For most students, the name “Hershey” is common; the world-renowned chocolate manufacturer has remained a primary industry in south-central Pennsylvania for more than a century, and the town of Hershey is just 55 miles northeast of Shippensburg.
Though Hershey may be best known for its chocolate, however, a new exhibit at the Milton Hershey School (MHS) presents a more personal side of the company’s founders by examining their world travels and the souvenirs they collected along the way. Milton and Catherine — affectionately known as “Kitty” — toured more than 20 countries and 200 cities during their marriage in 1898 to Kitty’s death in 1915.
At the MHS Stacks Visual Arts Center, “Around the World with Milton and Kitty,” examines nearly 30 artifacts collected by the Hersheys during their tours.
Throughout the gallery a host of objects is presented, including photographs, an account detailing Milton’s last-moment decision to not board the R.M.S. Titanic, monogrammed toiletry cases made by Tiffany & Co., a jewelry case; hat pins, traveling trunks, a Cuban straw hat and sugar bag, French opera glasses, German playing cards and dozens of postcards.
According to James McMahon, director of school history, “Postcards were the impetus for the exhibit.”
Erin Sheehy, guest curator for the exhibit, said there are potentially more than a dozen full albums containing postcards collected by the Hersheys.
“There were, I would guess, at least a couple hundred individual postcards,” she said — a reflection of the late 19th- and early 20th-century trend that historians call the “Golden Age of Postcards.”
“Our methods today might differ slightly, but in a world before digital cameras and cell phones, Milton and Kitty kept their family up to date and their trips well documented through postcards,” an exhibit wayside marker notes.
“They were enjoying life as anybody would,” McMahon said. “It was mostly for enjoyment, and this exhibit helps bring [them] to life.”
While the Hersheys were well known, especially throughout the U.S., their global image was still being established at the time of their travels. Regardless of their immense wealth, they were discreet as they toured the globe, indicative of their humanitarian efforts. In 1909, Milton and Kitty Hershey established what was originally known as the Hershey Industrial School as a means for providing financial and educational benefits for underprivileged and orphaned youth.
Due to Kitty’s failing health, the couple was unable to have children. The Hersheys saw the school as a way of assisting children, without having one of their own.
Kitty had “some sort of degenerative condition,” according to Sheehy, “but what it was called, we don’t really know.”
In many cases, Kitty’s condition contributed to why the Hersheys went where they did.
The thermal baths of Europe and hot springs of the U.S. were among their most popular destinations, where spas and fresh air served to heal Kitty, even if only temporarily.
“The idea behind the curative waters is that by either drinking or soaking in these mineral-rich waters, all of a person’s illnesses can be cured,” a wayside marker states.
Despite these efforts, Kitty died in 1915, though Milton traveled several more times until his own death 30 years later. Cuba was his most popular destination.
At the end of the exhibit, attendees may mark locations on a world map where they have visited.
The map is nearly full, with dots and lines on every continent. McMahon said the exhibit has so far been “very positively received,” with “all kinds of positive feedback,” especially from school groups.
The opening reception was held on Sept. 12, and the exhibit will be open to the public on Nov. 1, 2014, Jan. 17, 2015, and March 7, 2015.
It is free, though donations are welcome.
For more information on MHS and the exhibit, visit www.mhs-pa.org.