“Mister Ed” Gotwalt is the the founder and former owner of Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium and a beloved Gettysburg area legend. He and wife Pat sold the business to his granddaughter Nicole and husband Isaac in 2014.
Born in York, PA, in 1936 to a single mother, he learned early the value of hard work and ingenuity. He did not receive a formal education beyond the eighth grade, and eventually wound up at Giant Food Stores in Washington, D.C. He managed several Giant stores in the District, Maryland and Virginia before setting out on his own. In 1975, he opened Mister Ed’s: The Area’s Most Unusual General Store, about two miles from its current location. The business evolved, and so did Mister Ed.
Mister Ed is a self-made businessman who started work at just 6 years old selling outdated calendars door-to-door in York city to help his single mother put food on the table. As a child, he worked on farms, sold newspapers, and took care of his mother, not receiving a formal education past the eighth grade. As a teenager, he took a job with Giant Food Stores in Washington, D.C., then a small grocery chain, where he worked up the ranks to become a store manager. He left the grocery business briefly to operate businesses in Salisbury, MD. He opened The Hut, a pizza and sub take-out shop, and the Casa Del Ray, a restaurant and motel, before returning to Giant.
Once again following his entrepreneurial spirit, Gotwalt moved back to his home state of Pennsylvania and opened Mister Ed’s: The Area’s Most Unusual General Store, just down the road a piece, on Feb. 26, 1975. The original Mister Ed’s enjoyed much success as a community gathering place where locals would come for food and fellowship at the snack bar and to see curiosities, like a small elephant collection.
Mister Ed became quite a local character, staying up 76 hours to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial and staging 4th of July firework displays and Santa Claus arrivals. Each year, Santa would arrive by different means, including a fire engine, six-horse hitch, and hot air balloon. The hot air balloon arrival made international headlines, as Santa Claus crash-landed in tree boughs high above Caledonia State Park.
Always a dreamer, Gotwalt re-invented Mister Ed’s as an elephant museum and candy emporium at its current location on Feb. 26, 1983. As the business grew, and it became known as a must-see destination, Gotwalt added rooms and an ever-changing stock of unique candy and gifts.
On July 5, 2010, during what was on track to be the store’s busiest month of the best year ever, the store caught fire. Mister Ed and Pat were awoken by their neighbor and rushed to see their life’s work engulfed in flames. Though unusual for a man of 74 to declare, he immediately promised, “I’m going to rebuild.” Through tremendous determination and hard work, within two weeks, a temporary store was set up in a 400-square-foot trailer in the parking lot and a “Save the Elephants” cleaning event was organized. More than 2,000 elephant were lost in the fire, but thousands of donations poured in from across the world. The new store opened on February 5, 2011.
In addition to operating Mister Ed’s, Gotwalt is actively involved in the Gettysburg and Chambersburg communities. Find him on the stage of Totem Pole Playhouse and in the “Route 30” movie trilogy.
Gotwalt also gives presentations to local schools, senior centers and churches about elephants. He also loves presenting his “Ten Commandments of Good Business” to business leaders.