press photos by ed courrierEnthusiastic tourists, docents and driver line up by the tour bus in front of St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church at 617 E. Fourth St. Aug. 18. The Southside Bethlehem jaunt began at 9:30 a.m. The afternoon tour started at 1 p.m. at St. John’s. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Above: John C. Keyser and his wife Helen Varady Keyser view St. Michael’s Cemetery and other historic sites from the bus. The Keysers are Bethlehem residents and have attended several of the churches seen on the tour. Buss spent his childhood in Bethlehem, but now lives in Macungie. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
The participants in the afternoon tour were able to exit the bus and walk the grounds of St. Michael’s Cemetery on East Fourth Street. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Joe McCarthy, at center, provides a look into the history of Holy Infancy Roman Catholic Church at 312 E. Fourth St. He described the structure as gothic revival with high arches, peaked windows and repeating patterns. The stained glass windows and various paintings around the walls tells a visual story of Jesus, in keeping with a tradition. “Going back to the Middle Ages, people couldn’t read or Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Holy Infancy’s vintage 1888 pipe organ is perched in front of a 28-foot-high stained glass window. Services are still delivered in English, Portuguese and Spanish for multicultural parishioners who are descended from Irish, Portuguese and Mexican immigrants, according to Joe McCarthy. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Bethlehem Steel tour guides from left, John Weiss and Joe Mayer, both former steelworkers, provide insight into the “Steel” portion of the morning’s journey. Here they tell the story of a 60-foot, 188,000-pound gun manufactured at the high house behind them for the battleship USS Mississippi in 1919. The gun could fire a 14-inch diameter shell that weighed 1,800 pounds. The projectile could travel Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Frank Podleiszek holds up a photograph of a Windish funeral where the mourners are gathered around an open casket at St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church. “Most of these people had relatives living in Slovenia. They would take a picture and send it over there, so they could have closure,” said Podleiszek of the unusual photo op. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
To reach the extremely high pulpit, the pastor had to climb this steep stairway. “I wouldn’t call them steps, I’d call them footprints,” said Frank Podleiszek. It is no longer in use because the pastor had a leg amputated after it was injured by a car door. Podleiszek, who sings in Windish for church services, stopped climbing them to perform after he had heart surgery. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Watercolor artist Jean Perez with prints and cards of her work at St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church. The retired Bethlehem elementary teacher staffed a table at the church’s open house in the Kaiser Auditorium. The event was held in conjunction with the day’s tours. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Maureen Dresen with bookmarks featuring photographs from inside Southside churches. She also holds up a reprint of the 1915 “So. Bethlehem Semi-Centennial” souvenir publication. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
Mary Karol, Maria Skrilec and Debbie Smith cheerfully serve up generous portions of goulash to provide an opportunity for visitors to taste history after the morning’s tour. As part of the tour package, lunch was enjoyed in the auditorium at St. John’s at the end of the bus ride. Copyright - © Ed Courrier
At center, congregant and former steelworker Frank Podleiszek, introduces the tour group to the history of St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church. He also described how the Windish people settled into Slovenia before emigrating to the United States to work at Bethlehem Steel, area cigar factories and silk mills. St. John’s was founded in 1910. The pulpit hovering over the alter is almost Copyright - © Ed Courrier
‘Steeples and Steel’ tours keep South Bethlehem history alive
When the 19th century immigrants flocked to Bethlehem to work, first in the iron works, then later as steelworkers, they brought their families along. These families arrived with steamer trunks, suitcases and their religious beliefs as well. Since many did not speak English, the Windish, Germans, Italians, Hungarians, and those from other ethnic backgrounds clustered together in segregated neighborhoods to be around folks who spoke the same language as they did.
Soon churches and a few synagogues sprang up in those ethnic neighborhoods.
To connect today’s generation to the stories and places of those who came before, the Steelworkers’ Archives launched the “Steeples and Steel” bus tours several years ago. According to Susan Vitez from the Archives, one church or cemetery is entered during each bus tour. Afterward, a Bethlehem Steel plant site is explored. The tour package also includes a tasty meal of goulash, bread and kiffles.
The morning tour Aug. 18 found Don Elliott from the South Bethlehem Historical Society narrating the “Steeples” part with a visit to Holy Infancy Roman Catholic Church at 312 E. Fourth St. Former steelworker John Weiss and Steelworkers’ Archives President Joe Mayer handled the morning “Steel” tour, including a stop at where gun barrels for battleships were manufactured. Steelworkers’ Archives is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Bethlehem Steel and its links to the surrounding community.
There are four more “Steeples and Steel” tours scheduled for 2018. A 9:30 a.m. and a 1 p.m. tour is planned for Sept. 15 and again Nov. 3. For information, visit steelworkersarchives.com.