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Behalt: The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center

Story by Kate Minnich: Amish Heartland Writer / Designer Published: April 1, 2016 5:00 AM
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Visitors to the Amish Heartland of Ohio come with questions in regards to the culture of Amish and Mennonite people. Behalt: The Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center was established as a means of preservation and knowledge of the Mennonite and Amish culture. The center welcomes all visitors and is capable of answering any questions guests may have about the culture.

Perhaps the largest and most elaborate display at Behalt was created by Heinz Gaugel who moved to Holmes county in 1972; impressed by the Amish and Mennonite culture’s denouncement of war . The  artist Heinz Gaugel, took an interest in the peaceful way of life the Mennonite and Amish culture emphasized and began the center as it is known today.  After Heinz Gaugel’s experience as a German solider during World War II, he devoted his life to peace and his art. Only 15 years old when drafted by Hitler’s army, Heinz received little trained and was eventually injured in battle. The horrific experience of the war led Heinz to reject war and yearn for peace. Heinz immigrated to Canada with the close of the war and began to complete various pieces of art in different mediums.

The Behalt Cyclorama, or mural in the round, is Heinz’s largest work within the center.  It depicts the history of the Anabaptists or the group of people we now recognize as Mennonite and Amish. The mural measures ten feet in height, and stretches 265 feet along the circumference of the room. Heinz painted the mural by himself over the course of 14 years and depicted over 1200 historical people.

The mural illustrates the history of the church beginning with Christ and continues through  Luther’s period, the Baptist movement and the separation of the Mennonites and Amish churches. Painted in a multi-layered design the images in the mural overlay one another, giving the impression of depth. “Every time I look at it, I see something I had not noticed before,” remarked Mark Oliver of the Behalt Museum. When first gazing upon the mural, the larger than life figures grab the attention, but then as visitors begin to examine the piece smaller details become apparent such as an intimate funeral scene.

Different ribbons of colors running through the mural are used to represent the mood of events. Red pieces are woven into the portions of persecution those of Mennonite and Amish culture endured, further conveying the anguish and pain represented through the images.  

The newest addition to Behalt is a library built by the community for the preservation of the written word as passed down through the Mennonite and Amish cultures. Originally housed in the Ohio Amish Library, the collection of documents and books were well cared for, but the facility lacked accessibility for the community. Recognizing the need to preserve the documents for future generations, the community pulled together and built the library within Behalt.

Newly finished, the library boasts beautiful shelving, a fireplace, worktables and a vault. Lining the shelves are books and documents printed or written by or about Amish & Mennonite people containing genealogy information, church newsletters and so much more. The wealth of knowledge extends into the vault where the especially precious items are kept under strict climate conditions. Items may be kept within the vault depending on their monetary value, age or if the item is in a fragile state.

Wishing to share the items with the community while preserving their condition, a select number of items can be viewed through a glass window. One among the number is a 1531 Froschauer Bible, which is based on Luther’s translation and beloved by Anabaptists. The Bible is in remarkable condition with little visible damage and a beautiful preserved title page prominently displayed.

Other pieces recently added to the Behalt collection include hymnals and various materials from The Budget. Hymnals have been in use within the Amish community since 1564 and Behalt now houses one of each edition excluding six. These small leather bound books are on display in a center console with an information plate on each edition. Beyond a complete collection of Budget newspapers, Behalt has also obtained typeface, advertising slides and other materials now associated with early methods of printing. The advertising slides currently on display are those that would have been played through a projector at an early movie theatre.

Upon its grounds, Behalt maintains a schoolhouse and barn both of which are available for tours. The schoolhouse is an authentic one-room schoolhouse used between 1857 and 1951. During this time everyone attended a one-room schoolhouse and Amish children went to school alongside English children. It was not until the large public schools became popular that the Amish began teaching their children privately. In the spring of 2003 the building was moved to the Behalt grounds and restored. The schoolhouse is set up as it would have been when it was open with the desks, stove and even the rope to ring the school’s bell.  

The barn at Behalt was built in the typical Amish fashion in order to exhibit how a barn raising is conducted. Within the barn it is explained how the actual barn raising itself only takes an afternoon, but the preparation for the event takes multiple days. Enough timbers and wooden pins have to be prepared to construct the entire barn before the raising begins.

Protected within the barn are a historic wagon and two buggies. The wagon is one used to transport an Amish settlers to Holmes County from Pennsylvania. Visitors can expect to learn about the journey out west from the capabilities of the wagon to the route early settlers would have taken the wagon . Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of early settlers moving out west, the wagon was not used to carry the family. Only their positions could fit in the narrow bed of the wagon, leaving the family to walk beside or in front of the horse.

Receiving visitors from all over the world, Behalt is continually surprised by the distance their name and influence has traveled. Next to the entrance a running tally of where visitors have traveled from reports 25 countries represented in 2016 alone. The list conveys the well-known countries such as England and Mexico, but also on the list are Kenya, Bangladesh and Slovenia.

Behalt derived from the German word, behalten, translates to remember or to keep. Behalt Museum was created with the intention of answering questions about and preserving the culture of the Amish and Mennonite people. After a tour and short film, visitors are welcome to browse the gift shop where further literature is available.

Behalt is located at 5798 Co. Rd., 77, Millersburg, Oh 44610. They are open Monday through Saturday; March-November, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; December-February, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Closed every Sunday. For more information call 330-893-3192. Visitors have the option of a mural tour or a mural and outbuilding tour. Group tours should be scheduled in advanced.

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