HAMBURG-Broken steps, broken windows, and graffiti-covered vacant factories scar the pine-tree covered landscape of Hamburg, once known throughout the nation as "children's town." And peeking through the rubble are the pink towers of the Gingerbread Castle, surrounded by these monuments to neglect, standing as a rising tribute to perseverance. Frank Hinger, the castle's owner, has taken up the banner to restore what is considered "one of America's first theme parks." He is "hoping that the town will realize that these buildings (factories) have to come down." He was joined in his mission in July of this year by Hampton Hotels as part of their national "Save a Landmark" program. At that time, the hotel chain provided a donation of $25,000 and sent volunteers from New Jersey and New York to paint and landscape the site. But vandalism has canceled much of the restoration work with damage totaling more than $10,000, and Hampton has designated another $5,000 in an effort to protect the site with a new security system, which is being installed. "The image of Hamburg's Gingerbread Castle has been photographed and displayed around the world
celebrating unique and distinctly American landmarks," said Dawn Verhulst, representative of the Hampton group, in a press release. It continues: "The Gingerbread Castle is the 21st landmark to be helped by Hampton's program." Hampton Inns has challenged local residents and businesses to match their donation to "recognize and protect Hamburg, New Jersey's most famous landmark." Hinger's plans include keeping the Gingerbread Castle much as it was at its inception in 1930, with young people dressed in fairy tale costumes acting as guides, the inspiration being the story of Hansel and Gretel. The target opening date is spring 2005. Fund-raising activities at Frank's Castle Grill, across from the Castle site, include continuing flea markets and a December weekend to welcome Santa Claus. Visit websites www.frankscastlegrille.com or www.hamptonlandmarks.com.