Rediscovering Hershey, Cuba
- From: PL <pl.nospam@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 09 May 2009 12:31:47 +0200
Rediscovering Hershey, Cuba
A Derry Twp. woman hopes to rekindle interest in a twin town built by the chocolate magnate. It has gardens, a hotel and a sugar refinery with smokestacks.
Friday, May 08, 2009
BY LARA BRENCKLE lbrenckle@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
For people passing through The Hershey Story, the recently opened museum devoted to the life and work of Milton S. Hershey, one exhibit can stop them in their tracks.
In a tucked-away corner, space is devoted to the other Hershey.
Just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, it, too, is a tourist attraction, but one that few U.S. residents know about and even fewer have visited.
"I think people are always surprised we can go to Cuba, and that there's a place called Hershey," said Janet Hester, a travel planner for the M.S. Hershey Foundation.
Hester began leading tours to Hershey, Cuba, in 2001 after the foundation's leadership expressed interest in the area. The foundation takes a group every year; its most recent expedition was in March.
Travel to the country had been strictly controlled for decades until President Barack Obama relaxed travel and money transfer regulations for people with family in Cuba last month.
"I don't know [what that means for Hershey]," Hester said. "I'm hoping someday there will be more interest in it."
There is a Hershey in Cuba for exactly the same reason there is one in Pennsylvania -- Milton S. Hershey opened a factory there.
He applied the same philosophy that governed the planning in Pennsylvania: He provided the workers with everything they needed, from employment to entertainment.
Instead of chocolate, Hershey, Cuba -- 35 miles from Havana -- was a sugar-production center.
Hershey built gardens, a Hotel Hershey, stores, a train line and homes that resemble their Pennsylvania counterparts but are also distinctly Cuban.
About 200 families live in those homes, Hester said.
On one trip, a resident, in exchange for a Hershey's chocolate bar, allowed the group to wander through his home, which still had many of the original fixtures and features.
The group was joined by Rodolfo Campbell, a Cuban man who as a boy served as Milton Hershey's golf caddie during the chocolate magnate's many trips to the Cuban town.
Alberto Hernandez has worked to restore the original 1920s-era train cars, emblazoned with "Hershey," that once ferried workers to the refinery.
"We asked him if we could do anything for him, can we give you money," Hester said. "But he said no because if he gets money, it gets complicated. What he really needed was black electrical tape, so we're working on getting him electrical tape."
The train ride from the station in Casablanca to Hershey is always a highlight of the trip, she said.
Musicians board the train and entertain the travelers. Men smoke Cuban cigars. The conductor will stop the train just about anywhere the travelers ask and even let them drive for a while.
But in a country where average wages are $23 a month and a town where almost everyone who once worked at the sugar plant remains unemployed, Hester said other pieces of Hershey are slipping away.
She said Cuba's Hotel Hershey, though not quite as large as its midstate counterpart, was as beautiful a building as the one that overlooks the town here.
After it closed, it operated as an apartment building, she said. Later, it was to become an office building, but it appears that money ran out for restoration, Hester said.
Then last year, Hurricane Ike swept through the area and tore the roof off the building. It's nothing more than a shell.
"It's all still there, but it's very badly in need of restoration," Hester said. "It's very sad, because it's a beautiful little town."
On the Net
Learn about Milton S. Hershey's life and legacy exhibits at The Hershey Story at hersheystory.org.
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