Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oh, Tell I Here of the Hotel There

No, that isn't a hotel shaped as a Wedding Cake. That is our hands fifty years ago in a mid-September. A lot of fuss is often made of the Golden Anniversary, proper parties and such. But times are rough and no one in my family is in shape to throw a big bash. The best we could come up with was a little trip of a couple days.

We may not even went off on such a thing if reservations and plans hadn't been in place before I lost my job at the end of August. But sometimes the best way to deal with adversity is to get away from it for awhile.

So to what grand and exotic spot did we go to celebrate such an auspicious occasion as our fiftieth?

Mauch Chunk, of course.

Ohhhh-kay, why?

Back in 2008 the Little Woman and I started off on an ill-conceived vacation into Northern Pennsylvania. After eating lunch in the Bear Swamp Diner at Macungie (and perhaps that name was a hint of what was ahead) we traveled northwest until we hit wilderness. After a while of seeing naught, but scrub grass and trees we got the heebie-jeebies about where we might stay the night or even eat. I confessed I may not have planned this out very well as we decided to turn around and flee for more civilization. We ended up having a wonderful few days staying in Gettysburg. (You can get the gory details of that truncated jaunt here -- Getting to Gettysburg: Jim Thorpe and Traveling is Broadening.)

Well, between Macungie and dread, we passed through the little burg of Mauch Chunk. (The Little Woman said it sounded like some kind of animal eating. Not far off, the name means Bear Mountain in the language of the Lenapes.) The town was very crowded that day and there seemed no where at all to park, so we only saw it from our moving car, but the Little Woman thought it charming and intriguing and ever since that day wanted to go back and visit the place.

By the way, although the rail station reads Mauch Chunk as do many signs in the place, it is better known as Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe (pictured right) is considered by some the greatest American athlete ever, even the greatest world athlete. He was born in Oklahoma and, like the Little Woman, was part Irish and part Native American. In 1904 he left the Okay state to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School where he first came to fame playing football for the Carlisle Indians. He went on to excel in football, baseball, basketball and win Olympic Gold metals in track.

So, he never lived in Mauch Chuck, perhaps never even visited, and Mauch Chunk isn't exactly a suburb of Carlisle, which is his connection to Pennsylvania. But like all humans, Jim Thorpe, super-athlete that he was, died and when his home state of Oklahoma wouldn't erect a memorial to him, his wife (his third) got angry. Most powerful weapon of mass destruction in the world is an angry woman. She made a deal with Mauch Chunk, an old coal town dying, and they erected a monument and renamed the town Jim Thorpe. He was interred there (His son began a lawsuit in 2010 to have his body exhumed and reinterred on Native American ground in Oklahoma.). His Wife got the memorial she felt he deserved and Mauch Chunk got new life as a booming tourist town. (There is a certain irony in Jim Thorpe and Mauch Chunk coming together this way, but I'll get to that in another post.)

This post is about hotels.

The Little Woman and I have been fortunate enough to do a little traveling. We have over time stayed in some interesting and historic hotels. Not the big grand ones, such as the Waldorf-Astoria, although we did spend a couple night in it many moons ago, but smaller, perhaps lesser known hostels.

(On the left is the Little Woman relaxing in our room at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 1962.)

Here are some of the very old and interesting places we have enjoyed staying at over the years:

The Inn on Canal Square in Lewes, Delaware. We have been privileged to  stay here several times in recent years. The photo here was from earlier this year. It rained all the first day and then turned to snow overnight, which turned to a blizzard burying the Mid-Atlantic.  We always stayed here out-of-season because of the cost in season.

The Lighthouse on Casco Bay at Sebasco, Maine. Like The Inn on Canal Square, we had a marvelous view from our room of water. Here we were overlooking an expansive bay and inlet rather than a canal. It was an unique place to stay.

Part of our room in the historic Hawthorne House, Salem, Massachusetts. The infamous "House of Seven Gables" was a short walk away and across the street was the "Salem Witch Museum". Yes, in was named for Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Independent Park Hotel in the Old City district of Philadelphia, just around the corner from Two Street; surrounded by the history of our country's founding and a few steps away from a world of dining experiences, from an Havana Street at Cuba Libre, the Indian cuisine of Cafe Spice, to eating off a coffin in the Eulogy Belgian Tavern.

These are all fine establishments, places I would recommend to anyone, at least if they have remained as they were when we visited. But here I want to sing the praises of The Inn at Jim Thorpe. I would put it at the top of an enjoyable carefree stay for comfort, cleanliness and accommodations.

Jim Thorpe seems to have a way of taking you to other places, but more on that in later posts. There is a certain reminiscence of New Orleans to the Inn. This had caught the Little Woman's eye when we passed by several years ago.

The flowers trimming the railings are real, I hope anyway, since a man is watering them.

Parking is ever a premium in this town and for a moment I feared I would find no room at the inn for my car (actually the Little Woman's car). I drove about the rather cramped lot twice. It was quite filled-up it seemed and had narrow stretches I had to maneuver to escape on the first run through.

I had to exit thought a alleyway, which grew more cramped the further you went. This deposited us back on the main street we had originally entered from, much to my anxiety. There were no sign of parking spots along this avenue.

"What do we do now?" I said.

"Go back around where we went before," said the Little Woman.

I gave her a questioning look, but did so.

"There," she said as we entered the lot again, "turn left."

Up ahead upon a wall that ended this drive was a sign saying, "Inn Parking" with arrows pointing both left and right. We had turned right before and ended up exiting.

"I thought I saw more parking to the left," she said.

But the left was not a lane to extra parking, simply an indication that spaces lined this side of the drive. I pulled forward and amazingly, glommed what was apparently the last possible spot of the moment.

Yes, that is our little red Fit tucked away between two walls and a large SUV, almost a feeling of being in a garage.

If the parking lot seemed a bit -- oh, I don't know - spooky, intimidating, cramped, this was not the nature of the Inn once inside.

The hallways were like compressed galleries in an art museum, festooned with paintings right and left to escort us to our room on the third floor.

I look at this picture and realize it is some what surreal; it must be the Dali wing. The way the left wall appears to wave and waffle.

I think it sets the mood for this very interesting town.

Someplace that changed from street to street, a place still somewhat frozen in a bygone era, a place of fascinating history and a place with surprises around each corner.

We were in room 312, what was called a mini-suite.

The Little Woman was thrilled when we threw back the door and entered. Ahead we could see a wide-screen television. No, it was not the TV that made my wife thrill; I mean, come on. It was the mantle of what the TV sat upon, a working fireplace.

I am not exactly certain why she has this love of fireplaces, but she does. We had stayed in a hotel in Monmouth, N.J. a couple years ago, near the university. We were there for a concert and I didn't want to make the long trip home so late at night, something ironic as it turned out. It was one of the Marriott Residence Inns and it had a fireplace. Oh, the little woman looked forward to coming back from the concert and nestling down together before a blazing fire.

It wasn't to be. Leaving the University we got hopelessly lost and didn't find our way back to that Inn until the wee hours of the morning, weary and shaken. The Little Woman didn't get her fire and I traveled more miles late at night than I would have going home.

I sort of hated telling her that you couldn't light the fireplace here until October. I had read that in a room description on the website. However, no one at the checkin mentioned not using the fireplace nor was anything posted or in the Welcome to the Inn book in the room. I was tempted to flick the ignition switch and see if anyone squawked. There was wood in the thing. But I didn't.

There were plenty of amenities in the room beside the TV and fireplace. There was A/C and heat, of course. There was a CD player and clock radio, a DVD player hooked to the TV, Coffee Maker and assorted coffees and teas, a microwave and a refrigerator stocked with free bottled water.

There was also a ceiling fan and a skylight, which made other lamps unneeded most of the day. We were blessed with two beautiful, sunny days, a nice respite from all the rain of the last month.

There was another amenity, which we both made good use of and did it ever feel good on this old body, a whirlpool bathtub.

Sorry, it was not surrounded by mirrors so no accidental catching of me splashing about in the altogether.

On the floor below was a lounge for those who wanted to use such a place. Besides some magazines there was a shelving unit holding several board games.

As nice as these facilities might be, we preferred to be out and about the town or snug in our room.

The staff here was very accommodating. In a reversal of the maid accidentally walking in on the guest, we walked in on the maid or maids actually. The two young ladies were very friendly as we sat about watching them work. When the one noticed the coffee we preferred, she left us extra of it.

On Sunday evening after we returned from dinner, the Little Woman had a hankering for a candy bar. Finding such a thing seemed a unlikely mission, but I set out into the dark and empty streets to try. I saw a couple places that probably did have candy, but they were closed. I returned to the hotel defeated, but in my best conspiratorial voice, asked the Desk Clerk if they had any candy bars hidden about.

"No," she said, "but Dugans sells candy bars and he is still open. It is just a block up the street."

She was correct and I came back with a half dozen assorted candy bars. The Little Woman was happy, which is what you want.

The Inn was once known as the American Hotel. In the 1800s it was one of seven grand hotels that graced the town, but today is the only one still remaining and doing business. Those were the days when Mauch Chunk was a tourist destination second only to Niagara Falls and people flocked in to dance at The Flagstaff, its "Ballroom in the Sky". By the time of Jim Thorpe, Mauch Chuck may have long shed its title of "wealthiest town - per capita - in America", home at one time at the same time to 13 millionaires, when a million dollars was real money. (I'll let you in on a secret: a million dollars is still real money to me, so anyone who feels it is chump change can toss it to this chump.)

Anyway, this is the hotel of which I tell and I would tell you to stay there is you ever have the desire to lay over in Mauch Chuck. Maybe go during the October Fall Foliage Festival and ride an old train up through the Lehigh Valley River Gorge or take in Jay Smar, singing coal country classics in Josiah White Park.

And while there enjoying the peace and quite or the colors of changing leaves or the wonderful Inn at Jim Thorpe, learn some history.

See the upsides and downsides of our history. Learn of Asa Packer. Learn of the Molly Maguires. Visit, by all means, the mansions on the hill and then do not overlook or miss the dungeons of the Old Jail.

Then you will know why Mauch Chunk indeed.

All photos by the author, except the portrait of Jim Thorpe.

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