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11 million priceless photos inside a Pa. mountain

Plus, Philly memes its way through a water crisis.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

March 31, 2023
Inside this edition: Bell curve, crisis memes, 'Railton College,' town namesakes, Hershey's hazards, old McDonald's, and a subterranean treasure trove.
🏆  TEST TIME: What a week! If you're confident you've been following the news closely, there's only one way to prove it: Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Which Pa. city has a museum marking the spot where the Liberty Bell was hidden from British forces in 1777? Hint: It's not Philadelphia.

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» Three memes worth sharing: Somehow Philadelphia made an impending water crisis funny this week with digs at Cinderella-like advisories, local customs, and a little help from The Onion.

» One episode worth watching: Bob Odenkirk's new dark comedy Lucky Hank takes place at an underfunded, underachieving, and fictional school called "Railton College" in Pennsylvania. Watch the pilot here.

» One map worth using: Want to know which place people are most likely referring to when they say the name of your hometown? This map of places in the U.S. with the same name uses math to help.

» One thing worth knowing: After Consumer Reports found potentially harmful levels of lead and cadmium in some Hershey's chocolate, the company now says it's working to reduce those amounts

» One trend worth watching: With its last McDonald's closing in April, downtown Pittsburgh's fast food scene has never been slower.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Full guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania's Supreme Court

» Guide to the candidates for Commonwealth, Superior Courts

» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.’s 2023 primary election

» Campaign finance, lobbying reform sidestepped by Pa. lawmakers

» Court decision does little to clear up confusion over ballot curing

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election coverage now.
Construction workers eating lunch on a beam of an unfinished skyscraper high above New York City.
Charles Clyde Ebbets' "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper." (Wikimedia Commons)

BuzzFeed took readers to Butler County this week for a look at "The World’s Most Heavily Guarded Photo Archive," where 11 million historical photos are stashed away in a humidity-controlled fortress.

The Bettmann Archive is a 10,000 square foot vault buried 220 feet below ground in a former limestone mine near Boyers Township.

The archive is "a visual history of everything" from the 19th and 20th centuries and is home to original and iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, the moon landing, Elvis, JFK, and on. 

It's named for Otto Bettmann (pictured below), a German photographer known as "The Picture Man" who fled Nazi Germany for the U.S., where he "virtually invented the image resource business." 

Otto Bettmann holding images while seated at a desk.Ross Mantle writes:

With his encyclopedic knowledge of historical visuals, Bettmann figured out a cunning business, licensing images he amassed to editorial and advertising clients. Charles Clyde Ebbets' "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper," the Apollo 11 moon landing, Malcolm X meeting Martin Luther King Jr., the Hindenburg's explosion, and a young Queen Elizabeth II (posing with one of her corgis) is only a small taste of the archive's famous images.

The Corbis Corporation, an image-licensing company formerly owned by Bill Gates, purchased the collection in 1995. Up to that point, the Bettmann Archive was located in New York City, however, the weather conditions there over time caused deterioration of the acetate negatives. 

Read BuzzFeed's Q&A with Bettmann's sole archivists and see its exceptional photos of the place here.
There's more in that old limestone mine, a 200-acre storage facility used by government agencies (often confidentially), Fortune 1,000 companies, record companies, and almost every major motion picture studio.

National Geographic, which has its own archives there, offers an eerie, four-minute tour of the "underground city" here.

The network says Cold War anxiety in the 1950s led the defense industry to urge its largest contractor at the time, U.S. Steel, to find a "hardened location" to preserve its vital records in the event of a nuclear attack.

The company, with operations based in Pittsburgh, owned dozens of blast-proof mines, including the one in Boyers Township, which it used to supply limestone for railway and skyscraper projects.

U.S. Steel employee Larry Yont saw a bigger opportunity to position the mine as a document-storage facility and nuclear holocaust-proof shelter for the country’s business elite. Yont bought the property in 1954 and launched National Underground Storage, which was purchased in 1998 by the Boston-based company Iron Mountain for $39 million.

Iron Mountain, which gave the mine the same name, was founded in 1951 by Herman "Mushroom King" Knaust, who made a fortune growing 'shrooms in old upstate New York mines before the market shifted overseas. Suddenly, he needed a new use for the subterranean chambers. 

According to the company, Knaust’s decision in 1945 to sponsor the relocation of Jewish immigrants — who lost identities and personal records during WWII — is what spurred the idea to start protecting vital information from wars or other disasters in abandoned mines.

In a 2013 piece for New Yorker magazine, Joshua Rothman writes: 

It’s hard to say what Iron Mountain might look like a half-century from now. Over the past few decades, two factors have driven the company’s rapid growth: the advent of personal computing, which led to an explosion in the production of paper documents, and tougher regulations, which have compelled companies to keep those documents for longer periods.

Rothman adds: "Even digital storage is still, ultimately, physical."

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"The pilot had to know every fall, every rock and sand bar and the dangerous eddies and currents that lie in the rafting course, and steer clear of them all."

—B. Cookman Dunkle in his 1953 book on the log rafts and raftmen that once ruled the Susquehanna River, via the Bay Journal

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
The Creeper Gallery in New Hope, via @lora_exploresSend us your photos, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Oddities, including goat head figurines, on display in a store.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Allentown is home to the Liberty Bell Museum, which is located in the church where the national symbol was hidden for safekeeping during the Revolutionary War. Or, at least the museum was located in that church.

Lehigh Valley Live reports the museum is relocating after this weekend following failed negotiations with the church's new owners. Rent was free. The new landlords wanted to raise it to $3,412 per month.

According to the Morning Call, the museum's replica bell belongs to the state and will likely stay in the church, but other materials could soon be relocated to the Lehigh County Historical Society a few blocks away. 

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

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