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Lincoln Highway museum in Ligonier honors namesake's birthday

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:04 p.m.
Producer John Miller (left) and peoduction assistant, Tom Mizikar, prepare a specially designed camera rigging to the front of a vehicle before filming along the Lincoln Highway.


photo taken in June 2012 along the Lincoln Highway by Vinegar Hill Productions.
Producer John Miller (left) and peoduction assistant, Tom Mizikar, prepare a specially designed camera rigging to the front of a vehicle before filming along the Lincoln Highway. submitted photo taken in June 2012 along the Lincoln Highway by Vinegar Hill Productions.

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor marks the start of its centennial celebration of the Lincoln Highway on Tuesday by recognizing the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the namesake of the first road across America.

Cake and coffee/tea will be served at the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum 1 p.m. Tuesday. Vintage highway photographs will be on display and visitors will be invited to view “Through the Windshield, the Lincoln Highway Experience,” a 13-minute orientation DVD that features information about the 200-mile corridor of the highway between North Huntington and the York County line.

The new film was debuted recently to a group of people at the museum who helped make it a reality.

“This project has been a partnership effort,” said Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. “Because of the generosity of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, Westmoreland County Tourism grant money was used to create the video and purchase the projector equipment and Blu-ray player, along with contributions from other donors.”

Everyone who visits the museum will have the opportunity to learn about the Lincoln Highway and its history by watching the film.

“It touched on what the visitor will discover once they get out on the route,” said Julie Donovan director of marketing and public relations at the visitors bureau.

Donovan said the film will entice visitors to go out and explore the Lincoln Highway through the Laurel Highlands and beyond.

“New visitors will get to see what generations of travelers have seen for years,” said Donovan. “One hundred years ago, it was the only way to get through the region.”

The film features narration by Bryan Butko, a Lincoln Highway historian; Ed Gotwalt, a Lincoln Highway businessman; and Tom Mizikar, a Lincoln Highway enthusiast.

In the film, Butko explains how the highway was the idea of the American people.

“People (back in the early 1900s) wanted to go on beyond the limits of town and beyond where the railroad limits allowed,” said Butko. “The goal of the founders was to pave the first stone road coast to coast.”

Butko said the Lincoln Highway bridged the gap between horse and carriage days and the automobile era.

“It was a model road and communities along the way helped piece together the road.” Butko said on the film.

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor group was started in 1995 to preserve the history of the highway and to restore and preserve the roadside attractions along the highway.

“We hope the film will excite people who do not know the Lincoln Highway, so they will want to come experience it,” said Mizikar, a member of the organization. “Many of us are two lane people more than we think. It is more than just a road, it's an experience.”

The film was produced by John M. Miller of Laurel Hill Recordings of Laughlintown and Vinegar Hill Productions of Indiana.

The film was shot over three days in June.

“It has the class and style of the golden age of Hollywood and the values of small town America,” said Miller.

The film features a unique view created by Miller and the Vinegar Hill crew.

“It was shot forward representing the through the windshield,” said Miller. “We wanted to give the idea of driving down the road.”

To achieve the feeling of sitting in the passenger seat, a special platform was built to hold the camera on the front passenger side of the car.

“Ligonier is beautiful and quaint in a positive way,” said Vinegar Hill producer Michael Hartnett. “Everyone along the way was extremely supportive to our efforts.”

Gotwalt and his wife operate Mister Ed's Elephant Museum located at the other end of the corridor that travels through the Ligonier Valley.

“Once the highway opened, then came motels, restaurants, gas stations and roadside attractions,” he said. “It made the Lincoln Highway something to come see.”

The Gotwalt's shop houses more than 10,000 elephants of all sizes and has been a roadside attraction along the Lincoln Highway since 1975.

He said he acquired his first elephant from a family member as a wedding gift. When he asked why an elephant and he was told for good luck.

He and his wife went to Gettysburg for their honeymoon, where they purchased four more elephants.

“We just started collecting them from there on,” he said.

As a child Gotwalt remembered traveling to see the roadside sites along the highway.

“I have now become one of those roadside attractions. I have come full circle,” he said.

A 45-second portion of the film will be shown on the website, but to see the whole film visit the museum.

“The purpose of the film is to draw people into the museum and then get them back out on the road to explore it,” said Herbert. We hope people will come away with more knowledge about the highway.”

Cost for the Lincoln birthday event is $7. Reservation are required. Call 724-879-4241 or visit to reserve through PayPal. The museum is located at 3435 Route 30 East, Latrobe.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or

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