The Moravians and The Steel
Bethlehem Travel Blog› entry 6 of 24 › view all entries
Today the plan was to see the historical sights of Bethlehem. First on the agenda was the Christmas Putz--the local Christmas Story or Nativty display tradition. Before that, though was the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. As we sat in the breakfast room, we noted there were a number of children, moms, and other people about all in a group. One wore an "Annie National Tour" denim jacket. That gave it away. We were in the midst of the national touring cast of the musical Annie. In fact, their tour bus was at the hotel entrance. They had just performed the previous evening at the National Theatre in neighboring Easton, PA.
Driving downtown, we parked again at the convenient public gararge on Walnut Street and retraced our steps to the Central Moravian Church grounds. It was just about 10:30 a.m. and, with Christmas Putz presentations beginning on the half hour, we hurried to the Education Building to see the display. A Moravian Putz is a decorated model or diorama depicting the Biblical events surrounding the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. (Putz comes from the German root putzen meaning to clean or decorate.) For this public Putz display, church members annually collect moss and other natural materials from the Pocono Mountains to form the scenery.
The presentation is in a small auditorium. A narrator tells first the story of making the Putz and Putz traditions. (Families may also have their own Putzs at home and a local tradition is to go from house to house to view everyone's display.) Putzs came with the Moravians, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1741. They were used to instruct members of the congregation about the story of Jesus' birth. The presentation switched to a recorded narrative of the Christmas Story itself, with different members of the church taking the different roles. The corresponding figures and scenes on the Putz are illuminated along with the telling of the story.
After seeing the Putz, we went to the Moravian Musuem to learn more about the community that had founded Bethlehem. Along the way, we saw the Moravian Cemetery. The cemetery dates to the 1740s. One thing I noted was that all of the gravestones were flat, as in a modern cemetery. (Eighteenth century cemeteries in Virginia have above-ground monuments) We later learned that Count Zinzendorf had felt this arrangement would show that no on one in the community was higher than anyone else. Another unusual feaure of this cemetery was that burials were by "choir". That is, burials were by men, women, boys, and girls (and there were a lot of children) together by social group rather than by family. The communial lifestyle of the early Moravians continued on to the cemetery.
The museum is in the Gemeinhaus, the oldest structure in Bethlehem, begun in 1741. (Bethlehem likes to remind visitors that it has more original 18 cenrtuy structures than does Colonial Williamsburg.) The Gemeinhaus was the early communial living and worship center for the community. (The Moravian Church originated with the followers of Jan Hus in 15th century Bohemia. Moravians came to the Pennsylvania colony in 1740, by way of Saxony and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. A very interesting story of a very progressive denomination.) Nearby are additional structures that were added as the community grew. The Sister's House housed the women and girls, the Brother's House the men and boys. The Old Chapel was the first freestanding church building as worship services moved out the Geminhaus.
We wanted to see the interior of the Central Moravian Church with its large Moravian Star. It's right next door to the Gemeinhaus. As we approached the rear doors, a woman came out. Susan asked her if the church was open. No, she replied. But, she quickly added, if we wanted to see inside she would unlock the door for us. Just lock it on our way out, she asked. Another very nice example of Bethlehem's hospitality towards strangers!
As we made our way back along Main Street, we stopped at the Moravian Book Shop. The Moravians were very interested in promoting literacy and the boosktore is said to be the oldest in the world still in operation.
Next to the Visitor Center is the Goundie House.
After lunch, Susan and I decided it was time to conclude our tour and think about returning home. But, we needed to first visit "The Steel" we had heard so much about. A drive across Fahy Bridge and the Lehigh River took us to South Bethlehem.
Bethlehem had an industrial tradition beginning, again, with the Moravians and their blacksmithing and woodworking. Construction of a steel mill began in 1860. From that time until its demise in 1995, Bethlehem Steel became one of America's largest industrial concerns. Bethlehem supplied steel for construction projects ranging from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Chrysler Building and for US Navy ships.
The site is largely derelict today. The Sands Casino has purchased to property to develop a casino and resort at the mill's location. A small slot machine casino is already in operation, but if gaming legislation is passed, the Sands will open a full casino and resort hotel. We drove around the site to get a feel for the size of the remaining buildings and blast furnaces. (Susan's greatuncle had been a foreman at the steel mill, another reason we wanted to see it.) We stopped at the far end of the casino's parking lot to take photos and marvel and the size of it all. However, a security guard shortly chased us away. (Not sure why. It was a public parking lot and clearly nothing was happening in the abandoned structures .) But not before I had a few photos.
OK, time to go. But our trip wasn't quite over yet.