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Diary of a naturalist
By: CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
My article last month focused on Aaron Wisser of Brunnerville and the diaries that he kept. This month, we journey back to the heart of downtown Lititz to another unique resident who also kept a diary of his life for several years.
John Jacob Heiserman resided his whole life at 320 E. Main St. where he was also born on Jan.18, 1865. He lived there with his wife Mary and their daughter Anna. Although he had a full time occupation as a handy man of sorts, he was listed in various early directories of Lititz as a “Naturalist.”
In 2008, a grouping of twelve diaries of his life spanning the years of 1906 to 1934 were discovered at an auction in York County. The diaries were soon purchased by the current owners and have happily returned to Lititz where they can be pored over, examined, studied, and most importantly, cherished.
Heiserman spent a great deal of his spare time exploring many areas of Lancaster County searching for arrow heads, old artifacts, and Native American relics. He also studied and collected wildflowers, butterfly specimens, and was an expert on nature and all of its beauty.
My column this month will explore many of his journal entries. This first-person insight regarding what life was like in and around Lititz in the early part of the twentieth century is an invaluable tool for any historian or researcher. I will present to you the entries exactly how they were written. Due to space constraints, only several of these entries can be provided here below:
May 2, 1907:
Today I was to Poplar Spring, Went by way of Reformed Church of Brickerville. Had a chance to drive with Mr. Meno Brubaker in his auto. Coming home we drove up the long hill to Lexington and near made it to the top.
Monday September 1st, 1919:
Today I was at home, it looked very much like rain. So I did some cleaning around the home. In the afternoon I made a wooden spoon out of a piece of Mulberry wood, from the large tree that stood in Pleasure ground at Linden Hall.
July 29th, 1922:
Today Mary and I were to the circus. Campbell, Bailey, Hutchinson combined. It was the first time in many years that elephants trod upon Lititz soil.
Tuesday January 1st, 1924:
The ringing of the church bells and blowing of whistles ushered in the new Year 1924.
Saturday February 2nd, 1924:
Ground hog day and he saw his shadow. We had one of the heaviest frosts that I ever saw this morning. Was over to the Bazaar Sale for a while this afternoon. No one here this evening — something that seldom happens.
Sunday March 23rd, 1924:
This afternoon I took a hike to Millway, by way of railroad. Was to what was Mr. Abe Hess’s home. Now owned by a Mr. Weinberger. Found a few Indian specimens. Mary was over to Mr. Edgar Sturgis’s to hear radio concert.
Monday July 4th, 1932:
This was a peculiar day rain at 6 a.m. Kept it up until about 11 a.m. Then it began to clear and the parade to Revolutionary Soldiers Memorial lot was called on at 2:30, and it was a very impressive gathering. About 300 persons were there. Members of American Legion had charge of the exercises. The Civil War veterans, Spanish American War Veterans and the World War veterans, The Sons of Union, Civil War veterans, the Boy Scouts and School Girls.
Monday September 19th, 1932:
Mr. R. took me over to Dr. Long and we took Henry along for the trip. I was up to I.O.O.F. Meeting. After the Lodge closed about 40 went to the Spring for a corn roast. It was the first one I was at. We all enjoyed it to the utmost. Mrs. Anna Weitzel here. Mr. Chester Reitz bought a bag of pigeon feed this evening.
Wednesday November 23rd, 1932:
At 4 P.M. one of Mr. Binkley’s Store trucks driven by Mr. Landis got uncontrollable and got on the pavement in front of home of N.D. Sturgis. Knocked off the fire plug, broke the large Norway Maple tree, pulled out the stump by the roots, and carried it to the telephone pole. Smashed up a Hudson auto that stood out in front of the Spickler’s home. Hundreds of people were there to see the accident, no one hurt.
Sunday January 8th, 1933:
This morning a frost, mostly cloudy the balance of the day. I was to see Mr. N.E. Reist, he said the bird in our yard was a mockingbird. Dr. C.E. Lane here to see the bird, but it was gone when he come so he went on the hunt. Found it on the shrubbery at Linden Hall. Mr. Curtis Hensel phoned that he and Mrs. Hensel would be here at 12:45 noon to take Mrs. Heiserman and I out for a trip. We sure had some trip to Rothsville, Mechanicsburg, New Holland, Blue Ball, Churchtown, Morganville, Coatesville, Compass, Honey Brook, New Holland and home 3:20 p.m.
Wednesday February 15th, 1933:
This evening a darn fool tried to assassinate President elect Franklin Roosevelt in Florida. A shame that we have such men in the United States of America.
Friday March 31st, 1933:
Master Steffy age 7 years was drowned in the Lititz Springs Creek. He slipped on a plank bridge above Paper Mill. They found the body in Benjamin Grosh’s meadow at Rome.
Monday November 6th, 1933:
This was the first appearance of a winter, the rain froze and icicles were hanging everywhere, cloudy all day. I was to see Mr. N.E. Reist. Took the grit and my book of trees of Pennsylvania to show to him, as it has the largest Buttonwood tree in PA. It is 4 miles west of Lancaster on Marietta Pike.
Sunday November 12th, 1933:
This was the day I promised Mr. Harry Bucher to go along to Brickerville, to their church to hear a German Communion service, but it was English. I went with Mr. and Mrs. Bucher and their daughter. It was the first time I was in that church since it was remodeled. This afternoon Miss Agnes Hensel come for Mary to take a walk, so they asked me to go along. We were going out S. Locust St. for Owl Hill, but stopped to see Air Circus in Gochenaur’s field. Agnes and Mary went for Agnes’s auto and brought Mrs. Hensel along. We saw a very fine parachute jump. Agnes took us home by way of Kissel Hill. Her dad brought us to the home from their home.
John Heiserman continued his journals into 1934; but it would be the last year that he would pen them. His last entry (which was unfinished) was scribed on April 18th 1934. He died on May 1st, 1934 in his home, and is buried in the Moravian cemetery. More HEISERMAN, page A4
About Cory Van Brookhoven
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