It’s a well-known story.
It was July 25, 1896, and there had been a party at the home of John Musser in Witmer, Pa., and many young Mennonites had gathered to socialize, perhaps discussing the quarterly mission meeting that had been held a few days earlier, perhaps not. Some time before midnight the party broke up, and everybody went their separate ways. (This telling of the story is based on the account in John L. Ruth, The Earth is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001, 726-727.)
Three buggies went together down Old Philadelphia Pike, now Route 340, toward Bird-in-Hand. Chatting from carriage to carriage, they did not hear the east bound train approaching at the Bird-in-Hand curve — not a regularly scheduled train, but a special service, carrying militia troops home from an encampment.
“At the Bird it happened,” wrote Jakob M. Barge, recounting the incident to a son who had moved west. The first buggy, carrying Amos Landis and his girlfriend barely made it across, but the second, carrying Jakob’s son Enos, and Barbara Hershey, stopped on the tracks, horse rearing. “Enos was struck by an engine, his horse killed, his lady friend [Barbara Hershey] was killed and he has lost his right arm.” Jakob did not mention that Enos had been found thirty feet from his right arm. The next day, Enos would succumb to his wounds and die in the Lancaster hospital (Jakob M. Barge to Frank Barge, July 26, 1896, in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler in the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society Museum, Lancaster, Pa.).
This event is usually remembered for its tremendous impact on the young people of Lancaster Conference. Barbara Hershey’s funeral possession had three hundred carriages. At Enos Barge’s funeral, more than a thousand vehicles arrived at Strasburg for the funeral, three times the capacity of the meetinghouse.
Amos D. Wenger, already in Lancaster County at the time, was leading almost-but-not-quite-revival meetings that gained greater attention and following after the accident. Young people started to look at baptism and joining the church at a younger age — as opposed to waiting for marriage. Indeed, baptismal classes were larger than normal that summer, with about five hundred young people becoming church members. The impact of this was felt long through the conference on the account of the energy the young people brought in.
But there is also a perhaps less important impact of this story. In 1882, Sarah Lucinda Hershey made a hair picture of herself and her siblings — including Barbara Hershey. It is a fascinating thing — a punch card background, neatly framed in wood with the first initial carefully stitched below each of the thirteen locks of hair. Each lock of hair, some braided, others loosely gathered, is neatly bundled with ribbon. In the middle, “A Token of Love” with cross-stitched flowers with silk other and feathers as finishing touches. The piece came to the Society’s collection through a non-Mennonite antique dealer, and little is known during the time period between its construction and its purchase by the Society (“Hair Picture,” in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler). It is similar in purpose to victorian hair wreaths, but distinct in both style and in that the locks come from the hair of the living.
I am looking for other similar hair memorials, in any form, that have Mennonite connections to provide comparative analysis. If you know of one, please connect with me through the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.
Joel Nofziger is director of communications for the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society and a member of Pilgrims Mennonite Church in Akron, Pa. He writes at Anabaptist Historians, where this post first appeared.