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“What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?” The Questions of Industrial Heritage Lycoming County has provided stable jobs for many and fortunes for a few. Settlers transformed its pioneer villages into thriving communities where generations of immigrants found opportunity and made homes. However, Lycoming County’s century of great prosperity and productivity ended in the 1960s. . . . Companies began exporting jobs, leaving those that did not undercut and out of business. This book is a nostalgic tribute to the hardworking people who built Lycoming County and, in doing so, built America. It is a message of loss and, sometimes, a message of corporate abandonment. —Robin Van Auken and Louis E. Hunsinger Jr., Images of America (2005) This passage, from the introduction to one title in a local history picture-book series, begins with typical heritage language—full of settlers, pioneers, immigrants , and thriving communities—but then takes a less pleasant turn. Occasionally , through mixed messages like this one, the unhappy feelings of local people caught in economic change make their way into industrial heritage interpretation . “Just beneath the surface of much heritage discourse seethes social rage, for the relative quietude of heritage communication joins dialectically with the anger of the outraged,” James F. Abrams writes about Pennsylvania’s former coal-mining towns. “Heritage discourse and social rage are but two sides of the same coin.”1 Such tensions certainly are part of the current development of steel-industry heritage, which celebrates workers of a century ago rather than the more recent days of the industry, a more demoralizing era. Stories of sacrifice, even crisis, in industry are included in industrial heritage, but they tend to tell of longago losses, such as the early twentieth-century coal-mining accidents somberly 154   Pennsylvania in Public Memory marked on memorials across the state. Heritage tributes are less comfortably paid to those with fresher wounds. The less glorious circumstances of recent and even continuing industry are among the themes that rarely make their way into heritage narratives. This chapter considers a set of questions about what is missing from the stories told in the preceding chapters. What Industry Does Not Qualify as Heritage? Cultural narratives are by definition, as Raymond Williams once wrote, “a continual selection and re-selection of ancestors.”2 In order to remember, we must also forget; we must make tacit choices about what people, events, and stories are less important to preserve and “pass on” as heritage. Pennsylvania has, in the past, been home to industries that are less well remembered at museums and heritage sites, some on a relatively small scale, such as auto manufacturing in York, and some on quite a large scale, such as glassmaking in Pittsburgh. They are left out of the story either because their particulars are less dramatic than those of other industries in their areas or because—like locomotive manufacturing in Erie or silk mills in Allentown—they were in cities where industrial heritage culture has not yet taken hold (as discussed in the next chapter). Other industries are not (yet) well recalled because they do not yield strong narratives of lessons learned and they have uncertain legacies. One especially compelling example is the nuclear power industry. Pennsylvania has the distinction of being home to the nation’s first commercial nuclear reactor (in 1958 in the Pittsburgh suburb of Shippingport) and its worst commercial nuclear power accident, in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg in 1979. Lonna Malmsheimer did oral history interviews with local residents during the year after the accident. Writing in 1986, the same year Unit 1 restarted, she declared, “Few Americans . . . have any difficulty calling up an image of Three Mile Island’s cooling towers in the bucolic middle landscape of central Pennsylvania, now the icons of a dramatic encounter with the machine in the garden.”3 More than thirty years later, that dramatic encounter is largely (even locally) forgotten. The state museum’s industrial section includes a kiosk-style display playing corporate videos, made by the power company during the 1980s, next to a model of a “Rover,” the machine built to go inside the radioactive reactor during the cleanup.4 A state historical marker stands along the road leading to the island, but the on-site visitor center is closed now, and Unit 1 continues to operate. Despite avowals to the contrary just after the accident, the Questions of Industrial Heritage   155 industry itself not only has survived but seems poised to come back into...


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