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House of Whirling Logs
The Legacy of White Indian John E. Vandersloot

The Indian Steps museum near Lancaster Pennsylvania is a profound testament to European American empathy for Amerindian people. The wealthy philanthropist built a tribute to Native Americans from across the nation and received embassies from chiefs and spiritual figures and was adopted by at least four tribes. The central room of the museum is a Hopi style sunken stone house from the Southwest, built with stone quarried on the other side of the nearby Susquehanna River, which waves lap the lawn of this grandly eccentric house.

The guide, quite a darling lady and a former school teacher, described in apologetics that the “swastika” over the door was a holy symbol called by one Pennsylvania tribe the House of Whirling Logs, with each of the open enclosures formed by the patterns being a totemic precinct.

I then related to here two other traditions of the symbol, the four quarters of the cycling cosmos and the eternity symbol, along with the story of how Wakashi, great chief of the Shoshone took his talisman, a disk with a swastika on one side, given to him in 1798 at his birth, to Medicine Wheel Mountain 40 years later on his chief-making quest.

The dear lady then looked at me, white beard and all, and asked, “Are you a Native American.”

I said, “No, I’ve just been out west.”

But as the tour continued it was plain to see that the woman is well acquainted with white Indians, as fully half of the Indian chief’s and princesses photographed around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries appeared to be Italian, Puerto Rican, or just plain Irish. The irony aside, Indian Steps museum is a testament to one man’s commitment to a universal human empathy that saw ethnic and cultural distinction as bridges for the soul, not the barriers of erasure which they have become.

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