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Live Active Cultures

Seth Kubersky visits Pennsylvania's Roadside Attraction

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2011:02:18 14:00:54

After pulling off the highway into the patched-asphalt parking lot, you enter an unspectacular building with the ridiculous slogan "Be prepared to see more than you expect" emblazoned on a sign in peeling paint. Pass the coin-operated vintage player-piano into the gift shop stocked with toy trains and Christian kitsch, and pay the grandmotherly attendant at the aging cash register. Step through a pair of black curtains and you emerge into another time and place. Sprawled before you sits the most intricately detailed miniature city you've ever imagined, complete with majestic mountains, running rivers and thousands of hand-painted inhabitants. Architecture includes everything from 18th-century colonial settlers' cabins to mid-century modern coal-mining machinery, all built to an exact 3/8-inch scale. The push-button operated mechanical effects, which allow guests to activate an array of speeding locomotives, braying donkeys and circling bi-planes, all electrified before the advent of digital switches and computer controls, are astounding. And don't forget to stick around for the hourly Night Pageant : overhead lights dim and an ancient slide projector casts images of Jesus and the American flag on the wall to the strains of Kate Smith's "God Bless America." It's as cornily comforting and inspirationally eye-moistening as anything Walt ever cooked up.

Before leaving, I stopped in the adjoining Pennsylvania Dutch Gift Haus and Lunch Counter to buy a birch beer from the Gieringers' granddaughter. Sifting through the shop's random stacks of old books for sale, I stumbled across echoes of this attraction's spiritual connection to Orlando's amusements. I'm now the proud owner of a Magic Kingdom souvenir photo book circa 1989, and a rare 1973 copy of Natural History magazine, featuring Stephen Jay Gould's groundbreaking essay on the infantile evolution of Mickey Mouse. Even in Pennsylvania, it seems, it's a small 
world after all.

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