Ausflug 28

Pennsylvania Weekend

July 27-28th, 2002

We had a great plan. To wit: drive up to Millersburg, Pennsylvania, just north of Harrisburg for the July 27th Volksmarch, do the Year Round Event in nearby Hershey, stay overnight in the area, do the Lebanon Volksmarch on Sunday the 28th, and finish up with the YRE in Lititz on our way back home. So we had a solid breakfast of ham and mushroom omelets and left about 730. It took us about 2 hours to get to Harrisburg and another half an hour to get to the start/finish at Millersburg.

The start/finish of the Millersburg walk was in a park that I could never have found if it hadn’t been marked for the walk. After signing in with the folks at a pavilion, our first loop was along a nature trail that followed the banks of an old canal. There was no information along the way, so I’m not sure why and when the canal was dug, but the depression was still there and at least one wall of cut stone that could have been the side of a lock, I suppose. We walked back by the pavilion and crossed a nice little suspension bridge to get into the town from the park. As we walked along the riverfront park, we saw a curious-looking ferry crossing the Susquehana. A real paddle-wheel boat with a wood cabin was lashed to a barge-like affair that was barely supporting 3 cars, and this whole contraption was coming our way across the river! So naturally I started taking pictures as this ensemble approached the shore and made an awkward pivot so that the cars could drive off the barge. In fact they had two men in the bow with poles that they jammed into the rocks to fix the bow and let the stern pivot around in order to make the turn. A sign said it was the last real paddle-wheel ferry, and it certainly looked like an antique, but I’d like to go for a ride on it someday. The paddle wheel does make sense as this is an extremely shallow part of the river—we saw fishermen wading in the middle of it. For water that shallow, a regular propeller drive would be impractical—in fact, it’s the only place outside of the Florida Everglades that I saw flat-bottomed airboats with their large airplane propellers lined up on the shore.

From the ferry landing we walked through town up to the high school and a small fair in honor of Ned Smith a wildlife illustrator. There was also a small Ned Smith museum we passed in town, and I got the impression that he was a local boy who made good by painting covers for hunting and conservation magazines. There was a collection of them in the school foyer, and they really were quite nice although hunting is just not my thing—I keep thinking about the degree of sentience of the game and empathizing with their emotional state, which is absolutely the opposite view from game hunting. We zigzagged through the small town to see all the high points and then took a long loop on the outskirts to get back to the start/finish.

The Hershey walk started at Bullfrog Pond Park and was a figure-8 type of walk with two loops. Our first walk was along a wooded hiker-biker trail made from an old railroad bed. The railroad had carried brownstone from more than 10 local quarries out to the market until the 1930s, when cheaper brick put the quarries out of business. Being a railroad bed, the inclines were quite gradual and we had nice, cool forests for most of the first part of the walk. We branched off to an adjacent park with an old but well-preserved barn, probably to make up distance, and then walked the other loop where the trail was located beside a street and lead past a dairy farm to the Hershey medical center. There were few trees on the second section, so we were rather hot and ready to quit at the end, but I had an idea for a nice relaxing evening.

I had noticed on our way from the hotel to Hershey that an old-fashioned, single-screen theatre in Annville was playing “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. My friend Debbie had seen it with her family and given it a rave review, so I proposed that we come back after the Hershey walk and see if we could take it in. When we arrived around 6, the box office was closed, but we found the start time of 7:30 on a board that was facing the inside of the theatre rather than the outside! So we had time to kill and wandered down the street looking for a place to have dinner. We finally settled on a kind of fast-food Italian restaurant. The cuisine was Italian and our spaghetti was quite good, but you ordered and paid at the counter just like a McDonald’s. The food came, however, in two courses, a salad/breadsticks course and the main course. Each time they just yelled out “spaghetti dinners!” and we were supposed to come up to the counter and pick up our next course. However, we did have real plates, salad bowls, and silverware plus fake flowers on the table! The salad was small but good, and the breadsticks seemed fresh-baked and were garnished some kind of cheese and “not too garlicky” adds Monika. Monika’s meatball spaghetti and my mushroom spaghetti were both quite good, so despite the odd mixed ambience we had a good meal. We didn’t quite know how to handle bussing our table with the real plates and silverware—somehow chucking it all in the trash they way we usually do at fast-food places didn’t seem appropriate. We couldn’t see any other place to leave the trays and dishes, so we neatly stacked them on the table. It was confusing to have some cues for the “fast food” script and other cues for the “real restaurant” script—I was never quite sure which rules to apply.

After dinner we wandered back to the Allen theatre and saw other folks going in, so we surmised that the box office was open and decided to go in and buy our tickets, which turned out to be very much the right choice. The lobby was lit with purple neon lights which made parts of our clothing glow but provided surprisingly low levels of illumination, which was a bit weird but certainly a different impression than a garishly lit lobby of a multiplex cinema. Instead of a counter for selling snacks, there was an coffee house/café/snack bar adjacent to the lobby that had tables and chairs for casual dining and apparently offered a variety of sandwiches and desserts plus the usual movie popcorn and candy. Altogether I found it much more calming than the theaters I’d visited recently.

This being an old-fashioned single-screen theatre, there was only the one feature and for an evening showing the price was only $4.50 for Monika and $6.50 for me, which is certainly cheaper than in our part of the country. The Allen theater was so laid back that they didn’t even use a ticket taker, the box office woman just went ahead and ripped our tickets in two and we walked right in. We were early enough to get seats in the center of the theatre and that was pretty fortunate because it turned out to be a sell-out and they had to put plastic chairs in the back and search for single seats to put the last several people into!

We sat down around 7 and were in for a quite unexpected treat. First, we were quite surprised when a gray-haired gent sat down at a Wurlitzer just in front of the screen and started to play medleys of old songs on the organ. That was really unusual, so I tried to catch him with the camera but the light was very low so I don’t know how the pictures and movie clips came out. Then the manager came out and pointed out a guy having a birthday, so the organist played “Happy Birthday” and the entire theatre sang Happy Birthday to Dan. And then the organist explained his wife was going to sing an old tune called “Take Your Girlie to the Movies” from the 1920s while he played the accompaniment and then we were going to see an old Buster Keaton film. After a false start where they started rolling the Keaton film while she was singing, they turned the projector off and she sang it with gusto in a musical-theater fashion. We all laughed about it, of course, because you only get that kind of snafu with a live performance, and what can you do?

The Buster Keaton film was a silent film about a guy getting married and being given a kit house as his wedding present, so instead of a honeymoon this guy spends the week after getting married building a house, and of course everything goes wrong. It might be titled “The Wedding Present”, I’m not sure, but it absolutely was a stitch. We experienced it just the way an audience from the 1920s would have. The organist played carefully selected segments of songs that were different for the different characters and actions in the different sections of the movie. The really surprising thing was the sound effects he could create on the organ. For the wedding scene he had bells ringing, for the storm scene he created thunder, wind, and rain sounds, and for the train scene he simulated steam train sounds and a train whistle. It was all done so seamlessly and added so much to the meaning of each scene that you didn’t really notice the absence of dialog, which was just amazing. Of course, my mother once said that when she went to silent films back in the 20s, the people who could read would read the captions aloud so all the folks in the theater would get the dialog. I almost started to do that, but it would have been impolite nowadays when everyone can read. In any event, we were all in a rollicking good mood when the main feature came on.

And thank goodness they just drew back the curtains and rolled the main feature without any of those ghastly previews “approved for all audiences” that I find appallingly loud and raucous. The movie started with the action and the credits in just the way the director had designed it to rather than after a series of reverberating commercials. This movie was a love story and a comedy; a really hilarious one about a nice Greek girl meeting a non-Greek guy and getting married. The story was set in Chicago, which we know quite well, and involved, of course, the Greek Orthodox Church and rituals, which we also experienced in Dave and Gigi’s wedding. But the main thing was the characters and action, which rang very true-to-life and extraordinarily funny. There were no fights, car chase scenes, big explosions, or murders, so you had time to get to know the characters and come to care about their plight. It turned out happy in the end, of course, and we just love happy endings. All together, the Allen Theater, the organist and silent film, and the movie itself combined to make an absolutely unforgettable experience for us. If you’re ever in the area, you might consider stopping at Annville. Admire the old Allen theatre. Have a cup of coffee or a dessert in the coffee shop. See an old movie. Experience a vanished part of America. I hope you have as much fun as we did.

On Sunday we slept in and were awaked by a morning thunderstorm. Clearly we didn’t want to rush right out and walk in that (I get nervous when I’m outside and lightning strikes nearby—bad statistics on that situation). So we took our time with the complimentary breakfast and drove down to a park just south of Lebanon for the Baloney Stomper’s event at the county fairgrounds. The rain stopped and fortunately the sun stayed behind some leftover clouds for the two hours we were walking, which made it a pleasant stroll in the country. The route lead along a highway, circled through a surprisingly large Veteran’s Administration Hospital complex, and then circled back on side roads past fields of corn and soybeans. The corn was about 6-foot tall, sturdy looking, and already filling out the ears. I took a very nice shot of a butterfly that obligingly spread its wings and clung to a cluster of blossoms for a second, which cheered me up because I usually have trouble getting good butterfly pictures. I also enjoyed a lane of closely-spaced fir trees that lead down a narrow lane to one farmhouse—it gave a very calm and relaxing impression of country life. I wondered if the farmer planted it for aesthetics or because the evergreens would give cool shade in the summer and protect the lane from cold blasts of wind in the winter.

We took side roads to drive southwest to cross the river east of York, and the rural highways were quite pretty in their summer greenery. These secondary roads followed the contour of the rolling land, which gave a lot of dipsy-doodles to change our viewpoint—very different from interstate driving. Our last walk for the weekend was supposed to be the YRE in the Nixon county park just south of York. We had missed it last fall, because they had closed it down a week before we came. This time we found out that they didn’t offer it at all this year. Instead the York White Rose Wanderers offered six rails to trails walks along a trail from York to the Mason-Dixon line. So we decided to start the group of six trails and get the special patch at the end. The trail was a typical, but very nice rails-to-trails walk. 5.5 KM south and then back north again on a very level crushed stone trail next to the rails. Luckily there were a lot of trees on both sides of the trail, so although it was getting hot, it was not too uncomfortable. One nice break from the heat was a short tunnel under a ridge. I was surprised to see it supported inside almost entirely by layers of brick, which reminded me very much of the old Paw-Paw Tunnel on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. We were tired, so the trail took over two hours, but it was a nice low key finish to a wonderful weekend. Surprisingly, the drive back was less than two hours, so we were even home in time for an early dinner!

Copyright 2002 by Robert W. Holt
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