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In Le Roy, it's all about the Jell-O

Did you know that a bowl of lime Jell-O and your brain have the same brain waves? If you visited the Jell-O Gallery in Le Roy, you would know that.

You would also know that for two years Jell-O had its own baseball cards, printed on the back of its boxes. And that people in Utah consume more Jell-O per capita than in any other state.

And while it's not Jell-O related, on a trip to Le Roy you can learn that Henry Ford once posted signs outside the village warning people that the place is a speed trap. And you can see the town's public library, which is made from materials that once were part of a building for the nation's first college for women.

You can also see a short and skinny Statue of Liberty.

Jell-O got its start in Le Roy in 1897 when Pearle Wait, a local carpenter, figured out a way to add fruit flavors to gelatin, which had been patented in 1845 (by Peter Cooper, who also built the first American steam-powered locomotive). Wait's wife, May, came up with the name Jell-O. For two years Wait was unsuccessful in making a profit on his product, so he sold it to Orator Woodward in 1899 for $450, which, not by coincidence, was the price of the new house the Waits wanted to buy.

For a while Woodward also had trouble selling his product and even offered to sell the company to a friend for $35. Luckily for Woodward, the friend turned him down. By 1902 Jell-O sales rose to a quarter-million dollars annually.

Parts of the original Jell-O factory still exist, about a half mile from the Jell-O Gallery, although the building is now used by other businesses and is not open for tours. A sign outside clearly identifies it.

The Jell-O Gallery itself is open and it is as delightful as a cool dessert after a filling meal.

One display tells about the experiment performed by Dr. Adriane Upton at McMaster University in Ontario that showed that when a bowl of lime Jell-O and the human brain are hooked up to an electroencephalographic machine (or EEG) they "were identical in microvoltage, frequency (8 to 12 per second) and amplitude." (The display misidentifies the university as McMaxter).

Jell-O issued its baseball cards in 1962 and '63. Among the players pictured in the display are Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew.

Outside the gallery is a path paved with bricks purchased by supporters. You guessed it: It's the Jell-O Brick Road, and the largest brick contains the name of comedian Bill Cosby, who has been a spokesman for the company for three decades, the longest relationship ever between a spokesman and a company. The gallery includes a selection of his TV commercials for the product. His brick says, "Thanks for 30 years of Jell-O Giggles."

The gallery includes a gift shop where you can purchase boxer shorts, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, welcome mats and dozens of other items containing the Jell-O logo.

Jell-O was purchased by General Foods (now part of Kraft) in 1964 and moved production of the dessert to Delaware.

In the basement of the gallery is a transportation museum containing four horse-drawn carriages, three sleighs, two horse-drawn wagons, a large-wheel bicycle and a 1908 Cadillac. But for most people the highlight of the transportation museum is the picture of a sign erected outside the village in 1922 that says "SPEED TRAP, TOURISTS WARNED AGAINST DRIVING FASTER THAN FIFTEEN MILES AN HOUR THROUGH THIS TOWN."

The sign was paid for by Henry Ford, who was stopped for speeding (his chauffeur was driving) in Le Roy on Aug. 1, 1922. Although he paid the $30 fine, he was convinced his car was not speeding and retaliated by having the sign erected.

The Jell-O Gallery is the main tourist attraction in Le Roy, but anyone making the visit should also see the Statue of Liberty. It was erected in 1950, one of about 200 put up around the country by the Boy Scouts of America to mark their 40th anniversary. The theme of the project was "Strengthen the Arm of Liberty." Each statue was about 8 1/2 feet tall, not counting the base. Many of them have disappeared, but about 100 are estimated to still exist. The one in Le Roy seems skinnier than the big one in New York harbor, leading some local wags to speculate she might have been on a Sugar-Free Jell-O diet.

Across the street from the Statue of Liberty is the Woodward public library, which is partly constructed of stones that once formed the last standing building of Ingham University, which was located in the same area. Ingham was the first university in the country chartered for women. Although the institution traces its origins back to 1835 (as a "female seminary"), it was not chartered as a "collegiate institute" until 1852, and as a university until 1857.

About 8,000 students attended classes there before it closed in 1892.

Somewhat surprisingly, there are no restaurants in the village that offer either unusual or a wide variety of Jell-O dishes on their menus. However, one restaurant that has no Jell-O on the menu, McDonald's, does have four large photographs concerning Jell-O (one, for example, shows women working in the Jell-O factory) and two large charts, one outlining the history of Jell-O and another listing Jell-O trivia. Example: There are nine boxes of Jell-O sold every second in the United States. So, you can make your own.


If you go:

Take the Thruway to the Le Roy exit; take Route 19 south about five miles to Main Street in Le Roy, turn left, and drive about 4/1 0 of a mile to 23 E. Main St. The gallery is directly behind the Le Roy House, which, like the Jell-O Gallery, is run by the Le Roy Historical Society. (The Le Roy House is open for tours May through October). The Jell-O Gallery is open seven days a week, every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Sunday, when they run from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $1.50 for children 6-11, and free for children under 6.

To see the Jell-O factory, turn left coming out of the gallery parking lot, make another left at the first traffic light, and drive about 4/1 0 of a mile north on North Avenue.

To see the Statue of Liberty replica, turn right coming out of the gallery parking lot and make a left at the first light onto Church Street. The statue is clearly visible on your right after you make the turn.

The Woodward library and historical markers telling about Ingham University are across the street from the statue.

The McDonald's is on Main Street not far from the intersection with Route 19.

While in the Jell-O Gallery gift shop, you can buy a map of eight locations in and around Le Roy that were stops on the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad. The map costs $1 and making the tour by car should take less than an hour.

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