of meeting with the spirit of the departed, and the consequences were believed to be most unfortunate.

Many of the more ignorant and superstitious classes firmly believe that nightmare, ghostly manifestations, and similar evidences of uncanny doings are often the direct doings of witches. Nightmare can sometimes be caught,[25]  as is illustrated by the following instance. A hostler in the service of the writer's father frequently suffered from nightmare, and to secure the intruder he procured a small phial which he placed within easy reach of his bed. After two or three nights the nightmare was caught and bottled, and destroyed by burning. This was stated to have been the spirit of a black cat, under control of a witch with whom the hostler had had a previous misunderstanding.

When one awakes in the morning feeling very tired, the witches have been riding him all night.

Witches are supposed to acquire influence over any one by becoming possessed of anything belonging to the intended victim, such as a hair, a piece of wearing apparel, or a pin. The influence acquired by the witch is greater if such an article be voluntarily or unconsciously handed to her by the person asked for it.

A witch can be disabled by securing a hair of her head, wrapping it in a piece of paper, and placing it against a tree as a target into which a silver bullet is to be fired from a gun.

The following instance was said to have occurred many years ago in northern Lehigh County. A vicious black sow was frequently encountered by people on the highway, but no one knew to whom the animal belonged. One day, as the sow became too aggressive in pursuit of its victim, the person thus annoyed picked up a heavy piece of wood and threw it, breaking one of the animal's legs.

It was learned subsequently that a witch living in that neighborhood had broken her leg at the same day and hour, and it was firmly believed that the witch and the animal--which was never encountered afterwards--were one and the same.

Among the German settlers no trial of witches, by ordeal or otherwise, was practised, and the following was probably instituted by the English colonists, with whom this process was in vogue in other portions of the early settlements. The following appears in the "Gentleman's Magazine" (January, 1731, i. p. 29): "From Burlington, in Pennsylvania, 't is advised that the owners of several cattle, believing them to be bewitched, caused some suspected men and women to be taken up, and trials to be made for detecting 'em. About three hundred people assembled near the governor's house, and a pair of scales being erected, the suspected persons were each weighed against a large Bible, but all of them outweighing it: the accused were then tied head and feet together, and put into a river, on supposition that if they swam they must be guilty. This they offered to undergo in case the accuser should be served in the like manner; which being done, they all swam very buoyant, and cleared the accused."

The following is the only instance with which the writer has become acquainted where the power of transforming human beings has been accredited to witches. Although the circumstances are said to have occurred during the early part of the present century, they are still mentioned as inexplicable and supernatural by the present residents. The story, in brief, is as follows: Near Trexlertown, Lehigh County, dwelt a farmer named Weiler. His wife and three daughters had by some means or other incurred the enmity of a witch who lived but a short distance away, when the latter, it is supposed, took her revenge in the following manner. Whenever visitors came to the Weiler residence, the girls, without any premonition whatever, would suddenly be changed into snakes, and after crawling back and forth along the top ridge of the wainscoting for several minutes they were restored to their natural form. These curious transformations occurred quite frequently, and the circumstance soon attained widespread notoriety. About the end of the third month the spell was broken and everything went on as before.

Of the many ghost stories still related, and generally believed, a great portion appear to relate to boundary lines, and corner stones marking land limits, about which there had been altercations during the life of the principals. In some of these the luminous outline of a human form will be seen, in others only the voice is heard, while in others, still, fiery balls are observed flying through the air and following the true boundary lines.

It is related that a miserly fellow formerly lived near Tulpehocken, Berks County, who during his lifetime had been suspected of removing the "line stones," marking the boundaries of his land, so as to encroach upon that of his neighbors.

Shortly after the death of this individual vague rumors were spread respecting ghostly visitations about the old house and along the borders of the farm. People gathered each evening after sunset to watch for the luminous ghost as it flitted from one corner of the lot to another, apparently searching for something, but upon the nearer approach of one of the bolder visitors he saw that it carried a stone, frequently uttering the words, Wu sol ich den shten hin dun? (Where shall I put this stone?) The remainder of the party observing no harm done to the first one to approach gradually came up so as to be as close as was deemed safe. A half-witted fellow who was in the party finally approached the apparition, and upon hearing the words uttered immediately responded, Wai, du ferdam'ter nar, du 'n hin wu d'n grikt hosht. (Why you d-----d fool, put it where you got it.) Whereupon the stone was seen to drop and the apparition was not observed again.

It was believed by the superstitious neighbors that the miser's soul could not rest in peace until directed by a mortal what to do, hence the immediate effect upon the response of the yokel.

Many years ago there lived in that portion of Northampton County--known as the Settlement, In'sha land (Indian land)--two men of selfish nature, and whose farms unfortunately joined. Strife was kept up on account of one of them attempting to remove the corner stones which had been placed to mark the limits of the farms as well as the dividing line. Matters grew worse and worse, and the decisions of the courts failed to produce either harmony or a satisfactory adjustment of affairs, when it was announced by the gossips that the farmers had decided to fight out their differences with "fire and brimstone in the hereafter."

Death put an end to their earthly dissensions, but the report spread that at certain times during the night could be heard the clanking of chains and the swift passage of fiery balls to and fro along the dividing line of the farms. Occasionally the balls of fire would come in contact, when there would be heard hissing sounds, and innumerable sparks of fire would dart out in all directions while the balls ascended, as if in conflict, and finally return toward the ground to continue their course up and down the old line of dispute.

The superstitious ones were, naturally, the only ones who were favored with these fiery demonstrations of conflict, and after a few years of fear and speculation as to the nature of the visions their curiosity subsided and the alleged occurrences ceased.

Many years ago there dwelt in the northern portion of Northampton County a man named Kern, who was close and exacting in all transactions with his neighbors.  He became very much disliked, and was shunned as much as possible by those with whom he chanced to come in contact. "Old Kern," as he was usually designated, died, and but a short time elapsed before rumors of uncanny things began to be heard.

Mrs. Kern was alarmed previous to her husband's death by having crows come to the kitchen window at night, and pecking against the panes of glass. This statement, originating in the house and coupled with subsequent reports, lent new interest and firm belief in the impression that "Old Kern" had been called to the nether regions, or that the Devil had requested his presence elsewhere.

The statements made by neighbors were, that every night there was heard the sound of heavy footsteps going up and down stairs, mysterious knockings were frequently detected, but the most annoying of all was the opening and closing of doors, as if by some unseen hands; and no matter how securely the latches had been fastened, the doors still persisted in swinging open the moment the watchers had gotten back into bed. Difficulty was experienced in retaining friends to sleep in the house as company for the relict of "Old Kern." Acquaintances were sent for who remained one or two nights, but could not be induced to tarry in the house a longer period.

Finally, several young men, brothers,[26]  were induced to come into the house, both as a favor to Mrs. Kern and for the purpose chiefly of ascertaining the cause of the mysterious manifestations.  They sat up, for nights at a time, or remained awake in the bed, which was so placed as to permit them to observe any trickery or connivance with outside parties, but in each instance of door-opening, window-rappings, etc., they failed to detect anything which would serve as a clue toward a solution of the disturbances.

This state of things continued for a long time. No one would take possession of the house after Mrs. Kern was compelled to vacate it for her own peace of mind, and the writer is unable to learn how long these visitations and rappings were continued. Old or deserted lime-kilns are generally accredited as being the abode of ghosts, usually the spirits of "murdered peddlers," or those who are known to have met with a violent death upon the highway. Such localities are avoided by pedestrians after nightfall.

Still another form of unearthly visitors is found in marshy ground and damp wood, for example the will-o'-the-wisp. This is called a drach--dragon--and is supposed to follow the timid. Numerous instances of narrow escapes are related.

W. J. Hoffman, M. D.


*******************The End*******************

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Footnotes


[1] Of two brothers, one retained the original form, another changed to Jaeger.

[2] That a similar belief obtained in Great Britain is observed from the following passage in Tusser's Poems (printed 1744), quoted by Mr. Folkard in his Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics (London, 1884), p. 168, viz.: "It must be granted the moon is an excellent clock, and, if not the cause of many surprising accidents, gives a just indication of them, whereof this Pease and Beans may be one instance; for Pease and Beans sown during the increase do run more to hawm and straw, and during the declension more to cod, according to the common consent of countrymen."

[3] A similar belief obtains in Devonshire, England. Parsley was regarded by the Greeks as a funeral herb, and. they frequently strewed the tombs of their dead with it.

[4] "Do not kill your pig until full moon, or the pork will be ruined," is a West Sussex superstition. The Folk-Lore Record, 1878, i. II.

[5] This information, not published in the Reports in extenso, was given to the writer by a gentleman present at the trial and practising before the court.

[6] Hollis v. Wells, opinion by Judge Banks, Common Pleas of Lehigh County, August Term, 1845.

[7] A New England saying, noted in the London Folk-Lore Journal (1884, ii. 24), is, "He who proposes moving into a new house must send in beforehand bread and a new broom."

[8] In one part of Germany it is customary "for the bride to place flax in her shoes, that she may never come to want" (Flowers and Flower-Lore, by Hilderic Friend, i. 134). Another custom, from the same authority, is to the effect that a bride will "tic a string of flax around her left leg, in the belief that she will thereby enjoy the full blessing of the married state." "Flax is the symbol of free and abundant vegetable life" (Mythologie des Plantes, by Count A. de Gubernatis, ii. 199).

[9] Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. i. p. 125 et seq.

[10] One of the earliest forms of home-made mills was observed in a private collection in Nazareth, Pa. It had been found in Monroe County, on the northern side of the Blue Mountains, and consisted of grayish, compact sandstone. In shape it resembled a truncated pyramid with rounded corners, measuring about two and a half feet high, two feet across the top and a little less than three feet in diameter at the base. A circular opening extended from the middle of the top surface to within eight inches of the base; the opening being about six inches in diameter but rapidly narrowing to four inches a short distance from the top, when it again expanded and formed a rounded bottom, the whole cavity resembling an urn in contour. From the bottom of this an opening of two inches in diameter communicated with a square cavity in the base, opening on one side, from which the meal could be removed as it accumulated in grinding. The "grinder" or pestle consisted of a cylindrical stone which closely fitted into the top orifice, its weight crushing the grains as they passed beneath it. The upper extremity of the pestle was squared, probably for the attachment of a long piece of wood with which to turn it. Twelve years later--in 1885--the writer saw a similar relic used as a carriage stepping-stone in the yard of a gentleman residing near Liberty, Southwestern Virginia, a region which was early penetrated by German colonists, descendants of whom are still to be found in that vicinity.

[11] Shrive is an old Saxon word (of which Shrove is a corruption), and signifies confession. Hence Shrove-Tuesday signifies Confession-Tuesday. Gentleman's Magazine, 1790, p. 495.

[12] 1790, p. 495.

[13] The-belief that the hare lays the Easter-eggs is a singular one, and an explanation is offered by a writer in the Folk-Lore Journal (London, i. 1883, p. 123), as follows: "Originally the hare seems to have been a bird which the ancient Teutonic goddess Ostara (the Anglo-Saxon Eàstre or Eostre, as Bede calls her) transformed into a quadruped. For this reason the hare, in grateful recollection of its former quality as a bird and swift messenger of the Spring-Goddess, is able to lay eggs on her festival at Easter-time."

[14] 1821, p. 401

[15] Gentleman's Magazine, pt. I. 1821, pp. 399, 400.

[16] A parallel instance of an amusing character is given by Dr. Fredrich Krause in his Sitte und Brauch der Südslaven (Wien, 1885, p. 544, 545), where, in treating of the Southern Slavs he says: Jede Mutter nährt ihr Kind allein, und zwar reiht sie ihm so lange die Brust, bis sie ein zweites Kind gebärt. Das letzte Kind einer Mutter säugt oft viele Jahre au der Mutterbrust. Vor einigen sechzehn Jahren sah ich, wie ein sechsjähriger, ausgewachsener Junge noch säugte. Es war im Kaptol bei Požega. Das Bürschlein war Schweinetreiber. Früh Morgens wurden die Schweine aus der Hürde herausgelassen. Grunzend und einander herumstossend liefen sic im Gehöfte herum. Da rief jenes Burschlein: 'Majo, dader sise!' (Mütterchen, gib mir die Brust!) Darauf setzte sich seine Mutter, eine ältliche Bäuerin, auf die Thürschwelle, und der Junge nahm sein Frühstück ein."

[17] The Magyar superstition is, furthermore, that the danger may be averted by stepping over the child again in the opposite direction. Folk-Lore Journal (London), i. 1883, p. 355.

[18] According to a correspondent of Notes and Queries, London, 5th ser. vol. ix. p. 64, a fish was thrust into the throat of a child suffering from whooping-cough. This occurred near Philadelphia, in 1875.

[19] In Lochee, Scotland, the child is passed under the belly of a donkey to cure whooping-cough. Folk-Lore Journal (London), i. 1883, p. 30.

[20] An instance of the last named method occurred at Washington, D. C., two years ago, though with unknown result, as the patient was startled at the unexpected appearance of the funeral and fell into the grave, when, after her extrication therefrom, she ran away.

[21] History of Northampton, Lehigh . . . Counties, Harrisburg, 1845, p. 81.

[22] The same belief is entertained by the Magyars. Folk-Lore Journal, London, i. 1883, p. 356.

[23]  Among many of our Indian tribes the red fox is looked upon as being endowed with impressions of future calamity.

[24] In the northern countries of England and the borders, the same idea occurs as "a green yule makes a fat kirk-yard." Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties, etc. (Folk-Lore Soc. Pub.), Lond., 1879, p. 75.

[25] The German nightmare is caught by stopping up the hole through which it entered.

[26] One of whom is a prominent physician in Pennsylvania, and who gave me the details of the story.



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