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Lehigh Valley Haunts

 

 

Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley — just one hour from Philadelphia and two hours from New York  —  is a 730 sq. mile region clustered around Allentown, Easton and Bethlehem. Its colonial roots go back to 1741 Moravian Church settlers. The Moravian Book Shop, founded in 1745, claims the distinction of being the oldest bookshop in  the world.


Lehigh Valley Roots


Church members originally organized themselves as a commune. As population increased, the structure gave way but the communal spirit remained.

Other German-speaking immigrants felt welcome. One of them, Christian Martin, founded a company in 1833 that went on to produce the iconic Martin guitars. Other industries started in early colonial days. In 1899, Bethlehem Steel’s birth of pushed local industry into high gear. Steel barons presided over a general taste for the good life.

Moravian Book Shop PHOTO ANG CAGGIANO

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Fast forward to 1984, when Bethlehem launched Musikfest — an annual 10-day, 15-stage, 500-performance event, attracting over a million people. One of the country’s largest free music festivals, it has endowed the area with a skilled, experienced, savvy arts management corps and an arts-friendly community.

Lehigh Valley is said to be rich in paranormal phenomena ( a/k/a ghosts). For example, researchers (and some folks who take the haunted Bethlehem tours) have encountered the ghost of Sarah, an eight-year-old girl.

Bethlehem Steel ceased production in 1995. Its old site is now home to Steel Stacks, a new 10-acre arts complex. Also reclining on former Betlehem Steel land is the Sands Casino. Opened in 2009, it is owned by noted electoral big spender Sheldon Adelson. While the specter of the shuttered industrial giant haunts the region by rattling the chains of rue, it also provides energy for the 21st Century Lehigh Valley.

Let’s take a tour of the region.

Things to do

Colonial Industrial Quarter

The Colonial Industrial Quarter buildings (seen top of page) are quiet testimony to the roots pf industry set up by early settlers. You can see the 1761 Tannery, 1764 Springhouse, reconstructed 1750 Smithy, Miller's House, Industrial Quarter Ruins, (including the Dye House), 1762 Waterworks, and the new kid on the block — the 1869 Luckenbach Mill. The waterworks (a National Historic Landmark) was the first publicly owned and operated pumped water system on the continent. The Smithy is an actual operating blacksmith shop, complete with, anvil, hammer, fire, blacksmith, and gift shop. See a smithy video. It’s clearly a Smithy production. There are daily tours of the Colonial Industrial Quarter. And there are special events throughout the year. For more information, click here.

Lehigh Valley zoo

African penguins, Lehigh Valley Zoo

What’s the point of having beaucoup bucks if you can't go out and shoot things once in a while? Thus, in 1906, local Lehigh Valley industrialist Gen. William Trexler created a wildlife game preserve, stocked with bison and elk. He realized the Great American Buffalo was going bye-bye. He retained the game preserve; but changed its mission. Voila! The Lehigh Valley zoo.

The zoo, including its 29-acre children's zoo, is part of the 1100 acre wildlife preserve. It has 275 residents, hailing from 70 species (African penguins to zebras).

Otter Madness

"I like the otters," a woman told her friend.
"Yeah," the friend replied. "The otters are cool."
In fact, a random sampling of zoo visitors confirmed that otters are indeed cool. Otters are a tad blasé about their hipster status. After all, they have a house and pool. An amphitheater runs around their mansion. They use it as a moat that allows an appreciative audience to laugh, gasp and marvel as the otters swim, eat and generally cavort.

Otters are special. They have two fur coats. The outer keeps the inner dry. They have valves that keep water out of their ears. They are playful. Classic science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon posited that otters will succeed homo sapiens as dominant civilized species. Cheerful thought? Maybe. Meanwhile, let's just watch the otters swim and swim and swim. Do beware of their teeth.

Penguin Pavilion 

Two-toed sloth at Lehigh Valley ZooNot far from the otters are those other zoo divas, the African Penguins (above). These crowd-pleasing birds waddle and swim their way into the zoo-goers’ hearts. Their home is called the Jaindl Penguin Pavilion. Their 60,000-gallon, 58-foot-wide, four-foot-deep pool opened to the public in December 2008. It's downright inspiring to watch these ungainly birds leap into their pool and swim at Olympic record-breaking speeds of 6–7 km an hour. 

Also a must see at the zoo is a two toed sloth (left). Why? It's simply adorable. Among other animals on view are alpaca, bobcat and, west African crowned crane, emu, red kangaroo, laughing kookaburra, Mexican gray wolf, African spurred tortoise, boa constrictor, and a leopard gecko.

Elk Trexler Wildlife PreserveLehigh Valley zoo has both a core mission to "save species from extinction," and a general educational mission. Of course, the two are related. The teaching side sneaks up on you because the zoo is so much dang fun. The yearly calendar is crowded with events that run from April through the end of November, such as Potter Tober Fest, Party For The Planet and Mother's Day at the zoo.  

And, oh yes, as you make your way through the largest preserve on your way to and from the zoo you just might see a bison or two and a grazing elk watching you but they've been warned not to feed you.
5150 Game Preserve Road, P.O. Box 519, Schnecksville, PA 18078 The for more information call 610-799-4171 or click here

 

 

The Crayola experience

Crayola Factory Tour

Take your kids and your own inner kid into this indoor Crayola theme park, located in Easton. The experience includes a 15-minute tour through a Crayola mini factory. (The actual factory, a few blocks away, does not offer tours.)

The Making of a Crayola

For our visit, the affable Brandon Patruno demonstrated the various steps that go into the making of a crayon. He wore the staff uniform, tie-dyed shirt with the words "color crew" emblazoned on the back. Crayon ingredients include paraffin wax, and clay (for that silky smooth texture). As he poured the makings into the mold, he noted that the Crayola scent is one of the top 20 aromas most recognized by American adults.

The finished crayon soon was ready for the labeling machine. (Crayola made hand-wrapped labels prior to 1943.)

While you're there, no doubt you'll see the world's largest crayon. It's a 1500 pound, 15 inch circumference, 15 foot long blue thingy. It's made from 123,000 crayons, sent in by children from all over the country. (Traveler presumes they were asked to.)

 

More Crayola Stuff

Crayola Store Lehigh Valley

A happy bounty of simple projects engages the mind, eye, heart, soul and imagination. These include coloring an item (tote bag, place mats, T-shirt) with fabric markers, making cut out puzzles, painting with melted wax, and the chalk walk (trying out new Crayola chalks). And there are a couple of wild, weird electronic surprises. When you're finished, you'll want to walk over to the fantastical Crayola store. (Who knew there were so many different things you could do with color?) For more information call 866-875-5263 , or click here

Martin Guitar Company

The C.F. Martin guitar company, located in Nazareth, is a shrine for fanciers of the stringed instrument and its history and its impact on culture through the ages. Founded in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin, a German émigré, this family-owned company (the current CEO is Christian Frederick Martin IV) has been an integral part of the many varieties of music. The roster of famous Martin guitar owners includes Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, Chris Martin and Gene Autry. You can tour the factory and see guitars being made.

Martin Guitar Factory


Birthing of Guitars and the Butterfly Effectt

Walking through the Martin factory feels like a flirtation with the butterfly effect. Hundreds of guitars-to-be are lined up in various stages of completion — open, vulnerable, without even the protection of a cocoon, they endure the curiosity of passersby. And their wood veneers are so tactile. Stay between the yellow lines. Do not touch the pieces of guitar. It's a combo of globalism, sustainability, acoustical theory, tradition, low-tech, high tech all tied up with taut steel strings. You get to see various of the 300 odd steps it takes to make a single guitar — cutting, bending, gluing, drying, fittings, customizing, assembling. All this and robot lasers.

Robot Laser in Martin Guitar factory
See and Play

Extra treats await tour takers. the 1833 Shop is a source of Martin guitar memorabilia. Its adjoining pickin’ parlor is a bit of heaven for would be guitar heroes and heroines. You get to play and play with high-end and limited-edition instruments. The Martin Guitar Museum tells the company story and in the process some of the guitar story.

CF Martin Guitar Museum

 Using instruments (170 of them), tools, accessories, photographs, documents and info panels, the museum highlights changes in the guitar, musical taste and trends, and notable performers. For more information about Martin Guitars company and tours, click here.

Steel Stacks

 

The retired Bethelehem Steel blast furnaces, an industrial Stonehenge, are the backdrop for Steel Stacks, a 10-acre arts campus. In front of them is the Levitt Pavillion, an outdoor space with grass lawn, plenty of seating and a venue for public concerts, especially in the summer months. It also holds the PNC Plaza and the Air Products Town Square (corporate sponsorship and naming rights are big here). At night, on various occasions, the smokestacks shoot dazzling blue flames into the sky.

Umbrella organization Steel Stacks believes in using arts and altruism to reinvigorate the region. Its leaders feel the mission of serving the region with arts and culture is a major economic development tool. To Lehigh Valley's forward thinkers the "creative class" is the workforce of tomorrow.

ArtsQuest Center

Steel Stacks presents a panoply of public events, and it's a great site for some plain old-fashioned hanging out. A significant part of the Steel Stacks project is the four-story ArtsQuest Center. This beehive of music, dance, visual art, cinema, dining, education, events and PBS is a year-round go-to resource for the community and the greater Lehigh Valley area. Contained therein are:

  • Musikfest Café presented by Yuengling, this is an intimate performance venue. ArtsQuest brags (and rightly so) that no seat is more than 60 feet from the stage. It's floor-to-ceiling windows offer a privileged view of the smokestacks outside.

  • Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas A two-screen movie house that specializes in independent flicks

  • Mike & Ike Bistro offer such menu items and salads, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, desserts.ArtsQuest Center == Blast Furnace Room

  • Fowler Blast Furnace Room is a space suitable for conferences, concerts, meeting and workshop.

  • Sands Deck, this is outdoor covered terrace that serves as a place to repair for food and beverage after show and sometimes doubles as a premium skybox, depending upon the event.

  • Capital BlueCross Creativity Commons, is yet another performance venue, as well as a place to sit, schmooze, and enjoy refreshments. Musical emphasis is on local talent.

  • Lee & Stella Yee Family Connect Zone, is a multimedia community and meeting space. (Tip: Xbox games can be rented for $5/ hour Loft.

  • and the Alvin H. Butz Gallery.

Musikfest

Musikfest Lehigh Valley
                    PHOTO MATT SMITH

And then there's Musikfest, which is centered in the Steel Stacks complex (with other performance sites around town). This ambitious event presents over 500 performances during its 10-day multi-genre tenure. In past years, audiences enjoyed such top acts Alice Cooper, The Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Boston, Carpe Diem String Quartet, Ray Charles, George Clinton, Dixie Chicks, Duran Duran, Earth, Wind & Fire, Here Come The Mummies, B.B. King, Seamus Kennedy, Ludacris, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hootie & the Blowfish, Red Baraat, James Nyoraku Schlefer, Stone Temple Pilots, George Thorogood. and Carrie Underwood. Musikfest 2013 takes place 2–11 August. More info?

Farmers’ Markets

Farmers' Market

Mm-mm! Farmers Markets! Who can resist their fresh and folksy, eccentric and comforting country temptations?
There are loads of farmer's markets in the Lehigh Valley - some are quite small, open once or maybe twice a week, with fewer than 20 vendors, give or take. Last time we checked, the one in Campus Square was only open 11 am-3pm on Thursdays from May through the end of October. (Traveler had late September strawberries and they were sweet.) Here's a LehighValleyLive link  to help you find some more.

If you've ever been to the Reading Market in Philadelphia, you already know how seriously wondrous a farmer's market can be. There's a whacking great one in Allentown, so if you're short on time and want to see the big show, make a beeline for that.

Step inside and you'll find yourself surrounded—and instantly lost—amid aisles and aisles of zillions of independent little shops and stands all under one vast, yet quiet, yet circus-like, folksy, deeply eccentric country roof. You'll dash past huge, Dali-like, twisting gourds that seem to lunge for you, big flirty Betty Boop berries that chirp, “Buy me!”, sincere gluten-free bagels, shoo-fly pies, pepper hash, big barrels of snapping new green pickles, fancy-schmancy beribboned gift jams, sauces, and a vacuum-cleaner repair shop.

There's a barber or two as well. And scented potpourri, lavender sachets, exotic spice markets, herbal teas, hot meals, pizza, empanadas, donuts, and delicious dishes to sample you probably never thought of. Why are we dashing? We're in a mad pash for the fresh-made-today Amish peach ice cream.

Bring your little rolly-rolly suitcase with you. Pumpkins and jams on the bottom, fruits and pickle-bags on the top. Peach cone in your hand. Back to town with you.
Other fun num-nums in the area:

AND THEN A FINGER IN THE DARK


Do you ever wish you could get into a time machine and escape for an hour or so? Keep your spirits up by having a ghostly encounter. Paranormal aficionados find Many Strange Things to tell stories about in Lehigh Valley. Don't think you have to wait for Halloween for a fit of fun between the sheets, either - ghost-hunting is a popular year-round tourist magnet round these parts. If ghosts pull your chain, start to explore here

shudder

A word here about ghosts. If you don't want any part of them, you probably won't run into them. Let's face it, hardly anybody runs into a ghost. So don't let an aversion to the astral keep you from enjoying Bethlehem.

Remember those worthy paragons of rectitude, the Moravians; plenty of those upright, uptight vibes are constantly running all over town and throughout the buildings.

That's why there's a sort of soft, sad, sensible feeling to historic and lovely Bethlehem, PA. You came here to have a calming, civilised sensible time, right? Moravians weren't 'fraid of no ghosts. Be consoled, and remember: the best way to keep ghosts out of your way is to firmly not believe in them.

Bethlehem's legendary The Sun Inn, also on Main Street, is said to have its share of ghosties. The limestone building, built in 1758 and restored in 1982, is considered a splendid example of Moravian architecture, complete with mansard tile roof.

Illustrious visitors have included George Washington (he got around), John Adams, John Hancock and Benjamin Harrison. It has period furniture, period décor, and, according to some, period ghosts. The Atlantic Paranormal Sociaty (a/k/aSyFy channel’s”Ghost Hunters”) seem to believe so, too.

You can dine at the Sun Inn sometimes - we did - in desultory disappointment. Have your feast around the corner instead at McCarthy's Tea Room - delicious, welcoming, and hearty, and do the Sun Inn's ghost tour, later in the evening.

So in we go. Into the lovely old building's small entryway with guestbook and stairs going up and down, wandering a bit through softly lit bedrooms and guestrooms, then cross over to a room where we sit down in rows of chairs for a familiarisation film. What to expect: something, perhaps, or nothing. Be patient. 

Sometimes they'll talk to you. Sometimes you'll see something. Sense something. We will have two knowledgable and experienced ghost-finding guides who bring ghost-finding gadgets. They are endlessly good-humoured, soft-spoken, creative, unshy, and patient with both tourists and spirits.

Now our group is divided into two groups — One to the attic, one to the cellar. Our group guide starts leading us to the cellar, suddenly changes her mind, turns, and races up the stairs to the attic. This feels exactly right.

We sit in a circle of old chairs under big old beams in the rather beautiful and spacious attic, which is used for storing boxes of dining room crockery and a miscellany of items old and current. Lights switched off. Various gadgets tried. Nada. visiting him and him

A story about a little girl ghost who is said to appear in the attic sometimes. Zip. But it is invigourating to be sitting in this very, very old attic in the dark, waiting for evidence of the paranormal. And someone's got a feeling that there's an old shy ghost, a soldier who isn't feeling very well, resting, hiding way way back in the corner behind us, behind the boxes.

We go and have a look. Nothing, but definitely a vibe. Civil War? Revolutionary War? Who can tell?

'Interesting,' the guide smiles. We are now off to the cellar, which is not a nice place, cramped and dull, and with a rather nasty vibe, (well, this is where servants would have slaved long hours) and despite all devices and entreaties, and flashing lights and tape recorders, absolutely nothing happens.

ghost hunting paraphernalia on a table in the sun inn

Ghost hunting paraphernalia in the Sun Inn

 

Up to the dining room to meet with the other group, just coming down from their attic experience. More lights, more recordings, more spoken invitations to ghosts to make themselves known. Alas, to no avail. (It is more spooky to think of the depressing, soggy-and-yet-also-burnt gnocchi and unchewable kale encounter we had here at dinner not three hours earlier this is. A problem more of gravy than grave? Good old Dickens.)

So out into the night we all go, spilling out onto Main Street, back to the hotel, some disappointed— especially the skeptics— still most are a little excited, stirred up, all enchanted to spend part of an evening in such a gracious bit of historic architecture, and many looking forward to a drink.

At the bar, a woman in the other group, the group that went up to the attic while we were in the cellar, a woman with a big gorgeous head of red hair, clutched her friend's arm and blurted out: 'I screamed so bad'.

'She did,' said her friend.

'What happened?'

'I was up in the attic. Sitting under the centre beam, to the right of the door. It was pitch dark. Nothing moved. No sound, no creaks, nothing. Nobody joking around. And a finger poked me in the back. I screamed. They turned on the light. Nothing there.

'It came from behind.''

Funny. That was exactly where the shy soldier vibe had been lurking.

ghosts what ghosts, Bethlehem|

Ghostsis? What ghosts?



Where To Stay


Hotel Bethlehem

 

Yes, please, you'll like staying here.
Conveniently smack on Main Street, the HB is historic and impressive, sweetly staid, quiet and deeply comfortable. If you're coming to town to meet people, they'll be impressed you're staying here. It's an old-fashioned place with most of the old-time virtues: spacious rooms with good views, solid walls, piano players downstairs and jazz brunch on Sundays. And their mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in are totes amazeballs.

Gorgeous high arched windows in the lobby and the restaurant lift this gracious space onto another level. And the level of service at the hotel is pleasingly, to a high standard.

Traveler arrived on a day when a convention of 150 or so guests arrived, changed its plans, and asked the hotel folks—at 4 o'clock in the afternoon—if they could rustle up dinner for 150 people at 7 that evening in the Grand Ballroom. The hotel could, and they did, to rave reviews. A dedicated staff? A miracle.

 

Hotel Bethlehem room 729

Traveler stayed in Room 729 and loved the two windows with lovely views, complete with atmospheric, far-off trains tooting in the distance; spiffing pinstripe wallpaper; maple Early American style furniture, dresser and desk coffee table’ and old-school wingback chair — a hint of a 1920s feel, tweaked with a flat screen TV and free internet connections.

One night it rained, and the wind howled across the valley, as it must have done for hundreds of years. Though it was the middle of the night, the sound and force of all this whooshing was oddly soothing and timeless. Thinking about the early settlers, all they suffered and put up with and invented and built and did for us, was a gentle lead-in to later - and quite accidentally - discovering more about the awesome, brave, liberal, opened-minded, sexually repressed, kind and uptight, bottled-up early settlers of the unique, poignant little town of Bethlehem, PA.

Hotel Bethlehem showerAmenities include plump duvets, softest high thread-count sheets, excellent pillows (courtesy of Pacific Coast Feather in Seattle, fave of so many hotel chains and the guests who love them), L-shaped loos with black marble floors, pale marble walls, Vanities with tryptych mirrors, magnifying makeup mirrors, huge marble step-in showers with good fat shower heads.

We wish Hotel Bethlehem had: a light in the spacious closet to help you find your clothes in your open suitcase on the luggage rack; a few hooks in the bathroom for used towels; beauty goos and soaps with a bit of zip.(Hotel bath stuff is a whole semiotic study in itself: the rich demand L'Occitaine, Caswell Massey, Crabtree & Evelyn, etc. Most hotels don't need to “position” themselves down to the little bar of soap to succeed - why would they? The lush milled French soap thing is only for the fiercely competitive, luxury market. You're here to get away from all that, right? But still . . .)

On the third floor there's a nice little fitness room with shiny machines, good views and a TV on. The only trouble was it blared Fox News all day long.

Sadly, Hotel Bethlehem lacks a swimming pool, a whirlpool (make do with the fine and steamy hot shower), or MSNBC TV.

This last omission is annoying - and, perhaps, telling? You're a coin's throw (OK, within influence buying distance, then, of a casino owned and operated by the notorious Sheldon Adelson, and a pity that half of the U.S. population may not feel entirely at ease spending money here.) For more information about the hotel, click here. To learn of latest Hotel Bethlehem deals or packages, click here

Lehigh Valley View
View from room 729, Bethlehem Hotel

For a list of other hotels in the region, click here.

 

Where To Eat 

Vegan Treats

Let's start with dessert. You may be meandering around Bethlehem, and stumble across an oasis called Vegan Treats. "How interesting," you might think. And then, in an act of solidarity, you order a cupcake or cookie. You bite in. Brace yourself for the wow that erupts when confection and tongue collide. Perhaps this is when you'll discover that this modest little bakery supplies sweets and treats to upscale vegetarian and vegan establishments in Washington, DC, Baltimore, New York city, and points in between.

Chef/owner Danielle Kolya has a devoted clientele that includes many celebrities. She creates goodies that range from red velvet cream. "cheese" cupcakes to mini whoopee pies to chocolate cakes to buns to French pastries and more. In September 2012, Departures magazine named Vegan Treats "one of the world's 10 best bakeries." For more information, call 610.861.7660 or click here.

Brew Works

Bethlehem Brew Works

There is a Brew Works in Allentown and one in Bethlehem. Launched by the Fegley family on 15 April, 1998 offers artisanal beer and a veg-friendly though not necessarily heart friendly menu. Food items include . Meze Hummus Assortment (beer infused garlic hummus, black bean hummus, black olive tapenade and Belgian ale marinated tomatoes); BREWschetta (French baguette garlic toast, Belgian ale soaked tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, roasted red peppers and Parmesan); Bavarian Pretzels; Loaded Nachos; and Mayfair Pasta (fettuccine with asparagus, baby spinach, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in white wine and butter). To be sure, a goodly assortment of specialty brews are on tap (seven year-round "flagship" beers and various seasonal offerings). For more information, click here.

 

McCarthy's Tea Room and Celtic Restaurant 

 First there was Donegal square, a retail store that specialized in items imported from Ireland and Scotland. It opened in 1985. In 1996 owner Neville Gardner moved to a new space where he launched the restaurant which specializes in family recipes (his family). While you might get an amazing butternut squash and Apple soup or a "punjab paddy" (an egg-topped Potato cake and tikka masala sauce), vegetarian choices are few. There is a lovely afternoon tea service. For more information, click here.

 

The Edge Restaurant, Bar and Grill calls itself, upscale and up-tempo its menu shows Asian and French influences – – but limited vegetarian options (Asian pear salad, baby greens salad, and Jasmine rice bowl). For more information, click here

 

For a list of other restaurants, click here.


The Lehigh Valley offers much. It combines a peek in the rearview mirror and a look at the emerging landscape. It's seasoned with strong  industrial icons and a a big dollop of cultural vibrancy.

For more information about the area, click here.
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