At Landis Valley Museum , recalling life on the farm

June 05, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

Lancaster, Pa. -- As dawn breaks over the Landis Valley Museum in Pennsylvania Dutch country, 40 pies are baking, a 300-pound pig is roasting, 21 gallons of funnel cake batter are ready for making, 100 little chickens are hatched and peeping.

At noon today, the entertainment, demonstrations, exhibits and games of the 37th Landis Valley Fair begin. The fair runs through tomorrow. About 3,000 visitors are expected.

"One complaint we've had in recent years is that there is too much to do in one day," says Elizabeth Johnson, museum educator in charge of the annual fair.

That complaint would be relevant only if you consider as too much the more than 60 craft and farm demonstrations plus the homemade food, a 1770s angler, farm animals, children's crafts and games, folk music, a barbershop quartet, storytelling, pie-eating contests, spelling bees, pony rides, a magic show, a 1700s hunting camp, an "heirloom" plant and herb sale, a snake exhibit, pumping water, making fire and the ever-popular cow chip bingo event, which is better seen than explained.

Even with that, a long list of mention ables remain unmentioned.

That homemade food, "all cooked on site," Ms. Johnson says, is one of the big attractions. Roast pork and sausage sandwiches and funnel cakes rank as fair favorites.

Morris Lapi, a "culinary trades" teacher at Lancaster County Vo-Tech School and a museum board member, has been baking pies (shoofly, apple and cherry), preparing that funnel cake batter, grinding 200 pounds of sausage, cooking 120 gallons of ham and bean soup, roasting a pig for 13 hours.

"We prepare the food as authentically as possible in the Dutch-German Pennsylvania heritage," Mr. Lapi says. "Vendors aren't allowed."

Steve Miller, 39, curator of agricultural history at Landis Valley, rules the animal domain portion of the fair. A "city boy," he came to the museum to learn how to handle draft horses, got hooked and stayed around 16 years.

Those 100 hatchlings, "peeps to pet," are his project. He favors breeds like Dominiques and Golden Spangled Hamburghs, rare these days but common in Colonial times.

"Six varieties of antique poultry were timed to hatch for the fair," Mr. Miller says. "Children and others will be able to handle them. People in our society are too far removed from really knowing about other domesticated animals than dogs and cats. We're giving them the opportunity to experience farm life."

Ms. Johnson says the fair is part of the museum's mission "to interpret traditional Pennsylvania German rural life." That includes not only preserving inanimate objects but plants and animals. Mr. Miller, an advocate of perpetuating "endangered domestic breeds of farm animals," hopes to make animals "a more significant" part of future events.

"At the fair, we try to show Pennsylvania German rural life as it would have been from 1750 to 1900," Ms. Johnson says. "People like coming here because it's fun and they learn things."

Except for the big parking lot, this place looks more like a farm village from the long past than the semi-stuffy image some get when the word museum is mentioned.

A shaded dirt road, the old Ephrata Turnpike, acts as a main access for the museum's 21 buildings, running beside a blacksmith shop, zig-zag rail fences, apple orchards, brick and colonial homes, the tavern, the old brick Landis Valley House Hotel, a country store, shops and barns. Pastures, where cows, sheep and horses chomp the spring grass, and freshly plowed fields roll out from the complex into open ground. Jeff Powell, known for his expertise in Pennsylvania Dutch farming "folk ways," is "museum farmer."

A grove of tall black walnut, locust and ginkgo trees gives an open area the appearance of a village common. Giant millstones lay across one end. Green and white tents ring the edge.

Situated 2 1/2 miles northeast of Lancaster off Oregon Pike, the museum was founded in the 1920s by two brothers, George and Henry Landis, on their family farm. They also collected Pennsylvania German objects. The state acquired their collection 75,000 objects and 101 acres in 1953 as a gift.

"One third of our buildings are original to the site, one third are historic buildings moved to the site and one third are modern buildings made to look old," Mr. Miller says.

On a tour of the area, he walks through the "brick farmstead," which depicts farm life from 1820 to 1840, rousting two lazy Percheron horses from the barn. One of the big black horses yawns and both go back inside out of the sun. Mr. Miller lets them be and heads down a narrow dirt trail through the "log farmstead," a farm as it might have been from 1760 to 1780. School children play with two accommodating Alpine goats by a shed where four Gloucester Old Spot pigs sleep on the rough wood floor.

"We'll have costumed interpreters in the demonstration areas," Mr. Miller says. "They'll show how things were done."

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