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Day Tripper - The Amish Experience
03/04/2010 - By Teja Anderson
A unique journey is a short buggy ride away in Pennsylvania
In the heart of the oldest Amish settlement in the world, located between the towns of BirdinHand and Intercourse, Pennsylvania is the “Amish Experience.” It is the largest and most complete interpretive touring center of its kind in the United States. You can easily take bus tours of the surrounding Amish farmlands in heated or air-conditioned comfort, enjoy informative guided walks through Lancaster County’s only designated “Heritage Site” - Amish House - and witness the spectacular and widely acclaimed F/X Theater production of “Jacob’s Choice,” the emotional story of an Old Order Amish family of today facing the challenges of modern life while struggling to preserve 400 years of community, commitment and tradition.
In 1955, a musical called “Plain & Fancy” opened on Broadway in New York City and spurred the beginning of tourism in Lancaster County, PA. Soon thereafter, a house and barn on Route 340 in Bird-in-Hand opened using the same name, which referred to the “plain” people (the Amish) and the rest of the local, “fancy” population. Fifty-five years later, the house, restaurant, and tours provide experiences where “plain and fancy” traditions meet. This is a wonderful and unique opportunity for individuals and families to observe; especially poignant for children and teens who live in such a technological age. So leave the video games, iPods®, cell phones and Blackberries® in the car and treat yourselves to a trip back to a simpler time.
First stop on your tour should be “Jacob’s Choice” at the F/X Theater. Although many people assume it is IMAX or some similar movie experience, in reality its special effects date back to the dawn of cinema! Employing the technique “Pepper’s Ghost,” a special stage effect created in the 1800s, you will be amazed as ghostlike images that you can see through appear in a three-dimensional setting before you. There are relatively few theaters where you can see this unusual effect, named for one of its creators, Henry Pepper. The Haunted Mansion at Disney World is one place where it has been used for many years. In this theater, the single piece of glass used for the effect was supplied by Rochester Insulated Glass Company and weighs 800 pounds. Six people were required to unload it and move it into position. Reflective film was applied to the glass on site.
Most of the special effects were created at Varitel in Los Angeles. The wavy aspect of actors as they appear and disappear, as well as their appearing in a kind of smoke, were all done over the course of two nights. In the boat sequence, various actors are made to simply disappear, fading slowly away, as they become victims of the long sea voyage. The special effects designer who worked on this, David M. Blum, helped create the original “transporter beaming” effect for Star Trek. Another amazing feature is the cannon which fires a blast out of which comes a perfect smoke ring that goes over the audience to the back of the theater. A special fluid is used so that the smoke holds in the air rather than dissipating rapidly. The cannon is probably the favorite of the various special mechanical effects in the show.
The music score is an original work composed by Franz Pusch, of “3-D Sound” in California. Franz was given freedom to compose and his basic approach was to keep the music simple and sparse, especially for the contemporary scenes. Acoustic string instruments were used, as well as voices and other sounds for the historical sequences. Franz was provided with samples of hymn melodies of the 16th century, plus hymns from the German Gesangbuch, as well as the 400-year-old Ausbund. Usually heard at church services, the hymnal is still used by the Amish today. It is interesting to note that the sound of wind heard during the stormy “Charming Nancy” boat trip to America is actually a mixing of six human voices imitating wind recorded in a local Lancaster studio. Similar unusual vocal treatments are heard in other scenes as well.
The theater design, inside and out, reflects the rural flavor of Lancaster County and admirably meets the many demands of the show. One of the newer effects is “wind” and “rain” in the theater during the historical sequence when the Anabaptists are crossing the ocean to the New World in the 1700s. Along with the stormy visual and sound, audience members feel more a part of the experience of these early settlers, who risked their lives in order to find a place where they could live and worship freely.
Making any film about the Amish requires horses and buggies. The buggy used by Jacob actually once belonged to an Amish teenager and can be seen outside the theater. Inside the lobby is the facade of Jacob’s grandfather Isaac’s carriage. Both carriages were purchased at the famous Gordonville Fire Company Auction in February, 1995. During dis-assembly, the back panel of Isaac’s buggy was discovered to have handwriting in pencil stating when it was trimmed (1914), what the weather was like (“very cold and good sleighing”), and also the two dates when it was re- covered (1914 and 1966).
In 1985, the Paramount Pictures film “Witness,” starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, became a worldwide hit. The movie was filmed in Lancaster, on a private (non-Amish) farm southwest of Strasburg, and in the nearby village of Intercourse. Ten years later, the costumes used in “Witness” returned again to Lancaster. While “Jacob’s Choice” was filmed in Lancaster with talented area actors, much of the clothing was rented from Paramount Studios in California. Rumor has it that the coat worn by Harrison Ford was discovered, with the initials “H.F.” on the inside. A Japanese movie poster of “Witness” at the time of its release can be seen in the theater lobby. Don’t forget your camera!
Amish Country Tours (Dutchland Tours, Inc.)
This company has been providing guided tours in Lancaster County for over 50 years. Their goal is for visitors to see the Amish not as saints or curiosities, but as our neighbors, as “real people.” Their certified guides make every tour educational and entertaining, respectful and insightful. Whenever possible, the farmland tours include a stop at an Amish property, such as a bake shop, a roadside stand, or a quilt shop on a farm, so that visitors can interact with the Amish. Visitors can also book package tours for “Jacob’s Choice” in the Amish Experience Theater, and the Amish Country Homestead, the only Amish house tour in Lancaster County designated a “Heritage Site,” which provides the ideal overview of Amish culture for visitors.
Their exclusive Amish Visit-In-Person Tours (VIP) afford visitors the rare opportunity to meet and talk personally with Amish at work and at home. If you have extra time Underground Railroad tours and tours to historic Philadelphia are also offered in season. Tours are always guided, on a van, shuttle, or motor coach. The Amish Visit-In-Person Tour is relatively new and was established because they found that people really enjoy meeting the Amish in person. It is the first tour to receive “Heritage Tour” status from the county. Along with the Amish Country Homestead, these are the only two Amish-related attractions to receive this distinction, based on authenticity and interpretive requirements.
The guided tours begin March 27, 2010 and run trough the end of October 2010. They range from $30-$60 per person, and school and group rates are available.
The Amish Experience
P.O. Box 414
3121 Old Philadelphia Pike
Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505
Phone (717) 768-3600, Ext. 210
Fax (717) 768-7864
Take Pennsylvania Turnpike West to Exit 286. Travel South on Route 222 to Route 30 East. Take the Route 340/Old Philadelphia Pike exit off Route 30. At the light at the top of the exit ramp turn left heading east on Route 340. The Amish Experience at Plain & Fancy Farm is approximately 5.8 miles east on the left. You will pass through the villages of Smoketown and Bird-in-Hand and will come upon Plain & Fancy Farm before you reach the town of Intercourse.
Take Route 78 West. Exit at Route 501, Bethel. Travel South on Route 501 all the way to Route 30. Take Route 30 East. Follow directions above, exiting at the Route 340/Old Philadelphia Pike exit off the Route 30 bypass.
For GPS users:
3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Ronks, PA
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