Celebrating Hess’s and Hollywood at the Allentown Art Museum

I love beautiful custom dresses. So I knew I wanted to see the costumes from the Golden Age of Cinema currently winding down at the Allentown Art Museum.

It includes a costume worn by Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop.

And a Judy Garland dress if I recall…

I initially didn’t want to go because I really didn’t understand how ornate these costumes were. And some of them were almost 100 years old!

But what finally made me go was an odd pairing with the costume exhibit, a special day of programming celebrating now defunct local department store Hess’s.

My Hess’s Memory

My family never visited Allentown. We lived in the Slate Belt and my parents were born in New Jersey so I don’t think they considered Allentown part of our territory.

And Hess’s was fancy. The Patio Restaurant. Chandeliers. Imported French Fashions.

The flagship downtown department store was as swanky as Sak’s but right here in the Lehigh Valley. The opened in 1897 and closed in 1996.

They were purchased by the Bon Ton, which just closed this year. Bon Ton didn’t need the fancy downtown store.

My high school journalism teacher, and a mentor to me in everything writing and in many other ways, took me and maybe a couple others to a workshop at the Morning Call office in Allentown.

Afterwords, we visited the Patio. I remember being shocked and I think I had a piece of the famous strawberry pie.

They say those pies weighed 10 pounds a piece.

Hess’s reminiscing at the museum

The connection to me is obvious: Golden Age of Cinema; Golden Age of Retail.

The museum even displayed some hats and dresses from Hess’s.

My friend Gayle and I were first in line for the museum on Hess’s day and eventually the line snaked down the block.

We watched a documentary, listened to some stories and toured the costumes. Then we had strawberry tarts. I was disappointed because they had said they were serving Hess’s Strawberry Pie.

But in all seriousness, the Art Museum did an amazing job.

If you’re interested in the PBS 39 Documentary about Hess’s, it’s on YouTube.

Hess’s Documentary (1 hour)

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