Friday, February 22, 2013

America's Coolest Small Town: Lititz, Pennsylvania

Wow! So recently my hometown of Lititz, Pennsylvania was named America's coolest small town. Something most our residents already knew, but it's nice to have an official honor to go with it.

So what makes Lititz so cool? For starters Lititz is home to a lot of firsts. The first all girls boarding school was started in 1746 and still rests on Main street. Also on Main street is the first hard pretzel factory in America. Other local local sweet spots dot the small town including Candyology, Cafe Chocolate, and of course the famous Wilbur chocolate factory.

Many other specialty shops that line the streets include a few thrift shops, a fair trade store, a market specializing in exotic meats, as well as a British pub. Also nearby is a wolf sanctuary, as well as the picturesque Lititz spring park. There's plenty to keep you busy in this tiny town, but it's not necessarily our unique shops that make us so cool.

Most will tell you what makes this town so cool is it's community. The folks in this town support their town and their local business owners. Lititz holds 2nd Friday celebrations every month where the shops stay open longer and musicians line the alleys and parking lots. Lititz certainly isn't the first town to do this, but the community really gathers around and shows their support no matter what the weather conditions.

Several annual festivities are quite popular around town and gather rather large crowds. The Chocolate Walk, Independence Day celebration, and the recent Fire & Ice festival, are just a few of the popular events you can find around town.

I'm sure there will be much debate about who's the coolest small town in America. Even I will admit I felt I've visited cooler small towns, and I will certainly be searching out the other contestants in the contest. But without the community's support and continued dedication to helping make Lititz so cool, we wouldn't even have this little title to boast. Now the next time I'm Outta the Way and someone asks where I'm from I can tell them Lititz, you know the coolest small town in America!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mysteries at the Indian Echo Caverns

There are many strange mysteries associated with the Indian Echo Caverns, located near Hershey, Pennsylvania. In 1919 a couple of local youths in the area were exploring the cave, when they stumbled upon a mysterious box, decorated with strange designs. The contents inside proved more mysterious. Inside the box the boys discovered random coins from throughout the World, some possibly minted as early as 480 B.C.  Also included was some jewelry, moon rocks, and instructions on making diamonds from lightning. (BTW it doesn't work!)  The young man who discovered this intriguing chest held onto it for many years until he decided to share his discovery with others. Eventually the proprietor of Indian Echo Caverns purchased the abstruse trunk and it is now on display in the gift shop.

If these young men had been exploring the cave a hundred years before they may have encountered quite a surprise if they bumped into William Wilson. Between the years of  1802-1821 William made the caverns his home. After his sister was executed for the murder of her two children, the man began to seclude himself from society. It's believed a pardon was granted from the state to William's sister, but he was unable to deliver it in time to halt the execution.

 From that time on Wilson went into a state of delirium, withdrawing from society and retreated into the caves to spend the last decades of his life.  It's believed he kept an account of his life spent in the cave and the stories have been published in the book "The Pennsylvania Hermit"  Read book here.

The mysterious box the young men discovered is not believed to have been left behind by Mr. Wilson. But some believe William Wilson may have left something else behind...his spirit. In several neighboring counties where Wilson lived previously. his spirit has been seen on horseback galloping to the local jailhouse. His sister Elizabeth is believed to haunt the areas around the cave, though it's believed she was never in the cavern. While clearing trees to make room for a parking lot, several workers claimed to witness a young female spirit wandering nearby. These tales may seem like modern folklore, and perhaps its not the spirit of Elizabeth or William Wilson. But long before either of these tales came about, the Susquehannock Indians who occupied the cave were awfully dreadful of the Rainbow room. Even to this day over a dozen witnesses have spotted the apparition of a Native American man holding a severed head.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Indian Echo Caverns

Tucked in the hills of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, lying next to the Swatara creek is a natural made attraction that's been enjoyed for centuries.

It's believed the early Susquehannock Indians who settled in the area were the first to discover the Indian Echo caverns. They would use the cave as refuge during harsh weather. The cave would also be used to store food during the warmer months. The tribe vanished from the area during the 1670's leaving the caverns unoccupied. During the next century saw an influx of European trappers.It's believed these men discovered the cave during their journeys of the northeast sections of the United States.

In 1929 the cave opened up for commercial tours. At first thousands came in droves to catch a look at the beauty of mother nature, sadly the great depression was looming around the corner. The cave fell on hard times and was purchased by the bank. However in 1942 a nearby Hershey resident purchased the property and the family has maintained it since.

The cave consists of several large rooms and also narrow passageways. Red lights line the areas where you may to watch your head. And during our tour they turned off all the lights and illuminated a room with just the brightness of an old torch. Offering you a glimpse into how travelers in the past viewed this wondrous creation.

Indian Echo is a cave full of amazing features. Sometimes even appearing otherworldly.  Goliath stalactites, massive formations, constant growth, crystal clear lakes, and stunning natural colors all make up this beautiful subterranean area. Let's hope it's enjoyed for many more centuries to come.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Zion Hill Cemetery Columbia, Pennsylvania

Hidden under the route 30 overpass in Columbia, Pennsylvania. Tucked away in a small wooded area, some of the weeds and grass overextend the grave sites. Sadly, this lost memorial garden has had better years before it, but it's a place every American should visit and pay tribute.

Resting below the grounds are the remains of dozens of African-Americans including many who perished in the Civil War. Most of these brave men fought on the Union side with the 54th Massachusetts regiment. The valiant men wanted to prove they were equal to the task of fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One of these heroic men, Stephen Swails would become the first African-American officer in U.S. history. These courageous troops battled Confederate troops that began to invade the bridge spanning the Susquehanna river between Wrightsville, and Columbia, Pennsylvania.

One of the most famous buried here is Robert Loney. Mr Loney was at one time a conductor on the Underground Railroad. He helped escort escaped slaves across the nearby river. Freedom for African-Americans meant a great deal to Robert. His family was one of the first group of freed slaves. His passion for all men's freedom is evident in the way he would risk his own life in order to help others escape a life of captivity. If he were to be captured by those south of the Mason-Dixon line he could be escorted back into slavery. Robert Loney eventually joined the Union troops and fought along side his friends and neighbors in hopes of bringing freedom to all.

The wooden crosses and memorial stones that scatter the area are a constant reminder for us all to remember those who came before us and fought for the freedoms we all have. The grave site is taken care of by local Boy Scout groups, church leaders, paranormal groups, and Park Rangers. All showing devotion to the brave African-American men and women who endured through hardships most of us could never fathom, yet rose up to defend the freedoms of millions for centuries to come.