York Town Square

Part of the USAToday Network

Memoir of early-American dancer John Durang highlights event

It’s a white-glove event that intrigues every year. The York County Heritage Trust’s “Treasures of the Trust” brings to public view items from its collection not currently on display.
It featured a range of items, including stuffed animals sent by Harold E. Miller to his daughter, Jean, shortly before the soldier was killed in World War II Europe.
Roy Young, a former York Safe and Lock worker, had donated a 37 mm M-51 tank shell manufactured at this major World War II defense plant, now home to Harley-Davidson.
Those attending also saw Fiebing’s Saddle Soap, used to care for saddles and harnesses of horses used to pull fire equipment in turn-of-the-20th-century York. The soap kept the leather from drying out.
And all kinds of other neat stuff, plus tours of storage areas. …

John Durang’s Memoir was one of the most intriguing parts of the collection. According to the Trust’s program, Durang, a York resident in his early years, has been credited as the first native-born professional dancer on the American stage. He was also a singer, mime, tightrope walker, puppeteer, painter, manager and actor. Durang, 1768-1822, illustrated his memoir with various colorful drawings. His son has been linked to the National Anthem, as described below in the excerpt from “Never to be Forgotten.”
If this much good stuff is in storage, you can imagine the interesting artifacts on display at the Trust’s five sites. I suspect if you would like a copy of the colorful “Treasures of the Trust” program, you could inquire at www.yorkheritage.org.
1814: York
“Star-Spangled Banner” played
Ferdinand Durang, son of stage pioneer and former county resident John Durang, plays a role in the development of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One account, disputed today, follows: Francis Scott Key reads the words of his poem celebrating the United States’ perseverance in the bombardment of Fort McHenry to a tavern crowd. Ferdinand Durang, a soldier in a company of Pennsylvania militia, hears the recitation. He grabs a flute and plays from a volume of music until “Anacreon in Heaven” gains his attention. “Note after note fell from his puckered lips,” one history states, “until with a leap and a shout, he exclaimed ‘Boys, I’ve hit it!’ and fitting the tune to the words, there rang out for the first time the song of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'” A historian later wrote Durang’s involvement is a vexing question that will cause historians to squabble for years. “No one seems to deny, however, that Ferdinand Durang was the first person to sing it in public, with Charles (his brother) leading the chorus.” In fact, the Durang brothers and their father spotlight the song on a tour. Ferdinand, a member of the Bowery Theatre Company, died in 1831. Charles, connected for years with the Philadelphia theater, died in 1870.
– “Never to be Forgotten”