Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Odd Place I Live


Sitting high atop Mount Penn is, are you ready for this? The Pagoda. Yes, that’s right, the Pagoda, a 72-foot tall, seven story Japanese-style brick and tile structure complete with an oriental bell that is inscribed with a prophesy regarding the end of time. No, Reading does not have a large Asian community. No, it was not built to attract any spiritual power. No, you can not stop by to order egg rolls.

It’s there because back around 1900 William Abbott Witman Sr. purchased ten acres on the southern end of Mt. Penn, intending to quarry the stone found there. He soon decided, with the help of public opinion, that doing so would permanently disfigure the mountain side and abandoned that idea.

Around the same time his buddy, Charles Matz came back from the Spanish-American War with a postcard from the Philippines. [Note to self – research location of Spanish-American War] On the postcard was a picture of an oriental structure from the Shogun Dynasty that fascinated Witman so much he hired Matz and his father to replicate it for the low sum of $50,000 in 1908. He planned on using his battle castle as a luxury resort. Unfortunately his liquor license was denied and it never happened. The Pagoda was repossessed by the bank, sold to Jonathan Mould who then resold it to the City of Reading for one dollar in 1911.

Before consistent radio broadcasts the city used flashing colored lights, Morse Code, to signal firemen and to give results as they happened to elections and sporting events. Apparently someone in each fire station had to know Morse Code. The codes for everything else were printed in the paper so the population knew what to look for. There was even a signal that meant the previous message was in error and it was about to be corrected.

Let’s go back to the bell for a minute and then I’ll explain why I’m bother you with this. It was ordered through a New York import/export company. Forged in Obata in 1739, it was originally given to Shozenji, a Buddhist Temple in what is now Tokyo. It came by boat through the Suez Canal to New York and then by train from there to Reading. My question is how did the A.A. Valentine Agency manage to procure a bell from a Buddhist Temple? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Okay, now the point of this blog. Finally! The Pagoda is celebrating its hundredth birthday! This Friday, Saturday. and Sunday. And you’re invited! Now I’m sure you’re rushing off to make arrangements already but on the off chance you’re still undecided let me give you the itinerary of this festive event.

It kicks off Friday with a breakfast featuring our community’s centenarians at the Manor at Market Square. Sorry, you’ll have to find your own way there as I don’t know where it is. Perhaps you could drive around looking for a hoard of old people.This is followed a live radio broadcast from the Pagoda. You’re encouraged to bring your stories to be included in the centennial commemorative book being assembled. You’re also supposed to bring birthday cards and pennies.

Next up is a Japanese Zen Buddhist Blessing/dedication with Japanese chanting and a pilgrimage up the 87 steps to the bell followed by a Lenape Indian Blessing for the Mountain. After that excitement the organizers will calm everyone down with proclamations, announcements and gifts to the Pagoda. Um, what exactly does one give a hundred-year-old Pagoda for its birthday? This part of course, includes the singing of Happy Birthday and a cake complete with candles to be blown out by the Berks Children’s Classical Chorus.

On your way back down from the bell you should make a stop on the fifth floor to check out the new Pagoda Museum. There’s also a gift shop since I know you’re all anxious for some trinket to help you remember your big weekend in Reading.

The celebration will continue at Friday night’s Reading Phillies game where everyone will receive a commemorative chocolate Pagoda coin. After the game there will be a “bigger than usual” fireworks display at the stadium immediately followed by a display atop Mt. Penn. Sure hope it rains this week. When there are fireworks on New Year’s Eve on the mountain they generally set off a few fires. And parts of the Pagoda are still wood.

Saturday, go back to the recreation area for postcards of you standing in front of the Pagoda. While there you can also create your very own bookmark using the Japanese art of flower pressing. To entertain you there is an “Open Piano” which you too can play as well as strolling minstrels playing “bouncy rural music” and the Pringle children, all of whom juggle, do magic and ride unicycles. Be sure you wander down the road to watch the Dutchmen Model Airplane Club flying their planes and stop by City Park for the free bandshell concert.

Sunday, cap off the celebration by helping to create a Pagoda Centennial Mural at the GoggleWorks, a local and very popular, art center.

Can’t wait to see all of you at the festivities!

7 comments:

Dakota Rebel said...

Wow, I kind of really want to go to that. Is it as pretty in person as your picture? Or is it one of those things that looks good when you're not actually looking at it?

Like the Eiffel tower, gorgeous on TV, on Google Earth...it's a big hunk of fused metal beams.

Great blog again Barb.

Love
D

anny cook said...

This sounds cool. Wonder if I could drag the house hunk out for this? Hmmm. I'll call you if we decide to head your way!

Amarinda Jones said...

As always you fascinate me - and I love people who build 'follies' and are considered weirdos yet then later those same follies become celeberated as tourist attractions.

Regina Carlysle said...

$1??? OMG. What a busy time you're going to have. This Pagoda actually looks very cool. I'd come for the fireworks alone. I love them but it's too dry here and we only get them on tv which majorly SUCKS.

Kelly Kirch said...

Dakota, from the ground it's a hunk of fused metal too. Climb it and it's all about the view.

Great blog, Barb.

Molly Daniels said...

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also has a pagoda. Never been up in it, though I sit directly in front of it every year:)

Neeley said...

See you there... not. =P That is gonna be a zoo, and not only that, a zoo of people I don't need or want to see!