Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Muhammad Ali's haven in one of Pa.'s smallest towns

Plus, the Sports Illustrated Hall of Fame.

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

January 26, 2024
Inside this edition: Punxsy prediction, clickety-clack, on the phone, sports pages, ride-along, and the camp is here. Thanks for checking in.
Shop the Spotlight PA store for exclusive Pennsylvania gear and apparel.

Get our Exclusive Tote, On Sale Now

Get exclusive Spotlight PA apparel and accessories now on sale.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Pittsburgh native Daya’s childhood home in Mount Lebanon is listed for sale at $2.5 million. What was the singer’s hit breakout song?

A. "Clarity" 
B. "Call Me Maybe"
C. "Vampire"
D. "Hide Away"

(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.

» One prediction worth watching: It’s almost time for Punxsutawney Phil to decide our short-term weather future. York Daily Record has a primer. PETA, meanwhile, is calling for Phil to be retired.

» One video worth watching: Flap boards, aka clickety-clack boards: You’ve probably seen them at train stations, airports, or hotels. The Inquirer shows how they're made and why we love them.

» One project worth doing: Do you know of any pay phones in your area? If so, a museum in Philadelphia wants to know about them. WHYY reports your photos of pay phones will help build a "life-lines" map.

» One era worth remembering: Fans are mourning the possible end of Sports Illustrated and the magazine's era-defining covers that spotlighted Pitt, Penn State, and lots of Pennsylvanians through the years.

» One backstory worth knowing: Why was Allentown-born actress Amanda Seyfried hanging out with Philly police in Kensington this week? The Inquirer (paywall) says research for an upcoming TV show.

🤔 PA NEWS QUIZ: Think you know what's happening in Pennsylvania? Prove it with the latest Great PA News Quiz: Trump travel, 'monopoly power,' a rare ethics complaint, and Punxsutawney PETA.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» State Police lab records deleted after 'human error'

» Is charter school reform on the horizon?

» Fire depts. need money. State law is in their way.

» PA broadband agency reverses course on telecom law

» Mastriano Jan 6 ties at center of ethics complaint

» When is Pennsylvania's 2024 presidential primary?
Sunlight filters through trees behind a large rock bearing a tribute plaque for boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Julian, Fighter's Heaven.

Schuylkill County boasts a lot of things. It’s the cradle of Pennsylvania's anthracite boom. It gave us boilo, that hardy wintertime grog. It's also where boxing legend Muhammad Ali prepared for some of his biggest fights against Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Ken Norton.

The rural Deer Lake training camp, which came to be known as Fighter’s Heaven, helped Ali escape the city-life distractions that came with training in Miami. And after years of changing hands, the property has been restored by NFL legend John Madden’s son, Mike, and opened to the public. It’s also available for corporate retreats and conferences. 

How you can visit: 

Admission to the museum is free. Monday-Friday visits are appointment-only year-round. Drop-in visits are available 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in May through October.

Fighter’s Heaven is located at:
58 Sculps Hill Road
Orwigsburg, PA 17961

The website says: That’s roughly 20 miles north of Reading, 30 miles west of Allentown, or 6 miles south of Pottsville.

Visit fightersheaven.com/visit/ for more information.

The history: 

After 1971's unprecedented loss to Joe Frazier in "The Fight of the Century," Ali was looking to reinvent himself.

Fighter’s Heaven General Manager Mick Stefanek said Bernie Pollack, who was involved in the fight scene, invited the boxer to travel to Pennsylvania to train at Pollack’s Mink Farm in Deer Lake — a small and almost exclusively white town originally built for coal baron retreats.

Ali is said to have enjoyed the fresh air and wide-open spaces. He built his own camp nearby, and according to the New York Times, trained and lived there in an “80-bed compound of 18 buildings, most of them log cabins.”

Following his retirement in 1981, Ali's training camp underwent various identity changes. Ali leased the property out for a dollar a year to a home for victims of child abuse and pregnant teens.

In 1997, Ali sold the former training camp to George Dillman, a renowned martial arts teacher who bills himself as "the only person known to have trained with both Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali."

Dillman turned it into the Butterfly and Bee Bed and Breakfast, a nod to Ali’s fighting style and one of his most famous verbal jabs.

Muhammad Ali is seated in a recliner while surrounded by children in a wood-paneled room.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Julian, Fighter's Heaven.
New owners:

After Ali died in 2016, Mike Madden, the son of legendary broadcaster and football coach John Madden, bought the place, which had been on sale since 2010. Madden, a prominent real estate developer, planned to turn it into a museum, tourist attraction, and tribute.

“He wanted to give the feel of what it was like in the 1970s,” Stefanek said. “He restored it to look and feel the same.” 

What to expect:

The museum features five main locations: Ali’s cabin, kitchen, gym, mosque, and chalet (where his family would stay). Stefanek said four out of the five locations feature short 5- to 9-minute videos of Ali doing interviews about his life. When visitors arrive, a 15-minute walkthrough of the place is done to show them around before people do a self-guided tour.

Staff photographer Jeff Julian, who photographed Ali in 1978, said he helped Madden by providing collections of photos. He said he also went to different flea markets and auctions to find replica furniture to recreate Ali’s space.

“I knew Ali was training up there. I fell in love with the place,” he said. “Ali was so accommodating.”

Julian said the museum is perfect for any history fans, specifically those interested in Pennsylvania history. 

The museum received a historical marker from Pennsylvania on the anniversary of Ali’s death last June. Later that year, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The preservation efforts paid off because Stefanek said an estimated 4,600 people came to check out the museum last year. He said two of Ali’s daughters, his widow, and Muhammad Ali Jr. have visited too. 

Stefanek wants to build on that momentum to get the word out to more people about the place and get more school districts and youth groups around Pennsylvania to come.

“People have left so happy. They’ll say ‘I am so glad I came’ or ‘This is awesome,’” he added. “It’s a pretty special place. What Mike has done here is phenomenal.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. Donate to Spotlight PA today. The future of local news is in your hands.
A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.

"He’s determined to go and on a mission."

Regina Henschel on her husband Tom, an Allegheny County native and part-time Butler County resident, attending every Super Bowl since the start

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Margaret Yoma U. in Core Creek Park, Bucks County. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
a person hiking in snow towards the woods
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is D. "Hide Away."

The song peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. Daya, real name Grace Martine Tandon, also had a hit collaboration with duo The Chainsmokers on their song "Don’t Let Me Down."

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan & nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © Spotlight PA. All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
PO Box #11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Local.

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

Receiving too many emails from Spotlight PA?

To change your newsletter subscriptions and frequency, you can update your preferences.

To stop receiving fundraising messages, you can update your preferences and select "Opt out of Fundraising."

To stop receiving ALL EMAILS from Spotlight PA, including all of our investigations and newsletters, you can completely unsubscribe here.