SELINSGROVE — If you could, would you go back in time and talk to the people there? Ask them questions and hear stories about their lives? You sort of have that opportunity at the annual banquet of The Snyder County Historical Society.
Dr. Kevin Sterner, of Montgomery County and an active member of the Pennsylvania German Society, will discuss the beloved letters of “Gottlieb Boonastiel” at the banquet on Friday, October 19, in the Christ Community United Methodist Church, Selinsgrove.
The Boonastiel letters were written by Thomas Hess Harter (1854–1933), who published the “Middleburg Post” from 1882 to 1894, according to a press release. Written in the Pennsylvania German dialect by a hobo character named Boonastiel to “Liever Kernel Harder” (Dear Colonel Harter), the letters provide an insightful and humorous glimpse into Snyder County life in the late 1800s.
Dr. Sterner is working on a book about Harter and the Boonastiel, which means “Beanpole.”
“He’s doing us a favor by coming here,” said Lee Knepp, Snyder County commissioner and secretary of the Snyder County Historical Society. “I think we’re very lucky to have gotten him.”
According to www.padeitsch.com, in a preface to a volume of the letters Harter intended to publish, he wrote, “At first they were written for personal amusement, and appeared only occasionally, but I soon found them so essential to the prosperity of my paper that, in order to keep up its circulation, I was compelled to write every week ….”
“Probably without question, Thomas Harter’s letters are Snyder County’s main contribution to Pennsylvania German literature,” Knepp said. “They were humorous. A kind of rule of thumb is, it’s funny in translation but not nearly as funny if you understand Pennsylvania Dutch. They were very, very popular.”
“It was just like you would hold a conversation,” said Esther Klinger, board member and assistant curator for the Snyder County Historical Museum. “He was just putting his feelings out there, talking about life and culture in the Pennsylvania Dutch. He preserved that culture.”
Bruce Teeple, president of the Union County Historical Society, wrote “The Pennsylvania Deitsch Dialect: A Proud Past and a Promising Future,” in which he quoted some of Harter’s letters written as Boonastiel. Consider the following:
• “Those more concerned with reputation than with their character would steal the golden hinges on heaven’s gate.”
• “If you earn one hundred dollars a year and spend ninety-nine, you’re better off than when you earn a hundred dollars and spend one hundred and one.”
• “I’d make a good president because I’m a good talker and can tell people more in one hour than they’re able to believe in a whole year.”
Klinger is looking forward to Dr. Sterner’s presentation and the chance to learn about the days and culture of her grandparents and great-grandparents.
“That’s what I love about history,” she said. “Wishing you could go back and experience some of that yourself.”
The Snyder County Historical Society banquet is open to the public. Tickets are $15, which includes both the presentation and a family-style roast turkey dinner. Remit payment to The Snyder County Historical Society, PO Box 276, Middleburg, PA 17842.