Three classic myths of the Pennsylvania Dutch

As soon as urban folk had the luxury of taking Sunday drives in the 1940s and 50s throughout the rural PA Dutch Country, city newspapers ran features about the peculiar, but quaint PA Dutch People of southeastern Pennsylvania, whether true or not. Most obvious, one of the popular photographic features was why these PA Dutch farmers with huge Swiss bank barns took the time to elaborately decorate their broadsides with colorful sunbursts or barn stars, these eventually became to be popularly known as 'Hex signs,' through the imagination of newspaper journalists, who quite often were not able to converse with these farmers who spoke a PA Deitsch dialect.

But, today, since major Americana Museums feature the rural folk art of these native PA Dutch people, many art experts find it very normal for these humble people to extend their love of Americana folk art to the broadside of their barns, a major source of their farming income. These sunbursts or compass like designs had nothing to do with occult witchcraft, but were a pioneer expression of America's folk art.

But perhaps the more amusing folk myth was the one created by an urban journalist who in conversing with an Amishman in Lancaster County reported that if an Amishman had a daughter of marriageable age, he would paint the house gate to his home in blue paint instead of continuing the white picket fence color. But, being familiar with our courting lads among the Plain Dutch people, these younger men probably knew far in advance of his daughter's marriage status than her over protective Amish father.

So the 'blue gate myth' was short lived, especially in Lancaster County where there are miles and miles of white painted board fence. But the Dutchman who used the term 'Hex' to describe his six-pointed barn stars was referring to its mathematical design, of six points, not the literal Deitsch dialect term (witch). However, as time went on, some of these news reporters did become intimate with our PA Dutch people and discovered their unique gourmet way of living. One such feature writer observed that when the PA Dutch people eat dinner, it would not be complete unless they had 'seven sweets' and 'seven sours' at the family table.

These rural cooks always had done a lot of their own canning of pickled beets and chow-chow, etc., not to mention made apple sauce, apple butter spread, and on sweet creamy butter or 'Schmearcase.' Farm housewives always have room for another great guest at their dinner table by going to their pantry to compliment the entree with savory condiments. But I doubt if there is a house rule that each meal must include seven sweets and seven sours. Then again, there is a bit of truth to this myth, if one is a traditional PA Dutch housewife, especially a farmer's wife, as opposed to an urban housewife.

But of all these perpetuated myths, the myth about protecting one's barn animals with hex signs is most offensive to a true Dutchman. Because as a Christian religious group, these people are devoted believers of Christ, and it is their faith and love of the Holy Father that has prompted many a farmer to celebrate God's goodness of the land by decorating their huge barns with wholesome American folk art.

Furthermore, it is a taboo for a Plain person to gossip about another individual, so many of these myths spread about the PA Dutch have gone unchallenged by mere fact that our farming folk have not read of these articles in newspapers or magazines. Gossip is the idle work of the devil, and a farmer whose family is dependent on his skill at farming has a more moral obligation to his family.

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