The Bone Rattler: Michael N. Gery

Michael N. Gery – The Bone Rattler



Hereford, Jan. 29 (Special). — Michael N. Gery, aged 88 years, who had been dubbed as the state champion bone rattler and old-time frolic fiddler, was buried from his home near this place. Services were held at the house, Rev. James N. Blatt, Reformed pastor of Huff’s Church, officiating. Further services were held at Huff’s Church, where interment was made.

Five sons and a son-in-law were the bearers at the house, as follows: Sons, Alfred, Allentown; John, East Greenville; Horace and James, this place, and Charles, East Macungie; son-in-law, Charles Roeder, Sigmund. At the church six members of Harlem Castle, No. 335, K.G.E. were the bearers. The remains reposed in an oak casket with plate inscribed “Father.” Undertaker William H. Dimmig, East Greenville, had charge.

The funeral was one of the largest held at Huff’s Church in many years, deceased having had a large acquaintanceship. At the time of his death he was treasurer of the Gery Family Reunion Association, and members of the clan knew him as “a young old man,” for even in recent years not a family meeting was held without the deceased giving an exhibition of bone rattling, violin playing and jig dancing.

Road Supervisor 20 Years.

For 20 years Mr. Gery served his township as road supervisor and was one of the first men in lower Berks county to foster the movement for better roads, improving them with the use of road machinery and macadamized material.

About 65 years ago he gained notoriety at the then old-time country frolics, where the lads and lassies of the rural communities gathered at the rural hotels and engaged in jigs and hops. He and his brothers, and later his sons, would sit on top of barrels and store boxes and fiddle and rattle the bones, while the buxom swains reeled around the pretty country maidens on the pewter sanded floors of the dining rooms of the roadside hotels.

None knew better how to cater to this — one of the earliest amusements of social life — 60 and more years ago, in the Pennsylvania German communities. In one evening, Gery and his family would get from $10 to $30 to play the jigs and reels, including such old-time frolic music as the “Kutztown Reel” and “Fisher’s Hornpipe.” Gery was a past master in calling out the dance gestures and every young man and woman knew what he meant when he bellowed forth his figures. Many a time would he throw the fiddle to his eldest son and then take the floor himself and dance until midnight. The last time he appeared in public with his bones in his hands was at the annual Gery reunion last fall, where he showed an audience of 3,000 persons that he still was able to bring forth real old-fashioned music, though he was four-score years and eight.

Had Attractive Offers.

When still quite young he had offers of $100 per week from shows and at one time refused a most flattering offer to appear at the then well-known amusement house in Philadelphia, “Carncross & Dixie,” because his father would not consent to his absence from home.

With his family he conducted many years an orchestra of string and wind instruments, as every one of his sons and daughters were musicians. He also helped to organize a number of orchestras and was well known in musical circles in lower Berks and upper Montgomery counties.

He was an expert in telling Pennsylvania German stories and jokes and whenever he came to the crossroads store he kept the farmers in a jolly mood. Then he also kept up a record of a Sullivan in his community for two generations. He was a man who never sought a quarrel, but during the country dance era such fights among the young folks were of frequent occurrence, and “Mike” Gery acted as peacemaker at a score of the most important fights, where he had to use his fists to impress his peace arguments. Only once in his long career did he get licked, and then he fought single-handed a dozen assailants and laid eight of them on the floor before he went sprawling himself.

He is survived by six sons and two daughters and many grandchildren, among them Francis Ritter, a grandson, who is able to take the grandfather’s place at bone rattling and keep it up with the enviable record the grandfather made during more than 65 years of experience.

Reading Eagle – Jan 29, 1917

The Hereford Literary Society Reunion – 1903

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7 Responses to “The Bone Rattler: Michael N. Gery”

  1. Kitty Pherson Says:

    Michael N. Gery was my grandmother’s grandfather. She lived to be over 100 years old and remembered him well. Her name was Jennie (Viola) Rader and her mother was Emma, a daughter of Michael N. Gery. She often told me stories of how well he could play the bones–under his legs, around his back and behind his head; he also played the fiddle. His sons were musical as well, but Michael’s wife and other women in the family pooh-poohed it (maybe just a little, I guess). My grandmother had no photos of Michael, but one day I was able to get a copy of a photo of him from the Schwenkfelder Library. So I took the photo to my grandmother and showed it to her–I never told her who it was. I was hoping she could identify him, and she did. She excitedly said that it was him, and again told me the wonderful story of how fun he was and how well he could play those bones–he was real entertainment in his time.

    • mrstkdsd Says:

      Wow, thank you for relating your family connection. He seems to have been quite a talented fellow. How fun it would have been to see and hear him play! Since doing this post, I have become hooked on “The Kutztown Reel,” and listen to it all the time.

  2. CoalCracker Says:

    Thank you so much for this article. David Covely, the deceased spouse of Polly Gery, was my great great grandfather. His son Joseph Covely, born 10.02.1864, died 02.26.1897, was my great grandfather. He left a young widow, Mary nee Wetzel, who remarried George G. Stengel. I am trying to research David Covely’s parents.

  3. Kitty Pherson Says:

    I do not know the names of David Covely’s parents; would like to find that out. I show Joseph Covely as born Oct. 2, 1863 and died Feb. 26, 1892–you show 1864 and 1897–are you sure your dates are correct? Also, do you know birth/death dates of Mary Wetzel? I show her born in Jan. 1871. Thanks.

  4. CoalCracker Says:

    I checked my records and the year of birth is 1863. The date of death, 02.26.1897, is from the Register of Wills, Berks Co., recorded on 05.08.1897, Vol. 1, P. 87, L.11.

    The dates I have for Mary Wetzel (Covely) Stengel are b. 01.17.1871, d. 12.02.1946, buried in Longswamp Union Cemetery. The source for this is a copy of transcriptions from the Berks Co. Historical Society.

    I have the research of somebody who is researching the Covely line that shows the parents of David are William Covely and Mary Anna nee Bachman. The research shows William died 12.27.1844 and Mary died 03.01.1848 in Berks Co. (I have no verification of these dates.)

  5. Deb Gery Says:

    Interesting. My husband’s name is Larry Gery and his father and brother were John Michael (after this man) Gery. Michael was his great-grandfather. Larry often talks of the musical influence of his late family. He believes he is the last in his close family to carry the name Gery, as his brother had daughters and we have no children.

    • Kitty Pherson Says:

      Deb: Thanks for your message and I’ve finally found another Gery connection! I was wondering if there were any other Gerys left around here….do you have any family photos? Thanks, Kitty Pherson

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