The Babe and the Beatles: 7 fun facts about Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

FILE - The Beatles, standing from left George Harrison and John Lennon; seated, Paul McCartney, left, and Ringo Starr display their MBE medals during a news conference in London, England, Oct. 26, 1965. They were made members of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace. The queen inevitably became the subject of many a pop song. The Beatles immortalized the queen with the tongue-in-cheek “Her Majesty,” calling her “a pretty nice girl” though “she doesn’t have a lot to say.” The brief song, sung by Paul McCartney and recorded in 1969, appeared at the end of the album “Abbey Road.” (AP Photo, File)

By Patrick Berkery, Ashley Adams

October 19, 2023

NEPA’s “twin cities” have some interesting history — and a pizza mecca between them.

Scranton is more than just the home of fictional paper company Dunder-Mifflin on “The Office,” and the hometown of President Joe Biden. Its smaller twin city to the south, Wilkes-Barre, has some interesting history as well. And did we mention the “Pizza Capital of the World” is located between the two NEPA cities? Read on to learn seven interesting things you maybe didn’t know about Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Beatlemania saved jobs in Scranton

If not for Beatlemania sweeping America in early 1964, dozens of workers at Scranton’s Capitol Records pressing plant would have been out of a job. But thanks to the band’s legendary Feb. 9, 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” demand for the band’s Capitol debut LP “Meet the Beatles” exploded, and 75 employees who faced indefinite furlough were told to report to work as usual on Monday, Feb. 10. Thanks to the success of artists like the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and the Beach Boys, hundreds of workers were employed at the Scranton plant throughout the 60s. It’s estimated that almost 75% of the Beatles records sold in America during the 60s and early 70s were manufactured at the Capitol plant at 300 Brook St. For more on the history of Capitol Records in Scranton, check out this mini documentary from WVIA.

‘The Pizza Capital of the World’ sits between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre

Pennsylvanians are serious about their pizza. And very territorial when it comes to their favorites. Particularly in Old Forge, the self-proclaimed “Pizza Capital of the World.” A sign boasting as much sits just across the street from mainstay Arcaro & Gennell, greeting visitors to this small town between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Here, you order rectangular-shaped pizzas as a tray, not a pie, and dole them out by the cut, not the slice. Each spot along South Main Street and the adjacent area offers slight variations of red and white pizzas. The common denominators tend to be a cheese factor that’s creamier than what you’ll find in Philadelphia or New York, and a crust that’s lighter than similarly-shaped Sicilian pies served elsewhere. Other names to know: Revello’s Pizza Cafe, Cafe Rianldi, Salerno’s, and Anthony’s.

Babe Ruth launched a historic moonshot in Wilkes-Barre

One of baseball’s most legendary sluggers has history in the SWB. It’s believed his last game as a member of the Boston Red Sox was an October 1919 exhibition game in Scranton. Two months later, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees, and the “Curse of the Bambino” (a supposed hex that prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series again until 2004) began. Seven years later, the “Sultan of Swat” would live up to his name in Wilkes-Barre. During an exhibition game at Artillery Park in October 1926, Ruth hit what is believed to be the longest recorded home run in baseball history: a moonshot estimated to have traveled 650 feet, according to Ruth historian Bill Jenkinson. Ruth often visited NEPA on barnstorming tours, and grew so fond of the area that he kept a cabin in Blakesly, where he spent time hunting and fishing.

HBO was born in Wilkes-Barre

Did you know that without Wilkes-Barre, we might not have “Sex and the City,” “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” “Mare of Easttown,” or “Succession?” In 1972, 365 customers of Service Electric Co. in Wilkes-Barre became the initial subscribers to HBO (Home Box Office), a first-of-its-kind commercial-free cable channel out of New York. They paid $6 per month for the service. On Nov. 8, 1972, HBO aired its first night of programming — a hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers, and the 1971 movie “Sometimes a Great Notion,” starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. In those early days, HBO showed two features a night, usually a sports game and a movie. A plaque in downtown Wilkes-Barre marks the town’s place in television history.

Why is Scranton the ‘Electric City?’

It’s because Scranton was one of the first cities in the country to use electricity. Electric lights were first turned on at the Dickinson Manufacturing company in 1880. Six years later, in 1886, the city was the first to use electric streetcars, thus earning its moniker the “Electric City.” The Electric City sign is the most recognizable part of the Scranton skyline. It shines from on top of the Scranton Electric Building on Linden Street, right across from Courthouse Square.

The world’s only Houdini museum is in Scranton

Scranton is home to the Harry Houdini Museum, promoted as the only museum devoted solely to the great magician. The museum features memorabilia, artifacts, mannequins, and films of Houdini. The Houdini Tour includes a live magic show by two nationally known magicians, Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks. The museum is located in Scranton because Houdini appeared often in the area during his career, even performing several special challenges there. In fact, the longest engagement of Houdini’s career was in NEPA, when he spent two full seasons with the Welsh Brothers Circus.

The ‘Welcome to Scranton’ sign from ‘The Office’ is real

That “Welcome To Scranton” sign in the opening sequence of “The Office” is real, and you can get your picture taken with it. But it’s not on a roadside as it appears in the show’s intro. You have to travel to the second floor of the Mall at Steamtown to find the novelty prop.

Authors

  • Patrick Berkery

    Pat Berkery is the senior community editor of The Keystone.

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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