Escapes: Details, Bethlehem, Pa.
The tour begins at the Moravian Museum, also known as the 1741 Gemeinhaus, in the town’s oldest building. In the upstairs meeting room, or Saal, where the Moravians worshiped, docent Madeline Morris instructed the men in our group to sit on one side, the women on the other, as the Moravians would have sat.
In the Moravian community of the day, life was highly regimented. Single men and women lived in separate buildings. “You ate within, were educated within and worshiped within your choir,” said Morris, “choir” in this instance meaning group, not a musical organization.
You could tell a woman’s age and status — single, married or widowed — by the color of ribbon on her Moravian cap. This was a cap “with a birdlike beak,” Morris told us, like the one she was wearing. She also wore a dress that was fastened down the front with straight pins, as would have been common in 1760. Women “also used hawthorn thorns,” Morris said, to hold their dresses together. I noticed that she never flexed her shoulders, so that the pins stayed in place, and wondered how many pin injuries Moravian women might have sustained.
The museum contains a music room, because music was very important to the Moravians, who sang as they worked, Morris said. The first recorded use of trombones in America was in 1754 in Bethlehem. Trombones were the primary musical instrument used for celebrations — and a funeral was a celebration.
Morris told us the story of an ailing woman who heard some anxious theological students practicing their trombones one day as she lay in her sickbed. “Those rascals,” the woman reportedly said. “I’m not dying.” And sure enough, she rallied to spite the students, who were removed from music duty.
Some blue and white Delftware jugs in the first doctor’s apothecary at the museum still contain some drugs. The room also features a 1788 “kranken stube,” a cushiony easy chair for the sick that’s a contrast to the bare wooden benches mostly used back then.
We headed outdoors for the rest of the tour. A death tray, on loan from the Central Moravian Church, lay sheltered in an archway near exposed log walls. Morris described the funeral ritual.
A body, covered by a white cloth and placed on the death tray, would be taken to the corpse house, which no longer exists but once stood near the Old Chapel, the original building of the Central Moravian Church. There was no embalming. The body would perhaps be kept in the corpse house for a few days “if relatives had to come” from afar, Morris said.