In the glory days of the 19th Century, the city of Easton was a thriving town in Pennsylvania that commanded the forks of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers.
For decades, the city prospered as coal was shipped along the Lehigh Canal down from the central hills of the state. The fuel powered Philadelphia by way of the Delaware Canal, and New York via the Morris Canal.
When the 20th Century dawned, steel was a powerful commodity in the Lehigh Valley, and most men made their living from the steel industry. The work was hard, but the men were real men. And the canal donkeys were real canal donkeys; and both were more or less happy to work up a sweat, making a living by pouring steel and hauling coal for the rest of their lives.
And then the steel industry collapsed. Bethlehem Steel, the region's largest employer, dissolved, and by the late 1980s, Billy Joel was crooning about the Lehigh Valley's dying industries in Allentown. Crime rose, business was bad, and many folks began to look upon the Lehigh Valley as the rusted armpit of Pennsylvania.
Then, in the early 1990s, certain individuals decided to do something about the town's demise. In this case, doing something meant building tourist attractions downtown, re-modelling old buildings, and generally spreading around the place a feel-good vibe; an almost indefinable warm and fuzzy feeling.
It worked. By the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people were heading downtown to visit 'Two Rivers Landing', a major tourist attraction, including the 'Crayola Factory', where people can watch crayons being made, and a canal history museum. A thriving arts community appeared, and soon quaint coffee shops and antique stores were opening downtown.
This success actually created some friction in the city, as other districts bemoaned the fact that they didn't have nice coffee shops, and that antique dealers had failed to appear on their streets. This led to accusations that all sections of city are not being properly marketed; that all the city's districts should have their fair share of rampaging, lost tourists meandering down their streets.
Despite the tourism battles and the occasional gun fight, the city is a wonderful place to live.
There's not much crime in Easton, but what there is seems to exist primarily to give politicians something to argue about. In spring and summer of 1999, a number of stupid individuals decided that bullets ended arguments better than words, and started shooting at each other. This heated up the otherwise drab mayoral race1, but most citizens seemed totally nonplussed by the shootings, and went back to drinking their cappuccinos while studying the bizarre art sculptures strewn along the shores of the Delaware.
The Arts Community
The rise of the arts community in Easton is something of a mystery to those in nearby New Jersey, who generally hold the belief that a Pennsylvanians' concept of art involves looking at puddles of spilled beer on a table.
However, the arts community is thriving, as is proven by the large displays of interesting and occasionally bizarre forms of metal and plastic sculptures that periodically appear in the city parks. Galleries are scattered throughout the city, and the aforementioned coffee shops guarantee a steady source of expensive, yet tasteful caffeine. Another prime attraction is the State Theatre. This a restored turn-of-the-century venue that plays host to a variety of entertainers and artists.
The Crayola Factory
The city's biggest modern day attraction is the Crayola Factory, a place where children of all ages can scribble on anything they want to with crayons, pens and other writing utensils, while their parents slowly get bored out of their minds.
The factory is an excellent place to visit, especially if you have a child in the two to seven-year-old range2. The factory's chief attraction is watching crayons being made, which for the uninformed, means watching wax dry. This is only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, and the only real excitement comes from what the children do with the crayons after they've been made.
The Shad Festival
A shad is an ugly, plain-looking fish that makes a yearly suicide run up the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers in late spring. Thousands of the fish make the trek in order to give birth and die in the headwaters of both rivers. If nothing else, these fish teach us a valuable lesson: as bad as your sex life may be, at least you don't croak when you finally get to do the deed.
Normally, one would expect that life couldn't possibly get any worse than when sex results in death. But for the shad, it does.
Each year, the enthusiastic citizens of Easton gather for the Shad Festival fishing tournament. An award is given for the biggest fish caught, which is good for the fisherman, but bad for the fish.
In the early 1990s the folks in Easton decided to help out the shad by building a fish ladder on the Lehigh. The fish ladder gives the shad a choice on their final resting place. They can choose to fight the Delaware, or slip up the ladder and croak in the Lehigh.
Easton, like most of eastern Pennsylvania, has a significant number of Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch are actually of German descent, but early Americans couldn't understand the difference between the words 'Deutsche' and 'Dutch'. The Pennsylvania Dutch German dialect is dying out, but its corruption of the English language lives on. Here are a few sample phrases:
- 'The soda is all' - The soda bottle is empty.
- 'The car needs washed' - The motor vehicle needs to be washed.
- 'The mailman went' - The postal employee has delivered the mail.