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Summering in Scranton

Bill Kauffman at The Spectator

Photo by Danny Devito / Unsplash

I have long nursed a hypocritical disdain for travel, adverting in a pinch to the occasionally peripatetic American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson, who between far-flung lecture gigs declared, “I am not much an advocate for traveling, and I observe that men run away to other countries because they are not good in their own, and run back to their own because they pass for nothing in the new places. For the most part, only the light characters travel. Who are you that you have no task to keep you at home?”

So in opting for Pennsylvania over Capri we were acting in conformance with Transcendentalist principles.

(I once tried out the anti-travel argument on the philosopher Thomas Molnar. He wasn’t buying it, and my case was undermined by the fact that we were chatting in the Prague airport, 4,200 miles from home.)

Best known today as the setting of the intermittently witty TV show The Office, Scranton has plenty of impressive late nineteenth and early twentieth-century buildings. Fittingly for this hometown of Jane Jacobs, urban renewal’s most incisive and soulful critic, Scranton knocked down less of its past in the 1960s than did most midsized cities.

We stayed at the Lackawanna Station Hotel, a converted 1908 French Renaissance-style train station reputedly haunted by the spirits of those whose bodies once reposed in an underground morgue. Fortified by refreshment in the hotel bar, we made an intrepid late-night foray morgueward, but our all-too-trepid sides prevailed, and the ghosts went undisturbed. The Lackawanna Station Hotel cost us about $150 for the night, which might have covered one-tenth of the price of a dog-kennel Airbnb on Capri. We also toured the excellent Steamtown National Historic Site, which even this non-train buff enjoyed.

Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation in the percentage of its residents (71) who were born in the state. Bravo! (Last, predictably, is Nevada at a pathetic 25 percent.) And while we’re at it, a beleaguered little city in Pennsylvania owns the most fascinating statistical pairing in my ken: at one point in 1983, Johnstown had the highest unemployment rate and the lowest crime rate in America. Someone oughta study that one.

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