Prime night for museum

It was a prime night for the Chris Sanderson Museum Monday. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was a Brandywine Prime night. The restaurant, which shares part of its parking lot with the Sanderson, hosted a fun-raiser for the quirky little museum on Creek Road.

Restaurateur Michael Majewski often offers his place to help out the Sanderson and other local nonprofits. He said it started a few years ago when he received an email from museum Curator Chuck Ulmann saying the Sanderson needed some funds.

“I told Chuck I’d be happy to host an event,” Majewski said.

The food was free for those who donated to the museum Monday and Ulmann had high praise for Majewski, saying “He’s been very generous.”

But the night was about bringing more awareness to the museum and its namesake, Chris Sanderson, a local historian, collector and fiddler who lived from 1882 to1966. He was a longtime friend of Andy Wyeth, and Wyeth was one of the driving forces who turned Sanderson’s old home into a museum.

Sanderson’s collection features artifacts and newspapers dating from the Battle of Brandywine through the Civil War and up to the space age. Among the collection are a piece of bandage from Abraham Lincoln’s head wound after being shot by John Wilkes Booth and a purse that belonged to Jenny Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

But in talking about Sanderson to those who walked over to the museum Monday night, Ulmann focused on Sanderson the fiddler and gave a brief history of the Old Fiddlers’ Picnics held in Southern Chester County from the 1920s to the 1960s. Sanderson learned to play as a child and was a founder of the Pocopson Valley Boys.

The first picnic, according to Ulmann’s notes, was the 1921 Fiddlers’ Contest held at Crystal Springs Park in Quarryville. The first one held at Lenape was in 1923 and Sanderson’s first was in Parksburg in 1924. He was first formally invited in 1926.

That picnic began with a poem by John Russell Hayes who wrote: “As Christy Sanderson has said — what happy and friendly folks/ We meet at these old-time, Fiddlers' Days with their pleasant talk and jokes,” Ulmann read.

The events grew over the years to the point where, in 1931, up to 15,000 people were attending them.

According to Ulmann, George W. Hensel started Old Fiddlers Picnic and Contest and Sanderson honored Hensel in 1932 by presenting him with a wooden groundhog. Ulmann quoted Sanderson who reportedly said the statue: “was not a measly little Punxsutawney groundhog but a Lancaster County product from the top of the Welsh Mountain in the Conestoga Valley and made from one of the few chestnut trees to which George Washington did not tie his horse!”

Attendance at the picnics fell during WWII, but Sanderson began broadcasting them on WCOJ in 1949 and continued until his death. Ulmann finished his talk the way Sanderson would end the broadcasts: “May the God above bless you ... the devil of temptation miss you ... and the angels kiss you in your dreams.”

The museum is located at 1755 Creek Road in Chadds Ford. For more information, go here.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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One Response to “Prime night for museum”

  1. brandywinebard says:

    Great write-up on Chuck Ulmann too ~ a most awesome curator who does it all.

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