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Today, it is not unusual to enter a bar and find a laundry list of exotic beers on tap or to hear news of a local brew pub or microbrewery opening up. Such was not the case in 1984 (only five years after the legalization of homebrewing) when the editor of the Centre Daily Times approached local lawyer Ben Novak about writing a bi-weekly beer column for the paper. The following excerpt appears in The Birth of the Craft Brew Revolution published by Nittany Valley Press, which collects those columns, the very first of their kind in the United States, and makes them available for the first time since their original publication. They harken back to a time when only a small American subculture had discovered the endless, delicious possibilities of good beer.
‘Tis Advent, that holy time of the year when we begin to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Infant. In ancient days this time of year was exciting in a much different way than excitement is generally experienced today.
Nowadays, it seems, excitement is experienced as something that is thrilling because it is new, unknown, risky, sexy and dangerous. Today’s young people seem to look for excitement at the edge of life.
But the ancient excitement of Christmas was something quite different. Christmas wasn’t something which happened at the edge of life, but something that happened at the heart of life. It wasn’t a search for something new and dangerous. On the contrary, Christmas was as predictable as clockwork, and as familiar as one’s most favorite feeling. Each year Christmas came on exactly the same day, and everyone tried very hard to do the same things in the same way they had done them in the past.
To today’s young people that might sound boring. And yet … and yet … in those days it had seemed so very exciting. To me, Christmas had always seemed like a challenge without equal. It was an adventure in time. Every year people tried to see if they could rekindle and pass down the same feeling that had been felt on that first Christmas morn.
They all knew and believed with childlike simplicity that something wonderful had happened on that hallowed night almost 2,000 years ago. They believed that hearts had been opened and changed in a way that had never happened before. They naively believed through all the years since then that the original joy had been rekindled again and again each and every year at Christmas, just as it had been experienced on that first blessed eve.
Oh, the excitement of it all! Each year they wondered: Could it happen again? Would it? Could the magic still work? The anticipation grew to the highest levels of expectation and awe: If they did all the same things, heard the same stories, ate the same foods, drank the same drinks, rejoined in the same ways, would they again feel the excitement of their own first Christmas when they were children? Did they still have it in them to unlock all that joy one more time?
The wonder of it! Could their joy be great enough to renew again for one more year the tremendous joy of that first blessed eve in the year One, when the time of our time began? And so, on the 4th day after the winter solstice, when they were absolutely sure that the sun had begun to rise again in the heavens, they celebrated Christmas.
In ancient days everyone had worked so hard to make it happen again each year. They bought presents which they believed would bring out each person’s most childlike joy. They baked Christmas cakes and cookies, worked for weeks to prepare festive decorations for every room and window, searched out old recipes for Christmas goose or turkey stuffing, hung mistletoe in their hallways, hauled in the Yule logs, and brushed up on the ancient Christmas stories and carols to tell over again to their children and themselves. Old fights were ended, debts forgiven and friendships renewed in this season.
One of the smallest and least significant contributions to the annual challenge to rekindle the ancient joy was made by the brewers of Europe and early America. In those days everyone felt the obligation to contribute whatever they could to the annual renewal of the community’s joy. Each year the brewers made their small contribution by brewing special Christmas ales and holiday beers for the season.
The ancient tradition is undergoing a rebirth in America. Since the early 1970s, when there were only one or two remaining Christmas ales available in America, both small and large brewers are taking up the challenge to deepen the joy of the Christmas season by bringing out special seasonal brews.
Christmas ales and holiday beers are normally brewed deeper and darker than beers for other seasons. At Christmas time, one was expected to sip slowly to enjoy the deep contentment of the season and the memories of childlike joy.
As I write this column in advance of the season, most Christmas ales and holiday beers have not yet come on the market. But here are some names you might look for to taste the challenge of Christmas past:
– Aass Jule 01 (pronounced “Arse Yule Ale”) from Norway. This is a special, rich, malty, dark lager developed specially for the winter holiday season.
– Noche Buena Cervesa Especial from the Montezuma Brewery in Mexico. This is a Marzen-style brew in the old tradition of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is a dark brown, medium-bodied beer with a delicate malt taste.
– Anchor Christmas Ale. This is a special ale brewed to a different recipe each year. It is always a real ale, brewed especially dark, heavy and hoppy for the season.
– Newman’s Winter Ale. This is brewed in Ithaca, New York, as a “winter warmer,” and is a real ale, truly dark and different.
– Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. This is brewed in Chico, California, by two of the most traditional-minded, dedicated micro-brewers in America.
– Boulder Christmas Ale, made by the “second largest brewery in the Rockies,” but nonetheless a very small micro-brewer. It is modeled after 17th and 18th century English mulled ales.
– F.X. Matt’s Traditional Season’s Best from Utica, New York. This is an amber, Vienna-style holiday special made by true craftsmen. It is trucked right through Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., Virginia and Colorado, but is not marketed here in the Keystone State. Perhaps we must be more sincere this year in extending holiday greetings to our neighbors in the empire state.
Some other Christmas ales and holiday beers one might encounter in one’s travels are: Hudepohol’s Christmas Beer from Cincinnati; August Schell’s Xmas Beer from New Ulm, Minn.; Fred Koch Holiday Beer from Dunkirk, N.Y. (The Koch Brewery was recently purchased by Genessee); and Grant’s Christmas Ale from Yakima, Wash.
It is hoped that the Spirit of Christmases past will inspire many more brewers to introduce new Christmas ales and holiday beers in 1985 to reawaken the ancient joy of the season. And it is hoped that we all should imbibe them in the spirit in which they are brewed.
Ein Prosit der Gemutlichkeit!
Writing anything about Joe Paterno at this point is futile. If you’re reading this, your mind has already been made up. If you are not a Penn Stater, we’re an unapologetic cult. If you are a Penn Stater, you’re probably nonplussed, irrationally angry that the news about Paterno being honored before the Temple game is too little too late, or part of the smarmy faction that believesthey are morally superior for having lived inside the cult but made it out alive.
I understand this. I don’t intend to change your mind on Paterno — I’ve already tried — but missing in the conversation is any discussion about why honoring Paterno, or university history in general, is even an important endeavor at all. This becomes incredibly challenging, because making any salient point about Paterno requires another ten points of requisite context. Anything without that nuance on this topic is irresponsible, but including it can become a drag, or make it seem like the author is trying to “explain away” facts (or worse, feeling unsympathetic to child sexual abuse victims). Nor has the pro-Paterno crowd been the most tactful advocates for its cause, at least online. All of these factors make this topic so toxic and impossible to manage.
Knowing full well I’m wading into an abyss, here’s my best crack at it.
Before that, there is one important caveat (I told you the context was important).
If you are 100 percent certain that Joe Paterno was the ringleader of a calculated coverup of child sexual abuse, you are irredeemable. A conversation of this sort is impossible to have without the acknowledgement the facts aren’t as clear as some have made them out to be and that many smart, decent people outside of Penn State (Bob Costas, Jerry Sandusky’s prosecutor, Mike Kryzewski, etc.) have serious doubts about Paterno’s culpability and the Freeh Report’s conclusions. The unfortunate reality is that the people who know the most about this case are also the most susceptible to bias. It’s what makes real conversations about this topic so difficult — Penn Staters are easier to dismiss as lunatics out of hand, but virtually everyone outside of the bubble understandably doesn’t follow this story on a daily basis because it doesn’t impact their lives or their Alma Mater.
But to the caveat: If Paterno knowingly and systematically covered up child sexual abuse for decades, then all of this is moot. The evidence, by any objective mind, does not support a coverup assertion. It is not impossible that it happened that way, but the evidence, objectively, makes it seem increasingly unlikely. If you’re one of the thousands of Twitter heroes who has chimed in on this topic in the last day or so, this is probably unthinkable to you — the equivalent of me denying the moon landing. After seven years as a student — trust me — I understand that. But one does not usually commit a coverup if one tells three other people about what happened — knowing that at least nine people would know in total — without some quid pro quo to buy silence. Frankly, a case to prove such a thing would be laughed out of court, and there’s a reason no charges were ever brought against him when they were with the other administrators. And I’ll say this without qualification: Anyone who is 100 percent certain (or near 100 percent certain) that a coverup occurred is not a serious thinker or interpreter of the facts. I’m not talking about people who think that Paterno should have done more at the time — he, himself, admitted this, knowing what we know in hindsight. But the moral gap between “coverup” and “misjudgment” is vast and important to note. Unfortunately, judging the conversation based on Twitter alone, it seems like a large swath of the country is unwilling to consider the distinction or the nuance. I suppose this should come as no surprise by now, but the discourse yesterday was as bad as it’s been since 2011 or 2012.
In any case, if you are unwilling to consider the possibility that there wasn’t a coverup, you are not intellectually serious and this column is not for you. Serious people do not speak in absolutes about situations like this, although I suppose the national sports commentariat has never been accused of being serious. I am speaking instead to the many people — Penn Staters and otherwise — who know Paterno wasn’t evil, but still don’t understand why we should still care about a guy who has been dead for five years, especially at the cost of infuriating a significant number of people nationally.
To understand why honoring Joe Paterno still matters requires a thoughtful understanding of the Penn State Spirit.
And here’s another thing: Sports don’t matter, unless they’re put in the context of life. Teenagers and young adults running around a field throwing balls matters little unless you view it as a metaphor for the extension of the spirit of the university (or in the case of professional sports, an extension of the spirit of a city). What are the moments you think about at Penn State over the last five or so years?
For me, it’s not the score of a game. It’s guys like Michael Zordich saying things like this:
“We want to let the nation know that we’re proud of who we are. We are the true Penn Staters. We’re gonna stick together through this. As a team we don’t see this as a punishment; this is an opportunity. This is the greatest opportunity a Penn Stater could ever be given. We have an obligation to Penn State and we have an ability to fight not just for a team, not just for a university, but for every man who has worn the blue and white on that gridiron before us.”
When I think of the 2013 Wisconsin game, I don’t think about the X’s and O’s, how many yards Allen Robinson or Zach Zwinak had, what play so-and-so-ran, or really, anything about the game. I think about what Bill O’Brien said after the game:
“Seniors…What you meant to this program. What you meant for this university. We will remember you forever.”
“We will remember you forever.” Let those words sit for a moment.
Sports don’t matter unless we insist on remembering instead of forgetting. The Penn State Spirit is a collective of these memories from the past, all while pushing us forward to form a better future. What does it say about us as people if we choose to forget people like Michael Zordich, Bill O’Brien, or those Penn State seniors?
What does it say about us as a community if we choose to forget about people like Joe Paterno?
Consider the ancient story of the great medieval King Arthur.
When the young boy, Arthur, pulled the sword Excalibur from the stone, he did not automatically become the rightful King of England. Many of the lords and nobles of the realm withheld their fealty and allegiance from him, until he should prove in combat and in battle his qualities of courage and leadership.
The last battle was the greatest and most trying. But Arthur and those who believed in him were victorious. That night, when the battle was over, his men gathered together, fresh from combat, covered with sweat, and blood, and bandages, but elated in their victory and the triumph of their King.
As the story goes, the wizard Merlin came forward, and he said to them: “Remember this moment. Catch now the spirit of victory and joy that wells up in you and overflows. Catch it at full tide, and hold it. For out of this spirit and feeling shall the future be wrought.”
And King Arthur stepped forward and said, “Yes, let us catch the spirit and remember it. For this, I shall build a round table, and all of you shall sit around it, and whenever we are together, this we shall remember. It shall not pass away, as deeds of others pass away into forgetfulness, but shall be remembered down through the ages. For thanks to the wisdom of wise Merlin, we shall not forget, not suffer the doom of other men, who, though accomplishing greater deeds, were buried under the veil of forgetfulness.
“No, this spirit and this moment shall live down through the ages, and wherever men shall gather to wonder if they can do great deeds, they shall remember us, and in remembering, take heart. And in every future time, when faith and courage are put to the test and emerge triumphantly, they shall say: Arthur and his Knights, and the Spirit of the Round Table still lives!”
And today, fourteen hundred years later, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are remembered.
Put this in the context of Penn State, a place that so many people hold as a part of their soul. Who will we remember in fourteen hundred years? It will be great presidents, like Evan Pugh, George Atherton, Ralph Hetzel, and Eric Walker. It will be transformative students, administrators, and townsfolk, like Fred Lewis Pattee, Frederick Watts, James Irvin, Calvin Waller, and Rebecca Ewing. It will be sports heroes, like Wally Triplett, Lenny Moore, Bob Higgins, Jesse Arnelle, and the football players who stayed after 2011. It will be dozens of other women and men who will come along in the next hundreds and thousands of years and leave their mark on this place.
And, perhaps more than anyone, it will be Joe Paterno.
All of these men and women who have left their marks on the Nittany Valley deserve their place at the Round Table, deserve to be remembered, and deserve to be honored appropriately so that future generations may know their greatness and strive for it themselves. For without them — and countless others — there is no Penn State. Without the spirit of these people and those times, the present and future have less meaning, and we as a community have a thinner, less stimulating culture.
As Penn Staters, we can celebrate James Franklin’s Nittany Lions this season as hard as we ever had, all while appreciating the context of the now in the spirit of the institution as an aggregate of its past. James Franklin and his players will write their own stories. The ghosts of the past do not hinder their progress, but give meaning to their goals — give meaning to our identity. The student newspaper, predictably, editorialized today that any sort of Paterno acknowledgement is “insensitive to the future.” What a good many well-intentioned people fail to realize is without an appreciation for the past, the spirit of now has less meaning. In fifty years, we all hope we will be able to tell our children and grandchildren tales of Saquon Barkley hurdling foolish-looking linebackers and James Franklin returning the program to its past prestige. The great people of Happy Valley today will be remembered tomorrow — and we will learn from their triumph and disaster — but only if we allow the nihilism behind the phrase “move on” to fade away.
Ben Novak, a retired four-term Penn State trustee and author of “Is Penn State a Real University?: An Investigation of the University as a Living Ideal,” writes about the Penn State Spirit:
“The past, because it was lived, cannot really be destroyed. It can only be covered over, like a lush jungle that gets condensed into a pool of oil or a vein of coal, just waiting to be drilled or mined to have its energy released. But you have to dig for it, and you have to know how to use it. When we don’t know what is in the past, we cannot use it, and we cannot release its power.
“Fortunately we do not live in a world where the past, present, and future are in airtight cubicles that we must look at separately as though the past is dead and gone, the present stinks, and the future is always bright. Rather, the past, present, and future are fluid, and keep washing over each other. There were a lot of good things in the past that can brighten the present, and a lot of things in the past that seem to be missing in the present, but which could brighten your future.”
“Spirit,” Novak writes, “is indestructible. But only if, in a practical sense, we allow it to come alive in us.”
Which is to say this: If you’re worked up or disappointed about the fact that Penn State might play a video and invite some lettermen on the field during a football game in two weeks to honor a man who is on the Mount Rushmore of the institution, I would encourage you to think harder about what Penn State really stands for.
There’s also a second position — that honoring someone so controversial will result in so much negative PR that it will damage the institution to the point of not being worth the hassle and discomfort or somehow overshadows what the current team is trying to accomplish.
And to that, I say this: You are selling the Penn State Spirit short.
Consider these words from the documentary “Sanctioned” by Chris Buchignani about what the last five years in State College have proved:
“It’s really enheartening and strengthening to know that what you always believed was right about the place is real. That we don’t have to believe anymore, now we know. And not just that it’s real. As close as you can come to damn near invincible on this earth. That’s what Penn State is.”
Virtue is doing the right thing even when you know you will be criticized for it. This is the last great test of the Grand Experiment that Paterno inadvertently left for us. Will we, as a community and as an institution, all bonded together in the Penn State Spirit, do the right thing despite the backlash?
Judging from yesterday’s news, it looks like the answer could be yes.
Consider all Penn State has been through in the last five years. No academic institution in the history of the world has been the recipient of as much vitriol. And yet, we have endured. Penn State just admitted the largest freshmen class in the history of the institution — freshmen who walked across this campus when searching for colleges and felt the Penn State Spirit enter their hearts, as it has for 161 years. Academic rankings across the university continue to rise. Application numbers continue to set records and exceed the wildest expectations. People from all over the world are beating down the doors to attend Penn State, despite it all. Athletics teams across the board continue to excel and compete at high levels. Arguably, the health of the institution has never been stronger.
All this, despite the millions of tweets, columns, articles, and nonsense that has been said about Penn State for the last five years.
This pattern is all too familiar. A major Paterno or Sandusky-related news incident occurs. The national conversation, driven by folks who aren’t interested in nuance, turns against Penn State. It lasts for a day, maybe two, sometimes three. And then the Penn State Spirit continues on, unchanged. Students continue to pour in for a life changing education. Alumni continue to get great jobs. And we, the people of Happy Valley, continue to survive — nay, thrive.
The “opening old wounds” argument only has meaning if there is a tangible negative effect on the institution beyond a few days of keyboard heroes having their fun. Put away your keyboard. Turn off Twitter. Walk across campus when classes are changing and take it all in. There was a corporate career fair all week. There will be a football game on Saturday, and all eyes and minds will be focused on the 2016 Nittany Lions.
Is an on-field ceremony — hell, even a statue — and another day of “Penn State just doesn’t get it!” columns going to change any of that?
I insist that it already would have.
“As close as you can come to damn near invincible on this earth. That’s what Penn State is.”
Virtue is doing the right thing when you know it will be hard. That’s what Joe Paterno preached. And that is how we should — and will — press forward, with our sights set on the future of the institution and an unwavering appreciation for its past greatness — Joe Paterno, and otherwise.
Why should we care about the past?
The potential answers to this question are many and varied, but certainly, in looking back to understand what came before, we can see something of ourselves reflected back at us, extracting value from the experience. It is not without peril. Genuine self-examination risks exposure to the truth about our flaws. Likewise, we must resist the allure of romance; if infatuation with a fictional ideal commands our full attention, we miss the view of all that is around us and ahead.
And yet a part of us cannot help but yearn to know. As human beings, we are natural storytellers, creatures of narrative. We seek knowledge of our past to better orient ourselves within our own stories—personal and communal. These journeys of exploration can yield many benefits, but ultimately, we undertake them because to do so is fundamental to our nature.
Tom Shakely has written about “why place matters” and the importance of Mount Nittany and conserving both “human and environmental ecologies.” As challenging as it is fulfilling, this sort of work evolves.
In college towns like ours, the relationship between past and present is closer to the surface in everyday life than most other places.
Today, the clarion of Old Main’s bell tower, an immediately recognizable sound seared into the memory of generations, no longer requires an actual bell. Powerful speakers, however, do blast a digital recreation of the real bell, long since permanently silenced, whose tolling across campus once marked each day’s passage. Here, the technology of the present resurrects the sounds of the past. The stately central administration building itself, among the most recognizable and “collegiate” of our symbols, sits just a couple blocks from the Millennium Science Complex, which looks more like the stuff of modern sci-fi than an image from the bucolic campus ideal.
Similarly, the Hotel State College, home of the Corner Room, retains all the charm of the simpler age in which it was built. As a symbol, it exemplifies the town as surely as Old Main does the college. The local skyline behind it, unchanged for decades, is now dominated by the construction of two new high-rise complexes, especially significant in their breaking a long-held resistance against the encroachment of “tall buildings.” This distinctive landmark will soon be literally overshadowed by towering monuments to emerging trends and changing attitudes.
But many established communities mingle old architecture with new. What distinguishes the Nittany Valley—and most similar college towns, I imagine—is its unique population, an ever-churning mixture of locals and alumni, with their long-held affection for the area, and students, who are only just falling in love with it. In a place whose very existence derives from thousands of young people undergoing one of our society’s most cherished rites of passage, there is a natural fascination with how those who preceded us experienced those same rituals in these same locations. The past lingers here, fraught with potential.
In his book “Is Penn State A Real University?”—the first publication released under the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s Nittany Valley Press publishing imprint—Dr. Ben Novak, a former Penn State trustee, muses:
The past, because it was lived, cannot really be destroyed. It can only be covered over, like a lush jungle that gets condensed into a pool of oil or a vein of coal, just waiting to be drilled or mined to have its energy released. But you have to dig for it, and you have to know how to use it. When we don’t know what is in the past, we cannot use it, and we cannot release its power.
Recently, when Kevin Horne addressed the Board of Trustees about shared governance at Penn State, he noted, “Memory of our past can improve the present and change the future.”
So there is power buried in the past, a positive energy that, once unleashed, can be harnessed to animate and inspire our best thinkers and doers. It can teach lessons, but also engender a sense of shared identity and foster stronger, more cohesive community relationships. Those who seek to preserve memory for future generations do so with the goal of improving lives; no small task.
The challenge is twofold. To start off, the work of historical preservation and reclamation is difficult and requires hours of effort, attention to detail, and not a small degree of luck to be successful. And yet, despite the obstacles, this first stage in the process is still the less daunting. Because once all of the information has been collected, the knowledge harvested, then the real work, the most valuable aspect of what we do, comes in bringing it to people in a way that affects their lives in a meaningful way. This is the challenge of making what no longer exists, and is therefore unknown and often unfamiliar, accessible and relevant.
We all long for a sense of our own story, and we draw strength from understanding the ways in which others share a common background. We care about the past because of its power to enrich our spirit.
The magic of the Nittany Valley, that is, the spirit of this culture we aim to conserve, is potent and inspires important work by many groups that often share compatible motivation and goals—the Centre County Historical Society, Lion Ambassadors, and the Mount Nittany Conservancy, just to name a few.
We constantly need to work together to retell the stories of our past so that the knowledge and experiences of those who came before us can make a tangible impact on the present.
Most of have heard at least one theory on the origins of our “Happy Valley” nickname. Did it arise during the Great Depression, an expression of area’s economic resiliency? Or perhaps it was the tongue-in-cheek lament of would-be 1960s activists, frustrated by a stubbornly docile pace of life. We are pleased to present this thorough examination of the question, written nearly 15 years ago by long-time local Nadine Kofman, widow of Mayor Bill Welch:
Happy Valley is a well-known place that isn’t on any local road map. It has been around for only 50 years, but it’s very well established. Unlike most places, its population includes both residents and visitors. Geographically—depending on your perspective—it is Nittany Valley, Centre County or a Beaver Stadium football Saturday.
Looking at it from the viewpoint of the fellow who is credited with coining it, Happy Valley is a positive state of mind.
It was late 1949 or early 1950. In their circa 1937 Plymouth sedan, Pat and Harriet O’Brien and children Patty and Danny were regularly spending weekday afternoons or Saturday mornings on the road – motoring around Centre County and beyond.
“We were just enamored with the lovely countryside, in contrast to the city,” says Harriet. She and her husband, who were both natives of Pennsylvania’s hard-coal region, lived in Washington, D.C., after the war. Harold James “Pat” O’Brien then taught briefly at Clearfield High School, after which – in order to allow him to finish his PhD in speech communication – the family relocated to Centre County. Penn State hired him as a speech instructor and he later became the men’s debate team coach.
The second-hand Plymouth was their first post-World War II auto. Living in Boalsburg at the time, they needed one, to get back and forth.
“It was just a ritual to take a drive somewhere,” says Harriet “We drove around the farmlands of Spring Mills, Centre Hall, Pleasant Gap, Belleville, Allensville. Pat got to know the farmers. He especially liked the Amish.”
They had moved, says Harriet, “from city life, to bucolic life” and found it peaceful and beautiful.
The O’Briens, like the rest of the country, had come through much, to reach a happier place and time. “This whole generation went through a Depression and war, before they could land on their feet,” says Harriet.
Sgt. O’Brien had been a tank commander on Saipan, in the South Pacific. He came home with war memories, shrapnel wounds and a purple heart.
In the late 1950s, at a conference on one of the Penn State campuses, he met Ross Lehman, another coal-cracker and wounded World War II veteran who also came home with a purple heart. A member of a bomber crew, he had lost a leg when his plane was shot down near Vienna, Austria.
“From then on,” says Harriet, “they saw each other all the time.” Both were witty raconteurs and enjoyed breaking into song. “They loved to sing Penn State songs and other songs,” she says.
The two couples became close friends, and Ross and Katey Lehman heard, many times, Pat’s reference to this “happy valley” where he and his family had relocated.
That friendship, research shows, gave birth to Happy Valley, the geographical euphemism.
Ross, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, and writer/homemaker Katey wrote a Monday through Friday hearth & fireside column for the Centre Daily Times. A prominent CDT column, it was printed on page four, the editorial page, and just about everybody read it.
From spring of 1954 to autumn of 1980, their somewhat alternating “Open House” columns (Katey wrote most of them) shared warm and often wry snapshots of family life with musings on their small-town landscape. A Happy Valley reference therein was a perfect fit, and Katey fitted it into several of her columns.
In one such mention, her November 27, 1963, “letter” to her out-of-town husband, she wrote:
“My dear old hitch-hiker, your dog Sam, even though he loves Happy Valley, is apparently not completely housebroken. Therefore, please hitch-hike home soon. Sam listens to you better than he does to me. Please remember to look respectable but fairly pathetic when you’re hitching that ride home. I’ve spent most of your money — except a little for soup and our Thanksgiving dinner.”
In a spring column – June 25, 1962 – she tells us, in a contemplative piece headlined “Happy Valley And Jet Age,” that Ross mistook a clap of thunder for the sound of an overhead jet. Questioning his hearing ability, Katey continues on and informs readers that, as a child, “The first time I heard a jet breaking the sound barrier over Hort Woods, I knew very well that it wasn’t thunder, but having never heard it before, I had to think for a minute before I realized that even our happy little valley is subject to the jet age.”
No one knows how many readers Katey taught to say “Happy Valley.” Other opportunities would come along.
“It was such a subtle thing – probably something said on the radio” – stimulating people to think, “‘That was cool,’ and it caught on like a leaky kitchen sink,” suggests Donna Clemson, former CDT reporter and retired Penn Stater magazine editor. For a publication mentioning Happy Valley, “There was a time when it couldn’t be used except in quotes (as though it weren’t a real place), and now it’s an acceptable term,” she says.
“It seems appropriate in so many ways,” Clemson adds. “For kids going to college here, it’s kind of like going to Oz.” It’s a “magic time” in their lives. “You have to live in a happy valley to be in a magic time.” For herself, as a Bellefonte resident, “I wouldn’t want to rear my children anywhere else. It’s beautiful here. Why not call it Happy Valley?”
Not all of the Penn State students who picked up the term viewed it with a smile. Some were heard to use it sarcastically, as an isolated place away from the real world. Between 1965 and 1973, the real world meant the draft; young men were being sent off to fight in Vietnam. Staying in school, kept them from it yet, “Happy Valley is a joke” was in the air.
But use of Happy Valley was spreading, as an affirmative.
Gil Aberg, retired PSU Public Information writer, moved to State College from Chicago in 1955. “I heard the expression shortly after I came here,” he says, positing that it was probably “from my first boss, Frank Neusbaum,” under whom Aberg wrote for the Penn State film school’s motion-picture studio. It seemed to him that the usage was a “common currency. I thought it went back to forever,” he says.
Wendy Williams says he didn’t use the term, himself, during his early years as a local radio announcer, but did hear it used on the air. “I don’t ever recall hearing that term when I was at WMAJ (1961 to 1966). My earliest recollection would have been when I was at WRSC in the late 1960s.”
Fran Fisher, long-time radio voice for Penn State football, associates Happy Valley with the game. “I don’t ever remember hearing that before the Paterno era,” he says. He didn’t use it on the air until 1966. “I think the reason I started to use it was that everybody else was using it.”
According to Penn State Sports Information, the first televised football game at Beaver Stadium was on November 5, 1966. That football year was JoPa’s first as head coach.
It was these national football broadcasts that put “Happy Valley” on the U.S. map, says retired Sports Information director Jim Tarman. “It was the success in football, all those golden years, that triggered it,” he says.
“That’s when it got the wider recognition,” says CDT sports editor Ron Bracken. “Back in those days (late 1960s, early 1970s), it was a big deal to get on TV.”
How did national broadcasters pick it up in the first place?
Art Stober, who produced award-winning 60-second, then 30-second videos about Penn State for football telecasts in the mid 1970s, guesses that TV broadcasters “just heard people using it and thought it was a very appropriate term.”
Panning around to show the stadium’s picturesque mountain setting, the tailgating parties – as network cameras are wont to do – the place “looked idyllic. It was only natural to use the term.”
Former Sports Information director Dave Baker agrees with that. “On an October broadcast day,” the cameras would show beautiful foliage amid a “serene” farming area. For the TV audience, “It made a nice little story to start the game,” he says.
Here in Happy Valley, not everybody knows today where the name originated; there would have been far fewer seven years ago.
Jan Gibeling, who, with her husband, Howard, moved to State College from Connecticut in 1997, was curious. “We heard the expression used so many times,” she says, but most people, when asked, “would say they didn’t know where it came from.”
Deciding in 2000 to audit a Penn State course on Pennsylvania history (History 12), she took the opportunity to answer her own question; she did a history paper on Happy Valley. Her research sources included State College old-timers, as well as old CDTs. The latter yielded a couple of crucial Katey columns.
Katey had died in January of 1981. Talking to Ross, Gibeling was directed to Harriet O’Brien, because Pat, who retired in 1976 as Penn State associate dean emeritus of Liberal Arts for the Commonwealth Campuses, had died in 1997.
Gibeling concludes her history paper with:
“From an innocuous beginning, the expression ‘Happy Valley’ has gradually gained in popularity. It is now used nationwide by major network sports announcers when broadcasting college sports, by weathermen when reporting the weather for our area, and by The Weather Channel, to name a few.
“As reported in the New York Times in an article dated July 22, 1981, when the federal government added State College to its classification of Federal Metropolitan Statistical Areas (as a result of the 1980 census), ‘many of the people who can live anywhere prefer the unhurried life of a college town. Even traveling salesmen, tired of cities and suburbs, have been settling in what they call ‘the happy valley,’ where rolling farmland and villages are surrounded by forest-covered Appalachian ridges.”
As a submission for an audited course, the paper wasn’t given a grade, but “I had fun doing this,” Gibeling says, and she also developed an interest in doing research.
There was a third reward: she – though not her name – has gone down in history. She got a mention in the Oral History Project interview which Ross gave before his death a year ago. The interview, conducted by Bill Jaffe, was part of a Community Academy of Lifelong Learning project, sponsored by the Centre County Historical Society.
For the record, Ross said he hadn’t recognized the Pat O’Brien-Katey Lehman legacy until “a woman” contacted him about it. “She said that the first mention of Happy Valley that she found in her research was in Katey’s column,” said Ross.
Unlike the Open House co-author, Pat O’Brien had an inkling of his role.
Patty O’Brien Mutzeck recalls her father telling her one day, in bemused tones, “’I think I may be the one responsible for this phrase’.”
To his mind, “happy valley” had to do with beauty and intangible positive qualities. “‘We’re blessed here’,” Patty often heard him say.
“In those days,” she says, “life was filled with spirit and optimism and enthusiasm” and, she adds, “he was all that.”
“He liked words, language – the written word, the spoken word,” says Harriet, who is pleased her husband “came up with something everybody likes and uses.” Although she hears from neighbors that the O’Brien coinage of “happy valley” makes the family famous, she prefers to think otherwise.
“After all,” says Harriet, “it’s just a little phrase that caught fire.”
It’s always great when we come into deeper contact with the life and history of the place we live. That happened last year with a column for Town & Gown about a project cataloging the CBICC historical archive:
Vince Verbeke, immediate past president of the Mount Nittany Conservancy, left a comment on the article that included some pretty cool information on the origins of State College’s many unique street names. I think it’s great to have that knowledge in the back of your head as you’re out navigating around town, because it helps remind of its unique character and history and enhances the experience of the place. It’s a little thing, of course; but those often are the very details that enrich our lives, no?
Vince comments: “Did you know that Fairmount Ave is so named because of its higher location gave it the best view of Mt. Nittany from town?”
He then adds the following, which is drawn from the History of State College, 1896-1946:
“Our Street Names Are Memorials”
Frequently asked by newcomers to the town, and occasionally by “oldtimers,” is the question, “From what source were such unusual street names derived?” State College streets are in a sense memorials to outstanding residents and faculty members. For instance, the name “Foster” has always been prominent in the history of the town. At one time, there were nine Mrs. Fosters in the village! Today there are seven telephones listed under that name. The inclusion, here, of a list of street names and their sources may prove interesting. Several of those listed are not yet within the borough limits. A, part of this list is included in Mr. Ferree’s thesis. (Name of street is given first and for whom named follows.)
Allen street – Dr. William Allen, president of the College, 1864 – 1866.
Atherton street – Dr. George W. Atherton, pres. f the College, 1882 – 1906.
Barnard street – Prof. L. H. Barnard, professor of civil engineering.
Beaver Ave – Gen. James A. Beaver, early landowner, influential in gaining aid for College; president of Board of Trustees, 1873 – 1881 and 1897 – 1915.
Buckhout street – W. A. Buckhout, professor of botany and a prominent citizen.
Burrowes street – Dr. T. H. Burrowes, president of the College, 1868 – 1871.
Butz street – George C. Butz, professor of horticulture, first president of borough council.
Calder Alley – Dr. James Calder, president, 1871 – 1880.
College Ave – Proximity to College.
Corl street – Several Corl families of the town.
Fairmount Ave – View of Mount Nittany.
Fairway Road – Named for J. T. McCormick’s first wife, Anna Maria Fair.
Foster Ave – Named for many Foster families who featured in the town’s history.
Frazier street – Gen. John Fraser, president of the College, 1866 – 1868.
Garner street – Samuel Garner, former landowner and farmer of State College.
Gill street – Rev. Benjamin Gill, D.D., chaplain for many years.
Glenn Road – For the Dr. W. S. Glenn Sr. family.
Hamilton Ave – John Hamilton, former landowner and for 37 years treasurer of the College.
Hartswick Ave – Henry Hartswick, son – in – law of John Neidigh, early settler.
Heister street – Gabriel Heister, one of the first trustees of the College.
Hetzel Place – Ralph Dorn Hetzel, president of the College, 1927 – 1947.
High street – Because of its location on high ground.
Highland Ave – Named for home of Prof. John Hamilton, “The Highlands.”
Hillcrest Ave – Named for its location on a ridge.
Holmes street – Holmes family, active in the borough organization.
Hoy street – W. A. Hoy, fourth burgess of the borough.
Irvin Ave – Gen. James Irvin, once part owner of Centre Furnace Lands, and donor of 200 acres of land for College.
Jackson street and Ave – Josiah P. Jackson, professor of mathematics, 1880 – 1893; and his son, John Price Jackson, dean of the School of Engineering, 1909 – 1915.
James Place – James T. Aikens estate.
Keller street – The Keller family of State College.
Krumrine Ave – Fred and John C. Krumrine families.
Locust Lane – Named from trees bordering the street.
Lytle street – Andrew Lytle, supervisor of roads in College township at time borough was formed.
Markle street – “Abe” Markle, early landowner and town’s first butcher.
McAllister street – Hugh N. McAllister, promoter of the College and designer of the original Old Main.
McCormick Ave – John T. McCormick, who helped organize the First National Bank.
McKee street – James Y. McKee, acting president, 1881 – 1882. Also vice – president for many years.
Miles street – Col. Samuel Miles, part owner of Centre Furnace ore furnace until 1832.
Mitchell Ave – Judge H. Walton Mitchell, president of the Board of Trustees, 1915 – 1930.
Nittany Ave – Nittany Valley and mountain.
Osman street – David Ozman, first blacksmith.
Park Ave – Formerly called “Lovers Lane,” changed to Park because its many trees resembled a park.
Patterson street – W. C. Patterson, the second burgess of State College.
Pugh street – Dr. Evan Pugh, first president of the College, 1859 – 1864.
Ridge Ave – Because it is higher than Park Ave.
Sauers street – John Sauers, first shoemaker.
Shattuck Drive – Professor Shattuck, first borough engineer, appointed 1907.
Sparks street – Dr. Edwin E. Sparks, president of the College, 1907 – 1920.
Sunset Road – Because it runs directly toward the sunset.
Thomas street – Dr. John M. Thomas, president of the College, 1920 – 1925.
Thompson street – Named for Moses Thompson whose early aid helped establish the College here.
Waring Ave – William G. Waring, first agricultural superintendent of the Farm School.
Woodland Drive – Location in a natural woodlot.
The popular view of archaeology often conjures images of Indiana Jones or spelunking through booby-trapped pyramids. Recently it has been dramatized and turned into television entertainment. This is not an accurate image. My personal experience confirms to me that it has deeper meaning. Archaeology is almost a social science—like piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of our collective past. Through Penn State’s summer program, students work to ensure one less piece is lost, no matter how small.
As a recent graduate of 2015, with a major in History and minor in Anthropology, I concentrated my studies closely around the human race and its history. This path led me to join Penn State’s archaeological field school under Dr. Jonathan Burns over the Summer of 2014, and later return as a staff member for the summer field school of 2015 under Penn State’s Matson Museum director Dr. Claire Milner.
Penn State’s graduate anthropology program has consistently ranked among the top 10 in the nation, which provides excellent opportunities for all students. The Summer archaeological field school is one unique facet that sets Penn State’s programs apart from those at many other universities. These are multi-week, hands-on courses that provide students the opportunity to learn field techniques intrinsic to the profession while under the supervision of a professional archaeologist. Many universities lack such programs, and I was excited to welcome students from other campuses and universities during my two-year involvement. Whilst providing students with a unique developmental opportunity, the Summer field school also preserves local history. Much of this local historical record is known by few in the community and rarely publicized. However, this does not limit the inherent value found within these local sites.
Would you believe me if I said that bucolic Huntingdon County, specifically the small town of Shirleysburg, was more culturally diverse in 1755 A.D. than today? Fort Shirley began as a trading post for Native American agent George Croghan in 1754. I excavated here over the summer of 2014 under self-proclaimed local fort expert Dr. Jonathan Burns. The fort was fortified by provincial aid starting in 1755 and stayed active through 1758. It was a crucial frontier fort during the French and Indian War. The theatre spread across western Pennsylvania, with the French entrenched at Fort Duquesne (located where Pittsburgh is today). Although the French and English were the primary belligerents, both sides recruited heavily from Native American populations. Most of the Natives sided with the French; however one tribe, the Mingo Seneca, remained loyal to the British and lived adjacent to Fort Shirley in a village called Aughwick.
Croghan also owned slaves who worked around his establishment. This was not readily apparent in the preserved records; however, a copper Muslim charm was recovered in a test unit during a Summer field school. This is suggestive of an indentured servant or slave, possibly from the transatlantic slave trade. The inscription roughly translates to, “one god above all.”
In another interesting unit, we recovered Native American beads at the bottom of a palisade posthole. It seems Native Americans worked alongside Europeans in erecting the wall around Croghan’s post— a rare exception of a provincial fort showing evidence of a Native American presence, let alone cooperation. Fort Shirley symbolized a cultural melting pot in rural central Pennsylvania during the mid-1700’s. Today, the location is half pasture, half backyard in a normal, homogenous small town.
Known locally for its springtime blossoms and as a quixotic locale to tie the knot, the grounds of the H.O. Smith Arboretum at Penn State are undoubtedly some of the most charming on campus. To look below the open arboretum fields, turning back the wheel of time to the mid 1800’s, reveals the story of family after family carving out a living on their farmstead. Over the summer of 2015, I returned to the program as a staff member. Headed by Dr. Claire Milner, our project was to begin initial excavations of an old foundation discovered by grounds-crew. Though we desperately wished to find the outhouse for its rich deposit layers (seriously, these things are like historical garbage cans!), it remained elusive, so much of our time was spent excavating the foundation, cellar, and laying smaller test pits throughout the location.
We dubbed the site Foster Farmstead, after the first recorded family living there. We recovered hundreds of ceramic and glass shards, tobacco pipe fragments, horseshoes, buttons, faunal remains, and other artifacts. Studied on an individual level, one could ascertain only limited details. Yet viewed as a collection, lifeways become more apparent—like the diet habits over time, the family’s social status and make-up, how the farmstead evolved, and other similar themes. Much of this analysis will happen in the lab at Penn State, but one find resonated within me immediately. As I was excavating a unit in the cellar, I uncovered a glass cat’s eye marble. A short period later, we found the remnants of a leather child’s shoe. It became clear we were unearthing someone’s childhood. Here, lost for decades beneath bramble and bush, was the site where local lives once began.
My studies inspired and required me to be a dutiful advocate and ambassador for archaeology; and the one thing I noticed frequently when speaking to someone outside of the subject was that they found it interesting—archaeology, without the bombastic metal detector personalities, or death-defying treasure hunters, is interesting to the public. Without a bombshell find published in the newspaper or these knock off popularized television programs, archaeology receives relatively little coverage. This is unfortunate as archaeology is literally all around us.
“To Thy Happy Children / Of The Future
Those Of The Past / Send Greetings”
This is the inscription that the University of Illinois’s Alma Mater statue bears for the curious passerby. It’s a perfect encapsulation of everything a place of learning exists to achieve—bringing the reality and wisdom of the past alive in the present, so it can do the same for the future. I wrote about this earlier this year, and shared a few pictures including the iconic personification of Alma Mater at the University of Havana:
At the time I mentioned a concept for Penn State that I want to convey in the hope that it can be brought to life sooner rather than later.
The concept: a “Penn State Encountering Heritage” initiative, the purpose being to honor monumental men and women in our history by personifying them across campus through monumental statuary that would make them feel closer to a living part of the university experience.
We possess an incredibly rich history, thick with the vision and strength of countless men and women who’ve helped build Penn State into what it has become. But aside from Joe and Sue Paterno (and maybe George Atherton) I doubt most could name the most significant figures in our creation or development. Let alone the personalities of our best cultural values or local folklore.
Why personify leaders of the past
It’s necessary to acknowledge, even despite our incredibly rich history, that we live in a practical time. What practical value is there in beautiful and romantic notions about honoring monumental leaders?
Ben Novak, a retired four-term Penn State trustee, offers tremendous perspective on the practical value of the past. In “Is Penn State a Real University?: An Investigation of the University as a Living Ideal,” he writes:
“The past, because it was lived, cannot really be destroyed. It can only be covered over, like a lush jungle that gets condensed into a pool of oil or a vein of coal, just waiting to be drilled or mined to have its energy released. But you have to dig for it, and you have to know how to use it. When we don’t know what is in the past, we cannot use it, and we cannot release its power.” There’s a reason that millennia after their death we continually re-approach the Greek philosophers. There is an evergreen sort of power in their thinking and stories. There is similar power in Penn State’s past.
“Fortunately,” Novak underscores, “we do not live in a world where the past, present, and future are in airtight cubicles that we must look at separately as though the past is dead and gone, the present sticks, and the future is always bright. Rather, the past, present, and future are fluid, and keep washing over each other. There were a lot of good things in the past that can brighten the present, and a lot of things in the past that seem to be missing in the present, but which could brighten your future.”
“Spirit,” Novak concludes, “is indestructible. But only if, in a practical sense, we allow it to come alive in us.” By personifying some of the most monumental figures in our history, we can enshrine them as a physical and concrete part of the campus. Doing so creates the context for the sort of personal and communal encounters with our institutional spirit that allows it to come alive in each new class.
An abundance of practical value, both institutionally and personally, can be realized in helping the newest members of the Penn State family encounter a few of her oldest as a means to fulfill the Greek challenge at the root of learning, which is to know thyself.
Who deserves a place on campus
So who are the sort of people that could brighten our future if we were to encounter them on campus?
I’m thinking about Evan Pugh, our visionary founding president whose whole story is little known. His spirit lingers near University House, his home. I’m thinking about his remarkable wife Rebecca, Bellefonte-native, whose faith in her husband and his vision outshone death itself. She wanders campus as a symbol of fidelity. I’m thinking about George Atherton, who sustained Evan Pugh’s vision at the turn of the 20th century while encouraging and implementing the development of the modern university structure and who, like Evan, died in striving to realize his vision. Only his grave presently remains.
I’m thinking of Wally Triplett, who came to Penn State in 1945 on academic scholarship as one of our first African American varsity football players and who during the 1946 season came to embody our community’s cultural values a generation before integration became a serious national conversation. Triplett in bronze stands in spirit near Beaver Stadium, sharing the stories of his time. I’m thinking of Joe and Sue Paterno, who as nominally athletics figures improbably elevated the academic mission of Penn State while supporting the viability of its diverse athletics programs through the powerhouse of college football. The Paternos belong by their library as much as, if not more so, the athletics fields.
I’m also thinking of people from outside the Penn State experience who nonetheless came into it in an historic way, representing some of its best aspects. I’m thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Rec Hall, symbol not only of America’s Civil Rights achievements, but also an historic voice representative of the vision of an inclusive culture who shared his prophetic voice with Penn Staters months before Selma.
I’m even thinking of institutional and legendary symbols like Alma Mater’s personification as the source of knowledge and conveyer of institutional heritage. I’m thinking of Princess Nittany, the folkloric originator of Mount Nittany and the inspiration for our identification as Nittany Lions.
What do we presently have? We have two modest busts of Evan Pugh and George Atherton in Old Main’s foyer, a place few students ever visit. What stories do these small busts share with the people of the campus and community? What physical context is there for gathering there or for sharing moments with others? None.
Each of these men, women, and iconic symbols I’ve mentioned speak in some way to aspects of our university’s character. Each represents some fundamental strain in the DNA of the contemporary community, and each helps unlock part of the secret meaning of the declaration that “We Are Penn State.”
One of my favorite places in Philadelphia is Washington Square. In 1954, planners created what you see above, George Washington and the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. It’s a remarkable yet restrained and modest honor that creates the physical context for gatherings and ceremony and admiration.
We don’t have to think as grandly as the University of Havana’s Alma Mater, or as traditionally as this Washington Square monument. But we owe it to ourselves to think more aggressively and with bolder vision than tucked-away lobby room decorations.
Where to start
I think history is most relatable when it’s personal. This is why the most engrossing stories of the past are often told through the people at the center of events, rather than through the otherwise context-shorn details of the events themselves.
Thanks to Erwin Runkle’s history in The Pennsylvania State College 1853-1932: Interpretation and Record, we know an incredible amount about the persons and personalities of Evan Pugh and Rebecca Pugh, as well as George Atherton.
To start thinking through how a sculptor might embody our founder, Runkle describes: “a rugged, energetic physique, a straight-forward common sense manner, combined with the heart of a child, and the integrity and moral robustness of mature manhood.”
Later: “On June 6th, 1863, Dr. Pugh was returning to Willow Bank when a severe thunder storm arose. The horse he was driving was frightened, and backed the buggy over the bank into the stream, throwing the future Mrs. Pugh and himself under the vehicle. Dr. Pugh managed to extricate himself, raise the buggy and rescue his fiancee who suffered severely from bruises and shock. Dr. Pugh sustained a broken arm…”
After Pugh’s death in 1864, J.B. Lawes writes Rebecca Pugh: “Although I had my fears that he was taxing his powers too severely, I was watching his course with great interest, as I felt certain that if he lived he would be the founder of a great college. I hope some permanent memorial is proposed. I shall be proud to become a contributor in honor of a man whose character and abilities I so greatly admired.”
Each of these vignettes brings Evan Pugh to life in a special way. There are countless more examples throughout Runkle’s book alone. Writing more than 80 years ago, Runkle points a lingering truth about J.B. Lawes 1864 proposition: “That memorial remains to be erected; somewhere in the Commonwealth there should be the will and consecrated means to give it fitting form and substance.”
So how can a “Penn State Encountering Heritage” initiative be implemented? I think there are a few opportunities. I think the most natural home for something like this is among student leadership, working to institutionalize this in the way that Homecoming exists to perpetuate culturally significant traditions.
In terms of revenue, support through a time-limited “Encountering Heritage” allocation approved by students or voluntarily crowdfunded for a period of time makes sense as one of many potential solutions.
But if student leaders aren’t keen, an alternative home for such an initiative is the Penn State Alumni Association—specifically through an Alumni Council standing committee. Another possibility is through the Alumni Association’s staff-led programming efforts wherein alumni might be engaged broadly—almost of an alumni version of the Senior Class Gift concept, wherein alumni would vote and support on a recurring five or ten year schedule.
Another possibility is through an Alumni Association partnership with Homecoming or the Senior Class Gift committee to jointly administer such an initiative.
The opportunity exists. The important thing is to start.
As the keynote speaker for this year’s Willow Gathering, Penn State Lunar Lion mission director Michael Paul talked about how, for Penn State, being the only university among a field of private competitors striving to reach the Moon is opening up incredible opportunities for the institution and her students. Hands-on learning and connections with the global aerospace community are invaluable byproducts of what is, in itself, ground-breaking work. By identifying new innovations and cost efficiencies in lunar exploration, Penn State could make significant, tangible impact on how humanity reaches for the final frontier in the 21st century. I commented that, in their quest to land a lunar module, his team represents a modern extension of Evan Pugh’s vision for a college where practical pursuits could be afforded the same serious study as the humanities in classical universities. Perhaps more than any other single undertaking at Penn State, the Lunar Lion captures the pioneering spirit with which the school was founded.
It is easy to forget now, when the STEM fields are in such high demand and, as a result, the darlings of politicians and academics, that conventional thinkers once scoffed at the notion of teaching agriculture and engineering in the same hallowed halls as art, literature, and philosophy. The sentiment animating the land-grant movement of the late 1800’s, which recalled self-made renaissance man Evan Pugh from Oxford to his native Pennsylvania, once seemed hopelessly provincial. Farmers and thinkers belong in different rooms, and never the twain shall meet. Pugh’s vision for teaching the advanced study of agriculture and the mechanic arts in the “splendid isolation” of the Nittany Valley was, in its time, a radical experiment in democratizing higher education. Yet history teaches us that the rise of the public research universities laid the groundwork for the American Century, and as they grew, these schools became places that both reflected our society and challenged it to change and grow.
Penn State was the first institution of higher education in the Commonwealth to admit female students; football star Wally Tripplett came to Happy Valley on an academic scholarship at a time when many black Americans were denied entry to universities on any grounds. There is a lot to learn, not all of it is pretty, although there is plenty in which Penn Staters should take pride
How our “Second Founder” George Atherton revived a failing college by believing in the “university that was to be,” how Milton Eisenhower sought the favor of his brother, the President of the United States, to build it up, or how Joe Paterno used the occasion of a football national championship, not to demand a higher salary or better facilities for his team, but challenge the University’s trustees to raise the money needed to elevate Penn State academics.
As we continue to add new chapters—perhaps one day making the “Nittany Nation” the fourth nation to land on the Moon—Penn State’s new undergraduate “History of Penn State” course will help ensure we don’t forget our story or its valuable lessons.
Today, it is not unusual to enter a bar and find a laundry list of exotic beers on tap or to hear news of a local brew pub or microbrewery opening up. Such was not the case in 1984 (only five years after the legalization of homebrewing) when the editor of the Centre Daily Times approached local lawyer Ben Novak about writing a bi-weekly beer column for the paper. The following excerpt appears in The Birth of the Craft Brew Revolution published by Nittany Valley Press, which collects those columns, the very first of their kind in the United States, and makes them available for the first time since their original publication. They harken back to a time when only a small American subculture had discovered the endless, delicious possibilities of good beer.
By Ben Novak
There are some folks who say that Christmas is not what Christmas once was.
In the ancient days, a story was once passed through England that a savior had been born to redeem this dull and work filled world. We do not know whether all who heard believed the story. But we do know that just about everyone who heard it believed the very story itself to be a sufficient cause for joy and celebration.
Thus it is recorded that Christmas was “celebrated from early ages with feasting and hearty, boisterous merriment” To raise up the lowest spirits to the joy of the occasion in the bleakest month of winter, special Christmas ales were brewed. The joy of the Christmas story and the warmth of a Christmas ale were welcomed at every Yule-time hearth. The poet Marmion caught the spirit in his verse:
England was merry England then,
Old Christmas brought his sports again
‘Twas Christmas broaches the mightiest ale
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s hearth through half the year.
The Wassail Bowl is best known to be associated with Christmas cheer. In ancient times the chief ingredients of Wassail were strong beer, sugar, spices and roasted apples. The following is a recipe for Wassail served in 1732 at Jesus College, Oxford as transcribed by the venerable Bickerdyke:
“Into the bowl is first placed half a pound of Lisbon sugar, on which is poured one pint of warm beer, a little nutmeg and ginger are then grated over the mixture, and four glasses of sherry and five pints of beer are added to it. It is then stirred, sweetened to taste and allowed to stand covered for two to three hours. Three or four slices of thin toast are then floated on the creaming mixture, and the Wassail bowl is ready.” In another recipe this mixture is made hot, but boil boiling, and is poured over roasted apples laid in the bowl.
Such a recipe must have been the inspiration for the following old carol which celebrates our theme:
Come help us to raise
Loud songs to the praise
Of good old England’s pleasures
To the Christmas cheer
And the foaming Beer
And the buttery’s solid treasures.
Merry olde England did not become merry on lagered beer nor even on the standard ales of today. Special holiday beers and Christmas ales were deep and manly draughts. So do not attempt to try the recipe above with Miller, Bud, or even Twelve Horse. To revive the Wassail and the joy of Christmas past, the ancient ales and beers must be rediscovered.
In the 19th century and up until Prohibition most of the 1500 breweries of America annually produced special Christmas and holiday ales and beers. The 14 years of Prohibition not only wiped out half of America’s breweries, but also all but one or two of its holiday brews.
Special Christmas Brews
The times, however are catching up to the past. The brewing of Christmas ales and beers is once again spreading across the land. In 1974, the Anchor Brewing Company introduced the first new Christmas Ale in America since 1939. Every year since then Anchor has brewed a new and different Christmas Ale to cheer the hearts of San Franciscans. Nearer to home, the Fred Koch Brewery of Dankirk, NY brews a delighted “Holiday Beer.” It is lighter than many Christmas ales, but deeper and fuller bodied than ordinary ales. This Holiday Beer is available at some Centre County distributors and restaurants.
Not much farther away but not yet available in Pennsylvania in Newman’s Winter Ale, specially brewed for the holidays in Albany, NY.
Special Christmas imported beers are available in most large cities. They include Noche Buena from Mexico, and Aass Jule ol (pronounced Arse Yule Ale) from Norway. Noche Buena is brewed by Austrian immigrants who modeled it after the holiday brews of Imperial Vienna. It has been described as one of the best examples of “Teutonic nostalgia” for the colorful beers of the 19th century. It is a dark brown malty brew with a great blend of imported hops. Aass Jule ol is not really an ale’ the word “ol” means beer in Norwegian. It has a dark, rich, malty flavor which seems to have the power to redeem the darkest day in December.
Across the country, microbrewers and regional brewers have been bringing out special Christmas brews which are not widely distributed. In Minnesota, August Schell makes an amber beer with deep taste which it calls “Xmas Beer.” In Wisconsin, the Walter Brewing Co. of Eau Claire has been making a dark “Holiday Beer” since the 1880’s. Walters also continues to market another brand called “Lithia Christmas Beer.” In Colorado, the Boulder Brewing Co. began brewing a special Christmas Ale in 1979. It is a strong, dark ale flavored with fresh ginger root. Michael Lawrence, the brewmaster at Boulder, merrily informs us that “It is modeled after the mulled ales of 17th and 18th century England.
The West Coast, however has the largest number of Christmas Ales. In addition to Anchor of San Francisco, the award winning Yakima Brewing Co. of Washington State makes an annual holiday mulled ale of honey and spices which is described as Wassail. It is “Grant’s Christmas Ale” which has a 6 percent to 7 percent alcohol content. Farther south the Sierra Nevada brewery of Chico makes “Celebration Ale” for the holidays. It has been described as a “classic winter ale in the English tradition.”
Thus with the rediscovery in America of Christmas ales and holiday beer s there is some small reason to hope that Christmas may once again be celebrated as Christmas once was. Just as on that first Christmas night the breath of the humblest stable animals warmed the crib of the child who came to bring joy to the world, so special Christmas ales and beers have traditionally been brewed to warm us to the joy of that blessed story.
Ein Prosit der Gemutlichkeit!
In “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” folklorist Henry Shoemaker records some of the American Indian and settler stories that provide much of the cultural and historical basis for Penn State mythology, including Mount Nittany as our sacred symbol and pristine retreat, the love story of Princess Nittany and Lion’s Paw, and even the reclusive Nittany Lion.
Yet stories alone have no independent life to speak of; their significance grows from the affection, tenderness, and patience of the reader, from the moments spent in solitude or near friends with the words of a long-dead peer over a coffee at Saints or W.C. Clarke’s. Herodotus or Dante would be nothing without the gift of time and attention paid in gratitude by the living reader. It’s through that gift that we reverence something culturally significant, and make something from the past a part of our present time.
This is what tradition is, if distilled—the continuing act of encountering the past, helping it come alive again in some way, and then in due course becoming a part of the past ourselves as we look to the future. This beautiful notion is encapsulated in an even more beautiful practical, example: The singing of Robert Burns’s 1788 “Auld Lang Syne” every New Year’s Eve. It’s a literal and lyrical Scottish injunction to remember our friendships and honor days gone by on the eve of a new time.
This helps explain why Mount Nittany, by all accounts an ordinary Pennsylvania mountain, is nonetheless sacred for Penn Staters and the people of the valley. As with the stories of the past, we’ve infused the Mountain with a distinctive meaning. Penn State Professor Simon Bronner writes that we “inspirit the land” of Mount Nittany and places like it. We do this in a thousand distinct ways, through hikes alone to learning and sharing the same stories to nights spent with friends around a small fire.
The Mount Nittany Conservancy is what makes our experience of the Mountain possible—specifically what makes our experience of it as a natural space, protected from development, a perpetual part of the Nittany Valley experience. Even if you’ve never heard of Henry Shoemaker, and aren’t inclined to pick up his stories, the Mount Nittany Conservancy has made it possible to encounter a bit of the legend, mythology, and history of the Mountain through “The Story of Mount Nittany” and “Mount Nittany in Legend and Myth.” “Mount Nittany in Legend and Myth” is a digestible seven minutes and is concerned with origins:
“The Story of Mount Nittany,” meanwhile, is a meditative 40-minute encounter with the reason the origin stories matter. In it, we hear from the people who conserve the Mountain for all to enjoy, from personalities as varied as Nittany Lion’s letterman Bob Andronici and student-volunteers combating erosion, to trailblazer Tom Smyth recounting decades of history (at 13:30), to Vince Verbeke’s “wayfinding stations” (18:21), to Penn State Arboretum director Kim Steiner’s insight on Mountain forestry (21:25), to Mount Nittany Conservancy founder Ben Novak’s experience of the “ordinary” Mountain (24:04), vision for land acquisition (28:08), and creation of square-inch deeds (31:55), to Bob Frick’s experience with less-preserved mountains (25:30), to Ben Bronstein’s historical markers (26:15), to Sue Paterno’s reflection on the Mountain (32:37) and Coach Joe Paterno’s affection for Mount Nittany as one on the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s inaugural board. Bob Frick, a Mount Nittany Conservancy board member, served as the executive producer of these great stories, which were co-produced with WPSU’s Katie O’Toole and Patty Satalia.
Nearly a century before many of us were born, Henry Shoemaker declared: “There is no spot of ground a hundred feet square in the Pennsylvania mountains that has not its legend. Some are old, as ancient as the old, old forests. Others are of recent making or in formation now. Each is different, each is full of its own local color.”
Mount Nittany is one of those Pennsylvania mountains, and the Nittany Valley remains a place where legends continue to take shape. Thanks to Henry Shoemaker’s stories, and the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s stories, you can get a better sense for why the Mountain matters and why hiking it is such a special experience.
“Hiking Mount Nittany” is one of those things that finds its way onto the Penn State bucket lists of most students, and it’s something many make a ritual pleasure. A single hike often serves as an occasion for encounter with “local color” of the Mountain and the valley, a color which has a radiance that outlasts every autumn.
You can already sense it here in the Valley. Before you know it, tens of thousands of students will make their way back to Penn State for another academic year. Soon after, tens of thousands more fans, alumni, and friends will follow them for seven Autumn weekends, many who are drawn back to a place they never managed to fully leave behind. It is one of my favorite times of year, when the cycle that keeps this place vibrant and dynamic begins anew. Our August Town & Gown contribution features an excerpt from The Legends of the Nittany Valley that speculates on the magical origins of the seemingly mystical force that draws us back here again and again.
No matter how mystical or supernatural it seems, this legend offers a telling and satisfying explanation for one of the most striking and oft-remarked phenomena of the Nittany Valley. Almost everyone who lives here for any length of time seems to have an irresistible desire to return as often as possible. Is there something in the water, or in the breezes that come down from the surrounding mountains, that keeps us coming back—or at least longing to come back? There seems to be an attractive power in the mountains and valleys of this region that calls us.
The next time you, or anyone who has once been in the Nittany Valley, suddenly feels a strong urge to go back to Penn State or to any of the areas that were once part of Wi-Daagh’s kingdom, just smile and remember this legend, and you will immediately understand why the feeling seems so irresistible…
You will have to head over to Town & Gown’s site to read the full story of King Wi-Daagh’s spell. Most of us know someone who has remarked on the uncanny magnetism of Penn State and State College; many have experienced this phenomenon first-hand. It is fun to have our own local myth to explain its roots. There is another element to Wi-Daagh’s story in particular that I wanted to highlight here.
Although the story of his spell lingering even from beyond the grave may be pure fantasy, the grave site of King Wi-Daagh (pronounced “wye-dog”) is very real. Wi-Daagh, unlike some other figures of local legend, actually existed. He was, in fact, an American Indian chieftain who held dominion over much of modern-day Central Pennsylvania, and he did fall prey to English settlers offering one of their notoriously lop-sided real estate deals.
Wi-Daagh’s burial site is marked by a 41′ column and rough-hewn headstone. It is located on what is now private land, and the encroaching wilderness has reclaimed much of the ground. Nevertheless, the column and marker remain, monuments to one of the last great Pennsylvania Indian leaders. I am including a gallery of photographs of his tombstone and memorial column, taken with the property owner’s permission. I share all this to add more flavor to the tale of King Wi-Daagh and his mystical spell and to reinforce the notion that this mythology is uniquely ours, rooted as it is within the very places we inhabit.
In The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman’s central insight is that globalization and Information Age technology work in tandem to diminish the distinctiveness and importance of location—of physical place. Nearly a decade after his book’s 2005 release, this “world is flat” thinking has seeped into almost every pore of the face of our culture. We’re all too familiar with the negative effects of our flatter, globalized world in the form of outsourcing and offshoring, but we’ve also seen the positive ways that innovations such as Amazon’s impressive supply chain, Penn State’s World Campus, and social platforms have enabled people to shop, learn, and communicate.
Yet, a remarkable new book edited by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister functions as a sort of rebuttal to Friedman’s vision of a world where location is irrelevant. In Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America, McClay and McAllister write:
“Whether we like it or not, we are corporeal beings, grounded in the particular, in the finite conditions of our embodiment, our creatureliness. … In losing ‘place’ entirely, and succumbing to the idea that a website can be a place and that digital relationships can substitute for friends and family, we risk forgetting this reality of our embodiment, risk losing the basis for healthy and resilient individual identity, and risk forfeiting the needed preconditions for the cultivation of public virtues. For one cannot be a citizen without being a citizen of some place in particular; one cannot be a citizen of a website, or a motel.”
Those who live in the shadow of Mount Nittany tend to know that physical place still matters, and that McClay and McAllister are right to defend special places as powerfully as they do—as spaces where “public virtues” are cultivated and American character is molded and shaped for the future. The specialness of places such as the Nittany Valley work like a magnet, drawing new people to them and creating new communities in time.
Literary critic Henry Seidel Canby (and father of folklorist Edward T. Canby) observed as long ago as 1936 that “it is amazing that neither history, nor sociology, nor fiction, has given more than passing attention to the American college town, for surely it has had a character and personality unlike other towns.” There are many reasons that the Nittany Valley is America’s “Happy Valley,” just as there are an almost infinite number of reasons “I ♥ NY” resonates with so many who experience the Big Apple, and elicits so many personal stories and perspectives on the basis for this affection.
As a folklorist, Canby’s son, Edward, understood that learning the stories of specific places and peoples could unlock the secret of their character. By learning about people and sharing their stories with newcomers, the specialness of a place could be conserved and perpetuated through time, and new generations could experience a bit of the past in a meaningful way.
In other words, the past could be learned about and experienced not as something dead but as a living part of the cultural environment. Mount Nittany, as one example, isn’t simply another Pennsylvania hill to those who love it, and have hiked it, and have spent a lifetime looking upon her gentle slope. Mount Nittany becomes, rather, a place where romance is kindled, or nights are spent with college friends, or, for those who know the lore of Princess Nittany, perhaps a place where the spirit of the American Indians and mountain lions still lingers. Indeed, Erwin Runkle’s The Pennsylvania State College: 1853-1932 records that founding president Evan Pugh would take students hiking on Mount Nittany and spend nights there. No, for those who learn the stories, the Mountain and the Valley could never be merely two more unremarkable or interchangeable points on the map.
And just as the Mount Nittany Conservancy exists to protect Mount Nittany as a physical symbol of our area, it likewise exists to conserve the stories, memory, and spirit of the Nittany Valley so that new generations of students, townspeople, professors, alumni, and friends can better understand why so many people call this place Happy Valley.
If we didn’t preserve the stories and spirit of Mount Nittany, there wouldn’t be a way for us to understand why we conserved the Mountain in the first place. After all, without learning the stories and experiencing the Mountain ourselves, we would have to frankly admit to any visiting or skeptical friend that maybe it isn’t so distinctive—because without our culture, the landscape loses its spirit. But because we appreciate Mount Nittany not only as part of our physical landscape but also as part of our cultural heritage, it helps define our Nittany Valley as truly remarkable.
Conservancies exists to proclaim that place matters—perhaps now more than ever. And the Mount Nittany Conservancy exists in a particular way to conserve what the Romans called a genius loci, “a pervading spirit of a place.” The Mount Nittany Conservancy aspires to conserve the story and stories of the Nittany Valley as surely as it aspires to conserve the Mountain itself. In this way, we strengthen and lift up both our human and environmental ecologies as more than the sum of their constituent parts—as more than simply such a great number of passionate people or an abundance of wooded acres. We seek the conservation of a living spirit and lively acres, rather than the administrator’s impulse to reduce people and places to subjects or artifacts to be controlled and preserved, like museum-piece curiosities.
In seeking to perpetuate a love for Mount Nittany and a conservation of her acres in their natural state, the Mount Nittany Conservancy exists just as surely to share the story of the community by better connecting her people to their shared history.
Why is the Nittany Valley such a genuinely remarkable place? Where and how might we encounter that Nittany Valley’s specialness? And together how can we experience and pass along our stories to new generations and avoid the “flattening” that has hollowed out so many other communities? Mount Nittany, as a touchstone for so many generations of Penn Staters, Central Pennsylvanians, and friendly visitors, is also a natural place for these spirited questions and evergreen challenges to be engaged and to transform our experience of Happy Valley as a community of intangible goodness.
As America gets “flatter” in the years to come, special places like ours will be challenged to better articulate “why place matters.” Mount Nittany, along with the Nittany Valley’s communities, perpetually in conversation about their heritage, will be prepared for a future where culture counts and place matters more than ever.
I had lunch today with John Patishnock, an employee of the Penn State Alumni Association and freelance writer. John is a local who recently returned home after several years living away from Pennsylvania, and he writes a regular column for the Centre County Gazette on his experiences “Re-discovering Happy Valley.”
His introductory piece recounts a family hike up Mount Nittany, fulfillment of a long-delayed requirement for any legitimate “Penn State bucket list.” Of course, we have a soft spot for Mount Nittany memories and the like, as evidenced by our release of “Conserving Mount Nittany”. One passage in particular caught my attention, because it speaks to the distinctive Spirit of the Valley we seek to conserve. John and his hiking party have reached the famed Mike Lynch overlook and are admiring the view of town and campus…
Then something unexpected transpires, something I doubt I forget for the rest of my life. A group, which includes a young boy and girl, join us on the overlook, which is overrun with stones and tree branches and stumps creating unofficial paths.
“I see Penn State!” the young girl screams, extending her arm and pointing her finger toward the horizon. The euphoria is loud and excitement-filled, the kind of outburst that’s rarely seen in everyday life that all too often seems mundane and predictable.
But that’s the type of joy that Penn State continually provides, no matter what may happen to alter the perception of a university that for so long has and continues to be a worldwide leader in so many areas.
One of the best aspects of our work so far has been the opportunity to discover and connect with so many people who share our love and loyalty for the Nittany Valley. I enjoyed reading John’s piece and look forward to working with him on an exciting publishing and multimedia project that we have in development. We’ll be working to surface some of the most remarkable untold stories of a place where ordinary people do extraordinary things.
The Nittany Lion Shrine was reopened this week after a summer of renovation. Kevin Horne, Managing Editor of Onward State, shares his perspective on the iconic symbol of the campus:
I grew up only an hour away in Williamsport, so this campus was no stranger to me when I enrolled at Penn State three years ago. Consequently, neither was the Lion Shrine. (Proof: Flat Stanley and myself, circa 1999. I was a lot cooler back then, as you can see.) I didn’t realize it then of course, but there was something magical about the simplicity of the whole thing. When Heinz Warneke sculpted the Shrine 73 years ago, I don’t think he could have imagined the landmark — some might even call it sacred ground — that it would become. Indeed, you would hard pressed to find ANY Penn Stater who hasn’t snapped a photo with their arm around the thing.
It was, in a phrase, a true “symbol of our best.” It wasn’t much, of course — just a statue on top of an eroding mountain of mulch — but isn’t there an endearing quality about something like that? Isn’t that sort of modesty something Penn Staters have always held close to the heart, much like the basic blue uniforms our football team will run out of the tunnel wearing on Saturday?
I still get chills when I walk by the Lion Shrine. I would map out my nightly runs accordingly so I’d be able to pass the shrine with no one else around, looking stately as ever under the single spotlight. It was an emotion I couldn’t control, not because of how it looked or the landscape surrounding it, but because of what it symbolizes to generations of Penn Staters. A student today could talk to a student who graduated 50 years ago and the Lion Shrine is one symbol they share in common. In today’s thirst for modernity, that timelessness is difficult to find.
I walked over the new Lion Shrine yesterday morning and I just couldn’t shake the pit in my stomach no matter how hard I tried. Don’t get me wrong — the place looks fine. Aside from the base of the statue, which clashes with the actual Shrine and sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s an aesthetic improvement for certain. It’s also important to have a ramp for handicap access. But I don’t think it will ever be the same for me. The area just feels so scripted and manmade — almost like there should be a gift shop peddling Lion Shrine postcards and coffee mugs off to the side somewhere (don’t get any ideas, Old Main). It has lost the magic of simplicity. In this era of change, that magic is hard to come by.
I’m sure I’ll get over it. It is, after all, an impressive display. But I know that I’ll always miss that modest mountain of mulch. And I know that when my kids come to Penn State and I take their first Lion Shrine picture, something will be missing. At least to me, anyway.
Photo credit: Penn State University
The National Association of Scholars published a small contribution I wrote when visiting Zach Zimbler in Princeton a few months ago. The short contribution, titled “Recover a Disposition for Leisure,” is a part of the feature “One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education” and appears in the Winter 2012 issue of the journal Academic Questions. I wrote it thinking of the Nittany Valley. Here it is:
Recover a Disposition for Leisure
As you alight the steps from your last class of the day you instinctively attend to your iPhone. A few missed calls. Two voicemails. A few e-mails. A text message. Assorted notifications. Nothing pressing, though. There’s still time to enjoy the fading day as afternoon turns to evening, so you sit to recline on a grassy spot beneath some graceful willow, pulling your iPad out to read a bit. You get a few hundred words in before the iPhone is ringing, nagging again. Ignore. Then your iPad reminders kick in, finally and irrevocably pulling you from your reading, and from the evening.
This is our life now, for many professors as well as for students. There is so little room for quiet or leisure or silence. In The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton reminds us that “our word for school comes from the Greek word for leisure. Of course, reasoned the Greek, given leisure a man will employ it in thinking and finding out about things. Leisure and the pursuit of knowledge, the connection was inevitable…”
What a still radical and revolutionary insight—leisure, rather than programming or activities, as the context for discovery and learning! Even in Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional world, The Diogenes Club was a necessary refuge from loudness and distraction.
Can we build physical, explicit spaces for leisure on our campuses? Where no devices are allowed? Where questing is the goal? Where eternal rather than ephemeral labors are sought?
Professors should encourage students to make the most of the college experience by intentionally retreating from noise. The gift of a college education is the opportunity to retreat from the world prior to commencing lives within it.
A bit of the wisdom of the Greeks is calling to us, if only we have a moment to think it over.