Beccaria Legends

‘In my little town of Beccaria in the central Pennsylvania mountains, we had a little church, and it was the center of our “so-called religious and social life” and so whatever happened in that church would be pretty powerful for me, even through my high school years as I think back on it. But what was a little different in this Evangelical culture that I grew up in was that every summer there would be something called “Evangelism Week”. There were these men who may not have even ever gone to seminary or bible school… But they had a certain amount of skill, and they were Evangelists. For one week we would go to church every night and they would preach. That preaching was always fire and brimstone… It was always how everybody in Beccaria was sinful, was bad, was going to go to hell for sure… everything that might be fun, like square dancing… or never mind any other kind of dancing… listening to country western music or wearing lipstick or makeup of any kind… having your hair permed or going to the movies… which was our main form of entertainment… That was all work of the devil. The devil was a very real kind of figure… a mystical evil legend and thing that was just ready to pop out in this 300-person population town. It was very real to me and very powerful to everyone in Beccaria. This has definitely affected me my whole life. I’m a very dutiful and prim person because of these tales told of the devil each Evangelism week. In the families that were pious, their children were damaged by that, like my cousins. I didn’t think about it as mystical when I was a kid, but it really was. But we would go… we would sit at it every year… every summer through high school. They would preach to us these tales in the pulpit and they would be very explosive, dynamic, and loud when they acted out these stories. It was always legends about the devil, nothing about Jesus or the “good parts of Christianity.” To think that I am almost 90 years old… it haunts me still… it’s as vivid to me as anything… it was the dark side.’ – VB

VB would hear these tales of the devil each summer growing up from groups of men who came to her little town of Beccaria, Pennsylvania. It was tradition for her family, and even her own parents grew up attending the same Evangelism week. This single week each summer practically dictated the way VB decided to live her life and how she wanted to raise her own children. The influence these tales and legends about the devil had on her practically consumed her whole childhood, and even decades later, she still thinks about it. She reminisced on the fact that after this week, she would refuse to go to any more Saturday night square dances, and even skip out on the Sunday afternoon movie showings, out of fear of damnation. It would take months for this influence to wear off before she would even consider going out to have a moment of fun. VB gave an anecdote that these preachings had a generational impact, her parents, grandparents, and even her cousins al felt affected by Evangelism week. As stated in the paraphrase of her story, she lives a dutiful life, raising her children to do so as well. However, she recalls that when her daughter married a “fun-loving” man, it truly changed a lot of her own perspective on religion and the way lives should be lived… allowing her to accept the fun times and move past the idea of entertainment being sinful.

My initial understanding of this story told by VB was that she grew up in a very small religious town, and with the Evangelism week was an opportunity for the church to instill fear into the townspeople to control their behaviors. This follows the stereotypes that I grew up learning about small “middle of nowhere” towns such as Beccaria Pennsylvania. However, a lot of religious folklore was present in Beccaria with this local tradition and annual ritual for the community. As folklore does, it brought the community together, sharing the same ideas and beliefs to all that would listen. Additionally, this story told by VB shows how oral tradition can shape beliefs of the entire community who listened, something folklore has been known to do. Additionally, much folklore has gestures and is performed, and as VB recalls, the preachers served a fiery sermon with animated gestures, practically making it into a performance. This folklore allowed the residents of Beccaria to shape their way of lives and have a collective experience together. While folklore is usually thought of in the sense of fairytales and mythical legends, it often can be used in a fear-mongering sense as it is here. Not only has this folklore been passed down from VB’s ancestors, but VB continued to spread this oral tradition to her own family, even though she was far from her hometown of Beccaria, no longer attending the Evangelism week.