Digging in the Archives
Moravians never throw anything away. This is sometimes said with a tone of mild frustration. Do we really need to keep 67 frayed and tattered copies of an anthem that no one in the current choir can remember singing and which, if a director did decide to put it back into active repertoire, is now available in a much better edition? Far more often, however, this habit of saving everything is noted with pride and delight when a dusty box or storage bin yields an unexpected treasure.
In recent years the archives at Lititz Moravian have been the source of a number of surprising finds. The most recent one, featured in several news stories in the past few months, has been the identification of an 18th century hand-written book as Volume I of the diary and church records maintained by Bishop Mattheaus Hehl while he served the Lititz congregation. It, along with Volume II, which was located in the Provincial Archives in Bethlehem and is now undergoing restoration and preservation, will soon be digitized and translated. Those who are fascinated by early Lititz history eagerly await the completion of this project, wondering what forgotten details of life in Revolutionary War era Lititz might be revealed.
Sometimes it requires a question from outside the community to disclose the significance of an artifact in the museum. Such was the case about five years ago, when a representative of the Association of Coffee Mill Enthusiasts contacted the Archives Committee regarding a “rumored” 18th century coffee mill in our museum. Was that true? Indeed it was. The beautifully crafted mill, signed by A. Albrecht and dated 1772, had long been displayed as an example of Albrecht’s fine craftsmanship. What we learned from the exchange is that our mill predates the previously oldest-known American-made coffee mills by a good half century. Since that time the Albrecht mill has been borrowed and displayed by the prestigious WinterthurMuseum.
More recently Professor Scott Paul Gordon of LehighUniversity, while doing research in our archives, identified the 1775 broadside in our museum as the only extant copy of a hitherto uncatalogued publication. While the Library of Congress holds a fragment of the German language version, our English language copy provides the only known source of the complete text, offering a unique glimpse into the struggle of state authorities with those who refused, on religious grounds, to bear arms during the war for independence.
In doing research in the archives, it is frequently the case that searching for the answer to one question leads off into another whole area of inquiry. Such was the case last year while we were editing the stories to be included in the book “Lititz: Our Community in Story.” In reading several accounts of events surrounding the tragic church fire of 1957, a member of our committee noticed inconsistency in reference to the collapse of the roof and steeple. One source mentioned the fall of the church bell; another stated that two bells had hung in the steeple.
So how many bells fell? What seemed at first to be a simple question has proven to be a complex area for research. After many hours of reading through old records, I’m still hunting for a few missing pieces of the puzzle. It appears that there were, indeed, two bells in the steeple on that fateful July day, but the smaller one was not, as had been stated in one of the sources, the bell that alone served the congregation prior to the purchase of the Grosh bell in 1850. That older bell was traded back to the foundry that cast the Grosh bell, with proper credit received. What was the origin of the smaller bell that fell, and when did it join the deeper-toned Grosh bell in the old steeple? More research is needed, so stay tuned. Moravians don’t throw anything away; the records have to be somewhere. I just have to find them.
Marian L. Shatto is a Lititz musician and activist who earned degrees in English from SusquehannaUniversity and in Religion from Lancaster Theological Seminary. She has four decades of experience working in ecumenical and interfaith settings.