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Historical Society hosts Christmas Open House to showcase displays

December 18, 2012

On display in the Italian Room of the Bennis House is a replica of the Catalan Gothic Cathedral, located in Palermo, Sicily. It was crafted by Mr. Vitello, an Italian settler who resided in the area. He carved the Cathedral out of grocery and orange crates. (Photo by Destiny Pifer of The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society has once again graced the community with its wonderfully fascinating exhibits.

This year, at their Christmas Open House, the society brought a variety of exhibits, all pertaining to the history of our town.

This year's exhibits include "Seating" and "Tracing the Path of People of Color through the Punxsutawney Area," both of which are located in the Highland Gallery at the Lattimer House. The "Punxsutawney Family Tree" exhibit is located in the Bennis House, which is where the tour concluded after beginning at the Lattimer House.

The "Seating" exhibit was the first exhibit in the tour and included a variety of chairs — one of which is over 200 years old and another of which is a reproduction of a Roman chair with Boreas — the Greek God — carved into the back.

Other chairs in the exhibit include an American Eastlake Chair; a ladies' music chair, a formal American gothic (for ecclesiastical use) and children's chairs, including a little wicker chair and a high chair that turns into a stroller.

There are four types of rocking chairs in the exhibit — including one that was handmade in the year of 1911 by Mr. Yuhas. He made it while awaiting his wife’s arrival from Austria.

Another piece of history included on the tour was an office chair once owned by Abraham Light, who was the owner of "Light Coal Company."

As the story goes, Mr. Light started out as a peddler who invested in the coal business and became a success. His success led to him becoming owner of his own company.

Other chairs in the exhibit include spool-turned chairs, plank-bottomed chairs and school desks from the 1880's-1950's.

One particular chair that stands out was made by the most famous chair maker in Punxsutawney — Mr. Thomas McKee. McKee settled in the area in 1838. and in 1850 went on to become the Representative for the district.

An old wheelchair rests next to one of the most breathtaking pieces, which is a riding saddle used in the 104th Calvary of 1921. Another fascinating piece is a tuffet, which is a short stool made from tree fungus — popularized by the fairy tale rhyme about Miss Muffet.

The second exhibit on display at the Lattimer House is the "Tracing the Path of People of Color through the Punxsutawney Area" display, which is considered a multi-layered exhibit.

One layer shows photos of the safe houses and stations that operated in the Underground Railroad.

They provided food and shelter as well as passage to other safe houses. One safe house was the Winslow Farm, located in the village of Hudson. It was owned by Judge James Winslow, who was a supporter of the abolitionist cause.

Two other safe houses were The Minish House located on Mahoning Street and the Carmalt Farm, which sat where the Country Club now 
is.

Another layer to the exhibit is a timeline in American Civil Rights, which includes a photo of the first settler, Joseph Barnett, coming to the area in 1784. Another photo shows the Native Americans helping Barnett build his home.

There is also a photo of Charles Southerland, an African American man who helped with George Washington's horse in the exhibit as well. Southerland eventually settled in our area.

The third exhibit is, of course a yearly one, "The Punxsutawney Phil" exhibit, which includes all things related to the groundhog.

The fourth and smallest exhibit is the one dedicated to Christmas Decorations.

"The Punxsutawney Family Tree" exhibit is located in the Bennis House and has each room decorated to represent the various settlers who came to our area, from the Native American room — dedicated to the people who first resided here — to other rooms, including the English, German, Scottish-Irish, French and Belgian, Italian, Eastern European and the Scandinavian rooms.

In the French and Belgian room, a dress uniform that was once worn by August Dereume, a Belgian and former resident, are on display.

A wedding dress worn by the granddaughter of the very first French settler, John White, also is on display.

In the Italian room, there is some old fashioned clothing and a beautiful tablecloth, known as "The Lonni Felice Tablecloth."

The Vitello Family donated a true piece of art work, done by Mr. Vitello who crafted a replica of the Catalan Gothic Cathedral located in Palermo, Sicily. It was carved out of grocery and orange crates.

In the Eastern European room are two Kracow Szopkas, which are homemade nativity scenes originating from Kracow, Poland.

One was made by Jeannie Curtis, director of the society.

Hanging in the Scandinavian room is an actual reindeer hide, which was a parting gift to Richard Jenks 
following his time in Norway.

Also located in the room are a Kosta Boda Glass Snowball and a handmade quilt from John Benson's family.

There are also handmade ornaments and other handmade trinkets.

In the German room is a large Christmas Tree decorated in German tradition.

Each room represents the different cultures that reside in our town and what they have brought from their countries to our own. The exhibits will continue to be on display until after Groundhog Day.

Those who have helped to make this exhibit possible are the Historical Society 
members and volunteers. They include Marty Armstrong, president; Jeannie Curtis, director; and board members Shirley Sharp, Joyce Thames, Rose Cook and Mary Ann Hampton. These women not only provided history but also helped with the tours. Hours of operation for the Lattimer House are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Sunday. The Bennis House is open Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tours of the Highland Gallaries are Thursday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

(Editor’s note: This piece is one in a series of “Familiar Faces Friday” features to be written by Spirit reporter...
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