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North Hills Monthly

Coudersport, PA’s Eliot Ness Fest Celebrates Famous G-Man and More

Jul 31, 2018 02:22PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Laying down the law during the Eliot Ness Fest.

Pennsylvania is home to a lot of unique festivals, and the Eliot Ness Fest, held for the first time this July in Coudersport, PA, is now one of them. Located about 3-1/2 hours northeast of Pittsburgh, this town of roughly 2,500 people has until now best been known for its ice mine—but that may be about to change.

The festival, held in honor of the ‘Untouchable’ who took down Al Capone, cleaned up the Cleveland police force and later moved to the town of Coudersport, attracted people from across the country as well as the region. But it’s the locals that make this a go-to event; from the sequined flappers serving drinks in the Hotel Crittenden, to the fedora-wearing men shooting tommy guns during a truck hijacking, to the young lady in full newsboy regalia hawking papers on the street, the spirit is contagious.

There were scheduled events, including a sit-down pasta lunch with Al Capone, (who at times wields a baseball bat while talking about teamwork), a speakeasy dance where everyone comes out in their 1920s finery, a bootleg liquor raid, and the aforementioned shoot-out. But it was also just fun to mosey along Main Street, which is lined with immaculate collector cars from the 1920s and ‘30s—including a bulletproof 1924 Rolls Royce once owned by the publisher of the Chicago Tribune—while listening to music being played from a hand-cranked Victrola in the background.

The fest itself was a mix of Eliot Ness fans and scholars, as well as people in the area to enjoy the outdoors, and families who appreciated an affordable, fun way to spend a weekend. All of the lectures and movies are free as is an Eliot Ness walking tour, and a shuttle to takes riders around to see where former speakeasies were located. 

A large number of vendors are set up in the park along Main Street for those who prefer shopping to shooting, and there’s also a kids’ area and numerous food truck options, so even non-Nessophiles can turn it into a fun weekend.

Other Area Attractions 

Part of the PA Wilds, Coudersport’s biggest claim to fame before now has been the ice mine—a natural wonder that forms ice in the hot summer months, which then melts in the winter. Located behind a plain wooden door, the mine showcases a natural mystery that even the Science Channel, when they visited in 2017, couldn’t quite explain.

According to the guide, Native Americans from New York state used to come to Coudersport to trade, and always arrived bearing silver. Locals thought that there must be silver in the mountain, so they dug for it, and later dynamited the land, and never found the precious metal. What they did find, after going back a year later to an area that they’d previously opened up, was the formation of ice in the middle of summer—a novelty that attracted people for years. The mine was closed in the late 1980s, but reopened in 2014—and now visitors can once again enjoy this cool (pun intended) attraction. 

Coudersport is also adjacent to Cherry Springs State Park, which is the only gold level ‘Dark Sky’ park on the East Coast. This designation is given by the International Dark Sky Association, and is awarded to areas possessing “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” The park is the perfect place to view stars as well as the Milky Way Galaxy—you might even see the Northern Lights, which are visible 18 days a year. Stargazers flock to this spot where you can camp overnight to take in nature’s full glory, or just drive up any night to view the stars. Visitors can also register to take any of the Dark Sky programs, which the park puts on during the summer months.

If you prefer a proper roof over your head, there are many places to stay in the area, including the Nob Hill Motel in Galeton, a 1950s-era landmark that takes you back to an earlier time. I love vintage hotels, and the motel’s six rooms and four cabins include stoves, fridges, and super comfy beds that make it easy and affordable for families to stay in the area while enjoying all of the attractions—I was snug as a bug in a rug while riding out a massive thunderstorm during my stay. And before you worry about the kids complaining—they do have A/C and WiFi. The Perma-Stone Inn, located right next door, offers a bar menu featuring massive portions, so if you don’t want to cook or pack a cooler, you can eat for days on one meal.

If you prefer to dine in Coudersport, about a half hour away, there are many choices, but I definitely have to give a shout-out to the Hotel Crittenden, where Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley met to write his book about his days taking down Capone and cleaning up Cleveland. The hotel hasn’t changed that much since Ness’ day, which makes it the perfect place to wax nostalgic and get in the festival mood—or to eat at any time of year to enjoy the feel of a bygone era.

The festival was such a success in its inaugural weekend that a second festival is already being planned for next year with a wealth of new events. Make plans now for the third weekend in July, and learn more at www.eliotnessfest.com and www.visitpottertioga.com.