NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 22, Nos. 1-4, 1996
LITHUANIAN LANDSCAPES IN AMERICA:
YARDS, AND GARDENS IN SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA
by Gerald L. Pocius
Since childhood I have visited the homes of my Lithuanian-American
relatives—grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles in Scranton,
Pennsylvania. The city had been built by Anglos, but made wealthy by
the coal veins that flowed under an earlier landscape of iron smelters
and dairy farms. These veins were the life blood for thousands of
immigrants from the more exotic parts of Europe, people with strange
names who spoke strange languages. The wave of foreigners early in
this century (and the closing decades of the previous one) brought
thousands of East Europeans to northeastern Pennsylvania. From the
Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Hungary, as well as Lithuania they came, many
drawn to work in the mines that needed cheap labourers for dangerous
Today, Scranton is crumbling, desperately trying to find industries
to replace “King” Coal. The city always appeared to me to be the typical
American landscape, where initial material patterns had been determined
by the first wave of migrants—Yankee speculators whose descendants
became mining bosses—with later immigrants merely settled into the
existing landscape pattern. In fact, much like nineteenth-century Germans
in Texas that Lonn Taylor researched, it seemed that Scranton
immigrant groups (my Lithuanian ancestors included) had left behind
almost all of their material possessions (except for the amber necklace
my great grandmother brought to America with her), and basically appropriated
the existing American material world. Rejecting all that was
European was a clear sign that these new arrivals wanted to be seen
not as hyphenated Americans, but as real Americans. By necessity, language
still permeated the home, the school, and the church, but the
forces of the workplace soon created bilingual individuals, whose use
of English became as much a sign of adoption of their new land, as it
was a new practice that somehow would jeopardize identity.
The city of Scranton and the neighborhoods of my relatives seem to
be an acculturated landscape, an industrialized American city of the early twentieth century. Little if any visible East European culture appears
to have been transplanted, except, perhaps, for the occasional
church, and the ethnic social clubs and bars that still dot the city. The
typical Scranton house lots were unusually large to me, not in overall
size, but in their long narrow layout with gardens and outbuildings. I
found these a bit unusual, different from the smaller urban lots of
eighteenth-century cities. My full understanding of Scranton’s settlement
pattern and material life, however, came only after several research trips
to Lithuania from 1992 to 1994. During those visits, which partly
involved fieldwork on rural landscapes in different parts of the country,
the complexity of the Scranton pattern became clear. This paper details
the various aspects of Lithuanian material culture which I learned to
see in Scranton.
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