The Lore – and Lure – of an All-American Almanac
“Baer’s 2014 Agricultural Almanac & Gardener’s Guide,” published in Lancaster, Pa., may credibly be called the most authentic almanac of its kind, being a locally written product since its beginnings in Lancaster County in 1828.
The difference between this handsome 96-page booklet and others with a similar bent on the market lies mainly in its no-advertising policy, since others, too, rely on practical advice as well as humor, odd bits of history, and information on a wide variety of subjects. “That’s one of the things people like best about it,” says current publisher Linda Lestz Weidman, a Lancaster native. As a result, she suggest, the ‘old style’ format, remains uncluttered and appears completely traditional in approach.
Almanacs aren’t entirely an American invention but they played a vital part in our nation’s history. Poor Richard’s Almanack started by Benjamin Franklin is one of the best-known, beginning in 1732 and continuing until 1758, when the population of the colonies was largely agrarian in nature. The earliest American almanac, in fact, was begun in Rhode Island in 1728 by James Franklin, Benjamin’s brother.
As part of its tradition, Baer’s focuses on calendar events, such as national weather predictions by the month culled from what the publisher likes to call “secret” astronomical and astrological tables.’ An eclectic mix of recipes, biography and botanical information changes with each year’s edition. There is a convenient page listing comparative weights and measures and another explaining how to use the almanac and understand it. The latter is a lot about signs and symbols and their meaning – easy to skip if you prefer learning the history of the sunflower (first domesticated by the American Indian) and finding out that Hawaii is the only state in the country to grow coffee.
Another difference: Baer’s lore reflects its Pennsylvania-Dutch heritage. Readers will find, and perhaps puzzle over, such names as “Amos Appleschnitz’ – titular author of a page giving ideal planting times for crops. ‘Abner Americanus’ offers jokes and sayings good for dropping into your next speech.
John Baer, who was born in Lancaster County in 1797, had built up a large and prosperous publishing operation before acquiring an earlier version of the present day pamphlet. He is probably better known as publisher of the first large folio Bible published in America, points out Mrs. Weidman, daughter of the almanac’s rescuer, Gerald Lestz. The late Mr. Lestz, a Lancaster newspaperman who was enthralled by local people and history, took the almanac over from a local family in 1948. It now boasts a circulation of 10,000 copies annually – the same as what ‘Poor Richard’ (pseudonym for Benjamin himself) claimed in his day.
The almanac will soon be available at Harriets’ General.
—- Ann Geracimos (Pennsylvania native now living in Washington, D.C.) See her blog at www.urbanities.us