On a recent drive along Route 78 East in Pennsylvania, I passed a roadside attraction I’d driven past a million times before without stopping. It’s called Roadside America Miniature Village. It’s a museum of miniatures built over decades by a man named Laurence Gieringer in the mid-1930s.
The appeal of miniatures for me goes back to my dollhouse and Barbie days. The Twilight Zone episode where it turns out at the end that everybody in the episode is actually a doll being moved around by a massive human girl who occasionally sticks her hand into the scene to ruin their little doll lives. This museum I went to when I was visiting Denver in March 2016: the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. Even those little miniature models of MINI Coopers they have at MINI dealerships.
I hadn’t stopped at Roadside America before mainly because there had always been some reason not to — I didn’t want to leave the dog in the car alone for too long; I was in a hurry to get to my destination; it was closed — but this time circumstances worked in Roadside America’s and my favor. It was near closing time; I was making good time to my destination; and it just felt right.
So this time I went for it. This is a much more grand, much more massive “village” than I expected. Apparently, it is over 7,000 square feet of moving trains, trolleys, cable cars, windmills, steel mills, coal mines, department stores, houses, farms, people, horses, dogs, birds, planes, cars, old time gas stations, a cemetery, a cathedral, and a hotel. It is, quite frankly, a remarkable feat and clearly a labor of love that went beyond a simple hobby for Mr. Gieringer.
There were many private houses, and weaving in and out of those were inns, streams, ponds, and “paved” roads.
There was also a covered bridge, and, quite unexpectedly, a small Native American teepee village.
The entry fee was $8.00, and it took about 45 minutes to go through. Toward the end of a half-hour, they direct visitors to one end of the room where there are bleacher-like rows of seats for the “night show.” The lights go down, and the town goes through a fast-motion sundown, overnight, and sunrise, against a soundtrack of patriotic American anthems (including the national anthem and God Bless America) and a backdrop of a painting of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag.
Roadside America indeed.
Small replicas of large mundane objects are irresistible in their charm. Maybe it evokes a circular symmetry that distracts from humdrum everyday life or adds a level of what I’ve always referred to as “magic” to an experience.
Or maybe it’s just that Twilight Zone thing where perhaps our whole reality is just somebody’s plaything, and we are dolls playing in a dollhouse where we can be scooped up by a big hand at any moment. But until then, we get to keep playing obliviously in our miniature world.