For Amos the Amishman, the Jan. 10 fire at Hershey Farm in Strasburg Township was the second time he survived a blaze at a Lancaster County landmark restaurant where he was set up as an attention-grabbing curiosity.
Although he was just steps away from the most recent blaze, the fire left Amos completely untouched. Today the 15-foot-tall fiberglass statue of a barefoot Amish man remains at his longtime spot, looking directly at the pile of charred wood and twisted metal that used to be Hershey Farm’s restaurant.
In September 1972, Amos had his back turned when a fry cooker ignited a fire that gutted Zinn’s Diner, the Denver restaurant where he had been set up at the entrance three years before.
Amos “escaped with only a scorching of the seat of his pants,” according to a January 1973 Ephrata Review story on the reopening of the restaurant that was gutted and rebuilt after the fire.
The current bearded Amos, who wears a wide-brimmed black hat and holds a wooden pitchfork, replaced an earlier version of an “Amos the Amishman” that had been set up outside Zinn’s Diner in 1960. Just before he was swapped out, the original Amos had lost an arm in what was reported at the time as a theft. The introduction of the new Amos in 1969 coincided with an expansion of Zinn’s Diner.
Both Amos statues were created by Rodman Shutt, a Strasburg artist who made large works that have become roadside curiosities in several states. In Lancaster County Shutt made the green dragon that sits atop the sign at North Reading (Route 272) and Garden Spot roads for the Ephrata Township auction and market of the same name. He also constructed the large pretzel on the sidewalk outside the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery at 219 E. Main St. in Lititz.
Shutt, who died in 1990 after moving to West Virginia, also created a 25-foot-tall statue of a Native American that stands outside a store in Freeport, Maine, as well as “Captain Brown,” a 25-foot-tall statue of a fisherman in yellow rain gear that stand outside an inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
The original Amos the Amishman statue Shutt created in 1960 for Zinn’s Diner was one of the earliest major works for Shutt, who operated Rodman Shutt Advertising Display Co. in Strasburg. His works also included the statue of a weightlifter that still sits atop the York Barbell building that can be seen from Route 83 north of York city.
Just up the road from Hershey Farm, Shutt created the statue outside Katie's Kitchen that depicts a farmer with an ice cream cone in one hand and a pig in the other arm who is standing behind a pig in a wheelbarrow. The pig in the wheelbarrow is holding a banana split and the other pig has a hamburger. The statue in front of the 200 Hartman Bridge Road restaurant In Strasburg Township was made when the restaurant was a Freez and Frizz, according to a recent blog post about Shutt written by Cory Van Brookhaven, president of the Lititz Historical Society.
A new home for Amos
When Zinn’s Diner closed in 2003, its owner, Christian Zinn, donated the statue to the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, which loaned it the next year to Hershey Farm. Deryl Stoltzfus, one of the owners of Hershey Farm, said they originally got Amos because the Heritage Center was looking for another prominent location where the statue could be displayed outside.
When the Heritage Center dissolved in 2012, the organization transferred its assets – including Amos - to LancasterHistory, formerly the Lancaster County Historical Society.
“We are relieved that no one was injured in the fire, including Amos, and hope, from his spot in the parking lot, he will help oversee the rebuilding of this popular tourist destination,” said Thomas Ryan, president and CEO of LancasterHistory.
Amos remains at Hershey Farm through a no-fee loan that has been periodically renewed, an arrangement both parties say they are interested in continuing. At the property, Amos stands on a concrete pad at the edge of a detention basin. He is directly facing the restaurant, just across from the driveway that leads back to the inn.
Stoltzfus said Amos will stay at that spot after the restaurant is rebuilt. With visitors increasingly wanting to document their activities on social media, Stoltzfus said Amos provides an ideal spot for photos that often wind up online.
“It’s easy to see. It’s a great picture opportunity,” he said. “We’re happy with it.”
At one point in the late 1980s or early 1990s a speaker that could be activated by push button was installed next to the statue and would play a recorded message with morning, afternoon and evening greetings as well as Zinn’s Diner’s current menu items, according to information LancasterHistory compiled about the statue. A microphone and speaker in the statue made it possible for someone in the restaurant to talk to people standing near the statue. All such audio equipment has since been removed.
LancasterHistory’s museum object file on the statue acknowledges that “some would likely consider the depiction of Amos to be in questionable taste,” an observation that mirrors some recent criticism of some of Shutt’s other works, particularly his large statues of Native Americans.
An online petition drew more than 1,000 names last year to remove Shutt’s “Big Indian Statue” outside a gift shop in northwest Massachusetts. The petition garnered local media attention but did not result in the removal of the statue which has a feathered headdress and red skin.
In the museum file created around the time of the donation, Peter Siebert, former executive director of the Heritage Center, said the Amos is “truly a cultural icon… as much a part of Lancaster County as an object in the museum’s collections. Whether you consider him folk art or kitsch… he is part of the story of our community.”