from the archives: bathing in bedford springs

Secluded on 2,200 acres in the Southern Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, Bedford Springs Resort is one of the country’s few surviving examples of a time since passed – a time when Americans “summered” and traveled to “take the waters.” Now a national historic landmark, the 18th-century resort hotel sat derelict for a generation before recently undergoing a massive $120 million renovation that restored the once-famous mineral springs, Colonial-era buildings and golf course. How appropriate then, that this piece of American history is returned to its former glory and welcoming travelers once again.

Long touted for its healing waters and restorative environs, Bedford Springs dates back to 1796, when its seven original mineral springs were purchased by Bedford native Dr. D. John Anderson, who built bathing facilities for his patients to drink and soak in the waters. To local residents and the general public he sold “life tickets” and “family tickets.” It was the beginning of something far grander than anyone could have imagined. As word of the healing springs spread – they were rumored to cure everything from gout to rheumatism to “derangements of the liver” – Bedford’s guest register recorded the names of many American luminaries, including Daniel Webster, Aaron Burr and Henry Ford. Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor also came for the cure.

Where celebrities and politicians went, so society followed, and “the Bedford Cure” became part of the social circuit. Outdoor adventure in the lush valley became part of it as well, as guests amused themselves with lawn bowling, badminton, shuffleboard and tennis. After a morning soak at the Yellow, Sulphur or Moss Springs, patrons packed the horse-drawn “Talley Ho” for a ride around the grounds and into town.

With the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 came greater access to the prestigious resort, and it continued to prosper throughout the 1960s and ’70s. But by the 1980s the once-grand grande dame appeared outdated and eventually closed her doors. It was soon deemed one of the most endangered sites on the National Registry of Historic Places.

After 21 years, Bedford Springs Resort has awoken like Sleeping Beauty. There are now more than 200 guest rooms, elegantly restored in historically accurate colors with period details preserved and reflecting the diverse history of the buildings. Sun- and breeze-filled porches are plentiful, with striking views of the grounds. Many of the curiosities discovered during the overhaul are proudly displayed, including photographs of turn-of-the-century merrymakers, guest registers and ledgers noting presidential visits, and a grand Stars and Stripes that greets you in the Federal-era lobby – the only known 39-star American flag in existence. Today, the resort’s fabled waters flow through a new 30,000-square-foot Springs Eternal Spa fed by Spring Eternal, the property’s eighth spring, which unexpectedly gushed to the surface during the restoration. Treatments at the Springs Eternal Spa are naturally focused on hydrotherapies, so be sure to indulge in the classic American spa experience of taking the waters however you can. Both the restored Victorian-style indoor swimming pool and the newly built outdoor pool are spring-fed. The trout stream and miles of nature trails will excite outdoor enthusiasts. Give a nod to the old “Talley Ho” and grab one of the resort’s Cannondale bikes and a prepared picnic from the cafe.

What’s even more engaging about Bedford Springs is the utter lack of pretense. Some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable staff you’ll ever meet are happy to stop whatever they’re doing and share some fascinating factoid. (The central double staircase, for example, is rumored to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson, who installed a similar one at Monticello.) There are nuggets of American history tucked into every nook and cranny of Bedford Springs. However, it’s the five-star service that will leave you feeling positively presidential.  READ MORE

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at the theatre: bloody bloody andrew jackson

Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson attempts to twist the story of America’s first political maverick into a parable for our time. A.J. kicked British butt, shafted the Indians and smacked down the Spaniards all in the name of these great United States.  Who cares if he didn’t have any actual authority – he was riding a wave of populist discontent towards the establishment that would make today’s tea-baggers cream their jeans. Reinventing Old Hickory as a petulant and pouty-face emo kid is brilliant; a slap in the face of our narcissistic culture of instant gratification and misplaced rage against a machine of our own creation.

The opening number, Populism, Yea, Yea, shouts earnestly about taking “a stand against the Elite – this is the Age of Jackson.”  Substitute “the Age of Palin” and the next set of the lyrics become brutally funny in their essential “truthiness”:

We’ll take the land back from the Indians
We’ll take the land back from the French and Spanish
And other people in other European countries
And other countries too
And also other places
I’m pretty sure its our land anyway.

When the cabal of John Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren later ask, “Do you really want the American people running their own country?” you have to laugh.  Sure, the Elite may be fixing elections and pursuing policies that best suit their personal interests, but if not them, who? Popular democracy is a scary thing – and being mad as hell doesn’t necessarily translate well into effective policy. In an exhilarating star turn as our 7th President, Benjamin Walker learns that lesson all too well as the mob turns from adoration to antipathy in the time it takes to say ADD.

Where the authors misstep is in trying too hard to flesh 30 minutes of great material into a 90-minute Broadway show.  This leads to an unnecessary subplot involving a wheelchair-bound lesbian narrator, random doses of humor that border on the puerile, and most egregiously, the pious elevation of Indian disenfranchisement and slaughter into extended moments of “importance and meaning” that ring about as true as Shrub’s recent assertion that Kanye West’s comments were the worst thing to happen during his presidency.

Yet I’m harshing on the party.  What was the last musical you saw that made you grateful for both tight jeans and our system of checks and balance?

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