Monday, November 25, 2013

Typhoid and Toilet Slops

Typhoid could hit you when you least expected it.  Sources came from places like the Baer Silk Mill shown here.  This  1916-era postcard was included in the Kuder report.  The roadway overlooks the south end of Lehighton.  Just to the right of the Baer Silk Mill,  the large brick building with the brick smokestack, you can see the Penn Lace Mill as well.  To the extreme left of this picture one would find the dairy run at by Reuben Small and Reuben Koch, the only dairy in Carbon County that pasteurized its milk at that time.

This is a never before published picture of Lehighton taken by Joseph Kuder from the Mahoning Mountain in the summer of 1916.  It is roughly looking off of property owned today by the Nis Hollow Hunting Club.  A closer examination of this picture shows the broad hill of Third Street and the large former high school building on the corner
of Mahoning Street.  Steam from the Packerton Yard can be seen off in the distance from the notch of Packerton.   One also notices that beyond Seventh Street, Lehighton still had a substantial amount of farmland.

This is an actual Pennsylvanaia Department of Health quarantine placard from 1916.
(This story was updated 22 March 2020.)

Ervin Faust's body was shipped back to his hometown of Lehighton in a metallic, sealed casket.  He was only twenty-six when he died in El Paso, Texas.  The special casket was necessary due to the infectious nature of his death: typhoid fever.

One hundred years ago, drinking untreated water or eating food contaminated with the bacteria that causes typhoid could send you to your doom.  Modern sanitation of sewage and purification of water has virtually eliminated this all too common threat.  Additionally, in the rare instance where it does appear today, modern antibiotics and hydration replacement treatments have diminished its fatal impact.

This is a companion post to Dr. Joseph Kuder's Sanitary View of Lehighton in 1916.  This is the first of multiple posts that will focus on various aspects surrounding the hygiene and communicable diseases discussed in Dr. Kuder's report.  For the full story on how this report came to be written, please click the link above.

As written in the first post on Kuder's report, Kuder believed the Lehighton water supply, though untreated, was considered safe.  True indeed, for Lehighton never experienced a town-wide epidemic as other larger communities had.  (Easton for example had an epidemic of fifteen individuals sickened in August of 1898 from a contaminated spring.  Only one of those died.  Allentown as well had occurrences of sporadic epidemics.)

Though Lehighton's incidence was slightly below the state average, it does not say the town was without potential pathways to infection.

My great uncle Garrett "Edgar" Rabenold died of the disease in October of 1906.  He was only fourteen.  Most victims died about three to four weeks after the initial onset.  Edgar was my grandfather Zach Rabenold's youngest brother.  They lived as tenants on the Sebring farm, on a lot which is today the site of Lehighton's Shull-David Elementary school.

There is nothing in the family lore that tells how Edgar became ill.  With 17% of the area typhoid deaths occurring in twelve to nineteen-year-olds, it is easy to make some predictions.  With their new found independence combined with the recklessness of youth, it is easy to see these young adults drinking questionable water, swimming in polluted waters, put that atop of careless hand washing, and one realizes why their numbers were so high.  (Compare that to children below the age of twelve accounted for only 3% of the local area deaths from 1894 through 1910.)

However what also is at work here is the thymus.  It is located between the sternum and the lungs and it produces T-cells (thymosin) that fights off infections.  It's a gland that is at it's most effective before puberty, up to about the age of thirteen.  Then it slowly turns to fat but remains a key gland of the lymphatic system.  It is for this same reason during the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, few children were striken by the illness.

What is known is that the Baer Silk Mill and the Penn Lace Mill made a steady discharge of raw sewage into the neighboring stream from their hundreds of employees working there daily.  The "toilet slops" from these two prominent factories went directly into the small stream that ran between these two buildings, which flowed to the Mahoning Creek and of course then into the Lehigh River.

Just before this pollution reached the river, the Lehigh Valley Railroad placed a dam for the purpose of harvesting winter ice for their refrigerated cars.  And though the ice was not sold for public use, it is easy to see how this enterprise in polluted waters had the chance to spread the bacteria far and wide.

In the summer, this dam also purposed as a fine swimming hole for the town's young.  (As well as it did up to and including the days of my own youth.)  It was known as "Hielman's Dam," named after Moses Heilman who owned a gristmill there.  The dam still existed until about 2005.  It was located just behind the Boulevard Drive-in on Route 443.  Kuder noted its popularity but said it was "a menace to the health of those who swim in the polluted waters."
"The Foreign Element" - "Slavs" according to Kuder were a public nuisance to the town of Lehighton.  This picture
is roughly across the tracks just north of  the LVRR passenger station, which was behind today's Hi-Rise on the Lehighton By-Pass.
More of the six double houses along Railroad Street - These homes were occupied by Slavic
rail workers and were located just north of the now former Lehigh Valley Railroad Passenger Station that was
directly behind today's Hi-Rise.  These houses would have been just north of North Main Lane.  Some
houses of similar construction still exist today across the By-Pass on North Main Lane.

Another area of concern for Kuder in 1916 was the housing along Railroad Street (today's By-Pass in Lehighton) of the "foreign element...the Slavics."  He goes on to say these tenement houses (six double house all told) "lived up to the worst Slavic conditions of filth."  Rats, toilet slops and unclean habits were not only an eyesore, but was a potential epidemic waiting to happen.

"There were no screenings in the windows...tin cans and refuse were dumped all over the yard, the front porch overlooked a puddle of toilet slops and kitchen waste...the place swarmed with flies and children...the beds were not made, but then the bed clothes were so dirty that there was no longer any point in trying to conceal their filth..."
A picture by Dr. Kuder directly in front of  the houses in
question, the sewage and other contaminants a breeding ground for
disease.  Drainage from the Obert Slaughter and Packing house needed to
seep and wade through this debris on its way to the river.  

One must consider that at this time, every household had a refuse pile in their yard as there was no central garbage collection.  Additionally, most homes did not have flush toilets inside but rather had "privies" or outhouses.  It is easy to wonder, as in the picture here to the right, with all the refuse and sewage among the handfuls of playing children, how more people didn't become seriously ill.
Two examples of outhouses from other areas of town.

Note the ashes dumped on the bank.  As noted in other areas of town, and since there
was no regular garbage collection, people dumped ashes and refuse in any area
where land was low and needed leveling or raising up.  (NOTE: This location was identified
by Kuder as the bottom of the alley between Fourth and Fifth Streets near Mahoning Street.
However, upon inspection one will be hard pressed to find any land in that vicinity with
a similar grade as above.  My best guess places this at the "T" of Coal and
First Streets down the bank with the former "Hammel's Store"
(Current "China Ming") roof line in the back. 

As seen in the rest of these photos, many of privies throughout town were known to overflow during the heavy rain seasons.  In fact, one photo taken by Kuder shown below shows a privy with its contents running over the Lehigh Valley Railroad tracks in the vicinity of the rear of today's Carbon Podiatry practice at South Main Lane and First Streets.

A 1915 Lehighton ordinance ordered all newly constructed privies to have a vault of cement to encase the excreta with the intention of preserving the integrity of well water in the vicinity.

Kuder's description of the houses above continued: "The cellar reeked with putrefying vegetable matter mixed with water from defective plumbing, a cellar toilet used in common with three families with about ten roomers, bordered closely upon the room where vegetable food supplies were kept, and the chickens had free access to these subterranean grottoes."

"The floor of one of the rooms in the attic was so covered with worn out and discarded shoes that the boards of the floor were hardly visible, and the other room was full of other manner of discarded clothing, bedding, books, etc."

"In a few cases, cats and dogs are kept in houses and have ground filled boxes in the kitchen.  The filthiness of such conditions needs no amplification, and the remedy is equally obvious.  Fortunately such cases are extremely rare...There is only one remedy for a place such as this, and that is either to tear it down, or clean it up and keep it clean…"
You can see the overflowing contents of the above
privy and the LVRR tracks at the bottom of the picture.
This scene is located roughly behind
Carbon Podiatry today.

The following is a table presented from Kuder's report for typhoid deaths in Lehighton:

One of those two deaths in 1906 resulted from the passing of my Great Uncle Edgar Rabenold at the age of fourteen.

The record in the press substantiates the above information.  However, one section of Kuder's report states, "The typhoid morbidity rate for Lehighton cannot be accepted as entirely accurate as one of the physicians in the town is notorious for diagnosing any case in the slightest detail resembling typhoid fever as such.  The town rate for true typhoid fever therefore is probably no higher than the state rate."

Still and all, these conditions were not only unsightly, but contributed somewhat to shortened life spans of town and certainly to a diminished quality of life here.

When Velma Keubler of Palmerton died in late August of 1906, the paper reported she died of "the dreaded typhoid fever, which has been the means of depopulating this community for several months."  She was twenty.

A few of these deaths were expatriates of the area and were now living in cities which at times had suspect water supplies due to their reliance on river water.  Frank Raudenbush and his mother Sophia lived in Lehighton but died of typhoid in Allentown.  They each died within the exact same hour, separated by exactly one week in April of 1902.  They moved to there after Sophia remarried a Mr. Neff after her first husband Alfred was killed on the railroad in October 1896.

Another resident of Allentown originally from Carbon was Harvey Edelman a twenty-two year old principal at the Franklin School.  He died of typhoid in August of 1901.  Mabel Murphy was a twenty-three year old teacher in Greenwich New York when she died of typhoid in April of 1907.  She was originally from Lehighton.  Abraham Prutzman, twenty-four and originally from the Lehigh Gap died in Philadelphia while a student of medicine in February of 1899.

Additionally, a few deaths occurred while friends and relatives visited here.  

The Reverend Alfred Horn, fifty-four, came down with typhoid upon visiting the home of his brother, the Dr. C. T. Horn of Lehighton for the funeral of his uncle Samuel Getz (who died of heart disease) earlier that summer.  Though he made a valiant recovery attempt, the Rev. Horn succumbed August 7, 1906.

There was a popular traveling salesman for the Black Crow Motor Car and Springfield Gasoline Engine Company, originally from Palmerton but living in Lebanon, who died after drinking water along the way to Kresgeville.  He was thirty and died July 13, 1910.

The Kistler family from Sitlers was visiting Emma Kistler's parents, the Mr. and Mrs. James Williamson on Mahoning Street in November of 1903 when they were stricken.  Amandus Kistler, thirty-three and a veterinarian, died of typhoid on November 11th, 1903.  One week later, their seven year old daughter Lois also died while wife Emma recovered.  His brother, a medical doctor from Wilkes-Barre, and a sister Stella, a nurse from Philadelphia all attended to the the family at the Mahoning Street home for several weeks of November into December.  Later in January, Amandus's mother Lydia dies of typhoid at the age of sixty-eight.  (Emma survives and marries Lewis Hofford, they had a son Paul.  They are buried in I-57 section of the Lehighton Cemetery.)

Many others were just starting out in life.  One victim of the "Allentown epidemic" in the winter of 1906 and 1907 was Robert Dreher, originally of Weissport, interred at Lehighton.  He died on the third of January after marrying a woman from Kutztown on New Year's Day.

Mrs. Howard (nee Brighton) Wolfe of Weissport was married but six weeks when she died in December 1895 at the age of twenty-two.  She was sick for more than three of those six weeks of marriage.

Similarly, a spry youth of nineteen, Harry Rex, of Lehighton, a fireman on the railroad, died in November of 1901 only being married one week.  He was married to the former Gertrude "Gussie" Hartley.  He was among five typhoid victims buried by Dr. Kuder's father, the Reverend John Kuder of Trinity Lutheran Church.

From 1894 through 1910, there were eighty-nine typhoid deaths reported in the "Lehighton Press:" 3 deaths in ages 8 and younger, 15 deaths from ages 12 to 19, 32 deaths of those in their 20s, 16 deaths in their 30s, 6 deaths in their 40s, 7 deaths in their 50s, and only 4 deaths of those over the age of 60.  There were an additional six adults who died but no age was listed.  Twenty-year olds were the largest segment of the population who succumbed to this disease at 36% of the total, following by teenagers with 17%.

Since many cases resulted from either drinking infested water or bathing or swimming in it, one could expect a high incidence in the summertime when people are more active and traveling a good deal.  However typhoid was also transmitted onto food by handling with unwashed hands.  The record shows typhoid deaths remain fairly consistent throughout the year with a slight up-tick of cases just after the "dog-days" of summer and into fall.  As a result, some 40% of typhoid deaths occurred in the Fall, with 24% in the Summer, followed surprisingly by 20% in the winter, and only 16% in the Spring.

The two months that showed the lowest incidence were March and June with only one in each month.  February, May, and July each had five, six and seven deaths respectively.  January, April and November all had eight cases while December had nine.  The peak occurred from August through October with twelve deaths in each of those months.

Though it is sometimes a modern joke of one's naivete to catch certain diseases from a toilet seat, it does actually occur from time to time today.  When you consider how far we've come in the area of toilet-area hygiene, it is little wonder how our grandparents and on back survived those relatively crude times.

Consider the hygiene of the school children of 1916.  We had two elementary schools in town: First Ward at the bottom of Fourth St and Third Ward at the top.  Both had been built in the previous ten years while a brand new Junior/Senior High was being built on Third Street.  So for a town of Lehighton in 1916, it had three as up to date schools as one could hope for.  But as revealed in Kuder's report, the sanitation conditions for those students went beyond mere hand washing problems of students today.
The Third Ward building looks nearly the same over one hundred years later.  However the first toilets were a
far cry from what one expects of public buildings today.

The school day was broken down into two parts due to student dismissal from 11:45 until 1:15 for them to walk home for lunch.  (Their day started at 9:00 AM and ended at 4:00 PM with a fifteen minute recess in the morning and afternoon.)

My own father in the 1930s lived at Ninth and Iron Streets.  Since there was no school for the "West Enders" at that time, kids from the rural end of town had to walk to the Ward buildings.  So for First and Second grade, Dad walked the eight blocks to Third Ward and as the rotation schedule worked, he attended Third and Fourth grades at First Ward, a distance of six blocks.  For Fifth and Sixth grades he switched back to Third Ward.  Today students would be bused for that distance.  Back then students WALKED, unassisted by their parents, not just once back and forth per day, but twice.  (Uphill in snow both ways?)

These "modern" schools did not have flush toilets.  The basements were divided into separate boys' and girls' sides.  Each had six toilets setting atop a wooden platform with badly cracked wooden seats.  Inside the toilets were perforated cast iron plates that caught the excreta and allowed the liquid portion to pass through into a cesspool.

Supposedly, the solid portion "dried quickly" atop the metal plate.  (I would like to hear the distinction of its relative dryness and how quick this occurred.)  And as the report stated, these plates were cleared off once every THREE MONTHS (Whether they needed it or not?).  After the dried portion was cleared out, the remains were incinerated in the school furnaces!

Among his recommendations, Kuder specified that they should be cleaned more often than that and in-between cleanings, some lime should be poured down.  There was no washroom for the students either.  Students were all expected to carry a handkerchief to take care of their hands after using the toilet.

However this wasn't the most repugnant part for Kuder.  He took the most umbrage to the fact that the unpainted, deeply cracked seats were in a continuous loop which besides being a breeding ground for all manner of germs, also had the potential for the transmission among other things "gonorrhea," especially for the girls!

Could you imagine the public's reaction to such conditions today in the 21st Century?  Which group of modern Americans would cry foul the loudest and longest?

Anyone still clamoring for the good old days?


Ervin Faust had an identical twin brother named Marvin who also died at a young age.  Both young men were outlived by their parents, Adam and Sallie Faust.  Both men worked for the railroad and both had relocated to El Paso Texas, working on the rails there too.
Ervin Faust died of typhoid fever in El Paso Texas.  His remains were shipped back to town sealed in a metallic casket.

Ervin's twin brother Marvin also died an early death.

My great uncle "Edgar" as he was known, another
victim of typhoid.
The Eugene Baer Silk Mill as it looks today as the Body and Soul Complex.
The mountain in the rear is the hill the first postcard picture was taken.
The first photo of the southern exposure of Lehighton would have
been taken from the hill seen at the left side of this picture.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Soul of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill (And it's Unionizing Attempts)

A July 2010 Story on the 60th Anniversary of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill

Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill Official Website

The word 'soul-mate' gets a lot of use.  Many times it gets mis-applied, over-aggrandized and certainly over romanticized.  In a simple way, it's the life changing force resulting from the collusion of two celestial bodies sharing light and life.  Sometimes there's an interplay at work, a synergy as in between a Master and a Student.  No matter the configuration, the light simply never goes out.

Each embodied soul has a certain amount of light granted to it.  That light can irretrievably bring an energy that was heretofore absent.  This increased energy is absorbed within the universe in streaks and bursts, where massive infusions of invisible life, light and love enter the deep vacuums of space and time.  The Gods are pleased when all energy is conserved.  Nothing is ever wasted.  The synergy allows life to magically evolve in places thought to be barren and desolate.  It shines on and on.  And so it goes...
Dana helps granddaughter Aubrey plant her first tree on
Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill

Dana Beisel lived a simple, happy, purpose-driven life.  He loved many things, but he loved his wife Wanda, daughters Melissa and Jessica, his sons-in-law Craig and Jerry, and of course his twin granddaughters Abigail and Aubrey most of all.

My wife and I married at the early age of nineteen.  We were without health insurance to deliver our first born son.  As the hospital social worker for many years, it was Dana Beisel who got us through what could have been a very difficult time.  There is not enough space here nor do you want to read all the stories of Dana's countless friends.  But perhaps a few...

The testimonies at his funeral service were numerous and lengthy.  Many were humorous.  (The 1964 steak dinner he promised to classmate Jane for doing a flipping dive off the three-meter board at the community pool for one).  There were so many heart-felt stories given by his friends.  All were a testimony to his generosity, his congenial spirit and his healthy yet endless drive for perfection in everything he did, from golf to pruning trees to his new found passion of biking, to finding new ways to enjoy his free time with his family and his friends.

There is no mistaking the value of manual labor.  There is no substitute for it.  During my fourteen growth cycles, fourteen pruning cycles and fourteen Christmases on Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill, I found an undeniable, welcomed solace in the fresh air of the pines and in the hypnotic repetition of working beside Dana.  We labored though it all: under days of sweltering summer sun, in low vernal light, and in the dim days toward the solstice.

The ups and downs and hard work of the various seasons were all more than balanced by the joy and the homecoming of sorts of working the Christmas season. We all worked together, with more or less the same crew year after year.  Each year it was always a reunion for both workers and customers, wondering if the same ones will once again return, to renew the same spirit of Christmases past.

The same customers returned each year from far and wide: from New York City and other points north and west, from the south as far as from Delaware, and from all the points in between, and of course a large majority coming from throughout the Lehigh Valley and Carbon County as well. All told, this loose collection of people sharing a brief Holiday transaction together has woven itself into some of the most cherished threads of my life.  Each of these loyal customers has their own story to tell: how they've come to this hill now for one, two, three generations.  How in this season, their own children and their children's children now make their own tradition here.  And so it goes, cycle to cycle...

It started in the 1890s when Adam and Mary Beisel moved to 231 Coal Street in Lehighton from Gratz in Dauphin County.  (They later lived at 237 Coal St, so either 231 is a mistake on the record or they later moved into 237.  Attorney T. A. Snyder of Lehighton relinquished his third term as Superintendent in 1893.)  Adam Beisel was the County Superintendent of Public Schools.  He was an authoritarian leader, according to my now sketchy memory of the stories Dana told me.  Somewhere in my fog I remember a stern disciplinarian, heavy in build, storming into the schools unannounced, in a gown that beckoned obedience.

It appears Adam's own father passed away at a young age, his mother bounded him and his sister out to live with Emmanuel Wetzel on a farm in Schuylkill County in 1870.  Sophia, sixteen, was keeping house there and Adam, seventeen, at that time was a stone mason.
Looking up through the Concolors and
Queen Anne's Lace on
a clear summer day on Beisel's
Christmas Tree Hill.

By the age of twenty-six Adam Beisel married Mary L. Romberger of Gratz or Gratztown but today known as Berryburg in Dauphin County.  She was only sixteen at the time.  They had a total of six children, only three lived to adulthood.  One four-month old born in Lehighton died of "cholera infantum" in August of 1894.  They went to great lengths to inter the baby back in Mary's home town seventy miles away.

Mary had a brother D. A. Romberger who was a school teacher by profession but had recently lived in Lehighton in early 1900 who died of "consumption" (tuberculosis) at the age of thirty-five in March.  He had recently been ordained to preach in the United Evangelical Conference just before he died.  He was buried in the same family plot as Adam and Mary's baby daughter.

In December of 1909, Adam's remarried and widowed again mother, Mrs. Magdalena Shade, died at the age of seventy-nine.  She is buried in I-38 in Lehighton Cemetery.   She was living with her daughter Hattie Snyder, married to William B. in Parryville.  Her obituary stated she had several surviving sons and daughters.  "A. S. Beisel" served as Superintentdent of Carbon's schools until 1902.  He then pursued a career in banking, working as the cashier at Dine Bank in Lehighton (most recently the PNC Bank at 150 South First Street.)  Prior to their moving to Parryville, Adam's sister and husband, a butcher, lived in Ashland, Schuylkill County.

Adam and Mary Beisel's three adult children were: Minnie (born July 1880), James (born March 1882) and Marie (born August 1895).  James M. Beisel Sr. was baptized at a Berryburg church on June 11, 1882.  He married a Lehighton woman Carrie M. Anthony on Halloween, October 31, 1906 at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Lehighton.  They were both twenty-four.  He at the time was a "copyist" at an insurance company but would later become a bookkeeper at Dine Bank with his father Adam.

By 1911 they had three children: James Jr. (born 1908), Mildred (born April 29th, 1910; living to her 99th year in May of 2009) and Ralph.  Ralph was born on November 26th, 1911 and a short two weeks later, mother Carrie died, due to "puerperal septicemia" otherwise known as sepsis as a result of child birth. She is buried in section I-38 of the Lehighton Cemetery.  It is a pity to think how this death may have impacted Ralph.

On the day of his daughter-in-law's funeral, according to family lore repeated to me by Dana, Adam quickly sprung into action and dictated to his son James as to where the now motherless children will live.  Mildred was bounded out to Carrie's mother, the widow Mrs. Amanda Anthony of Second Street.  The boys were to remain with their father at the Beisel homestead on Coal St.

By July of 1917, Adam passed away and is buried in the Lehighton Cemetery, leaving his widow Mary and son James and two grandsons to live on.  Sadly, Mary died and was buried on Christmas day in 1932.  By October of 1935, James Beisel Sr. had also passed away, he hadn't been working since prior to 1930.  He was only fifty-three years old.

Mildred never married.  Instead she made nursing her profession and became a professor of nursing at Cornell and New York Hospital.  James Beisel Jr. married Kathryn E.(Beltz) and they had a son Darryle V. born on September 28th, 1927.  James was a truck driver for a wholesale grocery, most likely Freeby Whoesale of Lehighton.  His son Darryle enlisted in the Marines at the end of World War II just after he turned eighteen.  He was killed on April 5, 1951 while working as a logger in Maine.  He is buried with his parents.  James Jr died January 11, 1967 and Kathryn on January 3, 1976.  They are all buried in plot A/B-5 in Lehighton.

But in 1935, Ralph, the grandson of Adam, the son of James Sr., was living in Orono, Maine, attending the University of Maine, a special place for two subsequent generations of Beisels.  By 1940 Ralph and Sarah S. (Smith) were married with their infant son William and living in Berkshire County Massachusetts.  Ralph was a foreman for the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Later son Dana L. Beisel would be born in Presque Isle Maine and his daughter Jessica would get married on Maine's cool shore.

Douglas Fir (l) and Concolor looking west over Lehighton at the top of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill
with the Lehigh Gap in the horizon.
Dana served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, attended Kutztown State College and was their starting tailback for two seasons, he married Wanda Solt In June of 1972.  He worked as a social worker, patient relations specialist at Palmerton Hospital for many years, but the constant part of his life that was virtually unchanged was the work on his family tree farm, the one his father Ralph started when he was just a small boy of four, the reason the family moved back to Carbon County from Maine.  (Ralph and Sarah are buried in P-43 of Lehighton Cemetery.)

The many touching stories shared at his funeral attested to the fine qualities in this friend of many.  I agreed and was touched by them, especially the words of his weekly golfing friend Dick, who ended by saying how it has been said, you can tell a lot about a person on the golf course.  I think most anyone who has golfed can attest to that.  It was Dana who renewed my enjoyment of golf, and he in turn helped bring in my two sons, playing foursomes in the Mahoning Valley, ever patient with our games, ever encouraging, and always a steady partner.

And as he helped me with golf, you could say I helped encourage his passion in the biking he truly enjoyed in the last few months of his life.  There are many things of which I am grateful for toward my friend.  And though at the beginning many of the same things I now find rather endearing, at first I thought were somewhat bothersome.  His endless pursuit of creating the perfect tree, his obsession for catching blights and improper soil before they became a problem, his constant battle with "slimming down" his trees.
Dana's worktruck with all our pruning implements along side
a section of Frazer fir.

I can still hear him say, "fat no more!" as he mercilessly pruned past this year's growth, going hard into last year's as well.  And how sometimes, after sage-ing an entire section of 200 trees, he would come to me, lamenting how he might have taken it too far.  How we'd walk for what seemed to be exceedingly long walks through those trees, the Master seeking the Student's perspective, me all the while thinking, "I only know what I have learned from you."

But it was all part of the process of working under Dana on his farm.  You had to build up an appreciation of hearing him out, to become his sounding board as he reassured himself "yes it would all be ok...yes these trees still can be sold this year...just wait, and you'll see how firm and sell-able they'll be, especially once the weather turns colder."

I remember, me the young student of this Zen process, how I was assisting my wife's elderly truck-patch-sized tree-farming-uncle plant and care for the 200 Frazer fir saplings that Dana sold him one spring.  I relayed to Dana how I showed Uncle Keen the center-bud pruning technique we used on Beisel's hill and how I was gently reproached by Dana for sharing trade-secrets off the farm.  One of many times I was reminded of another mantra, "What's said in the fields stays in the fields."

There were countless, ongoing conversations among all of us as we worked the long summer hours of the pruning season from late June and into September, on weekends leading to the sales season, and yes, sometimes "winter pruning" of the seedling and sapling fields.  Most were the mindless, random thoughts that enter one's brain when it has been cleansed of accumulated life clutter by mindless repetitive pruning.

Dana always had a way of both stirring and cleaning up after the boiled-over pots of the simmering topics of discord we'd talk about on the farm.  The topics ranged from issues with immigration, the political gridlock, whether the murder truly was self-defense, or the merits and problems of universal healthcare.  Dana always somehow had a way of crafting everyone back to what was truly important and self-evident: how we are nothing without the love of our families.

Through all those seasons, my own sons, Nate and Jon, became invaluable laborers too.  They too appreciated the work and peace of the farm, the three of us growing in our love for each other there, though we also had our trials and some tribulation there too, as all fathers and sons will do.  Undoubtedly similar I'm sure to some hard times of stress between Dana and his daughters Melissa and Jessica when they too pruned for him.

Over the years, both summer and winter workers would come and go.  And from season to season, cycle to cycle, it would do my heart good to see my old tree-farming comrades again.  Some would move on to other jobs, but we'd always had a steady core of men who you knew you'd see the next time around.

Among our running jokes, the one who'd be selected by Dana to ride in the truck to pick up a load of trees for the lot, to which the rest of us would say, "Oh, you're number one, you were selected," as we'd rub a certain digit of our hands against our nose to indicate our dis-satisfaction with the one leaving the crew, with only a slightly feigned jealously toward the one riding beside Dana, and how he was "brown-nosing" the boss to be selected.

While visiting Wanda over these days of mourning, I was touched and saddened at the sight of Dana office space.  Over the years, I grew to enjoy the process of getting paid by Dana, though at first it was a somewhat insufferable and painstaking process.  He had a deliberate somewhat quirky way of doing it, it wasn't something he did quickly, it had purpose, it was a scheduled event meant to last.

Back in the days when he paid in cash, he had this habit of looking me in the eye with a regimented procedure of counting each bill into my hand, upon completion of which I would be required to re-count the stack back to him in his presence (a habit perhaps handed down from Great Grandfather Adam from his cashier days).

I find myself already looking back on this with fondness, to those long, meandering conversations that would ensue, sometimes as long as an hour or more.  It was my time alone with the Master at his desk, me the Student along the wall, on the deacon's bench.  Fond times now gone, knowing another season of this time is forever gone, but forever a part of me.

Another running joke was how, one day, for some apparent "grievance" or change in our working conditions, we'd get even with Dana by unionizing.  These among many innocuous conversations and gags were at best only slightly funny.  But in Dana's death, I now can see the irony, as it seems it is Dana with the last laugh as I see how more than ever he has brought us closer together.

He was always looking ahead and planning how each cycle would come to a close.  Leading up to and at the end of each pruning season, he'd want numerous assurances from me and my sons that we would be available once again to prune for next season and beyond.  He'd reveal to me his vision of how he intended to curtail the amount of trees to care for to correspond to fit the aging of his tree-farming body.

I found comfort in these cycles and seasons.  I too looked ahead, seeing myself as part of this plan, of my own winding down of my role in it, breaking it all down, into smaller and smaller more manageable pieces.

No one envisioned it would end like this.

All those years of being the Student have taught me that I can live contently without him because I have a part of him forever with me, a part of his light embedded within my own.  I cannot see much of the future, but I am content to know that love and light will always and forever be moving onward, forward.
Forever looking over the trees, in a determined
but healthy pursuit of perfection

On the day of the funeral, I for some reason was paralyzed, unable to pull myself together enough to share any of my memories at his services, a very rare day indeed for me, not known to shrink from an opportunity to make a public address.  And yet I have few regrets.

Here at this grave lay the bodies of these two tree-farming men, son next to father.  They lay beneath the only set of Blue Spruce trees in the entire Lehighton Cemetery.  They are not the healthiest of trees, possibly suffering from cytospora canker fungus (or perhaps is it more like needle cast?).  I smiled as I realized I'd never hear Dana's explanation of them ever again, but in my mind's eye, as clear as day, I did see his ever-present sardonic grin.  And then the thought crossed my mind: Now that these two Beisel men were together again, they would somehow have it all worked out soon.

As we walked away from the grave, there was nothing left to question or say.  The Master's lessons on accepting these alternatively painful and joyous cycles of life were well taught: There is nothing toward which we should cling.

Creation is soul-searching...nothing is ever finished ~Carl Ruggles

Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill - October 2013

Beisel Genealogy Footnotes:

Given the age of Adam Beisel's mother Magdaleen, his father was most likely born around 1830 and died prior to 1870, making him about 40 years old or younger when he died.  It appears this line of Beisel men had a recurrence of death at early ages:

  • Adam Beisel's father - Circa 1830 to circa 1870 - 40 years old
  • Adam S. Beisel - October 1853 to July 1917 - 63 years old
  • James M. Beisel Sr. - March 1882 to October 1935 - 53 years old

             (Ralph's brother James M. Beisel Jr. - 1908 to January 1967 - 59 years old)

  • Ralph Beisel - November 26, 1911 to April 28, 1994 - 82 years old
  • Dana Lewis Beisel - June 6, 1946 to October 25, 2013 - 67 years young.

From Adam's mother Magdalena's tombstone, her maiden name was Shankweiler.  I have found a Magdalena Shankweiler born in about 1831 to the farm family of Solomon and Rebecca Shankweiler of Upper Mahanoy Township in Northumberland County, just west of Schuylkill County.  Solomon's mother was Catharine.

I have found several Beisels (sometimes spelled Beissel) living in western Schuylkill County in the middle 1800s.  Several were Civil War veterans and died at early ages.  I cannot find any that I can verify to be Adam's father, but given the circumstances, it is highly possible that Adam's father served in the Civil War and perhaps died young of natural causes or as a result of the wear and tear of the war.

Charles and Marie continued to live at 227 Coal St.  He served in the army
during WWI with Company E 11th Battalion at the Replacement Center
at Camp Lee Virginia.  In the 1940s he was a truck driver for a textile
transfer business.  They had a son Dale born around 1920 who also worked
with the same trucking business and a daughter either Jamie or Janice born
around 1924.  Charles was born in Grier City PA (Schuylkill County) and
was living in Weatherly in 1917, working as a lampman for the L.V. R. R.