Corrections or additions?

This article by Caroline Cologero was prepared for the August 15,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Color Us Disappointed

Fans of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood have all seen the

clip of crayons being manufactured on Crayola’s production line.

Intensely

colored molten liquid is squirted through perforated molds and emerges

as perfect miniature columns. Once cooled, women in aprons scoop them

up by the handful and load them into large wooden crates. Labels are

glued on. Finally, they are boxed and sent off. Watching TV, you can

almost smell the wax.

I’ve always been a sucker for a tour of a factory. It seems that

manufacturing

is almost extinct nowadays, an exotic occupation for all but robots.

And the paper-pushing and service-providing activities of us real

humans just don’t have the same cachet. The opportunity to get a

glimpse

at the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania, was a tantalizing

prospect. After all, just opening a new box of crayons can make many

any one of us feel young again.

We tagged our visit onto the end of a family reunion trip to Knobels,

the down-home amusement park located between Allentown and State

College,

in the vast midsection of Pennsylvania. My suspicions should have

been aroused as we drove into the middle of Easton. I saw none of

the grim signs of ongoing manufacturing — like big warehouses,

loading locks, and truck traffic.

Instead, the town has a "tres chic" look about it with

brick-lined

walkways and cute restaurants. But with a caravan of 14 people in

tow, including 8 kids ranging in age from 8 months to 13 years, I

ignored these warning signs and plowed onward.

My assessment: The Crayola Factory is a "Mc-experience" —

lots of packaging but little nutritive value. Our peek at the

manufacturing

process of crayons and markers was showcased behind Plexiglas walls

during demonstrations held throughout the day. Watching these products

being made is but a minor part of the offerings.

During the marker-making demo that we attended on a Tuesday in June,

the crowd stood three deep, kids squirming forward to get a better

look. Watching the markers roll around the assembly line to completion

was fascinating, even in this contrived setting. At its conclusion,

the attendant exchanged one of the two tokens we had received after

payment of the $8 admission charge for a green marker.

The crayon production kiosk was out of order. But the kids did get

to insert their second token into a see-through vending machine and

"purchase" their own package of four Cayola crayons.

Once upon a time, from 1985 to 1992, tourists could

glimpse the real thing — a tour of the crayon and marker

manufacturing

site located seven miles from Easton in Forks Township. The Crayola

Factory, which opened in 1996, was Binney & Smith’s answer to limited

accommodations at the plant. Although 20,000 people visited the actual

factory each year, an equal number had to be turned away.

These attendance figures look like child’s play now. Rick Nann,

manager

of marketing for the Crayola Factory and the National Canal Museum,

which occupies the third floor of the same building, predicts 70,000

adults and children will visit in August alone, the attraction’s

busiest

month.

Besides making crayons, most of the activities at the Crayola Factory

are rather ordinary. The arts and crafts are similar to those

presented

daily in any good nursery school. The other offerings duplicate those

of many children’s museums.

The whole experience represents a marketer’s wildest dream —

customers

pay for the privilege of being shown your wares and are then allowed

to purchase the goods right next door, where a 7,200-square-foot

Crayola

Store is handily ensconced. To complete the picture, a McDonald’s

fast-food outlet is adjacent on the first floor.

At the Factory children can make art projects by stopping at several

stations each featuring a different product such as Model Magic,

Crayola’s

alternative to the crumbly mess of Play-doh. Given a white,

marshmallow-sized

lump of this modeling material and access to a pile of markers to

color the stuff, participants are left to create. We made butterflies,

very small dolls, and even captured the footprint of my

eight-month-old

niece, Maura.

At tables of colored pencils, glue, and an assortment of different

papers, children were urged to make a hat. My 13-year-old son and

the 11-year-olds in our group deigned to participate, but the activity

of pasting and coloring paper remained profoundly commonplace.

Breaking through years of behavioral conditioning not to color on

the walls, kids are invited to scribble on high curved glass walls

at Crayola. Some left a small picture or even some graffiti.

Another area offered a clear slide to be embellished and then

projected

onto the wall-size screen. In the tradition of Kilroy, my son left

his mark with a message of "Anthony was here" emblazoned in

red.

There is the requisite plastic fruit stand for the toddlers that

included

a ground level bed of plastic carrots to pull and replant at will.

Nearby children stood inside a room-sized box, open on two sides.

Their movements were recorded and projected instantly as brightly

colored shadows onto a giant screen. This was the favorite activity

of my 8-year-old niece, Victoria.

The kids did enjoy the activities, but the company’s self promotion

is ceaseless, leaving all but the littlest ones in our group with

the impression that the Crayola Factory is really just an interactive

advertisement.

My 11-year-old niece, Patricia, likened the tour to a giant

commercial.

My daughter Marie, also age 11, concurred. "You could have done

all that stuff at home," she said. The two girls made further

unfavorable comparisons between the Crayola Factory and the more

authentic

experience of watching money being coined at the U.S. Mint in

Philadelphia.

And the hype does abound. Visitors are encouraged to put their samples

and art work into a free "activity bag," actually a clear

plastic sack with cutout holes for handles.

A notable silver lining of our trip was visiting the National Canal

Museum located on the floor above the Crayola Factory. (The museum

is included in the price of admission.) Here we were offered a look

at an obscure but interesting slice of the history, best for those

at least approaching middle school age and older. We walked around

the full-size living quarters of a canal boat, operated a canal lock,

and read about the lives of those who worked on the inland waterways.

At the Crayola Factory the crowds can be ferocious. Even the recorded

telephone message warns that showing up is no guarantee of getting

in. Yet it seems silly to brave the drive, the hordes, and fork over

the admission fee for an experience that can be virtually duplicated

at a kitchen table. My recommendation: forgo the car ride and spend

the admission money on a rainbow of freshly-minted art supplies.

— Caroline Calogero

The Crayola Factory , 30 Center Square, Easton, PA,

610-515-8000.

Admission $8 adults & children; $7.50 seniors 65 and older; children

under 2 free. Summer hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.;

Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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