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» Wednesday, November 11, 2009True Colors
I was rudely interrupted in the middle of the night with cramps, nausea, and the expected result thereof. I will draw a veil over the rest, except to say that I read several more chapters of History Detectives. When I finally did get back to bed it was hard to fall asleep because my feet were ice cold, even though I had managed to get up at least once for my slippers and the fleece throw that is doubling as a robe. (It's actually Schuyler's heavy cage cover.)
All this is to explain why we started out very late this morning, about 10:30, traveling to Easton to see the Crayola crayon "factory."
I had looked up directions on Google Maps (and like Google Maps now, better than Mapquest, because it shows you alternate routes), but we programmed "Gertrude" (the voice on the GPS unit is a female) to take the shortest route. "She" sure did, through about fifty miles of Pennsylvania countryside.
But I have to say it was nice. Traffic was minimal; even going through a few small towns, there was little obstruction. I don't think we went any slower than 45 mph. And it was a pretty ride, miles of little farms, country acres, and homes that by-and-large had porches or stoops decorated with autumn bounty: pumpkins, scarecrows, big planters full of chrysanthemums and/or zinnias in fall colors, some banners or ribbons, or berries or branches. But the route was so inscrutable that I didn't figure out where we were until we emerged on the outskirts of Bethlehem, already decorated with Christmas stars.
Easton is a small, bustling city with a central square park crowned with a huge Civil War memorial topped by a Union soldier. The Crayola souvenir store is on the corner as you drive in, with the "factory" portion, which shares space with a canal museum (this LeHigh Valley area was the site of the last regularly-working canal in the US, which closed after World War II; Erie still hosts tourists, but it's not considered a business waterway any longer, although apparently business traffic is increasing on it again) two doors away.
I'd read some lukewarm reviews about the Crayola tour, and they were pretty much right. There really isn't a factory tour anymore, and they don't even have a cute little ride like at Hershey. All you do is go in a room and a person shows you how crayons are molded and labeled, and how the markers are put together. There is also a tiny exhibit of retired and renamed colors (the "Wall of Fame") and a history of Crayola milestones. I did have curiosity satisfied: they had some actual slate pencils. After having read the Little House books and other 19th century novels featuring slate pencils, I'd wondered what they looked like! Not at all like chalk!
The rest is geared toward kids, and I wouldn't even recommend it because it's really lackluster: the kids can color, cut out and paste paper, model clay, draw with different types of markers, play with sidewalk chalk, and paint, just like they can do at home. Why spend money to do it? Nothing is aimed at adults, which is odd as since Crayolas are over 100 years old, grandparents and parents, and especially Baby Boomers, have a great connection with Crayola crayons. We were not the only adults there without children, and we goofed off using some of the coloring stuff, but why not a room for adult questions? The guy who showed the crayon production line couldn't even answer questions about why Crayola crayons smell like no other crayon. We had questions like: where does Crayola get the pigments for the crayons? do they buy from outside pigment suppliers or make their own? how are the crayons blended? How about a hall with some vintage Crayola ads, or memories of the workers? (We did see a photo of one worker, a woman who, before Crayola invented the automatic labeler, did nothing but hand-label Crayola crayons 10-12 hours a day for 19 cents an hour and no health insurance at all.) They showed a couple of vintage boxes and had a television showing a couple of old commercials and that was it. Bleah.
The canal museum is also chiefly geared at kids. Lots of hands-on things, like how the lock system workswe did this and it was fun. There was a more adult-oriented game about earning a living as a canal-boat captain for a week, but everything else was kid-sized and simple, no real history imparted at an adult level exceptand I found this ironicabout the railroads that eventually drove the canals out of business!
We picked up a couple of things in the gift shop, then paid for our parking and were back off down I-78 lickety split. It was 2:30 already, and we were trying to make Roadside America in good enough time to have a long look around before they closed at five. I-78 runs through rolling farmland, so we had a lovely ride even though the skies were solidly grey.
You could describe Roadside America as "a big train layout," but it's not about the trains. It's about miniature villages. As a small boy, Laurence Gieringer fell in love with miniature villages, and as he grew older, he began to create his own, whittling houses, carriages, animals, etc. His family helped him. As the collection grew, he had it in a barn, then it was featured in a newspaper story. Eventually the village grew so large that a building was created for it and admission charged to see it. Gieringer died in the 1960s, but the family still cares for the village and operates it as an attraction.
A whole web page with photos about the place.
When we took the aforementioned Colette bus tour in 1974, this was one of the places we visited. I loved it then and still adore it; it's an enchanted landscape where a 1950s community goes hand-in-hand with an old fashioned circus, a pioneer village, a funicular up to a skiing and skating resort, a Native American village nestled in the trees, an 1890s town, an Italian church on a hill, a coal mine, a limestone quarry, a fox hunt, several farms, an elevated trolley, a biplane buzzing the airport, a balloon launch, and, oh, yeah, lots of trainsand more. At the press of a button, animals move, coal is tipped from a car, trolleys run, trains whiz around their track, and other things move. Hymns are sung from the church at the 1950s village.
And every half hour the "sun" sets, the room purples and then darkens, stars twinkle from the sky as the lights in the various buildings wink out one by one, the "Star-Spangled Banner" is played, and then Kate Smith sings "God Bless America." If you are a sentimental slob like me, as the lights come back on in the buildings and the sun rises, you are left sniffling and teary.
We checked out the gift shop (it's a State Law) and bought a hex sign for the house. Would you believe there is one with autumn leaves and acorns on it? LOL. They represent long life, strength and endurance (ours noted "good health" as well). The cashier said they had expected a larger crowd today, but evidently a lot of people didn't get the day off. The kids weren't even off school. It's like that in Georgia, too.
We drove back to Royersford in the twilighta bright scarlet line on the horizon despite the cloudsand in the dark to find the hotel staff serving hot dogs and hamburgers as part of their Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday "Sundowner" program. We hadn't had lunch, just a bag of trail mix, so this meant we didn't have to go out for supper.
And now we're watching television.
One more thing.
If you were able to talk freely today, whether you agreed with your government or not, you did so because people were willing to fight for your freedom. If you were able to travel within the United States today without papers and passports, it's because someone was willing to fight for your right to do so. If you could pick up a book today and read anything, even a book that was highly subversive, you did so because someone fought for your freedom to do so. If you can type tonight on the internet and call the president an idiot or the last president an idiot, it's because someone defends your right to do so.
To all our veterans, everywhere: Thank you.