bucket list: 2010 – september

SAN FRANCISCO/HERSHEY:  September drew me back to San Francisco in search of redwoods, which I found in abundance just over the Golden Gate Bridge at Muir Woods National Park.  For all of the times I’ve been to the city by the bay, it’s rather remarkable that I’d never made the short trip north to hike the primeval forest.  Nor had I indulged, it turns out, in many of the touristy attractions the city is famous for like dim sum in Chinatown, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, strolling the shelves of the City Lights bookstore and taking the boat to Alcatraz.  I  made sure to remedy that on this trip.

Another overlooked opportunity finally rectified this month was a visit to the historic Hotel Hershey and Hershey Park.  Having spent four years passing it back and forth during college, I was eager to one day stop and smell the chocolate.  It didn’t disappoint – especially when it came to designing my own chocolate bar and packaging.  And the roller coasters were pretty good, too.  Plus, the history of chocolate-pioneer Milton Hershey – and everything he did for the town founded to house his factory workers – satisfied my hunger for a real slice of Americana as all those faux patriots began their hysterical crusade toward the mid-term elections.



So the answer to the pressing question posited last week?  A resounding “yes,” as the merit badge above clearly shows.  We all survived.  A little bruised, abused, and infused with way too much sugar perhaps, but nobody went down without a fight!  And oh, yeah, Hershey Park was fun, too.


the hotel hershey

At a time when the nation was caught up in the throes of the Great Depression, Milton S. Hershey had a crazy idea to build a grand hotel in the middle of central Pennsylvania.

However, Hershey’s folly was actually quite a brilliant solution to troubled times.  Nearly three decades earlier, having perfected a formula for milk chocolate that made him a very wealthy man, Hershey planned the town that bears his name, and by 1930 he had constructed a chocolate factory, homes for his employees and a school for orphaned boys.  He realized that if he didn’t continue to provide work for his town he would have to provide in other ways.  “We have about 600 construction workers in this town,”  Hershey remarked.  “If I don’t provide work for them, I’ll have to feed them.  And since building materials are now at their lowest cost levels, I’m going to build and give them jobs.”  Suddenly it made sense to resurrect plans from an earlier time.

A driving force behind the original vision for a hotel was Hershey’s wife Catherine, whom he called “Kitty.” The couple had once dreamed of building something similar to the Heliopolis Palace Hotel they visited in Egypt. But after Hershey learned that re-creating the Heliopolis would cost almost $5 million, he scrapped the idea. The couple put their hotel plans on hold, and Kitty died in 1915.

This time around Hershey’s ideas for a hotel were a bit more modest. He directed his architect-builder, D. Paul Witmer, to design a hotel based on a small Mediterranean property where he had once stayed. The end result was a $2 million, 170-room hotel with Mediterranean flair that employed as many as 800 steelworkers, masons, carpenters and other craftsmen during the year and a half it took to build.

The Hotel’s Fountain Lobby was inspired by Hershey’s love of Cuba, a country where he owned sugar plantations and mills and where he created a model sugar-mill town called Central Hershey – much like the town he was developing in Pennsylvania. And Hershey’s own desire for a grand dining room without any corners – he reportedly once said, “In some places if you don’t tip well they put you in a corner.” – resulted in the hotel’s Circular Dining Room.

It was in that dining room that Hershey addressed his first guests at a celebratory dinner on May 26, 1933. “I am but a simple farmer. I like to utilize nature’s beauty for the pleasure of men. This hotel where you are assembled has been a dream of mine for many years,” he is reported to have said. “When we farmers go to the city, we are impressed by the fine hotels we see there. So I thought I’d impress the city folks by building a fine hotel on one of our farms. I am of the opinion that there will be a need for this hotel someday, although the prospects do not look very encouraging at the present time.”

For many years the prospect was indeed grim.  Yet the hotel – like the country – soldiered on and today it’s a modern hotel with over 75 years of tradition and history under its belt.  As well as being the perfect respite from a hectic weekend at Hershey Park, The Hotel Hershey remains a full-blown destination resort in its own right, with a chocolate-inspired spa, formal gardens, farm-to-table restaurants, aquatic facilities and four distinct golf courses – unexpectedly nestled in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.


kid in a candy factory

One of the neatest activities available at Hershey Park’s Chocolate World attraction is the new interactive Create Your Own Candy Bar experience.  Donning factory aprons and hairnets, you get to select from a handful of candy bar ingredients, activate the machinery, and watch your personalized bar get drenched in milk chocolate.  Next, head to the interactive design kiosk and customize your packaging.  (Having consumed far too many sweets already, I chose to design mine as a gift for a diabetic friend.) At the end of the production line, collect your bespoke milk chocolate-crispy rice-graham cracker-chocolate chip-cookie bits-bar in its own presentation box for a one of a kind souvenir topped with kiss-shaped sprinkles.  Then see how long you can resist the temptation to break the seal and steal a taste.


healthy choices


strange things eaten in pennsylvania


on the hershey highway

Can three adults and two small kids survive a weekend adventure – and 4-hour car trip – to the land of the Kiss?  We shall soon see.  Stay tuned.


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