By Suzanna Barucco
One of the honors of serving on the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board is the opportunity to represent the Commonwealth at historical marker dedications. I met some true marker scavenger hunters at one of these dedications and wanted to share their story. Interested in doing some marker hunting of your own? Take a trip to Harrisburg this week for PHMC’s annual Marker Scavenger Hunt inside the Farm Show Complex!
Marker dedications highlight significant people, places and events in Pennsylvania history. To me, they are equally important as a celebration of the truly grass-roots efforts of those who take it upon themselves to research and write a nomination.
It was while attending the dedication of a marker to commemorate the achievements of arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane that I met Marcie Reber and her dad, Mark Reber, Jr., and learned of their own explorations in search of historical markers in Pennsylvania. It touched me, and I wish I had thought to do this with my parents. I interviewed Marcie a few weeks ago to learn more about her and her father’s interesting hobby.
Tell me a little background information about yourself and your father.
My father, age 92, was born and raised in Berks County, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Pennsylvania State University, he accepted a job at Wyeth Laboratories in West Chester, (Chester County) and remained working at Wyeth for his entire career before retiring in 1987. My mother and dad were married and raised our family in Devon, Pennsylvania; making my father a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania. My path is somewhat similar having been born and raised in Chester County, graduating also from Penn State, and spending my adult life in Pennsylvania.
How did you and your father get started? What prompted your interest in historical markers?
My father first discovered the Historical Marker Program while browsing a local area bookstore in 1995. It was there that he purchased his first book, Guide to the State Historical Markers. My parents were avid day trippers and often took long weekends exploring the state of Pennsylvania once they both retired. This is when my dad’s marker enthusiasm started.
After my mother passed away in January 2015, I suggested to my dad that we re-start the marker search together. And so we did … this has been a wonderful way for my dad and I to spend time together while engaging in something that brings us both great pleasure. Although GPS has been a tremendous help, my dad will organize our day ahead of time and arrive in the passenger seat of my car loaded with his binder, camera and a map!
How many markers have you seen so far?
Approximately 900 markers and we have attended 11 dedications.
How do you find out about marker dedications?
After discovering that the second book, purchased in 2000, was becoming obsolete, he learned that all of the information concerning the marker program was available on the internet. It was from the PHMC’s web site that we discovered there were dedication ceremonies.
How does your father keep track?
As each marker is found, a photograph of the marker is taken along with a picture of the site itself if applicable. Once the photograph is developed it is placed in alphabetical order, by county, into a binder.
900 markers?! Must be a big binder!
What’s the farthest from home you’ve gone to see a Pennsylvania marker or attend a Pennsylvania marker dedication?
The farthest we travelled from home for a marker is Allegheny County (about 5 hours from Devon, PA). The farthest from home we travelled for a dedication was Wilkes Barre, PA (about 2 hours from Devon, PA).
How many counties have you visited?
Has “marker hunting” led to any other activities/interests? Have any marker subjects sparked any interest in further study about it or a related topic?
As finding the marker is always the goal, we have seen and learned an abundance of remarkable things along the way throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The journey is often what makes the day most fun when we head out for our marker discoveries. We often times return home to “Google” something we have discovered, but beyond that we have kept our main activity to marker hunting.
Do you and/or your father have a favorite marker? What makes it special to you?
It would be impossible to pick a favorite, but as a general rule my dad is more drawn to the markers with topics of exploration and industry, while I enjoy the markers with more pop culture interest.
Describe some of your experiences at dedications e.g. people you’ve met, things you’ve learned, unusual or surprising occurrences.
Each dedication we have attended has been unique into itself. Regardless of the simplicity of the dedication or those with much pomp and circumstance it is the common thread of the work and passion it takes to get a marker to its dedication day that binds them all together. The story behind getting the marker proposed along with the tireless hours it takes is always very interesting and makes the marker itself all that more special. We have enjoyed wonderful refreshments and fun entertainment at many of the dedications.
Are you running out of markers to visit within your travel range?
We have counties within a day trip range that we have seen every current marker, but there are still many on our list to find.
If you’re interested in some marker hunting of your own, make a trip to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg this to complete our ever-popular Marker Scavenger Hunt and meet PA SHPO staff at our booth. The Farm Show is open through Saturday, January 14, 2017. You can also check PHMC’s website for information on upcoming marker dedications.
Suzanna Barucco is a preservation consultant from Ardmore, Delaware County, and serves as Chair of the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board.