“Milton Hershey’s Dream: Room at the Table”
Devon’s Seafood Grill
Hershey, Pennsylvania
Sunday, April 10, 2011

iPhone 4 Camera
Hipstamatic App
Lens: John S
Film: Kodot XGrizzled
Flash: Off

Yesterday was the final day of Restaurant Week in Hershey.  For the past week, many terrific restaurants in the area offered major lunch and dinner specials and discounts.  Hershey has become a destination for good food.  Even exquisite food.  And anyone who knows the history of the town will celebrate this reality, knowing that such an event would not have been possible even ten years ago.

As a young boy growing up near Hershey, nearly two decades after Milton Hershey’s death, I felt a pang of sadness when I saw photographs of a beautiful ballroom he had built that was turned into an office building.  And the enormous outdoor park and swimming pool he had built that was shut down and left as a dark vacant lot.  In 1970, I sat bewildered watching the local news broadcast a wrecking ball knocking down the historic Cocoa Inn on the square in Hershey.  Then I felt helpless when they tore down The Hershey Creamery.  I shook my head when the Drug Store on the square, where my father and mother would take me for milk shakes, was turned into an ugly office building, after they plastered the windows with bricks.  Then I just threw up my arms when they tore down the beautiful old Tea Room along Chocolate Avenue.  And I don’t have time enough to mention what it felt like to see the home Mr. Hershey built for his mother, “the Women’s Club, Historic Department store, post office, hospital, free [Junior] College, public library, gymnasium, visitor’s center, and community meeting rooms, headquarters of a public television station, areas for touring exhibits, an indoor pool, and 2 theaters”, all either demolished or shut down by those who aggressively and unapologetically made decisions for the town–diametrically opposed to Mr. Hershey’s intent and wishes.   And these are just a portion of all the beautiful, historic buildings torn down or dismantled during the past 60 odd years.  If you walk through the west wing of the Hotel Hershey, situated regally on the hill overlooking the town, which was almost torn down by the same out-of-control mismanagement, you will see photograph after photograph hanging on the walls of all the buildings, sites and beautiful places torn down or shut down by those left in charge after Milton Hershey’s death.  It is a legacy of greed and racism passed on by those who led the town down this path.

Strangely, the town of Derry Township (known as Hershey) has a rich history in extravagant giving by it’s hometown philanthropist, Milton Hershey.  He built the town from scratch.  And during the Depression, it is said that the financial hardships plaguing the rest of the country did not affect the town, due to Mr. Hershey’s dedication to creating building projects for the benefit of the towns people.  His dream was ever-expanding, always desiring to build a table, as it were, where all were welcome.  Sadly, somewhere along the way, racism reared it’s ugly head.  After Hershey’s death in 1945, law firms held great influence over the leaders of the town and were eventually placed into leadership positions, themselves. When the famous ballroom and outdoor pool and park were at their most popular, apparently the town and it’s leaders wanted to keep unwanted people away (e.g. The “Blacks” from nearby Harrisburg), so they shut the pool down and built another one across town: one for which you needed to purchase a membership. And the ballroom was turned into the headquarters for the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company.  And the public park was fenced-in and slapped with an entrance fee.  All as a reaction to keep unwanted people out and to protect their own “precious”, as Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings, would say.

All my life, I have always loved driving through the town of Hershey, with it’s quaint architecture and Hershey Kiss street lights.  It always felt like a magical place.  Maybe that was partly due to the lingering honor the old-timers, like my Grandmother, bestowed upon the memory of Milton Hershey.  But I always felt like an outsider.  Something heavy loomed over the town that made all visitors feel unwanted and “less than”.  Now I know what that something was.

But, thankfully, several years ago something began to change.  For the first time in my 48 years, I can honestly say I am seeing the opposite spirit at work here.  For the first time, instead of tearing its own history and beauty down, it is rebuilding it.  And building wisely.  Several years ago, a new Hershey Museum was opened in the downtown.  And the old department store on the square, that was covered in ugly mesh siding and almost demolished, was stripped and restored to a beautiful historical brick and stone building.  Houlihan’s Restaurant opened there and within a short time became the top restaurant of the chain in the country.  Because of its success, Devon’s Seafood Grill was opened, one of four in the country, which promises fresh fish from around the country on a daily basis.  And the Hotel Hershey was recently renovated, with spectacular new amenities, restaurants and facilities.

So today’s photo is a kudos and cheers for whoever is responsible for turning the long doomed ship of this town toward a new hope-filled direction.  I can honestly feel a difference in Hershey.  It was a long time in coming.  And it serves as a reminder to be careful what we wish for.  When the leaders and towns people decided to start tearing things down in order to keep out the unwanted, it became a self-fulling prophecy: they themselves kept tearing more and more of their history down until they had almost nothing left.  Many people probably do the same thing to their own lives, without realizing it.  So self-reflection and self-evaluation are always necessary to ensure that we live a life of inclusion, restoration and building, and not one of exclusion, demolition and tearing-down.  But another major element of this story is this: no one stopped the progressive destruction that occurred in the town.  C. S. Lewis once said, progression is not always progressive.  Sometimes it is regressive.  Had the tearing-down happened all at once, there most likely would have been an outcry.  But since the organizations, buildings and freedoms were eliminated one-by-one, over several decades, no one said a word.  As Edmund Burke wrote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So cheers to the new life in Derry Township and the restoration of Mr. Hershey’s dream!  May it be so for us all.  And may we remember to hold onto our freedom, history and original vision in the future.  Not just for our hometown, but for our nation, as well.

Note: some of the above information was derived from the following link: http://www.miltonhersheyforums.org/forums/showthread.php?t=494