Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye: Tom Martin

Blog Post by Shayla Carey

This week, we lost a man who was just as much a part of Landis Valley as the Landis brothers, the Isaac Landis family, or the Zangari family (who lived in the Seed House).  Tom Martin passed away on Sunday, June 26, from causes unknown to this writer.  He was employed by the PHMC for twenty-two years.  He was an inspiration to those who knew and worked with him in the Tavern and I was privileged to have known him even just a little bit.

I first saw Tom in the Tavern.  I was a volunteer who came to the annual Holiday Bonfire at Landis Valley to drive the horses around.  At the end of the night, I learned that one of the staff members had organized a huge spread of food for all of the volunteers.  Cooked entirely in the Tavern, it consisted of pies, pig stomach, turkey, ham, breads, drunken cranberries, tarts, and other delicacies.  Tom had supervised the labor and had provided much of the meal.  We all stuffed ourselves into the room, lined up, and heaped as much of the meal onto our plates as we could.  Tom didn't eat much--he sat in a corner, arms crossed over his belly, and basked in the glow of warm fellowship and holiday good wishes, catching up with old friends and socializing with co-workers.  Occasionally, I heard his trademark staccato, "ha-ha-ha-ha," punctuate the overall conversation and wished I had heard the joke, too. I was too busy enjoying my food.

Time passed and I joined the museum as an intern.  I got to work closely with Tom when he was assigned interpretation of the Brick House.  He was working on a rye basket and I needed a diversion from a homework assignment so I asked him about his craft.  He responded by not only telling me about rye baskets (did you know that they were used by Pennsylvania Germans because mice don't care for them and therefore won't get to the food inside?), but by putting some extra rye into his long, water-filled trough and then showing me how to make baskets, too.  While we worked, we talked about many things besides history.  He told me how he liked interpreting at the quiet Brick House best of all, he told me that he used to make baskets to sell, he joked about how he was related to many of the Martins in Lancaster County and I found out that we shared some left-leaning views on politics.  We worked on that basket the next time I was at the Brick with him and I got pretty good at it.  Unfortunately, my internship ended before I could finish the basket and it still sits in my office.

Tom at the head of our Summer Institute
Cooking class table. I am to the right of him.
I got to work with Tom again when I became a staff member.  It was during Summer Institute and I took his cooking class.  I learned to roll and lift a pie crust, to make the best lemon ice cream ever (by using two metal bowls, some ice, and rock salt), to knead bread with a gentle hand, and that scrapple is best fried in bacon grease over the open fire.  We supped in the open air and I gained a whole new appreciation for Tom's talents, as well as a glimpse into his popularity among other historic foodways interpreters.

I saw Tom on other occasions after that.  He worked in the Crafts Barn, at the front desk, and at the Brothers' House, but I didn't really get to talk to him too much after my Institute class.  I took some pictures of him in costume over the years and I interviewed him for articles. When he became ill and took a leave of absence, I learned more about him through stories from our co-workers.  Now, I mourn his loss when I reminice with others and read comments on Facebook from all of the visitors and friends he inspired over the course of his career and his life. We've lost a true treasure and we will miss him. Goodbye, Tom.