Roadside America

There’s a part of the 1950s America that people have forgotten in the modern world. It’s those roadside attractions that peppered the highways throughout America where people would stop while traveling here and there, whether near or far. You may be familiar with some – like Lucy the Elephant in New Jersey, or The Big Duck in New York, or the numerous Paul Bunyans in different areas of the US. These were attractions that would try to bring in people as they traveled across America in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Most of them died out over time, but a few have remained today (Lucy the Elephant is still around…).

One particular attraction on the East Coast that sticks in my memory and which has remained since it started in the early 1900s is one called Roadside America. It started out as a small display in the private residence of the Gieringers. As it gained in popularity (and got larger with his continual additions to it), it moved to another temporary location until the 1940s, when it moved to its current location in Shartlesville, PA (not far from my home town).

My childhood was filled with happy summer-time memories. We didn’t have that much money, and didn’t take long vacations to resorts, or fly to some coast. Our 2-week vacation was camping in the woods somewhere within driving distance. But peppered throughout the summer months were those occasional day trips my parents and grandparents took us on – day trips to locations that were educational in nature (yet still fun, even in childhood memory!). We learned about Daniel Boone by visiting his homestead. We learned about the early forge villages by visiting Hopewell Furnace. We learned all about President James Buchanan by visiting Wheatland. And for all these day trips we would play those games in the car – Grandpa would yell out “bridge over water!” and we’d have to lift our feet so they wouldn’t get wet. Or he’d yell “We’re going under a bridge!” and we’d have to duck our heads.

Yeah, we were gullible…

Roadside America was one of those day trips. And for some reason, it stuck in my memory all these years.

Imagine the little village under the Christmas Tree, with a train that runs around it, and little people standing, waiting for the train to come at the station; little buildings around the countryside under the tree…

Now imagine that the size of a dance hall, and you can imagine Roadside America, with lots of trains, trolleys, flying planes, water falls, pools, and anything else you can imagine. And around the outside are buttons you can press to make things work – like trains and trolleys and children in a playground. BUTTONS YOU CAN PRESS!! And everything was made from scratch and by hand by this one family over the span of 50 years.

Till we got there back in the 1970s, it was already old – but it was so impressive. We would walk around it watching everything that moved, studying the details of every building in miniature, gawking like children will. We’d press the buttons to make the trains go. We’d press the buttons to make the balloon fly. And then there was the “Night Pageant” (Yes, I said “pageant”) when the lights would dim to dusk, then to night time; all with patriotic music playing in the background. I remembered it ended with Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” as the lights slowly came back up to dawn and then full day as the pageant ended. It was marvelous! But surely it couldn’t possibly be anything like that anymore … nearly 40 years later!

I don’t even know what made me think of it, but one day I Googled it and was happy to find out it still existed. So Hubby and I took a day trip to find it exactly (EXACTLY) as I remembered it – right down to the old, musty smell of an old building, the missing letters from the front of the building, and the Night Pageant!

And Kate Smith never sounded so wonderful, crackling out of old speakers!

It was all sooooo kitschy – and I was amazed that it was exactly like I remembered it! It warmed my heart – and not just because of the musty smell, the old recording of Kate Smith, and the painted Statue of Liberty on the wall complete with billowing American flag (with a fan blowing on it) – but because now I can share that same childhood memory with everyone today!

For more information on Roadside America, check out their website at http://roadsideamericainc.com. And if you actually go to see it, tell them the Curious Bloke sent you! (They’ll have NO idea what you’re talking about, but what the hell!)

Advertisements