A Train Wreck and a Hair Picture

It’s a well-known story.

It was July 25, 1896, and there had been a party at the home of John Musser in Witmer, Pennsylvania, and many young Mennonites had gathered to socialize, perhaps discussing the quarterly mission meeting that had been held a few days earlier, perhaps not. Some time before midnight the party broke up, and everybody went their separate ways.1

Three buggies went together down Old Philadelphia Pike, now Route 340, towards Bird-in-Hand. Chatting from carriage to carriage, they did not hear the east bound train approaching at the Bird-in-Hand curve—not a regularly scheduled train, but a special service, carrying militia troops home from an encampment.

“At the Bird it happened,” wrote Jakob M. Barge, recounting the incident to a son who had moved west. The first buggy, carrying Amos Landis and his girlfriend barely made it across, but the second, carrying Jakob’s son Enos, and Barbara Hershey, stopped on the tracks, horse rearing. “Enos was struck by an engine, his horse killed, his lady friend [Barbara Hershey] was killed and he has lost his right arm.” Jakob did not mention that Enos had been found thirty feet from his right arm. The next day, Enos would succumb to his wounds and die in the Lancaster hospital.2

This event is usually remembered for its tremendous impact on the young people of Lancaster Conference. Barbara Hershey’s funeral possession had three hundred carriages. At Enos Barge’s funeral, more than a thousand vehicles arrived at Strasburg for the funeral, three times the capacity of the meetinghouse.

Amos D. Wenger, already in Lancaster County at the time, was leading almost-but-not-quite-revival meetings that gained greater attention and following after the accident. Young people started to look at baptism and joining the church at a younger age—as opposed to waiting for marriage. Indeed, baptismal classes were larger than normal that summer, with about five hundred young people becoming church members. The impact of this was felt long through the conference on the account of the energy the young people brought in.


“Hair Picture,” in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler.

But there is also a perhaps less important impact of this story. In 1882, Sarah Lucinda Hershey made a hair picture of herself and her siblings—including Barbara Hershey. It is a fascinating thing—a punch card background, neatly framed in wood with the first initial carefully stitched below each of the thirteen locks of hair. Each lock of hair, some braided, others loosely gathered, is neatly bundled with ribbon. In the middle, “A Token of Love” with cross-stitched flowers with silk other and feathers as finishing touches. The piece came to the Society’s collection through a non-Mennonite antique dealer, and little is known during the time period between its construction and its purchase by the Society.3

I am looking for other similar hair memorials, in any form, that have Mennonite connections to provide comparative analysis. If you know of one, please connect with me through the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.

  1. This telling of the story is based on the account in John L. Ruth, The Earth is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001), 726-727. 
  2. Jakob M. Barge to Frank Barge, July 26, 1896, in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler in the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society Museum, Lancaster, Pa. 
  3. “Hair Picture,” in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler

11 thoughts on “A Train Wreck and a Hair Picture

  1. Hi Joel,
    This is a bit of a tangent, but on the theme of hair in the archives, we have late 19th-early 20th century letters sent to Waterloo County “charmer” Christian Eby from ill people requesting treatment. Some of their letters include locks of hair, which we have preserved along with the letters. It’s the only time I’ve been queasy processing an archival collection, as these unfortunate souls describe their maladies in great detail.


  2. I have a box of hair samples from my grandmother, mother, myself and some others that began being collected before 1950.


    • I would be very interested to examine that, and talk to you about your collection. If you are willing, please shoot me an email at jnofziger @ lmhs.org


  3. The Mennonite Heritage Center (Harleysville, PA) just recently acquired its’ first hair wreath (or sculpture) from an area Mennonite family, circa 1890-1900. An inscription (made later) on the back of its period box-frame reads: “Made by Ella Funk Meyers and given to Dora Funk [her sister] in the 1920s.” But that inscription doesn’t seem accurate, unless it simply means it was given in the 1920s. We know the the sisters were the daughters of of John B. & Sallie Johnson Funk of the Doylestown Mennonite congregation, but we don’t know much else about the wreath. It appears to include hair from several persons, but we don’t know who they were. I can send you a photo of it by email, if interested.


  4. Hair wreaths are one of many Victorian mourning rituals. A good introduction to them is Anita Schorsch’s exhibition and catalogue Mourning Becomes America: Mourning Art in the New Nation. The use of hair locks in powwowing charms is for medical / magical purposes rather than mourning. A good introduction to the use of hair locks in powwowing is Patrick Donmoyer’s Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei & the Ritual of Everyday Life.


  5. I am a friend of Pearl Hartz, 95, who grew up in Lancaster County, PA and now lives in Escondido, California. She wanted me to share this with you. After reading your article on hair wreaths in the Mennonite World Review, Pearl remembered that her grandmother, Lafena Hertzler, had created a hair picture after the death of one of her young daughters. She recalls that her grandmother, who died in 1928, had framed a poem she had written and included a braided strand of the girl’s hair. The poem, as Pearl recalls, went like this: My precious baby now is gone And I shall see her no more Until I meet her once again Upon the golden shores.

    Unfortunately, Pearl doesn’t know where the picture is now but she said that if she finds it among her things, she will donate it to the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. Mary A.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.