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No Fun In The Sun Moon Lake Park

Moon Lake 1Photo courtesy of Stephanie Howard

In 2011 and 2012, local papers were running stories about coming up with a multi-million dollar plan to save Luzerne County owned Moon Lake Park, because today, all plans have to be “multi-million”. For those who are not familiar with the area, Moon Lake Park, located in Pennsylvania, was a low key, inexpensive  (mostly free) kind of place, where people could go to enjoy the great outdoors, with access to a few amenities.  You could camp and fish.  You could bike and hike. It had a pool and some tennis courts.  Picnic tables, were sprinkled throughout the property.  It was a great place to kick back, enjoy nature, catch some rays, grill burgers, and hang out with friends and family.

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The View Thru A Missing Office Window

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By the time the public discussion began about how to fix the park, many amenities had been closed by Luzerne County for several years due to budgetary concerns. The facilities did show obvious signs of neglect when I started photographing the decline in 2012.  But it could have been greatly improved upon with some simple repairs, like repaving those tennis courts and repairing the picnic tables.

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But instead of coming up with a real world workable plan, government red tape dictated that the financially struggling county had to waste time and precious resources, like money, creating a completely unattainable $37 Million Dollar Master Plan, which was required to apply for grant money to move forward on an improvement project that could never possibly be implemented within the near future.  Input coming from the public suggested the plan include a water park, snow tubing, rock climbing, zip lining, and nature-survival activities so it could be designed to compete with places like The Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.

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Despite having a yearly budget of only $119,626 to run the park in 2011, the county commissioners approved a $120,000 contract with Sasaki Associates Inc., located in Massachusetts, to be the consultant in charge of creating the master plan that same year. The state agreed to pay for half of the cost while the county planned to spend bond proceeds borrowed in 2008 to fund its $60,000 share according to news reports. How did all of our little community improvement projects turn into these multi-million dollar endeavors, that are never going to be attainable in a county as financially strapped as this one? We couldn’t even afford to write the plan, let alone find the funds to execute it.

Maybe that’s the real issue. Government red tape, and community input with Dom Perignon taste, while trying to scrape together enough change to buy a dollar draft, wastes so much time creating these dream scenarios that our leaders don’t have the opportunity to think about realistic plans which would actually make sense.

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Recently, ownership of Moon Lake Park was transferred to the state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry.  According to reports, they plan to allow most of the park area to return to its natural state, with paved roads being replaced with crushed stone as they deteriorate. The pool and other structures will disappear.  The new public bathrooms will be non-flushable sealed concrete vaults, and the designated camping areas will be rustic with no utility hook-up. Future plans include a new well-manicured area for picnics and a boat launch near the lake.

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

Photo by Jennifer O’Malia

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Losing My Religion: Abandoned National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus near Hazleton

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According to several online sources, The Rev. Girard Angelo once told a friend that he promised God if he was ever assigned to a parish with enough land, he would build a Shrine. He did exactly that when he was sent to St. Raphael’s Church in Harleigh, near Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Construction began in 1974, with the outdoor Shrine ceremoniously dedicated on June 22, 1975, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  The name of the church was changed to Sacred Heart of Jesus, and it was designated as a National Shrine in 1997.

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What Rev. Angelo accomplished was nothing short of miraculous, the largest shrine to the Sacred Heart in North America was built by one of the smallest parishes in the Scranton Dioceses.

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Rev. Angelo personally led tours for the busloads of Shrine visitors who made their way to show their devotion.  Sources say the Shrine had more than 100,000 visitors each year, usually via those organized bus tours.  The Shrine provided breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the dining hall of the Sacred Heart Center. Pilgrims who wanted to stay overnight found accommodations at nearby motels — one of which offered a discount through the Shrine organizers.  Those promoting the Shrine also spoke of the coal mining heritage of the area by encouraging visitors to stop by the “living history” museum of 19th-century mining, known as Eckley Miners’ Village.

SH 7 aThe Shrine’s five circular fountains symbolized the five wounds of Christ

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SH 14 aThe former Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima,

where Sacred Heart visitors could light candles

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Reverend Angelo, who was well-loved by many for building the Shrine, died in 2009 at the age of 82.

On August 10th, 2011, The Diocese of Scranton issued the following press release:

“The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus located in Harleigh, Pennsylvania has been closed effective August 8, 2011.  Visits to the Shrine decreased significantly over the past several years; and with no direct funding source in place to maintain the Shrine, the property fell into disrepair and potential safety concerns were raised.  In consideration of the future of the Shrine, a facilities study was conducted and concluded that the cost to renovate the Shrine would be prohibitive.

Although a few pilgrims visited the site intermittently, without the finances available to upkeep and maintain the grounds, in concurrence with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, it was determined that the site be officially closed.”

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SH VintageVintage SHJS Picture courtesy Mary Josephson

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

Photo by Jennifer O’Malia

Jenn Wedding

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Abandoned Summit Resort: Saxy Sal, Dirty Dancing, & the Heart Shaped Bar

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The Summit Resort

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

In 1995, the New York Daily News ran an article celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Honeymoon Industry in the Poconos. The Honeymoon Capital of the World began when Rudolph Von Hoevenberg opened the first resort, The Farm on the Hill, in 1945. The Farm was a very rustic operation consisting of some simple cabins and a main lodge.  Honeymooning brides were required to make beds and clean cabins, while grooms had to wait tables, which management said was their way to prepare their guests for married life.  The resort was so popular they had to institute a waiting list.

During the 1940s and 1950s more plush resorts began emerging in the area, which started a period of massive growth for the Honeymoon Business in the region.   In 1963, the first heart-shaped tub was introduced to Pocono honeymooners, and 1971 ushered in the racing era, when the Pocono International Raceway opened its 2 ½ mile superspeedway.  During the 1980s, whitewater rafting, outlet shopping, and golfing served to broaden the four-season appeal of the regional resort industry.  The 1990s were a bitter-sweet era, with several well-regarded resorts closing, while others made significant capital improvements to their facilities.

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The Summit Resort

Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

According to that Daily News article, newlyweds planning a basic Poconos getaway in 1995 expected accommodations that included “a heart-shaped tub, heart-shaped bed, heart-shaped swimming pool or a 7-foot-tall champagne-glass whirlpool bath for two”.  The article states:

“The Summit Resort (Tannersville) prides itself in matching the splendor of the natural surroundings to its indoor space luxurious suites, sports facilities, dining rooms and exotic nightclub. Just steps from your bedside is a private pool with mirrored walls, romantic woodland mural and swirling jets of water.”

Jenn Summit 6Photo Courtesy  of Jennifer O’Malia 

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*All Brochure Photos Courtesy  of Flickr’s colleen25g

Many have described the resort as an outlier.    The Summit, which was built in 1968, closed in September 2002, after the owners, Farda Realty LLC, decided they wanted to open an outlet shopping complex on the property, an idea that never became a reality.  Since then, the property structures have been condemned to existence as abandonments, with their glorious past long gone and no hope for their future.

Among those in the know, the plush, vinyl-clad, heart-shaped bar, once used as the glorious centerpiece of the Arabian Nights-themed “Scheherazade Night Club and Kismet Cocktail Lounge”, is considered the jewel of abandoned resort bars by photographers.

Gio the Summit 2Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

Jenn Summit 3Photo Courtesy  of Jennifer O’Malia 

While information about the resort is a little hard to come by, former guests looking to see if the beloved resort is still open are doing their part to keep memories alive by posting about their experiences on various travel sites.

Jenn Summit 5Photo Courtesy  of Jennifer O’Malia 

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At least two former guests posting to those sites have said that The Summit was reminiscent of the resort in Dirty Dancing, the 1987 hit that takes place at the fictitious Kellerman Resort, which is, in the movie, located in the Catskills.  Just like the fictitious resort, The Summit offered activities such as hiking, horseshoes, ping pong, limbo, bowling, badminton, and volleyball, but the Poconos also had the Alpine Slide at Camelback!  And one couple staying at The Summit in 1983 recalled that “It was the only resort at that time that offered the pool and Jacuzzi tub in the room.”

Jenn Summit 6Photo Courtesy  of Jennifer O’Malia 

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The Summit also had “breakfast in bed” which arrived in a wooden box that looked like some sort of animal trap, which was left at your door while the employee knocked and quickly ran away. One person wrote “We stayed in one of the little cabins and loved to light up the fireplace at night and swim in the heart shaped bathtub with lots of bubbles!”

 

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Gio The Summit 3Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

Jennifer 8Photo Courtesy  of Jennifer O’Malia 

Gio The Summit 4Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

Those commenting say that the staff and food were great.  Some mentioned collecting love potion glasses by playing newlywed games.  The lobby was described as “a little piece of paradise”.   It had koi ponds, a footbridge, a lit rock walled waterfall and even a parrot!  Many returning guests said they liked taking a new picture of the waterfall each year they had the opportunity to return.

UntitledPhoto Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

UntitledPhoto Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

Jenn Summit 2Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

Former guests most often post about “Saxy Sal”, a saxophone player for The Graci Brothers Band who said “bonswa” and always made everyone feel like family at The Summit.  Unfortunately, Salvatore Graci passed away in 2011. Many praised The Graci Brothers Band with comments like “the best band we ever had the pleasure of dancing to”.  A few recalled The Graci Brothers Band’s version of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth” as a personal favorite.

Other Summit employees leaving an impression among the guests were Tex, an activities director from 1987 and/or 1988; a show host reminiscent of Benny Hill;  a woman named Loretta who seated them at breakfast, lunch and dinner; Laxmi, a dining room server;  the “fun to be around photographer” that everyone called “Flash”;  The Astonishing Neal, a hypnotist; “a character” called “Smoky” who was the master of ceremonies in 1977; and “Fred Beven and the Difference in Brass” with their Big Band sound. Also scoring a few mentions were the chocolate crème pie and the Baked Alaska.

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Sadly, those staying at The Summit in 2000 and 2001 shared experiences that included negative comments about the tackiness of the décor, primarily mentioning the shag carpeting that permeated every inch of many cabins, a filmy substance covering the pool, a broken miniature golf course, and cabins they described as dirty, outdated and feeling “too much like the 1970s”.

Summit 10Cheri Sundra

Summit 2Cheri Sundra

Yet, many staying at The Summit during the 80s said they hoped to return for their 25th anniversary.

The Summit 1Cheri Sundra

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

 Photo by Jennifer O’Malia 

Jenn Wedding

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For Lovers Only–Abandoned Penn Hills Pocono Resort

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH  

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Welcome to JizzneyLand!  Celebrated as the “Paradise of Pocono Pleasure” and “a place of unbridled passion”, the honeymoon resort known as Penn Hills catered to Swinging Young Couples.  With tacky, lust inspired décor like round beds, heart-shaped whirlpool bathtubs, gaudy floor-to-ceiling shag carpeting, and mirrors on the ceiling, the Hotel California had nothing on this place!

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS 

If these walls could talk they’d tell stories of love, infidelity, lust, corruption and Mob connections! As soon as I started posting pictures from this location on social media, I had several women reach out to tell me tales of visiting here with suave Italian “business men”, who owned fancy cars, printing shops, drop ship businesses, video distribution companies, and other undefinable “business interests”.  Of course, no one wanted to be interviewed in detail “on the record”, but Billy D’Elia is the name that came up, in association with these men, several times as the three different women shared their stories with me.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

While this location started as a tavern in 1944, the 500 acre resort grew to include skiing, golf, swimming, archery, ice skating, snowmobiling, tennis, an indoor game room, a massive dining hall, and a night/comedy club.  The property also contained one cool historical feature–modernist streetlights from the 1964 World’s Fair.

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1964 World’s Fair Street Light at Penn Hills

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

During its prime in the 1960s and 1970s, Penn Hills was so popular that reservations often had to be made months in advance.  Anyone living in the Tri-State Area during the 1970s will remember the TV commercials with the slogan: “Penn Hills for lovers only.  You’re never lonely at Penn Hills….. Just 90 minutes from New York City!”

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Located in Analomink, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, the resort began its decline in the late 1980s, along with many of the resorts and hotels in that same region.  Some blame the rising affordability of air travel at that time, coupled with the inexpensive packages available at all-inclusive resorts at destinations in countries like Mexico.  Others say the resorts in the Poconos were built up in anticipation of legalized casino gambling in the state of Pennsylvania, which didn’t materialize as quickly as developers assumed it would.

Wedding Bell Shaped Pool

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Photo Courtesy of  Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

For whatever reason, lovers visiting Penn Hills in the new millennium found the accommodations horrifying during the last few years that it was open.   Consumer reviews from online travel sites definitely articulate how much the resort and its services deteriorated since its hey-days as a honeymoon destination spot.  Consumers described a resort that was deserted and scary.   They depict rooms that smelled moldy, contained outdated furniture, chipped paint and non-operational whirlpool tubs.  Accommodations were full of bugs, stains, and littered with graffiti containing slogans such as “We got screwed at Penn Hills”.  They also claimed that the drinks at the bar were watered down, the food was barely edible and the property was literally falling apart.   Reviews say that the wood on the buildings was rotting, the pool was peeling, the tennis courts had potholes, archery targets were no longer standing upright, and most of the buildings looked abandoned.

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH Kat Penn Hills_DSC5735 copy Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

When Penn Hills co-founder, Frances Paolillo died in 2009 at the age of 102, the resort closed less than two months later. According to multiple internet sources, the workers’ final paychecks were never issued.  The Monroe County Tax Claim Bureau reported that Penn Hills owed about $1.1 million in back taxes and was on a payment plan since 2006 to defray that debt. Portions of the property were sold at tax sale. In June of 2013, the remaining parcel was purchased for $25,000 at a repository sale by Penn Resort Investment, LLC, based in Jim Thorpe.  According to newspaper reports, Stroud Township officials have been trying to get the new owners to secure the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

Since declining into a state of abandonment, the resort, which was already in serious disrepair, has fallen victim to copper thieves, flooding, vandalism, and recent fires.  According to newspaper reports from December 2014, there have been a total of 98 instances requiring a police response at the resort since its closure, because of suspicious circumstances, burglary, and theft.  Stroud Township says if the current owners don’t cooperate, the township could eventually demolish the old resort and put a lien on the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH 

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtsey of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Some of My Own Photos From That Location:

The Laugh with Abandonment Comedy Club

Laugh With Abandonment Comedy Club
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The Abandoned Gift Shop

Gift ShopPenn Hills Gift Shop

The Abandoned Skating Rink

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Guest Rooms (some don’t seem totally “abandoned”)

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Abandoned Indoor Pool (no, that’s not ice)

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Abandoned Indoor Poolside Bar

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Cheri Sundra © 2015
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Find my photos on Flickr!

Ghost Estates: The Sanctuary

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If you try really hard, you can almost feel the positiveness of the developers when they named this sacred future hamlet, located in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.  The land was purchased for development from Bishop James C. Timlin and named The Sanctuary. But the hulking abandoned shell of what was going to become a townhouse, which is the predominant view in your line of sight when entering this wanna-be housing development, tells a completely different story.  This place is like a blank page at the end of the last chapter of a book.  The street signs and hydrants may have been erected, but this mostly abandoned development is nothing but an attempted mirage of suburbia.  It’s the American Dream gone wrong.

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While cruising the desolate and primarily house-free streets, admiring the asphalt roads and empty lots, you realize that this Ghost Development is not entirely dead.  One house in the back is obviously occupied, and from another in the front, a dog could be heard yipping away from inside one of the cookie-cutter townhouses.

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Yet there are also partially landscaped yards in the process if reverting into scrappy, weed infested spaces, in front of dwellings left half-finished, abandoned and deteriorating.

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According to past newspaper reports, The Sanctuary has transformed into one couple’s suburban hell.  In an interview from 2009 with the only homeowners living in The Sanctuary at that time, they disclosed that water tainted by a dangerous industry solvent flows beneath their dream house with the cozy fireplace, expensive hardwood floors and spacious kitchen.   The homeowners voiced concern about being left with a $400,000 mortgage on a home that was worth considerably less in a stalled housing development.  To contribute to their problem, the housing development is linked to figures in one of the biggest scandals ever to rock Luzerne County.

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Sanctuary was conceived and developed by W-Cat Inc.   Federal prosecutors are very familiar with some of the names associated with that development company.  Three of them, former Luzerne County judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and attorney Robert J. Powell, were key figures in what has become known as Kids for Cash, a judicial corruption scandal.

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
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The Dead Diva of Hollenback Cemetery: The Notorious Florence Foster Jenkins

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If someone was going to play you in a movie about your life,

who would you want it to be?

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Meryl Streep (along with Hugh Grant) recently signed up to appear as one of Wilkes-Barre’s former residents, now eternally residing in the Hollenback Cemetery, Florence Foster Jenkins, who became infamous for her artistic incompetence since she was an Opera Diva who could not sing.  The concept isn’t that hard to grasp today, in the age of talentless nobodies who become amazingly famous–Florence Foster Jenkins is the undisputed Patron Saint of that genre!

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Known, and sometimes ridiculed, for her lack of rhythm, pitch and tone; in addition to her generally poor singing ability, legions of people came to see Florence perform, thanks to her highly eccentric behavior.  It is rumored that she would often order massive bouquets of flowers to be delivered to her concerts, and then genuinely forget that she‘d done so, thinking they were from her throngs of admirers.  She wore ridiculous costumes, in Lady Gaga-esque fashion, that she made herself, often featuring wings and tinsel.  Ms. Jenkins once pulled an “Axl Rose” by hurling a basket at the audience. And after an accident, she rewarded a taxi driver for injuring her because she was convinced that she could “sing” a higher F than ever before (after the incident).  When faced with ridicule and criticism, Ms. Jenkins had the amazing ability to rebrand herself as a victim of “professional jealousy”.

The only way to obtain a ticket to one of Ms. Jenkins’ performances was to purchase one directly from the Diva herself!  She certainly understood the “leave them wanting more” theory since she refused to appear in New York more than once a year, often restricting attendance to her annual recital to a select few loyal admirers.

According to Carnegie Hall, it is Ms. Jenkins who has the honor of being the performer of their most requested archival concert program.

Seeing Ms. Jenkins, who was independently wealthy, perform at small venues like fashionable hotel ballrooms became “the thing to do”.  Everyone wanted to listen to her screw up every song she tried to sing.  Her concert-goers always had such a great time that they convinced her that she needed to make her Carnegie Hall debut, which she did on October 25, 1944.  The performance sold out in just two hours!  And the audience would not let her go home.  And like the Diva she was, she died one month and one day after that performance.  Forever leaving her fans wanting more. IMG_1879 (2) sig

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
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Hotel Sterling Demolition: One Year Later

NOTE:

To mark the one year anniversary of the demolition of the Hotel Sterling, Welcome to the Zombie Hotel Sterling will be available as a FREE digital download on Amazon from July 25th thru July 29th.  Get ’em while you can!  If you don’t have a Kindle, the  app  is free too.

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Once upon a time, the city known as Wilkes-Barre enjoyed days of prosperity, primarily because of the growth of the anthracite industry in neighboring towns.   This hub of transportation and business activity  created a need within itself  to build a new hotel, during the golden era of the Grand Luxury Hotel.

When newspaper headlines said “Construction Work on Sterling Will Begin This Month”, a survey by “recognized authorities” concluded that the original plan for a strictly commercial hotel would not sufficiently meet the needs of the community.   It was “decided advisable to provide for a first class modern building in every way”.  The construction cost was estimated at $225,000.

In 1897, the Wilkes-Barre Times ran these GROUND PLANS for the hotel:

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That edition of the paper was so popular, due to the community buzz about the construction of the hotel, that the paper had to reprint the edition “by the request of those who wish, but cannot get copies to send to friends and relatives in other cities”.

Alongside the plans were some of the names suggested for the hotel by readers of the paper.  The suggestions included The Susquehanna, Hotel Hollenback, Hotel Anthracite, The Anthracite, Rivera Hotel Sterling, Hotel Susquehanna, The New Century, The Keystone, Hotel Ganoga, Riverside, Hotel de Sterling, Hotel Farragut, The Phoenix, The Gertrude, The Waldegrave and The Parish.

The Hotel opened in 1898, and the good times began!

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Hotel Sterling Crystal Ballroom during an event

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Hotel Sterling, Crystal Ballroom 2012

Sadly, a little over a hundred years later, the Hotel Sterling found itself in a community struggling to find a practical use for its aging and now out-dated structure full of history and sentiment.  Wilkes-Barre is a community struggling to reclaim a sustainable economy and way of life,  and memories aren’t enough to fund historical preservation projects.  Demolition began on the Hotel Sterling on July 25, 2013.

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How did the Hotel Sterling morph from a much anticipated Grand Luxury Hotel into a hopeless abandonment?  Hear the tale as told by the Hotel Sterling in:

WELCOME TO THE ZOMBIE HOTEL STERLING

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July 25th Thru July 29th on Amazon.com

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