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During the two years I spent driving around the country visiting car museums for my new book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions, I was pleased to see the high number of car museums in Pennsylvania, my home state. Here’s a review of a handful of these car museums in Pennsylvania, including the opportunity to see five rare Tuckers in one day.

Car Museums in Pennsylvania

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum

Simeone foundation Museum Philadelphia

The Simeone is a hidden gem located in a former engine remanufacturing facility near the Philadelphia airport.  In 2014 it was awarded “Car of the Year” for its 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. The museum owes its existence to the passion of one man, neurosurgeon Fred Simeone. Over the course of a half-century he’s collected over 60 of the world’s greatest racing cars, all of which still run. Come for the popular twice-monthly “Demonstration Days,” when you can watch some of the cars get taken for a spin on the 3-acre back lot.

The oldest vehicle here is a 1909 American Underslung that raced in long-distance events. Other cars are displayed according to where they raced (Watkins Glen, Bonneville Salt Flats, Brooklands, and more) or by the races they entered. Among them are Le Mans, the Targa Florio in Sicily, and the Mille Miglia. With so many sleek Italian racing cars on display, the museum sometimes looks more like a modern sculpture gallery.

Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

Mister Softee truck Boyertown vehicle museum

Founded in 1965, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles includes gasoline-, steam-, and electric-propelled vehicles as well as toy cars, carriages, and sleighs. The main exhibit area occupies the former Boyertown Auto Body Works, where truck bodies were built from 1926 through 1990. A few of these trucks have returned home and are now on display. The focus is on Pennsylvania-built cars, reflecting the Keystone State’s importance in the early development of the automobile.

The 1872 Hill is one of the earliest autos in existence. Teenager James Hill built it in Fleetwood, PA. The 1913 SGV Touring Car, built 15 miles west of here in Reading, featured a push-button transmission. One of my favorite vehicles is a 1958 Ford Mister Softee Ice Cream Truck just like the one that blared the ubiquitous theme song around my neighborhood when I was a kid; they were all built in this building.

The museum also features roadside architecture, with a 1921 Sun Oil cottage-style service station and the 1938 Reading Diner.

William E. Swigart, Jr. Automobile Museum

Two Tuckers Swigart auto museum Pennsylvania

The William E. Swigart, Jr. Automobile Museum seems an unlikely place to spot not one, but two Tuckers, yet here they are. One of them might be considered the Tucker: the coveted 1947 Tucker ’48 Prototype Tin Goose—the very first Tucker made along with another Tucker 48, one of only 51 ever produced.

The rest of the museum features a rotating exhibit of 35 of the approximately 150 cars purchased by Swigart and his father, insurance tycoon W. Emmert Swigart.  There’s also the largest collection I’ve ever seen of international license plates and antique car logo badges. The photo below shows just a few of them.

antique car insignias Swigart Museum

Note: The Swigart Museum is open from Memorial Day weekend through October 31.

Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum

AACA Museum hershey Kissmobile

The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum in Hershey, is the home of three Tuckers in the newly created Cammack Tucker Gallery. The vehicle made famous in the 1988 movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream is one of the classic cars most prized by collectors.  The gallery is filled with Tucker-related paraphernalia including engines, parts, and mechanical drawings. The newest exhibit at the AACA Museum is a tribute to driving along Route 66. It’s rare to see buses in museums and the AACA doesn’t disappoint: In the lower level is the Museum of Bus Transportation that contains a rare look at this form of transportation. Included in the collection is a 1959 GM Coach that made an appearance in Forrest Gump.

Rolls-Royce Foundation

In appropriately named Mechanicsburg is a salute to the pinnacle of automotive luxury. Tucked away on a winding, two-lane country road, luxury car aficionados will find the Rolls-Royce Foundation, a museum and library celebrating the coveted vehicles.

Rolls Royce car Museums in Pennsylvania

The main gallery holds about a dozen Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, the brand purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1931. A skeletal 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom, shown without a body, demonstrates just what a discriminating buyer got for all that money. Initially Rolls-Royce provided only the high-end engines and chassis, not the complete vehicles we see today. Customers took the engine to an independent coach builder to customize, which is why each early Rolls model was virtually unique.

Grice Clearfield Community Museum

Its not often you find a car museum where a wild turkey is lurking among the cars; the turkey in question here is a stuffed one that’s frozen in time alongside a tail-finned 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Lynn “Scoot” Grice, an avid hunter, founded this museum where more than 800 stuffed trophy game mounts share space with 75 automobiles.

Grice Clearfield car museum in Pennsylvania

One of the highlights of the collection is the display of seven Crosley cars; built by Cincinnati industrialist Powell Crosley, the quirky, compact-sized autos have a cult following. Another rarity here is a 1932 Rockne, a model produced for two years by Studebaker as a tribute to the legendary Notre Dame football coach who had died in an airplane crash the year before. Studebaker was headquartered in South Bend, Indiana, also the home of Notre Dame.

Eagles Mere Auto Museum

1947 Ford Sportster Woody wagon

In the bucolic town of Eagles Mere (located just north of Little League World Series setting Williamsport) the Eagles Mere Auto Museum and the Eagles Mere Air Museum offer glimpses into the bygone days of road and air transport.

Eagles Mere car museums Pennsylvania

Car museums Pennsylvania Eagles MereThe collection of 75+ cars offers a huge “wow” factor. The focus is on American-made cars and trucks from the 1950s and ’60s, including a “Class of ’69” section with ten Chevy Camaros sporting different styles and engine configurations that will have Muscle Car fans drooling. There’s a collection of six “woodie” station wagons with my favorite, a 1947 Ford Sportster Woodie Convertible. (Pictured above.)

At the Eagles Mere Air Museum, all of the vintage aircraft, including a 1917 “Jenny” biplane, are regularly taken out and flown. In addition to almost 30 planes, the museum sports a collection of reconstructed vintage engines, along with exhibits of rare artifacts celebrating early aviation pioneers.

Roadster Guide to America's Classic Car MuseumsThe second edition of my book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions, provides greater detail for each of these car museums in Pennsylvania, plus many more in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania offers a real bonanza for vintage car buffs.

 

 

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28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

When we think of places for the best pizza in the world our thoughts normally drift to New York or Italy. But the town of Old Forge, Pennsylvania claims that it is the “Pizza Capital of the World.” Those are pretty big words for such a small town. We just had to check this out so here is our review of Old Forge pizza.

Old Forge is in northeast Pennsylvania (known to locals as NEPA), only five miles from Scranton of the TV show The Office fame. With a population of only around 8,000 supporting 14 pizzerias, it may well be the “Pizza per Capita” capital of the world, but “Pizza Capital?” So off to Old Forge we went to see, and taste, for ourselves.

Old Forge Pennsylvania NEPA pizza capital of the world sign

Review of Old Forge pizza

Old Forge-style pizza is baked in rectangular metal trays. It’s distinguished by the blend of cheeses, they vary at each establishment, that can be a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, romano, American and … what? Did they just say American? This we had to check out. So follow along as we push ourselves to taste Old Forge pizza at four places in one day.

Arcaro & Genell Restaurant

Arcaro and Genell Old Forge style pizza

We started our pilgrimage at Arcaro & Genell. Settled into puffy vinyl booths, with Frank Sinatra playing on the radio, we felt like we had appeared in the 1950s-era restaurant from the movie Big Night. Since we were newbies, the cheerful Amanda was our guide to the ways of Old Forge-style pizza.

A whole pizza is not called a pie but a tray, and individual slices are called cuts. It comes in traditional red and a white. The white pizza at most places is actually a double crust pizza made by folding the dough over the topping. Are you with me so far?

Arcaro and Genell pizza Old Forge NEPA

We selected the classic red pizza with original crust (not the thinner variation) and a single crust white topped with fresh tomato, garlic and onion. Arcaro’s proudly proclaims that they were selected as a Top 10 pizza in America. The rating was done by USA TODAY back in 1983 but it’s still pretty impressive.

The sauce on the red tray had the classic Old Forge taste, a bit oniony and a bit sweet. The pans are brushed with olive oil, making the crust crispy on the bottom rising to a chewiness directly beneath the sauce. The cheese was a blend that we guessed was Mozzarella, American and Cheddar; but Amanda would not reveal state secrets.

Arcaro and Genell pizza crust NEPA pizza Old Forge

The single-crust white was garnished with fresh tomatoes, raw onions, and a pesto type blend of minced garlic and dried basil. Both pizzas met with our immediate approval. The cheese blend is not traditional, but seemed to work.

Revello’s Pizza

Revellos Old Forge Pizza NEPA

Thinking of the day ahead, we tried not to fill up and walked across the street to Revello’s. You know you’re in Northeast Pennsylvania when the pizzerias also offer pierogies, a staple in these Polish and Italian former mining towns.

Revellos old forge pizza red and white NEPA

Revello’s was once a mainstay of Old Forge pizza, but we were disappointed. The crust tasted like a toasted version of Wonder Bread and the cheese seemed to be 100% American. It reminded us of snacks we made in the toaster oven as teenagers.

Mary Lou’s Pizza

Mary Lous Old Forge Pizza

We moved on to Mary Lou’s, tucked into a residential in a nondescript tan stucco building a few blocks off Main Street. As soon as we got out of the car and breathed in the garlic-scented aromas, we knew we were onto something. Mary Lou, a sweet grandmother of eight, ably assisted by grandson Joe, was certainly the cutest of the bakers we met.

Mary Lous Old Forge NEPA pizza

Her pizza education started early in life when her mother taught her the family recipes. A steady stream of customers picking up pre-ordered trays was a testament to her pizza’s popularity. The crispy crust is lighter than the others; the sauce, the best of the day, a perfect blend of onions and sweet tomato.

Elio G’s Old Forge Pizza

We were pretty full at this point, but as we were driving out of town we made one last stop at Elio G’s to watch Elio and Tom work through the dinner rush. For Old Forge pizza historians, Elio’s is a must-see destination. Elio mentioned that his grandmother, Nonni Ghigiarelli, invented Old Forge-style pizza in 1926. She made it for card players at the bar that she and her husband owned. It was an instant hit.

Elios Old Forge pizza NEPA copy

Elio is as crusty as his pizza which makes for an entertaining wait. He uses only the best ingredients including the sweetest of onions. Cheese blends are heavily guarded but it seems that Elio uses only mozzarella and sharp provolone. The chunky tomato sauce was heavily laden with black pepper

Elios Old Forge pizza

Elios white pizza is a blend of cheese and freshly cooked spinach topped with an intense blend of herbs; we tasted black pepper, rosemary, salt and maybe oregano. The herbs sprinkled on top made it taste like stuffed focaccia. Speaking of stuffed, we were pretty stuffed ourselves at this point and had to call it a day.

In Old Forge, pizza is a comfort food to celebrate both life and to mark its passing. At Elio G’s, a woman who looked remarkably like Paula Deen, stopped in to pick up five trays for a surprise 40th birthday party for her daughter.

At Mary Lou’s, a doctor who grew up in the area, was back in town to visit his father in hospice care nearby. The entire family was gathered in support of his father whose death was imminent. He said, “I was raised on that pizza It feels like home to me.”

At times like these, those who grew up in Old Forge gather around a tray of their wonderfully idiosyncratic pizza to provide support for each other. I recommend visiting Old Forge to witness a true slice, no, make that cut, of Americana.

You might be interested in our pizza tasting on six continents to find the best pizza in the world.

Here are even more reviews of Old Forge pizza on Yelp.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We’ve been traveling around the world for almost three years with our trip mascot Little Rocky but had yet to meet sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg, the man who made the Rocky statue. Originally the statue was a prop for the movie Rocky III but its popularity Read more

Much to Larissa’s chagrin it is hard for me to pass up a prison tour. I’ve dragged her along to some of the classics from Alcatraz to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin and even to the interrogation center used by the East German secret police in Berlin.

But somehow it took me until this year to visit one of the most historic jails in the world, Eastern State Penitentiary, located in our hometown of Philadelphia. In prison terms Eastern State is the mother of them all, the one that put the “penitent” in penitentiary.

eastern state interior hall horizontal (640x480)

Philadelphia was founded by pacifist Quakers. They believed that criminals would be better human beings if they were given the opportunity to live in solitary confinement 24 hours a day; then they could find God and reflect upon what got them there in the first place. Such solitary soul-searching would lead the wrongdoers to become penitent about their actions and eventually lead a better life. Among the more famous prisoners at Eastern State for whom this philosophy turned out to be wrong were gangster Al Capone and notorious bank robber Willie Sutton.

Completed in 1836 the massive structure, with its crenelated towers and 14-foot thick stone walls, resembles a medieval European castle more than a New World institution. British-born architect John Haviland designed it to intimidate. It certainly did then and still does now. It was the first of America’s mega-prisons, a step up from the town or county jail.

eastern state cell door rvsd (420x640)

For all the Gothic charm on the exterior, on the inside its architecture was revolutionary and quite modern. The design consisted of a radical new idea; it featured a central guard tower with long corridors radiating from it like spokes on a wheel, so the guards could monitor all the cells from one location. It became the model for over 300 prisons worldwide.

Despite its foreboding image, not all inside the walls was gloom and doom. Each prisoner had their own private cell which was centrally heated and they even had running water and a flush toilet. That was pretty radical at the time when you consider that President Andrew Jackson was still peeing into a chamber pot at the White House.

Alexis de Tocqueville and Charles Dickens were among the luminaries to visit Eastern State. When Dickens visited America he had two sites on his must-see agenda: Niagara Falls and the prison. De Tocqueville was so impressed that a few years later one could buy a complete dinner service from a French porcelain factory that featured plates depicting various views of the prison. How’s that for a festive supper?

The prison today provides a fascinating 45-minute self-guided audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. The site appeals to travelers on many different levels. There are the prison people who just like seeing old jails (sorry Larissa); historic preservationists who recoil at the fact that at one time the prison was going to be torn down for a strip center; ghost hunters (the prison hosts the top rated Halloween haunted house in America each year); and film buffs who want to roam the corridors that portrayed the psyche ward in the movie 12 Monkeys (starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt).

And to those who think crime does not pay I leave you with two photos. The first shows a typical cell, albeit in somewhat dilapidated condition, but you can tell it wasn’t like staying at The Ritz. The second photo is a recreation of Al Capone’s cell, decorated as it was when he was a prisoner with cushy furniture and an Oriental rug.

eastern state cell with bed (640x480)
Typical cell above.

eastern state capone suite (640x480)
Al Capone’s cell as he had it furnished.

For the latest visitor information go to their official web site: Eastern State Penitentiary. And if you’re in the area, remember that the world famous Rocky Steps are only a few blocks away.

We’ve been traveling around the world as global nomads for over three years. To receive free monthly updates and valuable travel tips from us sign up here.

It’s been over a year since we left Philadelphia to travel around the world with a Rocky statue. As our journey is coming to an end, we wrote a story for National Geographic Traveler’s “I Heart My City” series about what we look forward to seeing in Philadelphia when we return.

In the article we explore our fair city; from the hidden gem of Fort Mifflin, to the world-renowned Barnes Foundation and a stroll through the historic neighborhood of Society Hill. We even explain the many uses for the phrase “Yo!”

Philadelphia Society Hill neighborhood

 Society Hill provides a tranquil setting in Philadelphia.

All this exploring built up an appetite which we satisfied by scarfing down a Frangellis filled-to-order donut, topped off with a Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpet milk shake. With a stop along the way to sample a $100 cheesesteak, we savor everything that Philadelphia has to offer. And of course, we revisit the Rocky Steps.

Frangellis donuts Philadelphia

 Perhaps the best donuts in the world at Frangelli’s in South Philly.

Click the link to read the full story at National Geographic Traveler: I Heart My City: Larissa and Michael’s Philadelphia.

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. But what if you can’t go home again because it no longer exists? Centralia Pennsylvania used to have a Norman Rockwell atmosphere: Little League games, Memorial Day parades and  neighbors looking out for neighbors. But now it no longer officially exists.

At one time Pennsylvania was the Saudi Arabia of coal, particularly anthracite coal, the best in the world. The mines produced jobs and formed the focus of civil life.  The great wealth that was created over a century ago is still visible in rows of crumbling mansions and massive granite courthouses.

The coal starts burning

Until 1962, Centralia was a typical mining town in Pennsylvania. That is until one day a fire started in a trash pit.  This being coal country, coal seams run near the surface. Eventually the trash fire lit a seam and the huge wealth of anthracite under Centralia caught fire. What is coal’s great underlying purpose? It burns readily and it burns fiercely hot.

Centralia from the hill before

 Centralia before the fire.

centralia pennsylvania after the fire

Centralia today.

 At first the people of Centralia didn’t realize the gravity of their situation. They made a few attempts to put out the fire but burning coal is not easily extinguished. Gradually over the next two decades the fire burned closer to town until it was literally burning right underneath their noses. Gases from the fire leached into basements and steam vents had to be installed in yards.

Centralia coal mine fire walking

Heat from the fire can be felt through thick-soled shoes.

On Valentine’s Day in 1981, a young boy fell into a sinkhole created by the fire. If he hadn’t grabbed hold of a tree root he would have been incinerated. At this point the townspeople realized the impending danger from the fire below. Within two years a plan was implemented to remove the remaining residents.

Centralia becomes a ghost town

Today there are about five occupied houses in Centralia. The houses that remain are rowhomes, a style of architecture that depends on the structural support of neighboring homes to stay upright; without their neighbors they would collapse. As the residents die off or move out, their houses are demolished. In order to remain standing, the homes left behind need brick structures reminiscent of the buttresses on a medieval cathedral to avoid falling down. They have lost the support of their neighbors; both morally and physically.

centralia pennsylvania houses

Since neighboring houses were torn down, extra brick supports had to be added to the remaining rowhouses.

The fire still burns

DSC00052 (800x600)

The cracked road leading into town.

If rust never sleeps, fire never stops raging. The setting resembles a scene more like Dante’s Inferno than the surrounding bucolic countryside. The unrelenting gray pallor makes it look the surface of the moon with burned out trees.  The trees wilt from the massive heat reaching their roots, much like the town itself they are dying from within.

DSC00086 (800x600)

A lone church is one of the few remaining structures.

I placed my hand on the ground and felt the heat coming up from within. The sulphurous air is a constant reminder of the poisonous atmosphere. As the fire finds new seams it is gradually eating away at what remains of the town. It has now reached the edge of the old Russian cemetery. The burial site of generations of miners and their families is now in danger; as if the fire is not content to only chase out the living but must also disturb the dead.

A piece of Centralia survives the fire

There is one poignant reminder of what once was in Centralia and what might have been. In front of the abandoned Veteran’s Memorial a white marble slab is embedded in the ground. It marks the site of a time capsule that was buried in 1966 to celebrate the town’s centennial. It is due to be opened in 2016. When the capsule was buried the fire was only a few years old and considered a minor nuisance. When they were choosing items typical of that era to bury, who could have known that they would soon be burying the town itself?

Time capsule

The time capsule was opened ahead of schedule in October, 2014. Much of the contents inside were destroyed from flooding.

You might also be interested in another modern ghost town. Picher Oklahoma was abandoned in 2009 due to contamination from lead mines.

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It’ll be Opening Day soon for two of our favorite Philadelphia institutions: the Phillies and the Headhouse Farmers Market. While we don’t know if the Phillies will make or break our hearts this year, we do know that the market will offer the best assortment of locally grown produce, handcrafted artisan cheeses and chocolates (who said everything has to be healthy?) and fresh-baked goods.

Headhouse Farmers market food trust interior

Run by The Food Trust, there are strict requirements that all the vendors produce what they sell, so there’s no one selling chachkas or bringing in bulk products from far away. The ambience of the market matches the historic character of the neighborhood. It sits astride cobblestoned streets and is held in the circa-1804 brick headhouse in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. A market was on this site when the neighborhood was first established in the 1740s so it has to be one of the oldest markets in America.

The Headhouse Farmers’ Market is our favorite place to shop for food. It opens at 10 on Sunday mornings, enticing us to roll out of bed at a reasonable time. The fact that it was only a few blocks walk for us when we lived in Philadelphia certainly helped. We’d start out with the best intentions to stock up on vegetables and fruit but always seem to come home with more croissants than carrots.

Headhouse Farmers market food trust peaches

Since we’re away this year we’ll probably miss most of the growing season. Hopefully we’ll return in time for the autumn squashes and pumpkins and, just maybe, a parade for the Phillies. One can always dream.

For more information:

The Food Trust in Philadelphia.

Headhouse Market Food Trust

Okay, I couldn’t resist this photo of someone walking by the Headhouse who apparently has no head.

 

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