Neshaminy Mall dioramas removed, preserved thanks to local historians

Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Neshaminy Mall dioramas removed, preserved thanks to local historians
Sally Sondesky and the Bensalem Historical Society have been working tirelessly to preserve the iconic dioramas at the Neshaminy Mall.

BENSALEM, Pa. -- "I don't think anybody can replicate these again," said Sally Van Sant Sondesky, staring through an empty window at the old Macy's storefront at the Neshaminy Mall.

Originally Strawbridge & Clothier, the department store was home to the 'Freedom Wall,' an installment of seven dioramas depicting scenes from the American Revolution. Those included George Washington crossing the Delaware River, the Liberty Bell's journey to Allentown, and William Penn's Treaty of Shackamaxon.

"When my kids were little, we would bring them here and they would sit and watch them," said Sondesky. "They had animation, they would move. You used to press a button and they would come alive."

Unfortunately, the animations and auditory experience has been long-defunct. And when Macy's closed in 2017, it placed each diorama's future in jeopardy.

"Get them out," Sondesky recalled saying. "Don't let them throw them in the trash."

Sondesky, 87, is one of the original five founders of the Historical Society of Bensalem. The small volunteer-based organization has worked closely with Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo to acquire permission from the building owner to retrieve and preserve each piece.

"I'm just so glad to be here and getting these out," Sondesky said. "You can't imagine."

Four of the seven pieces were removed today and will be stored in a temporary location within the township. Sondesky hopes to distribute the pieces among relevant institutions across the Philadelphia area.

"Maybe get Washington Crossing to take that one," she said. "Maybe Cliveden out in Germantown would want the Germantown one."

Sondesky says one thing is certain: Bensalem Township wants to keep the diorama of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

"I think it's important that the people nowadays know where we came from, what they did, how they survive, and we learn from it," she said.

To learn more about the Bensalem Historical Society, visit their website.

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