Amish Experience and Magic Lantern Show
Seriously…I couldn’t have a blog about travel in the Southeastern part of PA and not include a visit to something Amish-related. Those of us that live in Lancaster County may not even consider visiting a destination to learn about the Amish, but for people who come from other parts of the state or country, that is what Lancaster County is…Amish! Living on the western side of the county, we rarely make it out to the eastern side, so traveling out to Bird-in-Hand was a whole new experience for my kids. We were like, “Oh yeah, this is what tourists do when they come to Lancaster.”
We started our trip off with an immersive movie experience that includes 4D effects, although not the 3D kind you watch with little glasses. Apparently this type of experiential theater is one of only 3 in North America! An approximately 30-minute documentary called “Jacob’s Choice,” gives “English” folks like ourselves a glimpse into the decisions a teen during “Rumspringa” (total freedom for kids at age 16 to experience the outside world before joining the church) must make. It was odd because the movie itself had an old-fashioned feel to it, but with a modern twist of special effects that made it exciting, albeit a little intense at times for little ones. I recommend starting off your tour with the movie because it gives a good overview of the Amish way of life and a perfect segue to the next activity.
After the movie, we headed out of the visitor’s center/theater and walked down to the replica Amish schoolroom and house, and the home of the fictional Fisher family you meet watching the “Jacob’s Choice” movie. A tour guide met us at the door and ushered us into a little school room set up similarly to a real Amish school. The children enjoyed sitting at the wooden desks and passing around samples of hymnbooks written in High German. We learned about the history of Amish schooling and present day practices. Everyone was surprised to learn Amish children grew up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch at home, English at school, and High German at church. Jackson liked the fact that he would only have two more years of school if he went there. Mia was amazed that all the kids in the family would be in the same class.
Next we filed into the representative house where we had the opportunity to walk through each room with the docent who explained why things are set up as they are. We noticed the lack of electricity and phone as expected but also the propane-powered lights and running water, including a modern bathroom. We learned about their clothing, daily activities, and little idiosyncrasies of family life. My youngest was super antsy during the tour but perked up at the end when she was given the chance to play with the wooden marble racers and ball drops. Before we came, I assumed visiting the Amish Experience was touring a real Amish home and interacting with the family. The tour we did is just one of the options. If you are willing to spend more there is an Amish Visit-In Person (VIP) tour which allows you to have a more authentic and personal experience.
After the tour we popped into the new Smokehouse BBQ and Brews (formerly Plain and Fancy Restaurant) for dinner. Conveniently located on the premises, it was a fun, relaxing atmosphere featuring traditional Pennsylvania Dutch home-cooking along with a myriad of special BBQ sauces and smoked meats, not to mention craft beer. The kids appreciated the adjoining gift shop which was fun to look through, sort of a cross between a country store and boardwalk shop.
In the evening we attended a viewing of a “Magic Lantern” Show, a totally unique activity. This one-man show was written and produced by a local guy who stumbled across magic lantern slides in his mother’s attic. Originating in the later 1800’s, the slides were a precursor to modern film. Each slide is a small sheet of glass, carefully hand-painted with beautiful figures and scenes. The glass is inserted into an original 1890 antique wooden and brass projector. The show is three-fold; the images on a screen from the slides, the live, theatrical narration by the showman, and recorded musical score. Occasionally there were some special effects that seemed to take the show to the realm of magic. Several shows are offered here at different times throughout the year, but currently playing is the “Patriotic Show.” The showman was an interesting character, very charismatic and interactive with the audience. I believe that was the key to the show not being boring. Besides relating historical events, he wove fascinating stories about his own ancestors into the show, which reminded me of my own ancestral stories I’d love to document for the public. The show started at 7PM and wasn’t done until about 8:10PM which was a little long for me, especially in consideration of children’s bedtimes. However, it was worth it and surprisingly the kids seemed to really enjoy it. Plus, now we can say we saw the only permanent theater using a Magic Lantern in all of America! The Christmas show would be really cool I’d imagine. I’m keeping a mental note to return around the holidays.
Overall, a worthwhile trip and we all felt a little more educated about our enigmatic Lancaster County neighbors. Plus now the girls like trying to notice if the Amish girls are wearing black or white bonnets on Sundays while they are out on their buggies…
Admission: Special combo tickets to both “Jacob’s Choice” and the school/house tour we did is $19.95/adult and $14.95/children 4-12, FREE/children 3 and under. Magic Lantern show is $16.95/adult and $11.95/children 4-12, FREE/children 3 and under. See website for other ticketing options.
Hours: Amish Experience open 7 days a week from 9:30AM-5:00PM. Magic Lantern shows are only at 7PM, Tues.-Sat. Patriotic program runs through Sept. 4, 2017 (special labor day viewing).
Amish Experience and Magic Lantern Show
3121 Old Philadelphia Pike
Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505
(717) 768-8400 ext.210
Check out www.amishexperience.com for all the details!