If I am correct, which sometimes happens, a Christmas Putz has two characteristics: It centers around a representation of Christ's birth, and it can be viewed only during the Christmas season.
If this is so, Roadside America at Shartlesville definitely is not a Putz. Although it features many houses of worship, it does not--to my knowledge--have a Nativity scene; and though it is open during the Christmas season, it also is open from July through Labor Day. If I am wrong about this I hope the owners, or simple enthusiasts for the site, will set me straight.
I first saw Roadside America, which is located at U.S. Route 22 and I-178, when I was young, probably 11 or 12. I have never forgotten it. This is not an ad, but I would recommend this site to anyone. It was amazing then; I have no doubt it is more amazing now. An outside sign proclaims, in part, "Who Enters Here Will Be Taken By Surprise! Be Prepared To See More Than You Expect!"
Indeed, yes. Roadside America is much more than a miniature village; it is a civilization in miniature, made up of numerous villages, scenes from the countryside, and from small, attractive cities. A ticket to it is a ticket to the nation as we dream of it.
It also is a ticket to history, because the nation we dream of is, by definition, a vision of the past. I doubt that, even today, you would be able to point out one strip mall or highway interchange in this built landscape, let alone some of the other less pleasant constructions of our time.
This is a landscape in which things move, though, although they are not necessarily the most "modern" things. Miniature trains of various gauges whiz by, a tiny grist mill goes about its task of making flour. The Locust Hill breaker processes coal, a reminder of one of the Commonwealth's largest and most problematic industries.
Take it all in, if you can. Take all the pictures you want; the owners encourage it. Then ask yourself the inevitable question: "How did all this come to be?"
A clue can be found on the sign we have already visited, the one at the entrance. One of the things it says is, "Over 60 years in the Making By Our Family."
The patriarch of this family was Laurence Gieringer, a carpenter and painter who had an abiding love for miniatures. He would carve them meticulously, working on a scale of 3/8 of an inch to a foot--houses, stores, churches, a coach and four, anything.
His family's own under-tree Christmas exhibit soon became a thing of amazing beauty. A newspaper, the Reading Eagle, got word of this and ran a feature story about it. Thus was laid the groundwork for the present roadside attraction that has beguiled so many thousands and provided work for so many Gieringer descendants.
Hours for Roadside America during this season are 10-5 Monday through Friday and 10-6 weekends. The site will be closed on Christmas.
For further information, call 610-488-6241, or visit the organization's site at www.roadsideamericainc.com To see a series of spectacular Roadside America photos, go to www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap.