What’s a road trip without an offbeat sidetrack? During our latest family road trip, we traveled a bit off course on our way to Gettysburg. Instead, we made our first stop in Orrtanna, PA, home of Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium.
To be honest, the trip to this elephant-sized extravaganza was planned as a distraction for Libby, our 11 year old, who wasn’t as enamored of the battlefields of Gettysburg as her big brothers were. One quick email to Destination Gettysburg, the area’s visitor bureau, and we learned of Mister Ed’s, a roadside attraction just miles from the battlefields. And when she learned that Mister Ed’s featured more than 12,000 elephants, my daughter was sold. (The candy store part didn’t hurt, either.)
Since the Gettysburg area is all about history, I’d be remiss not to share some of the history of Mister Ed’s as well. Founder Ed Gotwalt (yep, he’s Mister Ed) opened his original site, Mister Ed’s: the Area’s Most Unusual General Store, in February 1975. A community gathering place, the original Mister Ed’s featured an extensive snack bar and a small collection of pachyderms Gotwalt started after
receiving one as a gift in 1967. Eight years to the day later, Gotwalt moved his business just down the street, rebranding it as Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium. The business grew as quickly as Gotwalt’s ever-expanding collection of elephants did, and soon Mister Ed’s was a “must-see” location for tourists to the area.
Although we hadn’t originally planned to visit when we wrote our travel itinerary, Mister Ed’s was a favorite stop on this road trip. The gardens are full of whimsical creatures, including dwarves, pixies, and of course, elephants. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds or even have a picnic on the premises. What can beat a peanut butter sandwich in the shadow of a raging bull elephant?
Inside, no matter where you turn, you can’t avoid the elephant in the room. After all, there are thousands of them! We weren’t surprised to see Dumbo, Jumbo or the proverbial pink elephants. But elephant potty chairs, elephant coffee creamers, elephant watches and all things elephant were also on display. I know an elephant never forgets, but it’s impossible for me to remember the many different ways elephants appeared in the front rooms at Mister Ed’s.
Actually, the collection now on display is a recreated one. In July 2010, the museum caught fire, and many of the original group were destroyed. Even though he was 74 at the time, Gotwalt declared that he’d rebuild, and he came back better than ever. More than 2000 elephants were lost in the fire, but thousands more poured in, donations from supporters around the world. In fact, there’s a book on display in the museum which contains letters from those friends of the elephant. Reading through the book, I found letters from England and India, across the country and just across town. Everyone seemed touched by the plight of this funky little museum, and many were eager to share their own elephant collections with Gotwalt and the visitors to Gettysburg.
Beyond the Elephant Museum, we found another surprise – the back room Candy Emporium, which features the jujubes, Mary Janes, licorice whips and penny candy of my growing up days. But the real find was the homemade caramellows, which we agreed were the best we ever tasted. And that’s a jumbo recommendation, coming from a family who lives near the Jersey shore, where the caramel-covered marshmallow confections are a boardwalk staple.
For those who enjoy roadside kitsch, Mister Ed’s is a great stop. Between the friendly staff, the delicious candies and fudge, and the elephants in the room, Mister Ed’s is one place we’ll never forget.