By jim zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]

Tourism is the second leading industry in Pennsylvania, which is the fourth most visited state in the nation.

Groups and officials have long used the natural beauty of our surroundings to promote the area. In an editorial titled "Autumn Foliage" a century ago, a Tamaqua Courier wrote about the stunning autumn colors which he called "the rainbow symphony of the hills."

"Plain land and even a rolling country may grow isolated trees that take on beautiful tones in the fall," he wrote. "But it takes the mountains to display the fall grandeur of this bright foliage."

When it came to comparing city life with the natural beauty of rural, small town surroundings, he said there was no contest.

"The American city life (offers) only a hint of the majestic greenery of the real hill country, only a shadow of the flaming torch set afire by Jack Frost when the cool rays of autumn come on," he said.

"To the man who is sensitive to beauty, the glory of autumn foliage is more exhilarating than any oratory or music or drama he may see in cities," he wrote. "The painter is happier at this season in a mountain farm house painting homely dishes thrown on the table than he would be at the Waldhorf Astoria partaking of the masterpieces of the French chefs."

He said it was unfortunate that the "town dweller" knew little about the "great impressionist painting which God hangs in the autumn in the picture galleries of the hills."

The writer proved not only to be a great tourism promoter, but a good prognosticator on the future of our local tourist industry.

"It is a materialistic age," he wrote in the Oct. 16, 1912 column. "But it may not always be so. Some day, people will move from the cities to the hills, not merely because the farmer is getting high prices for his potatoes, but also (because) the loveliness of nature will be truly reckoned as one of life's greatest values."

The film crew

While the fall foliage provided a natural magnet in attracting visitors to the area, there were energetic, community-minded individuals such as Chris Peterson, manager of the Family Theater in Tamaqua, who saw the movie film, a relatively new technology, as an excellent tool for promoting the town.

Peterson made arrangements with the Gaumant Moving Picture Company to have a film crew "take pictures of the principle points of interest."

"The Gaumant picture man will be in town all day (Oct. 31) Thursday making a reel of movies depicting Tamaqua people and business places," the Courier reported. "The idea is to advertise Tamaqua, and if the streets are crowded with people hurrying hither and thither, giving the appearance of great bustle and business activity, the film will create a favorable impression when exhibited in other towns. Thus it may be the means of having people and industries locate here."

Even 100 years ago, competition for the tourist dollar was important, as well as the ability to attract new business.

"Other towns of the county are having films made so it remains for Tamaqua to 'do itself proud' and shine in comparison to them," the Courier writer stated.

He said it was also important for local citizens to make a good impression in order to sell the town as a potential site for new business.

"Don't forget to be down town tomorrow (a Thursday) when you see the man with the funny camera turning a crank on one side of the box," the Courier writer urged. "Manage to get somewhere in the vicinity and you'll see yourself in moving pictures at the Family Theater two week later."

Town excited

The town was abuzz with excitement at the arrival of the camera crew.

"From present indications, Thursday is going to be something of a holiday, for everybody says they are coming downtown fussed up in their best to get their personalities on the film," the Courier reported.

At noon, the camera crew was expected to get some good shots of "crowds returning to and from work."

The film project exceeded expectations. Before arriving in Tamaqua, the same crew had shot about 1,000 feet of film in Pottsville, and less in other surrounding towns. In Tamaqua, nearly two reels, or about 1,500 feet of film, was used.

The Courier credited the energetic Peterson, who accompanied camera man W. H. Amer of Williamsport, around town, for his excellent promotional work. According to the Courier, Amer referred to Peterson as "the liveliest wire he had encountered in all his travels."

"Anything he (Amer) went after he seemed to be able to get, not matter what it was," the reporter stated.

An example of Peterson's efficient ground work was seen in his arranging to have a Pennsylvania and Reading Company provide the film crew with a special engine and flat car. This allowed them to easily move over the rails to capture the town's industrial sites as well as highlight it as a transportation hub.

"A number of industries closed down completely to permit the employees to get in the pictures," the Courier said.

The locals were expected to see the fruits of their labor in about a week as the Family Theater promised a public showing of the film.

"Look out for the rush, for everyone will want to see how he looked when they were taken," the Courier said.