Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mauch Chunk

Not an ice cream flavor named after the former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, "Mauch Chunk" was the former name of the borough now officially known as Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, in honor of the star of the 1912 Olympics, whose actual connection to the town was in fact remote. No doubt wanting to shed its homely name (which is said to mean "Bear Mountain" in Lenape) was a factor in the change, as was the desire to bring in the tourist trade by cutting a deal with Thorpe's widow to obtain his remains. The borough has also been promoted as "the Switzerland of America."

Mauch Chunk's early renown rested on the coal that could be mined from the nearby mountains and shipped via the Lehigh and Delaware rivers into Philadelphia, and on the ingenious switchback railway constructed to bring the coal down to the river. When the railway outlived its original use, it was repurposed as a tourist attraction, serving, in effect, as an ancestor of the modern roller coaster. (See William Brandt's article, "Why Let Coal Have All the Fun?" for a full history.)

The postcard at the top of the page was mailed to Miss Lesley Matcham of "Woodville," Quilter Road, Felixstowe, Suffolk, in May 1906. The image, with its concentric rings that vaguely suggest a very eroded Tower of Babel, is a little misleading, since the "mountain" (a hill, really) appears to be situated in the wilderness, except for the railroad construction wound around its base. In the image below, shot from the side, we see that it in fact faces the town of Mauch Chunk.

The recipient of the lower card was Miss Pearl Oswald of Bridgeport, Wisconsin.

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