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Mister Ed's Museum, a Pa. landmark, heavily damaged in fire

July 06, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • Ed "Mister Ed" Gotwalt stands in his museum and candy store in Orrtanna, Pa., that was heavily damaged by fire Monday night.
Jennifer Fitch, Staff Writer

ORRTANNA, Pa. -- Peanut shells and small toys crunched under Ed "Mister Ed" Gotwalt's shoes Tuesday as he surveyed extensive damage from a fire that ripped through his landmark business on U.S. 30.

"We lost everything," Gotwalt repeated three times in succession, as disbelief seemed to reclaim his thoughts.

Gotwalt was asleep Monday when a neighbor pounded on the door at 11:20 p.m., shouting that the store, Mister Ed's Elephant Museum, was on fire. Gotwalt called for help and watched as firefighters battled the flames until 3 a.m.

The museum is in Adams County, Pa., about 15 miles west of Gettysburg, Pa., and 12 miles east of Chambersburg, Pa.

Gone were half of the more than 10,000 elephants Gotwalt collected since receiving the first -- a tiny pottery one -- from his sister on his wedding day. The museum opened in 1975 when his wife, Pat, declared the collection had outgrown their house.

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The damaged, warped shelves of one display case near the front entrance held glass elephants. Another nearby display case, which is completely gone, held some of the figurines most valuable to Gotwalt, including several that belonged to his mother. He plans to methodically rake through the debris in hopes of recovering any that might have survived.

The fire broke out in the candy portion of the three-part business, which has been featured in films and books, and on websites. Fifty thousand visitors a year entered through a covered porch to reach a gift shop. From there, they could continue to the candy shop or free-admission museum.

A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal will determine the blaze's cause, but Gotwalt believes it started in the wiring. He wants to rebuild as soon as possible and add a sprinkler system.

"All of the merchandise, all the candy, all the fudge, we've got to throw it away," he said.

Fire Marshal Jeff Sarver said he started the investigation Tuesday and will continue Wednesday. He's focusing on a heater in the candy room, but he needs to clear ceiling remnants off the floor to get a better look.

"There was total collapse of the ceiling in there," Sarver said.

The fire was difficult to fight because the box-like rooms created heat pockets, plus the building was wrapped in tin, he said.

For Gotwalt, daylight revealed the magnitude of the destruction when he saw things like costume jewelry, frog and turtle figurines, taffy, slivers of roof beams, and charred stuffed animals mixed with water and firefighting foam in a thick layer on the floor. The cash register had melted.

"It hit me how bad it was," he said.

According to published reports, the location near the Franklin/Adams counties line is the second for Gotwalt. A fire in 1984 burned the first store two miles away.

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