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Kelpius Society Hosts Summer Solstice Program at Philadelphia Museum of Art

by on June 16, 2013

Please join members of the Kelpius Society at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, June 22, 2013 atop the great steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for a free, special program that commemorates a 300-year-old summer solstice ceremony.

The event, which takes place at the east side forecourt at the top of the stairs overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, reenacts the historic arrival of a small group of German Pietists, led by Johann Kelpius, who settled in the Wissahickon in the late 1600s. The public is welcome to observe the summer solstice program and also learn about this fascinating Philadelphian, known in his time as the Wizard of the Wissahickon.

Kelpius Society Founder

Kelpius Society Founder

After a brief introduction from a Kelpius Society founder, architect Alvin Holm, the and other members will set up a long banner pole, creating a temporary sundial on the paved surface above the Museum steps, which will trace the morning shadow to determine the precise moment when the sun reaches its zenith on one of the longest days of the year.

On June 23, 1694, Johann Kelpius and his small band of German Pietists arrived in Philadelphia intending to establish a millennialist community in Philadelphia. When they sailed into port on the Delaware River it was the Eve of the Feast of Saint John, which coincides with the traditions of the June solstice. The group came straight away over to the Schuylkill where they took part in a Solstice bonfire ceremony on top of the most prominent hill, an area now known as Fairmount. Shortly afterward the religious group moved on to the Wissahickon Valley where they built their utopian settlement.

Today, very little is known about this small religious sect, and over the years its history has been clouded by pervasive legends, many of them popularized by 19th century Philadelphia authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and George Lippard. The modern day Kelpius Society is a 501c3 organization actively engaged in academic research, exploring Kelpius history, and in restoring and preserving the original Wissahickon site.


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  1. Mark permalink

    I really wish I paid more attention to things I heard when I was a kid.In the early 70’s while attending Daisy Day camp I got my first look at Hermits Cave. My grandfathers family was German and from Germantown and several times my grandfather mentioned the crazy wizards of the wissahickon. When I wandered around those woods I had a vision of a woman all in white that drew me back time and time again. I never told anybody because I didn’t want to be thought crazy. Had forgotten about it until a trip back to Roxborough brought back memories and some internet searching. Imagine my surprise to come across all of this and a book called The Woman in the Wilderness …

  2. Frederick W. Missimer permalink

    This obscure but interesting chapter in early American history is well worth promoting. From these seeds of human endeavor our culture took root and found its character. Please add me to your mailing list.

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