A Look Back in History by Richard H. Shaner Remembering, celebrating Dr. Alfred Shoemaker

Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker
Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker

Although only old-time residents remember celebrated Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker as the founder of Franklin and Marshall’s Kutztown Folk Festival in 1950, many Kutztonians still have publications of his Pennsylvania Folklife Society, including: Christmas in Pennsylvania, Eastertide in Pennsylvania, and his memorable book called, The Pennsylvania Barn published in 1959 that featured decorated barn architecture of native Fraktur barn stars.

As a volunteer with the 1891 Pennsylvania German Society booth selling their publications at the Neighborhood Pavilion, I was glad to meet natives and American citizens who appreciated Alfred Shoemaker’s recording of our three- hundred-year old American folk Culture, which has influenced at least thirty-two million offspring of our 18th Century immigrants. But besides the number of natives who still prefer Pennsylvania Dutch/German cooking, there were a lot of visitors to the Kutztown Folk Festival who still share religious and civil folkways that have made our Civilization one of the strongest in the world.

Having left the Old World and its cruelties to begin a far better society in the Western Civilization, one ardent reader of Dr. Shoemaker’s recording of our quaint Pennsylvania Dutch Folkways, Mr. Jim Morrison, was so dedicated to Dr.Shoemaker’s recording of our native culture; he founded the National Christmas Center on Route 30 in Lancaster County. But congenial Scott Yoder, a retired patriotic PA Dutch teacher of English at Exeter Township in the Oley Valley, remembers all so well his wonderful experiences growing up among the PA Dutch natives speaking the PA Dutch Dialect.

Tom Gerhart, Editor of the PA German Society publications, recalled that our local natives were trilingual, able to understand three languages. Of course, our native PA German/Dutch language, but also able to read “High” German, as our family Bibles were published in such, as well as church hymnals used on Sundays, published in Germantown, a suburb of Colonial Philadelphia plus standard English. Thereby, the quaint PA Dutch people did not abandon their world citizenship, but were a very active part of the new American progressive society.


However, when World Wars I & II broke out, these same people were ashamed as to how bigoted their fatherland had become. Dr. Shoemaker served in the Army Intelligence Core combating Nazi Germany, and vowed that our nation would never forget the Declaration of independence and freedom of Liberty! Today, on the campus of Kutztown University, The Kutztown University Alumni Foundation has started a local museum called the PA German Cultural Heritage Association with a school house and small farmstead, featuring a Swiss-bank barn, decorated in Fraktur barn stars on the forebay.

Also, featuring a German library for the public, as well, and seminars to learn of our unique native, local culture. A 300-hundred-year-old American Culture that William Penn personally invited to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And although Kutztown University’s leadership of the Folk Festival was perhaps too commercial, they did not attempt to provide visitors with the horse and buggy feeling that Dr. Shoemaker did years ago with his six-horse team of horses pulling an authentic Conestoga wagon around the folk festival. Surely, one of the Kutztown Wenger Mennonites could have been asked to have pulled one of Dr. Shoemaker’s authentic buggies around on the festival commons, which is a daily occurrence in and around the town of Kutztown.

Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.