In front of Zimmerman's, which is as general a store as possible these days, three horses and buggies are tethered to the iron rail hitching post. Across the road, cars are parked along snow-piled curbs. Both types of vehicles share the two-lane road in between -- Rte. 340 or Old Philadelphia Pike -- their drivers displaying an extraordinary etiquette as well as the mutual acceptance of two very different cultures.
But in front of W.L. Zimmerman and Sons there's also the glass telephone booth that actor Harrison Ford used one day last summer. It's the booth where Ford, playing a Philadelphia cop, was filmed for the movie, "Witness," which brought to that street and the rest of Lancaster County its entourage of cameras and crew and inadvertently caused a philosophical head-on collision between the close-knit, close-to-the-land, non-publicity seeking Amish and the Rest of the World.
Some Amish patrons were stunned and embarrassed, complaining that they couldn't do their shopping, saying that Zimmerman's had affronted them. Others sat and watched in fascination.
"I'm just hoping the whole thing will go away without any flak," says James Zimmerman, sitting in his office in the back of the store that has been in his family for 75 years. "The Amish were very unhappy with us. We told them we regretted that we offended them and left it at that."
Two miles away, on a road that leads over white blankets of farmland, Andrew Kinsinger, an Old Order Amish man, says from his front porch, "We didn't appreciate it. Zimmerman's is a country store. Zimmerman's specializes to the Amish. And it was in a way betraying the Amish -- because they knew how the Amish felt about it."
Director Peter Weir and his cast, including Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis and Alexander Godunov, came to Lancaster County last spring and summer to film a story about the clash between a big city cop who comes to live among the Amish after a young Amish boy witnesses a murder in a Philadelphia train station restroom.
The Amish, who are known for their dark, severe clothing and their simple ways of living, do not welcome publicity. The followers of Jacob Amman, a Swiss Mennonite bishop who broke with the Mennonite faith in 1693, they have long been farmers in Lancaster County. The most traditional, Old Order Amish, have no electricity or phones in their homes. They go to school only through the eighth grade. They often hold their church meetings in their homes. They speak English with an accent and tone that is generally described as Pennsylvania Dutch.
More than 5,000 Old Order Amish live in Lancaster County, as do a few splinter sects, each consisting of about 100 or fewer members. The county has one of the largest Amish populations in the United States, according to John Aungst of the Lancaster County Historical Society.
But the rest of the world rubs against traditions. Many Amish have seen movies. Many make concessions to modern life by having a community telephone of sorts, though outside their homes. The Amish have been written about extensively in local newspapers. One, The New Era, as recently as last November reported that church elders were concerned about drinking and rowdiness among the young at traditional end-of-harvest season hoedowns.
The arrival of Hollywood might have been controversial enough in any small town, but in a place with such diverse communities living farm-by-farm it became a continuing Event. Newspapers chronicled it, some spoke out against it -- calling it the exploitation of the Amish -- and local non-Amish residents got .o be in it. Many were hired as Amish extras for the film.
The Amish, however, took no part in it, or not that anyone can recall. "The Amish had no interest in what we were doing," says the film's producer, Edward Feldman. Though he met Amish people, he never built any close associations or friendships. There was one Old Order Amish man who helped construct the frame for a barn to be raised in the film -- though he did not do it on the set. He and his helpers were paid $6,000 for their work, according to John King, the film's technical adviser. Baked goods and gas lanterns were purchased from the Amish -- something anyone could do.
Their reactions range from offense to amusement to silence.
In general, the Amish appear extraordinarily gracious and friendly in a world that is given to staring at them. They don't want their pictures taken but they will talk to outsiders. Some who didn't want to be quoted for a newspaper were apologetic. "It's such a hot potato, I just want to stay out of it," one Amish man in his shop said about the film. "I don't mean to be rude. I usually try to help people."
And now that the film is opening, it is again the talk of Lancaster. A black-tie premiere was scheduled last night at the historic Fulton Opera House in the city of Lancaster as a benefit for the Fulton Opera House Foundation and the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County. Tickets went for $60 and $100, and it sold out.
The R rating seems to have ruffled as many Amish as non-Amish feathers. "I wish they'd left out the bad words that got them the R rating," lamented one non-Amish caller to a Lancaster radio station talk show this week. Almost no one has seen the movie yet, but almost everyone seems to know the plot and the more sensational moments -- including a scene in which Ford, dressed in Amish clothing, punches a bully who is harassing a real Amish man. It's the feeling among some non-Amish here that the Amish heard about this and other scenes and felt scandalized without knowing the full story line. The Amish never use violence.
"We felt the Amish were misrepresented, according to the pieces in the paper," says Kinsinger. "Some of the rough ways, some of the language they used as they were fighting, words that Amish shouldn't use -- or prefer not to use."
Actually, there are no Amish represented as fighting in the film. In fact, the film makes a point of the Amish aversion to violence.
The closest the filmmakers got to bridging the gap between Hollywood and the Amish was in the person of John King, a Manheim resident who was raised Old Order Amish but left the church. King, a sales representative for J.C. Snaveley's and Sons, a lumber company in Landisville, started out selling lumber to Paramount for their sets and ended up as technical advisor and an actor with a bit part.
He loved it. "I guess it blows your mind," he says of his acting work, "especially if the movie makes it big." He proudly shows his Screen Actors Guild Health and Welfare Plan card.
King left the church at 18, shortly after his baptism.
"What really drove me to leave was that my father and I didn't get along too well," says King, sitting in the dining room of a Centerville motel not far from his home. A steady snowstorm outside has driven most of the traffic off the roads. "And then once you leave, you don't have too much desire to return to that way of life."
King is 47. He and his wife, both members of the Brethren church, have two grown children in their twenties. His words still have some of the Pennsylvania Dutch accent. His father is dead, and he's made his peace with his mother, whom he sees regularly. He has 10 brothers and sisters, all of whom except one sister are Old Order Amish. Another brother was killed years ago when his horse and buggy was hit by a tractor trailer as it crossed Rte. 30.
Because he left the church, he is shunned. He can see his mother and brothers and sisters -- but he can't eat with them at the same table. His sister who left the Old Order considers herself New Order Amish, but, according to King, that's as good as having left the church and therefore she is shunned too.
His whole family, he says, used to get together every Christmas. Not anymore. The Christmas before last, his New Order Amish sister's family was not invited for the first time. "I think she feels they think her children might influence their children." He says no one in the family is that upset by the lack of invitations.
King helped the filmmakers do the barn-raising scene, select extras, consult on Amish dress and manners and the way an Amish house would look. He also found the Old Order Amish man to help with the barn frame and he got his New Order Amish sister involved as well. One of the quilts she made is used in the film. The filmmakers got power lines removed from the front of the house. He advised Kelly McGillis on her speech in the movie. "I told her after we started shooting I couldn't believe how Amish she sounded."
King, who saw all the rushes, is unbothered by the R rating. "I had some people come up to me and say 'The movie is R-rated? What's that going to do to our community?' I'm educated, and I go to see movies. It's a drawing card . . . She takes a bath and Harrison Ford walks in. That's awfully narrow-minded to think that's going to ruin the movie."
Though he doesn't disprove of the film's portrayal of the Amish, he will say, "It's not a documentary as far as the Amish are concerned. It has to have a little Hollywood in it." Part of the offense, he says, explaining the Amish point of view, is in the very nature of a movie. "Just the mere fact that someone else is dressing up like you -- it's mocking you."
"It's very complex," King says. "If you think it was easy to advise this film, it wasn't. You tell them the Amish wouldn't wear sunglasses and then they see a buggy go by and there's an Amish boy wearing sunglasses. I'd say, 'Well, maybe it was a liberal Amish family.' I mean, it's 95 percent wouldn't and 5 percent might."
It was not uncommon to see Amish men and women with sunglasses outside in Lancaster County.
"It's hard to explain a religion to someone who doesn't know it," King says. "Especially if they're Australian."
But King praises Peter Weir, the Australian director: "He was one of the nicest people I ever worked with."
Two girls in black bonnets and black jackets are waiting for a bus on the snow-covered sidewalk on Rte. 340. Each wears a jewelry pin with her name enameled on it.
"I guess people have calmed down about it, now," says the girl, whose name pin reads "Verna." She is 20. "I mean, it's just a movie. Movies aren't true."
Across the street from Zimmerman's is a wood-floor crafts and gifts shop called "The Old Wood Shed." Non-Amish owner Julie Lawson was born and raised in Lancaster County, lives in Intercourse next door to her store, and knows many of the Amish in this community. "It's like anything else," she says. "Of all the people I talked to, I found few upset . . . There were Amish people who stood on my front porch and watched the whole proceedings for 15 to 20 minutes. An Amish woman came by each day and sat right there on my step and watched. I teased her and said, 'Ooh, you're going to get in trouble.' She said, 'No, I have to see if they're dressed right.' They're just like everyone else."
In Zimmerman's, there are more Amish than non-Amish pushing grocery carts down the aisles. The women are wearing black bonnets and cloaks, black stockings and shoes or boots. The men wear black jackets and wide-brimmed black hats. Some are in the back office paying their gas bills by check. (The Zimmermans are in the gas business too.)
"I thought I knew them well," says James Zimmerman, who now runs the store with his brother, Willis. "We earn our bread and butter by them. Three-fourths of our business comes from them. My brothers and I went to school with the Amish. They know we're not touristy people, out to make a buck off them."
In fact, when tourists get particularly gawky around the horses and buggies parked behind Zimmerman's, the staff will discourage their attention.
Zimmerman is still anguished over the Amish people's offense at letting Paramount film in front of their store.
"I wish the whole thing were over. It was a nightmare for me," he says. "I went to see a couple of bishops. I lost a couple of nights' sleep over this."
And he's still reeling over just how much attention showed up at his front doorstep. "I didn't know it was going to be such a big deal," says Zimmerman. "I'm not naive. I didn't think they were going to come in with a Brownie. But I didn't realize there would be a couple of trailer trucks, tons of equipment, and hundreds of people."
Zimmerman turned down a monetary offer ("It wasn't much") from Paramount for his troubles. "We already heard the Amish were upset, because people were taking money for this. In fact, that was part of it. They thought we were tempted to betray them for all this money."
So why did he agree to let them film in front of his store? He smiles. "I thought it would be nice to go to a movie and see our store in it." He laughs.
He is 21 and blond with what can only be described as a baby face peering out under a black brim hat. He's talking with a friend on the porch at Zimmerman's. "I wasn't upset," he says about the film almost in a whisper. Has he ever seen a movie before? He hesitates before answering that he has. What? "I don't know what it was really. A couple of different movies."
Is he married?
"Nooooo," he answers emphatically with a grin.
"We didn't have anything like this in town before and we want to keep it quiet," says the young Amish farmer walking down the street. He has the full beard that married men have. He raises corn and hay and doesn't want to give his name. "I was out of it so far, and I want to stay out," he says.
He won't see "Witness."
"I don't believe in going to the movies," he says. "We weren't taught that way."
The snow-covered land spreads out like a white blanket pulled to the horizon. You can drive along a side road across this blanket, passing barns and silos and trees and just stretches of snow. Andrew Kinsinger lives in a small white brick house across one of these roads from a farm. He is 64, a retired printer and retired farmer.
Ask him if he's ever seen a movie and he smiles. "Yes and no," he laughs. "I never went to a movie -- in terms of going into town. I've seen it on televisions in a bus station or something. We don't go to movies, period."
At the time that the filmmakers were in town, the movie was a great source of discussion. But he says no one wanted to participate in the venture: "Not the true Old Order Amish," he says.
Indeed, no member of the Amish church says that he or she will see "Witness."
"They'll go see it," says John King confidently. As a teen-ager, he went to see movies without his parents' knowledge.
"Plus there are all those VCRs," he adds.
Amish households with VCRs?
"No, but their neighbors have them," he says.