Academy Museum Review

mtuscarora_academy_todayAlthough I’m both a Board member and the editor of both the online blog of the Juniata County Historical Society (of which you’re reading now) and our member’s quarterly newsletter, I’m relatively new to the organization – still learning the ins and outs of a small volunteer organization.

This past August, I was able to learn firsthand about one of the properties overseen and managed by the Society – the Academy Museum – when I served as the host during one of the Sunday Open Houses.

It was the first time I was ever at the museum. I didn’t know what to expect. Walking in the front door, I quickly realized that this little building in what seems like the middle of nowhere houses local historical treasures that really have to be seen!

I marveled at water main pipes made out of wood, an actual storefront from a General Store (I thought it had to be a reproduction but was amazed to find out it wasn’t), tools for sawing off legs in the Civil War and furniture from a women’s academy that no longer stands. Understand that this was the first five minutes that I entered – and only the first floor. The first floor was mostly one large room, but it’s arranged to bring guests in an orderly path around its treasures in a way that lets them get up close with each one.

A set of steps right by the entry beckoned me to the second floor. As I reached the top, I saw that the setup was a long hall with individual rooms. Some of the rooms were set up to show visitors what the bedrooms of the students resembled when the Academy was operating. Seeing the stoves used for heat in the bedrooms made me imagine living there in the cold months.

Other rooms were set up to allow close inspection of historical items from different time periods.

One room showcased medical practice and tools of the past. I can tell you that, after seeing that exhibit, my fears of the modern doctor’s office were a bit relieved. Thank goodness for advancements in medicine!!

A few of the medical items on display at the Academy Museum

Another room had items from the World Wars. There’s a great collection of pins in one display case. Upon closer examination, these pins had swastikas on them – and I’m told that some of these were from the very early formation of the Nazi regime. You just know these pins came from German soldiers who met their demise in the War! Other items in the room were uniforms donated by proud family members of veterans.

For those of us who are wishing we had more hair than we do, the room full of historical hair care machines is simply humorous. Take a look at the devices used for curling and drying hair. It seems to me that these things would twist and blow the hair off the strongest heads of hair out there!

Curling iron or torture device?

How fast could this dry your hair?

If you’ve  never visited the Academy Museum, I strongly encourage it! Now, the summer is over and there won’t be official open hours until next summer, but you could always arrange for a trip up by contacting the Juniata County Historical Society at (717) 436-5152 or via email at

World War II parachute transformed into one-of-a-kind wedding dress

Hensinger wedding dressEvery once in awhile, we see a story that is just so neat – we have to share it (even though it’s not necessarily something that happened in Juniata County).  This is one of those instances.

As the “marryin’ season” is now upon us, this seems the perfect time to share this story!  If you have a similar story, especially if in Juniata County, please share it!

Reprinted with permission from Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries (from their recent Spring Newsletter:  Dialog), this story was written by Tracie Spence.

The story follows:

Marriage proposals are made in a variety of ways. There’s the traditional proposal where the man gets down on one knee and asks for the woman’s hand in marriage. There are also the more modern proposals of airplanes pulling a banner with the message, “Will you marry me?” to popping the question on an electronic sign at a sporting event.

But the late Major Claude Hensinger had his own, unique way of proposing to his girlfriend, Ruth.

Hensinger was returning from a bombing raid over Japan in 1944 when his B-29 was shot down over China and he was forced to bail out of his plane. Fortunately, his injuries were minimal, and he survived the night using his parachute as a blanket.

Shortly after returning to the U.S., Hensinger began dating Ruth, whom he had known since childhood. After a year of courting, Hensinger proposed to Ruth by giving her an unusual gift—his parachute.

“He said, ‘This is the parachute that saved my life. I want you to make a wedding gown out of it,’” says Ruth, a resident of Luther Crest, a Diakon Lutheran Senior Living Community in Allentown, Pa.

Ruth was overwhelmed by the parachute’s massive size. “I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to make a gown out of 16 gores of nylon and all that bias?’” she says.

Her inspiration came from a dress she saw in a store window; the dress was based on a gown from Gone with the Wind. Hensinger made the skirt herself by pulling up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a longer train in the back; she then hired a local seamstress to make the bodice and veil.

The gown was worn for the first—but not the only—time in 1947 when the Hensingers were married at Neffs Lutheran Church in Neffs, Pa., where the couple had met as children. “My husband didn’t see the gown until I walked down the aisle,” she says. “He was happy with it.”

Twenty-five years later, the gown was used by their daughter, who wore it on her wedding day, and then later by their daughter-in-law. “It went down the same church aisle three times.”

In the early 1990s, Hensinger learned the Smithsonian Institution was looking for artifacts made from World War II-era parachutes. She contacted a curator, who requested that she send the gown and veil to the museum.

Hensinger sent it without a second thought. “What was I going to do with it? I don’t have granddaughters to wear it,” she explains. The museum has since displayed the gown at a number of exhibits, including most recently at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Of course, that unusual proposal brought her more than a parachute: She and her husband, she says,“had a great 49 years together.”

We Love Visitors!

cyclists visit academyEight cyclists visited the Tuscarora Academy Museum on Sunday, May 8th while biking in the county on a three day 100 km/day ride.

They are members of the Lehigh Wheelman Association which is the largest cycling organization in the Lehigh Valley.  Ron Helmuth who planned the three day ride has been coming to Juniata County for many years staying in a family owned cabin near East Juniata High School.

After touring the Academy they had lunch before getting back on their bikes to complete the ride.

Want to visit yourself?  The Tuscarora Academy is open Sundays (June – August) from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – OR – by appointment.  For directions, click HERE.

Editor’s Note: As a cyclist myself, I love to hear of stories of great trips planned on two wheels!

Help Solve a Mystery!

mystery-photoEvery once in awhile, it’s fun to help out a fellow historian!  Take a look at the photo included with this post.  For all of you born in the 1800’s (ahem), maybe this will jar your memory.

This photo has been hanging at the Historical Society with the hopes that someone could help identify the building, its location, or even any of the well-dressed folks hanging around outside.

Use other buildings in the photo for clues.  Note the beautiful church in the background.

Anyone know of someone researching the KOSER family?  That’s obviously a big clue, too!

Think you know something that may solve the clue?  Leave a message here – OR – contact the Historical Society at

Let’s get this mystery solved!

Carlisle Indian Industrial School Presentation

Carlisle Indian SchoolA presentation on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School will be held 1-3 p.m., March 5, 2012 in the lower level conference room of the Juniata County Library in Mifflintown.

During a time when the United States government was willing to spend $1 million to eradicate a single Indian tribe out west, Captain Richard Henry Pratt established the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Pratt’s enlightened idea was to “save” native children by turning the “savages” into white men and women.

It was attended by more than 12,000 Native American children from more than 140 tribes, and was the model for nearly 150 Indian schools.

Critique the school’s plan to “Kill the Indian, save the Man” as you explore what it means to be stripped of your cultural heritage through forced assimilation.

Presenter Matthew March, Education Curator, Cumberland County Historical Society, will explore what it means to be stripped of your cultural heritage through forced assimilation. The program will include artifacts, period clothing and photos.

Attendance is limited to 40. Reserve by Feb 29 with the Juniata County Historical Society, 717-436-5152, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Tuesdays or Wednesdays. The presentation is free but donations are welcomed. The snow date is Mar 12.