I grew up German in Pennsylvania, a state where the Department of Transportation still issues licenses to horse & buggy drivers, and it is not uncommon to see street signs like this on the side of the road:
In high school, I was taught polkas in my gym class, and well into the 1990s, PA Dutch was spoken in my home, especially by my older relatives. My grandmother would instruct us to “redd up the room” when company was coming. My family still practices some of the old German traditions today. Every December 6th Belsnickle put candy in my shoes, and he continues to visit my nephews. Everyone I knew made sure to eat at least a small spoonful of sauerkraut on New Year’s Day even if they hated the taste (for it will bring wealth and good luck for the rest of the year!)
Due to the large number of German settlers in the state, many people living in the northwestern part of Central and Northern PA would identify as “PA Dutch.” Contrary to popular belief, in this case “Dutch” does not refer to Dutch people (from the Netherlands), but from the German word”Deutch.” Coming from a deeply Christian culture; many of the farmers were practicing Amish and Mennonites. Though both traditionalist Christian religions rooted in Anabaptism; they hold distinctly different sets of beliefs with the Amish being the more strict of the two sects.
Pennsylvania, with its mountainous rolling pastures, is also home to a countless number of dairy farms. (I didn’t realize ice cream-and I mean REAL ICE CREAM was regional until I moved to New Jersey years later!) As we’ve already seen, Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of land, and other than farms, it is also home to dozens of amusement parks. With the collision of the PA Dutch farming culture and the growing amusement industry in the state something truly unique magical took place 53 years ago. In 1963, Dutch Wonderland was erected outside of Lancaster, PA, and although it features many typical attractions for kids including a train, roller coasters, princesses, dragons, and a massive castle (Surrounded by a monorail!); we’re going to take a look at the very distinct PA Dutch touches that make it a one of a kind family attraction.
Upon entering the park you’ll immediately begin noticing their solemn hard working faces. A lifesize Amish couple sits on a bench on the porch of their home. Inside the windows the children are working on chores. Their faces are somber and appear tired from a long day of hard work.
Nearby, a giant pretzel greets visitors entering the park. To the uninitiated, this may look like a simple oversized snack food, but pretzels are an apropos representation of the hard working Christian people of PA, with their roots in both Bavarian culinary history and their ties to the church. It is said that the twist of the pretzel is a reminder to children to say their prayers, and was once considered a small reward or “pretiola” for those who do! Whatever you do, just remember…Please Do NOT Crawl on the Pretzel.
We have already told you about the strange phenomenon of kiddie park chapels, so its no surprise that a park so closely tied to Christianity houses a simple un-ornamental chapel on its land. Visitors are reminded to treat it respectfully, as it is a house of the Lord.
One of the most interesting exhibits I encountered are these two dioramas of animated miniatures. In the elaborate animatronic displays, groups of women and men toil over the daily chores while discussing their daily activities. At the push of a button, the women work on a quilt and gossip with one another.
The men work on crafting furniture, sanding a bench and planing a table. They discuss their work. If you stay long enough to listen, you will hear PA Dutch dialect and language spoken by both the women and men. They are a true slice of life, and are often overlooked by the park’s visitors (who are predominantly small children.)
In keeping with the PA Dutch theme, you can climb aboard a horse and buggy for a family photo op. It’s no surprise that farming made its way into the park’s attractions, but I have to say that this is probably the one and only time that I’ve seen a fiberglass cow with SIMULATED RUBBER UDDER for guests to milk! Next to a tin pail, a small sign reminds children to be gentle: “Bossie says Please Squeeze Do Not Pull”
True to its roots as a Dairy farming state, this attraction is absolutely a Pennsylvania one-of-a-kind! If you’ve seen another one, we’d love to hear about it!
We hope you enjoyed this look at the PA Dutch touches of the Dutch Wonderland. If you visit, there’s plenty more to see including the Kingdom Coaster, some great shows, and the newly opened Dinosaurs Alive area with moving, roaring dinosaurs that will surely amaze younger kids and parents alike!
Dutch Wonderland is open seasonally and has some dates in the fall and winter months for Halloween and Christmas celebrations. Check schedules online at their website.