Among the PA Dutch dialect speaking farm folk of Berks County, anyone who practiced evil witchcraft on their neighbors was referred to in the dialect as a person who can do more than 'Brod Essa' (Do more than eat bread!), a euphemism for a witch among the Pennsylvania Dutch which would not cause the witch to retaliate on the person who exposed them.
Powwow faith healers, 'Brauchers,' should not be associated with this term since they cured individuals by calling on the Holy Trinity to bless their sickness away. But there were always evil souls that sought out the powers of Lucifer among earthly mortals in ancient German texts like the anonymous 6th and 7th Books of Moses!
So when I met my great uncle's neighbors in the Oley Hills at a hinterland place called Ruppert 's 'Eck' (Corner), I was not surprised to hear that his wife Annie Buchert-Bieber (1874-1960) could do more than 'Brod Essa.' Living secluded on an eighty-acre mountain top farm in Rockland Township, he was a basketmaker and she assisted him weaving their melon shaped oak potato baskets.
On my trips to visit them, I would stop in at the Fredericksville Hotel run by Russell and Alma Stahl, two PA Dutch people. So when the hill folk at Fredericksville learned that I was a blood relative of Freddie Bieber (1885-1978), they looked at me with suspicion. Old Allie Day in particular was uneasy if by chance I sat down alongside him at the bar.
In the 1960s I soon became aware of the fact that my recluse aunt Annie (who only spoke the Dutch Dialect) was feared by a number of hill folk for being able to do more than 'Brod Essa.' She was an elderly woman who walked with a cane because of a back injury she once suffered at an apple butter boiling fire when she fell into the fire (1957 or 1958). She was nice to me but admired my 23 jewel Buliva wristwatch I wore, from high school graduation, because she did not own a watch.
One true story told to me by Jonas Day at Ruppert's Corner (Allie Day's brother) was that his son as a child was cranky and could not sleep! Therefore, he sought advice from doc Sterner a local Powwow doctor at Ruppert Corner. The 'Braucher' said some one has robbed your son of his sleep; we must do something to break the spell. Sterner instructed Jonas to take the next diaper the child messes in and wrap it up and put it high in his attic under a crock. After doing this the witch will come to his home and ask to borrow something from him, said doc Sterner.
He warned Jonas not to lend anything to the witch no matter how small. Low and behold the next day my great aunt Annie stopped in at the home of Jonas Day. She said to him while passing his house she got a terrible taste in her mouth, could he lend her some bread? To which startled Jonas said, 'No,' and sent her on her way!
In another incident at Ruppert's Eck, Mrs. Hess had a child who likewise had a problem and would not eat its food! Seeking assistance from doc Sterner, who lived four miles away, the wise faith healer asked Mrs. Hess, 'Does she know Annie Buchert-Bieber?'
To which she said, 'I refused to buy her foods when she comes huckstering at my home!'
In order to protect the children and family of Mrs. Hess, doc Sterner prescribed a safeguard for her home since Annie stopped in regularly to huckster berries and vegetables. She was to make a circle around her house after dark with a canister of salt.
On the night before Annie stopped in that day, when old Annie went down the path to the Hess home she froze at the point where the trail of salt encircled the home. She could not step over this salt line, making an about face she grunted with her cane and never came back ever again, remarked Mrs. Hess.
I sometimes thought that doc Sterner was getting a kick back from Annie Buchert, since whenever she was accused of witchcraft bedevilment the hill folk relied on the wisdom of doc Sterner by rewarding him for breaking her bad spell incidents. But after old Annie passed away unexpected I did find her occult copy of the 6th and 7th Books of Moses. In fact, there were two, one in English and the other in early German, with other PA Dutch occult culture.
Mysteriously Freddie Bieber and his wife, Annie, were robbed by two thieves in 1960 who believed that these two recluses had cash buried in their remote home. Annie was beaten severely and needed medical help from the medical doctor in the village of Oley. She had a friend in the Eston Herner family and stayed there in Osterdale to be nursed. But she got worse, and fearing that she would die she motioned to Mrs. Herner to utter her 'last words.'
Thinking that old Annie wanted to pass on her paranormal Hexerei power on her death bed, Mrs. Herner closed Annie's bedroom door for she was not interested in learning Lucifer's knowledge, and Annie died alone. But the two men who beat her and her high school band up were never found. However, Annie may not have been the evil one, as I learned when I bought this enchanting farm from my uncle.
It seems that the reason Annie and Freddie lived in a crude frontier lifestyle was because an urban real estate mogul had owned the land leading up to their house. The reason that they lived so primitively was because Gladys Paddock would not allow them to obtain a right away so that the Metropolitan Edison Electric Company could install electricity to their farm to live normally.
Years later sitting with the Met Ed executives, I finally got Paddock to agree to allow Met Ed a right away over her land to electrify the Bieber home. But not until I promised to give Gladys Paddock the cast iron kitchen range of Annie Bieber, in return for this electric pole right away. It seemed to be a bazaar condition for electrifying the Bieber farm, but when my neighbor and I took down the cast iron stove pipe to this early cast iron Orr and Panther stove, we discovered that the pipe fitting was molded with unusual cast iron dragons on either side. Perhaps Paddock was fearful that Annie had cast one last spell meant for her uncooperative neighbor.
Richard Shaner, director, American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.