Stargazing Poets and Humbug Farmers

Lithograph of the Lick Observatory and telescope mentioned in a sermon printed in The Manifesto in 1891. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Shakers were no strangers to celestial phenomena like the solar eclipse that will cast fleeting darkness over portions of states from South Carolina to Oregon—including Kentucky—on August 21. Their journals recount star patterns, moon phases, comet sightings, and solar and lunar eclipses. To some Shakers, the spectacles of space exemplified core principles of Shaker theology and culture like order, union and harmony; to others it was seen as nonsensical and foolish. Nonetheless, regardless of whether the majority of Shakers were supporters or skeptics of astronomy, records in the archives show cosmological rhetoric made its way into their schools, journals, eulogies, poetry and farming practices.

SHAKER STARGAZERS

Unable to ignore the many astronomical wonders of the night sky, the Pleasant Hill Shakers recorded sightings of cosmic marvels ranging from eclipses and comets to moon irregularities. In each instance, they noted specific details about the time of day, duration, totality and any remarkable characteristics of the astronomical occurrences they observed:

  • March 19, 1843 At this time there is a comet to be seen which appeared about a week ago. It has an extraordinary long tail stretching nearly halfway across the hemisphere toward the south though not very brilliant (sic). It appears to be a stranger to astronomers.
  • March 25, 1857 The sun was eclipsed this eve. visable only for 8 or 10 minutes.
  • December 6, 1862 Last night we had a total eclipse of the moon.
  • August 7, 1869 At ½ past five o’clock in the evening the sun was total eclipsed.
  • June 24, 1881 There is a large comet now to be seen in the N.E. [non periodic comet] We see it best at 3 in the morning than any other time.
  • October 4, 1882 A Comet is to be Seen at this time in an easterly direction. East South East. between 4 & 5 oclock A.M. among the longest & most brilliant ever Yet Seen  A beautiful Sight!
  • February 24, 1897 The moons of Feb & March have laid on their backs and it has rained nearly the whole time in these two months.
  • May 28, 1900 Sun in eclipse from 6:30 to 8:30 A.M. about 9/10 totality. 

In 1866 and 1867, the Pleasant Hill Shakers recorded instances of seeing a “big circle” and “bright circle” around the moon—an optical phenomenon called a lunar halo in which the light cast onto the moon’s surface by the sun refracts through ice crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in an eerie ring.

ASTRONOMY + SHAKER AGRICULTURE

The Shakers were very much in-tune with natural and celestial cycles and used their knowledge of astronomy—and, in some cases, astrology—to inform their agricultural practices. In a report written on behalf of the Mount Lebanon Shakers in July 1898, Calvin G. Reed tells how, at the recommendation of astronomers, the community had taken up a “free journey on the earth’s stupendous railway,” during which they observed six signs of the zodiac, including Leo. While they found “the Lion’s breath rather too hot for unalloyed comfort” in July, by September, the Shakers record a change in the seasons and agricultural schedule in a direct correlation to the stars, explaining, “this is the harvest season of the year as the constellation Libra or the Scales denotes, the season of gathering in the fruits of the earth.”[i]

Though not always pleased with the results, the Pleasant Hill Shakers placed a degree of confidence in the authority of almanacs, from which they gleaned weather forecasts, planting charts, tide tables and astronomical informational upon which to base their agricultural decisions. In August 1857, one journal keeper reflected upon the Almanac’s predictions of rain during the last quarter of the moon, troubled that if it rained as much as the publication claimed it would, based upon the moon phase, it would be “almost impossible” for them to thrash their grain.[ii]

ASTRONOMY + SHAKER SKEPTICS

While many Shakers found astronomy relevant in the realms of education, creative writing and farm work, not everyone was persuaded. Maintaining the belief that astral bodies had no effect on what happened on the earth below, some Pleasant Hill Shakers—particularly farmers—were adamant critics, filling journal pages with ridicule at any notion suggesting agriculturalists should put their trust in astronomical or astrological events. Particularly skeptical, farmer and journal keeper James Levi Ballance sized-up the influences of the moon on the Earth in these ways:

“…it is very inconsistent to imagine the moon has any influence over the weather….The moon must be very smart to make it rain or snow here and at the same time not suffer it to rain or snow there. The tides are also partial and local and of course they are not under the influence of the moon.”[i]

“Common sense and stubborn facts should have done away with the moon making it rain many years ago.”[ii]

“It did not rain at our farm 4 miles above us, there was a little sprinkle and here we were thoroughly saturated with water, they must have had a different moon from ours or else there is no truth in the moon making it rain (all a humbug).”[iii]

ASTRONOMY + SHAKER VILLAGE TODAY

The archival records at Shaker Village indicate the Shakers were just as intrigued by the wonders of space as modern spectators are today. While not within the “path of totality,” guests who visit Shaker Village on the day of the Great American Eclipse will be able to experience a partial eclipse with about 96 percent obscuration. Those planning to view the eclipse from the Village are reminded to bring proper eye protection to wear for the entire duration of the event.


Visit Shaker Village on August 21 during the Great American Eclipse and throughout the year. Join us for $5 after 5:00 programs or plan your own stargazing adventure at the Amphitheatre.

Emálee Krulish, Archivist


[i] “Notes about Home,” Calvin G. Reed, The Manifesto, Vol. 28, No. 11, November 1898
[ii] Journal, April 1, 1854-March 31, 1860, Bohon Shaker Collection, Volume 11, Filson Historical Society
[i] Journal, April 1, 1860-December 31, 1866, Bohon Shaker Collection, Volume 12, Filson Historical Society
[ii] Journal, November 23, 1871-July 31, 1880, Bohon Shaker Collection, Volume 14, Filson Historical Society
[iii] Journal, April 1, 1860-December 31, 1866, Bohon Shaker Collection, Volume 12, Filson Historical Society

Recipe: Zucchini + Squash Pickles

We have an abundance of patty-pan squash coming in from the garden this year, and we hear we aren’t the only ones. It seems to be a very productive year for garden veggies! Right now, our garden team is harvesting 30-40 pounds of summer squash every other day!

The abundance doesn’t stop there. Our butternut winter squashes have produced with equal vigor and have ripened earlier than expected. The beets are in, the garlic has been dug and sorted, and the tomatoes, basil, peppers, okra and eggplant harvests are ramping up! It doesn’t get much better than enjoying late summer crops from the garden.

That means The Trustees’ Table has to get creative with how fresh ingredients are getting prepared on a daily basis. Here’s one of our favorite ways to serve the fresh squash and zucchini:

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 qt. apple cider vinegar

1/2 qt. water

1 1/4 c. sugar

1 tbsp. red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. fennel seed

1 tbsp. mustard seeds

1 tbsp. dry mustard

1 bulb fennel, sliced and tops rough chopped

6 large zucchini, sliced into 1/8-thick rounds

1 onion, thinly sliced

1/4 c. Kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, dry mustard and mustard seeds to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Toss zuchinni and salt in a large bowl and let stand until zucchini releases moisture, 30-35 minutes. Drain squash, add fennel and onion. Pour pickling liquid over vegetables to submerge and stir. Cover and chill at least 12 hours. Enjoy!


In the Shaker tradition, our farmers take pride in planting, tending and harvesting sustainably-grown fruits, vegetables and herbs, destined to end up on your plate at The Trustees’ Table.

J. Steven Brockman is the executive chef. A south central Nebraska native, he grew up surrounded by the corn and soybeans of his grandparents’ farm…

Dylan Kennedy is the farm manager. An avid mountain biker and traveler, he has farmed as far and wide as Foxhollow Farm in Oldham County (Kentucky) to New Orleans…

Maker Spotlight: Smoke & Spirits

 

Smoke & Spirits is featured on this year’s Craft Fair postcard.

Business: Smoke & Spirits
Owners: Matt and Chrissy Rippetoe
Website: shopsmokeandspirits.com

Have you ever been a vendor at the Shaker Village Craft Fair?
No, we haven’t! But we were very excited to be accepted as vendors this year! The Shaker community is known worldwide for handmade craftsmanship of the highest quality and we view the Shaker Village Craft Fair as an excellent way to keep that spirit alive – we couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of it.

Where did your business name come from?
Our business name was inspired by a trip to a local cooperage. We were struck by the visuals of fire and smoke rising up as the interior of the white oak bourbon barrels were charred by the coopers, knowing that this process was a key part of transforming the spirits that the barrels would soon hold. Our name and every product we carry is inspired by Kentucky bourbon. It’s our way of paying homage to the incredible part it plays in the history and heritage of Kentucky.

Rustic Wood Coasters

What’s your favorite bourbon?
We both enjoy the sweeter finish of wheated bourbons and both of our favorites come from Buffalo Trace Distillery. Chrissy’s favorite is the sweet smoky finish of Eagle Rare.
Matt’s favorite is W.L. Weller, which for a long time was the best kept secret in Kentucky, but the secret is getting out and it’s becoming harder and harder to find.
What’s your favorite Kentucky pastime?
A day on the lake! Relaxing on Lake Cumberland, waterskiing, enjoying the scenery and watching the sun go down over the hills is paradise to us.
Where can people purchase your products?

Our products are carried in various shops around central Kentucky and at ShopSmokeAndSpirits.com.

 

Matt and Chrissy Rippetoe

Anything else you want to tell us about your business?
Smoke & Spirits began by accident. For our wedding in 2016, we wanted to give our groomsmen a Kentucky-themed gift. We acquired our first bourbon barrel staves and made bottle openers from them. What started as gifts for friends turned into orders here and there, and now it’s growing nearly too quick to keep up…but we love every minute of it.


Find Smoke & Spirits and more than 80 other vendors on August 5 + 6 at the Shaker Village Craft Fair!

A Modern View

Shaker Modern: a new interpretive platform that sheds light on the enduring appeal of Shaker lessons and their influences on today’s communities, lifestyles and design.

There’s a new phrase buzzing around Shaker Village. Shaker Modern is a term being used to describe our new exhibit, but also to describe what’s going on around this 3,000-acre property. The Shaker legacy is extremely relevant today, and we want to share that with our guests. So… we painted the walls white, rearranged some of our favorite Shaker artifacts and brought a new spin to this long told story.

Shaker craftsmanship has long influenced notable Modernist artists and designers. Beginning in the mid-20th century, Shaker furniture and textiles became a source of great inspiration to sculptors, poets, composers, dancers, architects and designers seeking balance through utility and simplicity.

The thoughtful, yet pragmatic principles of the Shakers have influenced not only a signature design ethos, but a remarkable cultural heritage that feels more relevant today than ever before. Shaker Modern celebrates Shaker lessons in community, sustainability and ingenuity—lessons that continue to impact this site and improve our lives every day.

Where can I see Shaker Modern?

Shaker Modern is everywhere! The concept is reflected in our new seasonal menus, daily programs, special events, retail merchandise, preservation plans and throughout the everyday tasks of this Village@Work. Here are a few examples:

Carpenters’ Shop Welcome Center
Opening Soon This one-stop sales and information hub will greet guests with a new Shaker Modern aesthetic, along with new interpretive and retail experiences.

Shaker Modern Exhibit
This new exhibit explores modern concepts of spirituality, community, ingenuity, diversity and sustainability through Pleasant Hill Shaker artifacts and stories. This exhibit will be on view through 2018 and is housed in three buildings: East Family Brethren’s Shop, East Family Wash House and East Family Sisters’ Shop. Check out the exhibit tour on the daily schedule!

Shaker Village Mobile App
Coming Soon This engaging mobile application will feature interactive wayfinding and geolocation-based interpretation, augmented reality, itinerary planning and much more.


The Shaker Modern Exhibit is on view now. Plan your visit!

It’s Moving Day!

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Most of us groan at the mention of the word “moving.” Imagine the thought of emptying a 21,500-square-foot building! Four floors filled with Shaker objects, reproductions and all sorts of treasures from the past 40 years of interpretation. And, we mean filled. That’s a half-acre of floor space. As you can see from the above photo, we like to utilize the wall space, too!

Why are we taking on such a task? In preparation for our biggest preservation project since the 1960s, we are emptying the largest and most iconic building onsite. This year, the 1820 Meeting House and 1824 Centre Family Dwelling will undergo a $5.1 million project to preserve, protect and interpret the Village’s spiritual center. This project is part of a multi-phase effort to revive the preservation of Shaker Village’s rich cultural landscape, while equipping historic spaces for new community-centered programs and activities.

Taken on the west side of Centre Family in 1973

The current Centre Family Dwelling once housed up to 100 members of the Centre “family” in 14 bedrooms and had kitchens, a dining room, a cellar with food storage rooms, an infirmary and a large meeting room. The current Meeting House held worship services for the entire community on the first floor and apartments for the Ministry on the second floor. Since the restoration of the 1960s, both spaces have been used for interpretation and programming, and until the mid-1990s, the Meeting House also housed administrative offices upstairs. Save the date for a visit in 2018-19 to see what they will house after the rehabilitation project!

So, what should you expect during your next visit to Shaker Village? Centre Family Dwelling will be closed June 26-30 for moving and preparation. We apologize for any inconvenience. It will reopen July 1 as an empty building. This structure hasn’t been completely empty since it was built in the early 19th century. Come experience it for yourself! Step inside and admire the architecture in the most simplistic way, just as the Shakers intended it to be.

Get the scoop on these historic buildings and become part of PRESERVATION@WORK during our daily programs and tours. While this project will be happening in the center of the Village, programs and daily adventures will continue around it. With 3,000 acres of Shaker Village, there’s still plenty to explore! Exhibit spaces and activities will be moved to the east end of the Village. While your experience may be slightly altered by the closing of these two buildings, we want to ensure that your time here is informative, inspirational and impactful.


Here’s an interesting item that was recently uncovered by collections staff while working in these storage spaces. It was found onsite in the 1960s and carries with it a mystery of its origin:

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This trunk covered in leather and decorated with brass studs. The studs create a decorative diamond motif, as well as form the initials “R.H.” Not only are we unsure how it arrived onsite or what it was used to store, but the identity of “R.H.” may never be known. If it was a Shaker, it could be a variety of people. Could it be Rachel Harris, one of the first Believers to join the Pleasant Hill community as a youth and “remained steadfast” until her death at 87? Or, could it be Robert Hawkins, who after absconding from the community causing one Shaker writer to exclaim, “What a puff of trash has blown away! Great releasement!”

Many items are mysterious. Each item is a little confusing and difficult. But, each item is exciting because it creates research opportunities for us as we try to understand the phenomenal, compelling and relevant story of Pleasant Hill. Who knows what else we will find along the way?


Plan a trip to see this once in a lifetime preservation project in action!


Aaron Genton is the collections manager. A love of history led him to study and work in the field….