My favorite things Pennsylvania

by on August 24, 2007 at 6:32 am in The Arts | Permalink

Growing up, I regarded Pennsylvania as the most typical and most American part of the country; I loved it.  I loved the mid-sized towns with old industrial and domestic architecture, I loved the museums of Philadelphia, and I loved the bridges of Pittsburgh.  Of course this was before America moved South and I gave the honor of most American place to Knoxville, Tennessee. 

This list didn’t require much thought, and the candidates poured out right away:

1. Eugene Ormandy recording: He introduced me to so much in classic music and somehow I felt he would never let me down; I’ll pick either his Beethoven 5th and 6th or his Shostakovich 10th.

2. Painting: The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins. and my second choice would be the Andy Warhol car crash or electric chair paintings.  Mary Cassatt, George Catlin, Andrew Wyeth, John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and Keith Haring all deserve honorary mention.  And I’m sure there are others.  Wow.

3. Sculptor: Alexander Calder, but only the little ones, the more delicate the better.  The big ones in plazas are garish and misplaced.

4. Book on free trade: Henry George’s Protection or Free Trade remains a wonderful introduction to economics.

5. Writer: John Updike, or Benjamin Franklin.  John O’Hara never clicked with me, though he was my grandmother’s favorite after Shakespeare.  I’ll pick The Coup as my favorite Updike; I don’t think he’s written a good novel in a while.

6. Popular music: Todd Rundgren was remarkably talented, never quite fulfilled his promise, but Something/Anything remains a wonderful double album.

7. Jazz: Art Blakey, Keith Jarrett (The Koln Concert, or his Shostakovich), Erroll Garner, Earl Hines, and George Benston was good at the very beginning.  Stanley Clarke is amazing to hear live.  Wow.  And that’s not even counting jazzmen who played long stints in Philly, such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra.

8. Rap music: Schooly D, The Adventures of Schooly D, remains one of my favorite rap albums.

9. Stepdaughter: Yana (it feels funny to list her as a thing, but in the metaphysical sense yes indeed she is), who as of today is moved in at Franklin and Marshall.  Boo hoo!

Note we haven’t even touched the Amish quilts, Fraktur drawings, mighty rivers, the Barnes collection, fall foliage, sports, Reading, or philanthropy.  Harrisburg, however, is a blight.

The bottom line: Almost certainly, Pennsylvania is better than your state.  If you are a foreigner, and want to understand what made America great, study and visit Pennsylvania.

1 Chris Masse August 24, 2007 at 7:01 am

I love Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Plus, professor Justin Wolfers is at Wharthon (U of Penn), in Philly.

And you could have mentioned the Philly’s painting museum (and the Rocky Balboa thing) and the Rodin museum (nearby).

2 michael August 24, 2007 at 7:55 am

When talkin’ Pennsylvania, most folks conjure up images from south of I-80: Philly, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Amish. They’re missing the best part of the Keystone State. The scenery of the PA Nothern Tier rivals anything on the east coast, even the Smokies.

3 Chris Meisenzahl August 24, 2007 at 8:08 am

Add RGM watches to that list.

4 Josh August 24, 2007 at 8:21 am

Reading is one of your favorite things, but Harrisburg is a blight? I assume you haven’t visited in the last quarter century.

That said, Reading has fantastic Mexican and Salvadoran street food, at least until the nativists rise up and evict the only economic breath the city retains.

5 Mike August 24, 2007 at 8:30 am

Check out the Grand Canyon of the Northeast (

For history buffs, I’m a fan of Benjamin Rush

And why do more folks not know more about Henry George? He was on target on many topics. Yes, the “single-taxers” think their land tax will solve all the world’s problems, but despite the seemingly religious following of George today, his contributions remain important.

6 gmf August 24, 2007 at 8:51 am

Don’t forget Fallingwater.

7 Ted Craig August 24, 2007 at 8:57 am

Music: What about Philadelphia Soul?

8 Ted Craig August 24, 2007 at 8:57 am

Music: What about Philadelphia Soul?

9 Dtech August 24, 2007 at 9:10 am

Harrisburg a blight? Yeah. OK. But hey, we’ve got a decent symphony. And … point taken.

10 Charlie August 24, 2007 at 9:38 am

On the subject of Jazz:
1) Its George Benson, not Benston. I believe George Benston is a finance professor at Emory. Although maybe he plays guitar too. Benson, however, at one time was a great jazz guitarist, but then he basically invented smooth jazz (anybody who attributes smooth jazz to Miles Davis has no clue what they are talking about).
2) Michael Brecker and Christian McBride should be on your list. Two of the most influential jazz musicians in the last 20-30 years. Christian has played with nearly everybody, including that All-Star trio with Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette. And more people were trying to play like Michael Brecker than John Coltrane a decade ago.

11 David Kearns August 24, 2007 at 9:57 am

Lets not forget I was born there, in Pittsburgh… 🙂

Oh, and the Main Line.
Oh, and F&M’s beautiful campus
Oh, and Hershey (Milton that is)
Oh, and Ben Franklin for all the non-writer things he did. Truly one of the greatest Americans ever.

12 LB August 24, 2007 at 10:03 am

Thanks Tyler, I agree. Every time I go back to PA, I wonder why I live in ugly NOVA.

As for Harrisburg, I wouldn’t call it a blight. Lots of tasty restaurants. T. Rooosevelt called the capitol “the handsomest building I ever saw”.

13 John Kunze August 24, 2007 at 10:18 am

Doylestown PA offers Henry Chapman Mercer’s Fonthill, a bizarre castle-like home, as well as his Mercer Museum which highlights preindustrial hand-tools, vehicles and machinery.

Gettysburg is tragic, but enables you to immerse yourself in what a Civil War battle was like.

14 Kent Guida August 24, 2007 at 10:34 am

Lebanon bologna

15 Rich Berger August 24, 2007 at 11:16 am

Yeah, Lebanon Bologna,scrapple and great pork, too

16 Barkley Rosser August 24, 2007 at 11:38 am

We feel Tyler’s pain, just having dropped off our daughter, Sasha,
yesterday at GMU…

17 SS August 24, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Now Tyler. Come on! “Pennsylvania is better than your state”. What has gotten into you challenging your fan base?

I have two obvious reactions I could rant and rave about how PA sucks or I could mention the million things that are better about my favorite state but neither of these choices really would win many points in a frivolous argument. In actuality I will have to sooth my soul by realizing that you are using ‘me factor’ criteria that is heavily influenced by the presence of one ‘Yana’ among other things.

When she moves to CO then the best state has a chance of becoming your favorite too.

18 Dan August 24, 2007 at 12:21 pm

Pennsylvania would be great for producing Updike alone, and i’m glad you cited The Coup, a grossly underappreciated (and hilarious) book. But come on, there are so many good ones. How about Roger’s Version? Or In the Beauty of the Lillies? Or the entire (mostly Pennsylvania-based) Rabbit cycle? Even the Bech books aren’t blech.

To the tax complainer, I have only two words: New York.

19 adam August 24, 2007 at 12:35 pm

The daughter of a libertarian going to a college with a significant heterodox presence in the econ department? Watch out or she’ll become a Marxist! I made it through to grad school without incident though! F&M is a great school, I hope she enjoys it.

20 indiana jim August 24, 2007 at 12:48 pm


York Barbell Co. (from York, PA)


The Little League World Series (in Williamsport, PA)

21 KevinLin August 24, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Hmmmmm, I think most people forget about it rather then look down on it.

22 vanya August 24, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Pennsylvania’s kind of a nothing state. It’s not the Mid-West, it’s not the South, It’s not New England. Hell, it’s not even New Jersey. On top of that, Eastern PA and Western PA are so different, it’s questionable whether you can talk about a “Pennsylvania” identity in any meaningful way. Pennsylvania and upstate New York are both pretty similar – rust belt forgotten places whose time in the sun is long gone. There’s a lot of natural beauty in both places, but I would them depressing places to live. I think Tyler’s pretty much got it backwards, chances are whatever state you live in is better than Pennsylvania.

23 Paul Gustafson August 24, 2007 at 1:53 pm

I love PA! Don’t live there, but still love it anyway. Maybe someday.

PS. Children Make Every Shop Important: Free Fundraiser for Children’s Charities”

PA Children’s Charities can use this site for free fundraising. PA residents can use this site to create funds for children’s charities at no cost to them. Also includes discounts and coupons.

At any rate. I live in MI, but really, honestly, do love PA.

24 Jon August 24, 2007 at 1:56 pm

…and those great, great roads, don’t forget them….. Bwahaha! 😉

When I lived near DC and then Ithaca, NY, I knew instantly when we were in Pennsylvania by the racket from the tires from all the cracks. It wasn’t just the Interstates, either. Lesser roads were the same. And few shoulders outside the Interstates.

And I’m not getting the F&M love, either. I mean, yeah, it’s got plenty of nice trees. But so do 80% of other college campuses in the world. Oh, boy. Unless, of course, you’re only comparing against the UPenn campus, in which case it’s easy to understand ;-).

25 ad August 24, 2007 at 2:39 pm

9. Stepdaughter: Yana

who will be very pleased at being placed in last place.

26 BXB283 August 24, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Don’t dismiss The Blob! No, not what you call people after eating a Philly cheesesteak. The classic film from the ’50s – shot in Phoenixville and Downingtown.

27 scott August 24, 2007 at 9:16 pm

28 Josh August 24, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Smoke Some Kill is good too.

29 argicol August 24, 2007 at 10:59 pm

The best Schooly D rap is the one where he smokes marijuana, watches TV, and imagines the members of the Brady Bunch having intercourse. Also the phrase M.. F.. Prince.

30 michael August 24, 2007 at 11:28 pm


Going on right now, the Centre County Grange Fair, the last encampment fair remaining in the United States.


31 ryan August 25, 2007 at 9:49 am

really appreciated the post, tyler. i was born, raised and educated in and outside of philadelphia, and today i move to new york for grad school and who knows how long.

loved the koch’s shoutout. i’m gonna miss the pcom special, even if things haven’t been the same since bobby passed away. homecoming can’t come soon enough.

as for the rest of the state, i think very few other states have beautiful drives so close to their major cities. unless you get caught in traffic on the turnpike.

32 Brad August 25, 2007 at 10:54 pm

“Hell, it’s not even New Jersey?” – what? The state is either an extension of NYC or a beach for Philadelphians.

At any rate, Jeff Koons was born in York, PA!! Fun fact.

33 Anonymous August 26, 2007 at 10:26 am

“It’s not the Mid-West, it’s not the South, It’s not New England. Hell, it’s not even New Jersey.”

That’s precisely why it’s such a great place.

Also, I don’t think anyone mentioned all the great microbreweries, many of which are only distributed in PA.

Pennsylvania has some backward, Quaker/Puritan-style liquor laws, yes, but there is some other legal framework in place which I can’t recall that makes Penn’s Woods a desirable place to locate a microbrewery.

Some favorites off the top of my head:

Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh (it gets bonus points for actually being brewed in a large old church)

Lancaster Brewing Co. (try the cherry wheat ale)

Victory Brewing Co. (very hoppy pale ales)

East End Brewing Co. (another Pittsburgh craft; they get bonus points for basically being a sole proprietorship, and for trying their hand at brewing anything and everything under the sun)

34 MikeLee August 27, 2007 at 10:15 am

I think my friend from New Hampshire who graduated CMU with me summed up pittsburgh very nicely when he was visiting school.

“I’m not coming back to this hell-hole ever again”

And he was one of the more popular kids in school.

35 Cryptic Ned August 28, 2007 at 5:28 pm

Popular actor: Jimmy Stewart is from Indiana. There’s a museum about him there.

Popular writer: Zane Grey was from Lackawaxen, near the Delaware Water Gap, and there’s a little historical site about him there too.

Not popular but impressive painter: Franz Kline was from Wilkes-Barre and went to school in Philadelphia.

eautiful landscapes, but totally shabby infrastructure. Scranton? York? Allentown? Ug.

By “shabby” you mean “old and built for more people than currently live there”.

36 Claude Scales August 29, 2007 at 11:42 am

As an Altoona native and rail buff I have to put in a word for the Horseshoe Curve, along with the Gallitzin tunnels just to the west, which together comprise an engineering marvel allowing a mighty railway to surmount the Allegheny Front separating the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico drainage basins.

Back in 1970, my first year in New York City, my roommate’s fiancee, who was from Lancaster, would show up on weekends with big red and white tins of Stehman’s potato chips. The label proudly declared: “Fried in real lard.” Yum.

Ray G: My dad grew up in Hatfield, just a little east of Evansville. One of my cousins once served as sheriff of Spencer County. My parents met when dad was on Army recruiting duty in Pennsylvania (my mom is from Tyrone) early in World War II.

During that same stint as a recruiter, Dad got to know Jimmy Stewart and his family. Later, he and Jimmy served at the same Eighth Army Air Corps base in England.

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