Archive for the ‘It’s Free’ Category

Apple picking time at Hopewell Furnace

September 14, 2012

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, about 15 miles east of Reading, was one of the country’s first iron producers, casting cannons for the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War and once responsible for 15 percent of the entire world’s iron supply. Gen. George Washington’s troops came within three miles of the furnace, and its workers rushed to bury several “great guns” on the property to save them from possible capture by the Redcoats.

Today, Hopewell Furnace is a preserved iron plantation run by the National Park Service and a very worthy stop on anyone’s Pennsylvania history tour. Besides the blast furnace, there’s a restored blacksmith’s shop, a company store, the ironmaster’s house, and several workers’ cottages — all nestled in a peaceful forested valley.

This month is my favorite time of year to visit. The property includes a four-acre apple orchard and the Park Service lets visitors pick as much as they want for $1 a pound (buckets and pole pickers provided). Though the original apple trees from the 1780s are gone, there are 35 different varieties, many with historical roots, including Spitzenburg’s, which may have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite and Smokehouse, a variety traced to 1837 when it was grown next to a smokehouse in Lancaster County. By mid-October the fruit is gone, so get here soon. Hopewell Furnace is within French Creek State Park and links up with several trails within the park.


The Stoogeum: Laughter as Panacea

September 9, 2012

It’s the laughter that gets you the first time you visit the Stoogeum near Ambler. Giggles aren’t an everyday occurrence in your average museum, but they have them in spades at this office-park shrine to Larry, Curly, and Moe. It seems like every knucklehead…er, visitor…in the Stoogeum is chuckling over something, whether it’s the comedy sketches playing on TVs on every floor, the vintage pinball machine, or the wall of comic strips, from Nancy to Calvin and Hobbes, that make reference to TV’s eye-poking comic geniuses.

Whether you’re a fan of or not, this is museum-going at its finest and funniest. It’s way more than someone’s dusty collection of shot glasses and vanity license plates. Founder Gary Lassin, a lifelong Stooges fan, also happened to marry the granddaughter of Larry Fine’s brother (Local trivia: Larry was born Louis Feinberg near 3rd and South Streets and was the only Stooge from Philadelphia.) The amazing collection includes signed Columbia Pictures contracts (showing how their salaries rose from $200 to $1,500 a week in the 1930s); TV and movie props, like the flying submarine tank from The Three Stooges in Orbit; and a marketing empire as savvy as the Walt Disney Co. (cereal boxes, Colorforms, thimbles, toilet paper, and much more). There’s a state-of-the-art screening room playing Stooges shorts all day and interactive “Stoogeology 101” screens that urge you to “poke Curly in the eye” to get started.

You’ll probably come away with a better understanding of Shemp Howard (who replaced his brother Curly in the 1940s) and of the fact that the Stooges were men struggling with real issues when they weren’t throwing pies at each other.

But most likely of all, you’ll leave with a belly aching from laughing so much.

The Stoogeum is open the following Saturdays in 2012: Oct. 6, Nov. 17 and Dec. 22. It’s free, it’s about a 30-minute drive from Philadelphia, and kids are welcome (my 7-year-old loved it).

The Prettiest Street in Philadelphia

June 28, 2012

According to Inga Saffron, architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it’s the 2400 block of Panama Street in Fitler Square. She tells Philly Mag this month: “Every house is painted a different color. It’s very narrow and has Belgian bricks, and in the spring it’s overhung with cherry blossoms and magnolias and mimosas, a canopy of pink blossoms.”


May 7, 2012


For several years, I was a Los Angeles-based contributor to the arts and entertainment section of the Philadelphia Daily News. That meant interviewing actors and directors about their work and lives. If they had ever spent any time in Philly, I also would ask about their best memories of the city. Sarah Jessica Parker remembered a mime who performed near her dad’s place at the old Headhouse Square, Nicolas Cage liked the pizza at Tacconelli’s, and Elizabeth Banks has fond memories of catching a show at the Theatre of Living Arts after a dinner date with her future husband in South Philly. All good stories, but my favorite answer came from Rick Yune, who played a villain in the James Bond film Die Another Day. As a Penn student in the 1990s, he recalled his favorite running route: beginning at 40th and Chestnut in West Philly, east to the Delaware Avenue waterfront, then back. Whether you run, walk or stroll it, it’s a fantastic way to experience the city—32 blocks that take you by historic sites, beautiful old churches, unexpected murals, top restaurants, brick homes, and gates that lead to secret gardens or alleys. Take Walnut one way and follow Chestnut back past Independence Hall,Washington Square, and City Hall, or zigzag between them and other parallel streets such as Spruce or Pine. The grid layout means you’ll never get lost, and you’ll end with a heightened sense of the city’s eclectic mix of academia, history, and blue-collar pride.