For the past 30 years, I have had the pleasure of taking colleagues from an array of German universities to the shores of the Ohio to visit the last of the three homes of the Harmony Society in Old Economy Village.
The first prominent visitor from the German-speaking world, however, was Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, whose "Travels Through North America" featured the utopian settlement as a model society. The prince's account of his 1825 stay with the Harmonists so impressed the great writer Goethe that it became an important source for the idealized depiction of America in his last novel, "Wilhelm Meister's Travels."
Despite the extent of its historical and geographical reach, however, the site has again become the victim of economic hard times. As reported in Wednesday's Post-Gazette, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which preserved the society as a state museum by its purchase of 17 Harmonist buildings and some land in 1916, has now been forced to shut down our own National Historic Landmark ("Old Economy Faces Uncertain Future," Nov. 18).
As an officer of the Goethe Society of North America, I have often marveled at the artifacts, books and way of life that the Harmonists brought from their native Swabia to the frontiers of Western Pennsylvania. I would, therefore, encourage your readers to write their representatives on behalf of this unique cultural asset.
The "new economy" of our region should embrace Old Economy by developing an imaginative public-private partnership that would ensure a bicentennial celebration 15 years from now that is worthy of its remarkable heritage.
The writer is an associate professor of German at the University of Pittsburgh.