USA

Seneca Falls, NY: Women’s Rights National Historic Park

After leaving Corning, we headed north along the edge of Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes, ultimately Syracuse-bound. Since this was very much a Russell (my brother) and Jessica (me, obviously) trip, we made the following pit stops: a cider farm, so we could get freshly made cider doughnuts; a brewery called Climbing Bines, so we could split a taster of their beers (this was a Russell stop); an ice creamery that uses duck eggs in their ice cream rather than chicken eggs (as in, they make their custard with duck egg yolks, not that they put whole eggs in the ice cream. That would be gross) where we got an actual flight of ice creams (so much better than beer), and finally Seneca Falls to see the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.

 

I remember reading an article about this area in the Plain Dealer a few years ago which made it sound as though the museum had been recently redone, and suggested that a long weekend would be an appropriate amount of time to spend in Seneca Falls in order to see all its attractions. Because of this, my expectations were somewhat different to what was actually here. Apparently the “historic park” consists of four different building sites, but since we hadn’t properly researched it in advance, we ended up at the main visitors’ centre. Like many NPS sites, admission was free, so that at least was a step in the right direction. We were greeted by the collection of bronze statues downstairs that initially looked like they were made out of chocolate, but in the first of many disappointments, they were sadly not.

 

The museum was located in the upstairs part of the building, and was much smaller than I had been expecting. It consisted of a number of very visually appealing displays containing information about women’s fight for equality, but the overall impression was that it was that it was style over substance, as the displays were a bit short on content. I was also disappointed that every single interactive element was no longer working – maybe I had misread the newspaper article, but it certainly didn’t look as though it had been redone in the last few years (though not quite as outmoded as though it hadn’t been touched since 1980, when the site opened).

 

There was also a small section on the Seneca Falls Convention, which after all, is the whole reason the museum is here! Held in 1848, it was the first women’s rights convention, and produced the Declaration of Sentiments, a version of the Declaration of Independence that included rights for women. It was held in Seneca Falls because many suffragists lived in the area, including Elizabeth Cady Stantion, the oddly apostrophied M’Clintocks, Lucretia Mott, who was visiting Stanton at the time; and Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass, who lived in nearby Rochester. Although it didn’t immediately accomplish anything, it did introduce the country to the women’s rights movement, and clarify that the main goal for women’s rights activists at that time should be women’s suffrage. Again, I could have done with more information about this on the site, as the text provided seemed to be a somewhat patchy account (I couldn’t quite work out how Amelia Bloomer, who also lived locally, fit in to all of this).

The museum also had a very small temporary display on Sojourner Truth. The role of black women in the women’s rights movement is often a depressing one, because despite the presence of Frederick Douglass at the Seneca Falls Convention, and the abolitionist stance of most of the suffragists, some of them were still hella racist, and thought it was appalling that black men were granted the right to vote before white women had it. So if black men were looked down upon, black women didn’t really stand a chance. Despite that, women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth still got involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. One of the most interesting sections here was on Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Although several sources reported on her speech after it was delivered (in Akron, Ohio, by the way), which originally did not contain the words “ain’t I a woman,” a version of it that was published twelve years later did, and the name stuck. This same inaccurate version also gave Truth a stereotypical black Southern dialect, though she had actually always lived in the North, and spoke Dutch as her first language, so it is highly unlikely that she would have had a Southern accent. Because of this latter, inaccurate, but most famous version of her speech, her actual words have virtually been wiped from history.

 

The Methodist church next door, where the convention was actually held, is also part of the historic site and is free to enter, though there was no one in there at the time of our visit, and virtually nothing to read. The other sites that are part of the park are the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, and the M’Clintocks’ house, though as no one at the park actually spoke to us or provided any information, I didn’t realise this until I was researching this post. We did stop, however, at the “When Elizabeth met Susan, plus Amelia!” statue (not its official name), which I only discovered existed after picking up a tourist brochure in the church. Although there was a map included, it was still a total pain to find due to a road being closed, and we had to park (probably illegally) across the road so I could run over and grab a photo whilst wearing my new suffragist sash (not as good as the suffragette sash. Green is better than gold). It depicts Amelia Bloomer introducing Stanton and Anthony. The statue was great (after we found it), but I’m sorry to say I was very disappointed in the visitors’ centre, particularly since NPS rangers are usually super friendly and helpful. Not here. 2/5 for the portions of the park that we saw.

 

Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass

Long time readers are probably familiar with the awful family vacations I used to have to go on whilst growing up, because I complain about them a lot. I suppose I should be grateful we got to go anywhere at all, as I had some friends whose families never travelled, not even to other parts of Ohio, but honestly, most of the time I would have much rather stayed home with a good book. Memorable (for the wrong reasons) trips include the year we drove all the way to North Carolina to go to a really big furniture factory outlet, and my parents didn’t even buy anything; the trip to Washington where the only museum we were allowed to visit was the Air and Space Smithsonian (the one I had the least interest in), the trip to Vegas when I was 16 and had to spend the whole time hanging out in the hotel’s crappy arcade with my then 9 year old brother, whilst getting hit on by the unattractive nerd that worked there; and of course, the trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York (known for its wineries, because 15 year olds love nothing more than going to wineries where they can’t legally drink, just like 16 year olds love nothing more than going to Vegas where they can’t legally do anything) where we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, but couldn’t actually go in because my father was too cheap to pay the admission fee (my policy is if you’re not willing to pay to do anything when you’re on holiday, you’re probably better off not going anywhere at all). Well, on my recent visit home, my brother and I decided to take a road trip together, minus the ‘rents, and since he travels to upstate New York a lot for work and knows the area well, we thought we’d give ourselves a redo of that Finger Lakes trip, only this time, we would go to the glass museum, and plenty of other places besides. And not a single winery!

 

Corning was our first stop, and having gotten an early start, we arrived around noon. We first headed into the quaint (albeit small) downtown for some tasty pizza by the slice and seriously one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (if you find yourself in Corning, you must go to the hilariously named Dippity Do Dahs. Get the Butternut Toffee in one of their homemade cones, which comes with the option of hot fudge in the bottom, which of course only a fool would refuse. Don’t be a fool), and then to the museum in time for our glass blowing session. Yes, glass blowing. Having been denied the joys of the Corning Museum of Glass the first time around, this time we were taking advantage of everything they had to offer, including glass blowing! Admission to the museum is $20 (which is admittedly on the steep side, though I’m quite sure it wasn’t nearly so much nearly 20 years ago), and the glass blowing classes were another $32 per person on top of that – we booked ours in advance to be sure of a place.

There are various things you can choose to make, including ornaments and jewellery, but since we were visiting during glass pumpkin season, the choice was obvious! There are some more intensive classes where you actually learn how to shape the glass yourself, but in the class we chose, the instructor shaped the pumpkin for us – all we did was the actual blowing (ha) and we got to choose the colours we wanted to use. Although I would like to take a proper glass blowing class one day, this is a good choice if you just want a quick taster, and honestly, not that expensive considering pumpkins in the museum’s shop were at least $32, and at least this way we got to customise them. My brother and I were thrilled that we got chosen to go first so we didn’t have to hang around watching everyone else make theirs (you can’t collect the pumpkins until the next day, as they obviously need to cool down in a controlled environment, but they do offer shipping within the US if you’re not going to hang around that long). My blowing technique was semi-ridiculous, but it seemed to work fine, and I’m super happy with my purple and blue pumpkin (which survived the trip back to the UK intact!).

 

And then it was time to explore the museum, which was huge! I think there are six main galleries, with a couple extra in the outbuilding where we did the glass blowing. Some of the galleries have scavenger hunts that you can access via the Glass App available on the museum’s website – these were fun, but the museum’s wifi kept cutting out without my noticing, so I ended up accidentally using quite a bit of my expensive overseas data, which is a bit annoying.

 

Coincidentally, not long before visiting here, Marcus and I had watched the Netflix series Blown Away (which I like to call Blow Master), which is a glass blowing competition that is strangely compelling. I super hated the woman that won because she seemed ultra-pretentious and kept referring to everyone else’s pieces as “pedestrian,” and since the grand prize was a year’s artist in residency at the Museum of Glass, I was really hoping there’d be some of her work here so I could stand in front of it and call it pedestrian. To be honest, I quite liked her sausage chandelier (meant to be some kind of metaphor about the patriarchy), but I called it pedestrian anyway out of spite. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see an exhibition of work from the show (I would have planned the trip differently if I’d known), but I was glad I at least got to see one thing.

In addition to the modern glass art, the museum also had a huge gallery of glass throughout history (entitled, rather overwhelmingly, “35 Centuries of Glass”), with pieces dating back to the Ancient Romans. This was a bit too large to take in properly all in one go, but they had a paper version of a scavenger hunt in here, which was definitely intended for children, but my brother and I of course still did one, and at least it gave our visit some sort of focus. I loved the crazy intricate miniature glass tableaux, which were mostly religious in nature. I forgot to grab a picture of the captions, and can’t find them on the museum’s website, so I can’t tell you more about them other than that they were early modern European, but they were definitely my favourite things in here, and the museum had at least ten of them.

 

There was also a gallery on the science of glass blowing, and that was where all the fun interactive stuff was hiding. This included a lot of different mirrors, science experiment things where you could see the different ways glass refracts and reflects light, and even a thermal camera so you could see how double glazing helps to hold heat in (I’m always more interested to see how cold my body is compared to other people’s – my nose and hands are always freezing!). This was also the area where they gave science demonstrations, so we hung around to watch one on glass breaking (demonstrations are free and offered throughout the day) – my brother and I took strongly against the obnoxious kid who was picked to assist, and cracked up when the woman worked there kept referring to him as “Garius” instead of “Darius”, which was actually his name. We now call all obnoxious children “Garius”.

The shop, which was all we were allowed to see of the museum on our first attempt to visit all those years ago, is also really big (seriously all the glass pumpkins and gourds), though as we had already made our own glass pumpkins, we didn’t feel the need to buy anything. Since Corning is where Corningware comes from (hence the glass museum being located here), they had a whole separate section in the shop just for that. $20 is definitely a lot for a museum visit, but we spent three hours in the museum, and could easily have spent more if we had been bothered to read all the information in “35 Centuries of Glass” (it was so much information though), so I think it was a worthwhile splurge, and of course I love my pumpkin! 4/5, and I’m glad we got to remedy this failure to visit at last! I also liked that our hotel was within walking distance of the museum, as was the downtown area, so it was that rare American city where you didn’t actually have to use a car. Bonus points for that and the amazing ice cream.

 

Cleveland, OH: Grays Armory

Grays Armory is meant to be one of the most haunted buildings in Cleveland (right up there with Franklin Castle, which is not open to the public), and it’s certainly one of the coolest looking ones. Even though I grew up in Cleveland and went downtown with reasonable frequency (considering there’s not actually much to do in downtown Cleveland), I don’t recall ever seeing this building before. It is open to the public for tours on the first Wednesday of every month from 10-4, which happened to coincide with my recent visit to see my family, so my mother and I decided to check it out (though we were not optimistic about actually seeing any paranormal activity).

 

We managed to find metered parking on the street behind the Armory (we were short on quarters, so we paid for an hour, which was cutting it close – I’d probably pay for at least an hour and a half to be on the safe side) and headed in, only to be greeted by one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen (picture does not give sense of scale). I can sometimes be a bit scared of big dogs, so walking in to see one the size of a wolf waiting for me was initially a little intimidating, but he was very friendly, and I was happy to give him all the pats once we’d gotten better acquainted and I realised he was a total sweetheart. Tours normally cost $8 per person, but the day we visited was free for some reason (though we did leave a donation at the end).

 

We were initially the only visitors, but after waiting a few minutes with no one else turning up, the guide was happy to start the tour (a couple came in about a third of the way through, and she offered to recap for them at the end, but they just left immediately after the tour finished). Since I was keen to see the building, I thought we’d start walking around it right away, but most of the “tour” was actually just a talk delivered in the reception room (which also served as the ladies’ waiting room back in the day before ladies were allowed to join), which was fine, just not what I was expecting, so the whole time we were sitting there I was anxious that we wouldn’t actually have time to see the rest of the building.

 

I didn’t really know anything about the Armory going in, and the poster behind our guide was a little misleading because of its incorrect punctuation, which read “Gray’s Armory,” so I reasonably assumed it was named after someone called Gray. Nope. It should actually be Grays’ Armory, or Grays Armory (as they call themselves on their website), because it is named after the Cleveland Grays, one of America’s oldest militias, and it is America’s oldest independent armory. I’m not really down with the whole militia thing, especially given what it’s become today (weirdos with a million guns living in compounds in Idaho), but I can concede that there probably was some need for law and order in the days before a police force when Cleveland was essentially frontier. The Grays were founded in 1837 and the current building dates to 1893, its two earlier incarnations having burnt down. This building actually partially burnt as well, but the thick stone walls saved the front portion of the building where the reception room was located. I guess after the third burning, they finally learned to stop using fire in a building where gunpowder was housed, or they just stopped housing gunpowder there.

 

Given the armory’s reputation as super haunted, I would have assumed some people died in the fire, but apparently no one did (which is good news, but not great for alleged paranormal activity!). So maybe the whole haunting idea stems more from the fact that some of these men did serve in the American Civil War, where undoubtedly some of them died, and maybe they returned to this building in the afterlife. The Grays were named after the colour of their uniforms, so you can imagine that caused some confusion in the Civil War, what with being a Northern unit and all! They were pretty quickly switched to the standard Union blue, and veterans of the war were subsequently allowed to wear a blue uniform to militia related events, including standing guard over Lincoln’s coffin, which they did when it passed through Cleveland on the funeral train and was laid out in Public Square. They were meant to take part in the Spanish-American War, but by the time they completed training, the war was basically over. And the US government got rid of independent militias in 1903, so that was the end of the Grays as a fighting unit.

 

However, the Grays still exist as a social and historical organisation, which women are allowed to join (the tour guide gave us a bit of a hard sell, but since I don’t even live in Cleveland (and am not much for clubs), I declined), and they still have their original uniforms, which is pretty bad ass! When we were finally allowed to leave the reception room, one of the rooms our guide took us to see was the uniform room, which had been ingeniously designed with flip down seats in front of each locker, and air vents at the top to keep things ventilated (not great for keeping out clothes moths, but I don’t think they’re as much of an issue in the US as they are in Britain). They also still have some of their original bearskin hats, which look very similar to what the Queen’s Guard wear in the UK. The guide mentioned that the type of bear they’re made from is now endangered, so they will fortunately be switching to a synthetic version when they need replacing.

 

I’d like to really emphasise the social part of the organisation, because when the militiamen weren’t off fighting, they just seemed to party. The Armory, although it did house weapons, was basically a big clubhouse, and I get the impression the men just hung out upstairs drinking and smoking. Women were allowed to attend certain events here, and the large drill hall was the perfect space for dances and performances by the Cleveland Orchestra. It has housed a 1930 pipe organ since 1969 when Warner Brothers decided to donate it, so they still put on concerts using it, as well as hosting lectures and “haunted evenings,” none of which took place during my visit to Cleveland, sadly.

 

We were eventually allowed up to the first floor as well, which had some uber masculine wood panelled rooms, one of which is meant to be haunted by a cigar smoking former member (the only ghost mentioned by the tour guide). I don’t know about all that (definitely didn’t smell any cigar smoke, and to be fair, the guide pointed out that a smoke smell likely seeps out of the walls when it gets hot outside, so she wasn’t exactly credulous either, which I appreciate. I like to learn about ghosts, but people who take them seriously are a bit much), but there was a splendid little collection of taxidermy, including a furry deer butt, and a goat in a sailor hat.

 

Unfortunately, the second floor is currently closed for restoration, so that ended our tour. Considering it was free, I think it was really pretty informative – though there were a few incorrect facts (general historical ones – I don’t know enough about the Grays to know if that information was accurate) and of course the irritating punctuation mistakes throughout the signage (at least get your own name right!), it was definitely interesting to learn about this lesser-known piece of Cleveland’s history, and the building was of course fantastic. I can’t say if it’s actually haunted (probably not, since ghosts aren’t real), but it sure looks haunted, and that’s really all I care about. I will say that there are various Haunted Cleveland tours that will take you in here, but they are about ten times the price of the Armory’s tour (when it’s not free), and they have pretty crap reviews, so I think this is your best way in to the building, and at least this way you know the money is going to preservation. 3/5 for the Armory tour. As I said at the start, you can’t go inside Franklin Castle, which is meant to be even more haunted (if ghosts existed), but it is nearby (Ohio Cityish, past the West Side Market), so if you want to grab a shot of the exterior whilst you’re downtown, it is definitely doable. You can see my photo of it below. Spooky!

Cleveland, OH: “Medieval Monsters” @ the CMA

I think this week is less of a stretch than last week in keeping with the Halloween theme of October. C’mon, monsters?! Scary! But obviously the Cleveland Museum of Art doesn’t agree with me, because this exhibition closed well before Halloween, on 6th October. So you can’t visit it now, but I couldn’t have blogged about it in time anyway because I didn’t see it myself until the week before it closed, what with not living in Cleveland (frankly, I was glad I got to see it at all, after longingly watching CMA post about it for months on Instagram).

 

“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” was a free exhibition, as is the museum itself, but good luck finding parking nearby other than in the museum’s $10 lot (and public transport in Cleveland? Forget it!), but I can’t really begrudge them that income before it is such an excellent museum. However, they could have had better signage, because it took me ages to figure out where this exhibition was (I could only find paper maps, when a big mounted map somewhere would be much more eco-friendly), and I couldn’t even find a member of staff to ask. Eventually I realised it was downstairs, opposite the main special exhibition that you have to pay for (on Michelangelo at the time of my visit. I skipped it).

 

As you may have guessed from the title, the exhibition was divided into three sections: Terrors, which was meant to be about how monsters “enhanced the auras of those in power,” though I seem to recall it being primarily about saints and the ways in which they were tortured to death (admittedly, many of those pictures and manuscripts were originally owned by various kings and queens, hence the power I guess); Aliens, which was about marginalised groups in medieval European society; and Wonders, which was more in the vein of teratology, and included fabulous beasts and anomalous (and imaginary) humans.

 

The museum had also produced a rather fabulous free Field Guide to Medieval Monsters, which included images of all the monsters featured in the exhibition, with a brief description of each. This included some of my old favourites like Blemmyae (the supposed race of headless people with faces on their chests) and the Hellmouth (literally a mouth that was meant to be the entrance to hell); and others I’d seen but never knew the names of, like Gryllus (a human head on horse-like legs. Different from a centaur, because Gryllus is just a head sitting right on top of legs, no body) and the Ziphius (meant to be a horrible sea monster, but he’s grumpy and adorable! I want one as a pet. Please go look at him via the link at the start of this paragraph).

 

Even considering that much of the art was religious in nature – which is not normally my thing – because it was for the most part so weird and gory, this ending up being so my type of exhibition. There was thoughtful text in each room describing how the idea of monsters shaped the medieval world, and covering serious themes like mental illness and xenophobia, but I have to admit that I was mainly in it for the illuminated manuscripts and the promise of marginalia, and that is what has stuck with me the most when it came time to write this post. Though I probably shouldn’t, I find many medieval pictures depicting the martyrdom of saints completely hilarious, and my favourite here was the piece above left depicting St. Bartholomew keeping his chin up with a jolly grin whilst being flayed alive (and clearly the medieval church had a sense of humour just as sick as mine, because he is the patron saint of tanners, leather workers and butchers. Talk about black humour).

 

There was also some charming marginalia here, including my personal favourite, a man mooning some sort of ceremony (I forgot which) with his thumb up his butt to indicate disrespect (in case the mooning wasn’t disrespectful enough). Not quite as good as a butt trumpet, but close enough!

 

I also loved all the beasts – even the real ones like elephants and crocodiles appeared to have been drawn by someone who had never seen such things in person, and I find the naive nature of their illustrations endlessly charming. This exhibition was an absolute joy to look at, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see it too, but I hope my (poor quality) images at least gave you a sense of what was there. My only complaint was that the postcards in the gift shop didn’t feature the best of the monsters, but I know having custom postcards made is always a bit of a gamble, so I can’t bitch too much. 4/5.

 

Whilst I was here, in addition to visiting my favourite Henri Rousseau (Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo) and Jacques-Louis David (Cupid and Psyche) paintings, I also popped in to see their “Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design” exhibition, which was in one of the small galleries upstairs. Based on the name, I was expecting something IKEA-esque, but it was so much better than that. This was actually about textile design, and though it was a bit light on signage (perhaps because it had been put together by grad students at Case), the fabrics themselves were absolutely lovely, as you can hopefully see from the images below. It only took me about ten minutes to view, but it’s worth the detour if you’re here anyway. Good old CMA!

 

 

Canton, OH: The MAPS Museum

I’ve mentioned before how my brother is not necessarily the biggest fan of museums (which isn’t to say that he won’t visit them, just that he doesn’t get excited about them like I do), but he does like military museums (if you couldn’t tell from my Belgium posts), and there is one right in Canton, Ohio that I hadn’t yet been to (though he had, on multiple occasions). So, we decided to visit it together, and go see They Shall Not Grow Old right afterwards (since I liked it so much when I watched it on the BBC I was more than happy to watch it again on a big screen) for a full-day of war-related fun (if war is ever “fun”).

  

The MAPS Museum is primarily an aviation museum (MAPS is an acronym for Military Aviation Preservation Society), but they do have some galleries on Ohio troops from all branches of the military.  Admission to MAPS is $10, and includes the option of a free guided tour, though as we had to leave at a specific time to catch the film, we opted to guide ourselves. (Also, they have one of the cutest mailboxes ever, as you can see above.)
  
We were still greeted by one of the volunteers right after entering the museum, and he told us more about some of the objects we showed the most interest in. It was nice to see such friendly and passionate volunteers (without being scary, like the woman on the USS Cod). My attention was grabbed right away by the Sopwith Triplane 1916, since the Sopwith factory was in Kingston upon Thames, which is where I work (Kingston that is, not the Sopwith factory, which has been defunct since the 1990s). According to the volunteer, it was built (or restored? I don’t remember which) by a man in Ohio with advice from former Sopwith people in Kingston. We don’t even have a Sopwith in our museum, just some models and an old time clock from the factory (I mean, that’s partially because we don’t have room for a plane, but it would still be cool), so it was good to see one here.
  
I’m no aviation buff, but the hangar was full of an interesting array of aircraft, including a couple planes you could climb into, and the gondola from a Goodyear Blimp (Goodyear have a massive blimp hangar not far from the MAPS Museum. They usually have a Christmas event where you can drive through it. It’s neat!). There are even more aircraft housed outside, which you can view in the summer, but the gates were locked when we visited. Apparently many of the planes are on loan from the Air Force, so the MAPS Museum can restore them and send them back, which is really pretty cool. Also cool (temperature-wise) was the hangar, a little too cool, frankly, as they tend to be, so my brother suggested heading into the gallery at the back to warm up a little.
  
This turned out to be about aviators in a number of wars, but primarily WWII. There were a lot of great newspaper clippings and artefacts in here – in fact, almost too many, as there was too much text to read it all on one visit. But I would rather have too much information than not enough, and there was interesting stuff, like the story of the unfortunately named Lt. Reamer “Buzz” Sewell (I can see why he went by his nickname, but it was evidently a family name, as his father was a Reamer too), who was captured by the Germans and served out the remainder of the war in a POW camp; and that of the “Romanian Princess” who helped to save 1200 airmen during the war (there was a sweet little article about how they threw her a party after she moved to the US in 1955, and she was thrilled to see all her “boys” again).
  
Oh yeah, and there were some fantastic mannequins. Just really superlatively doofy, as you can probably see. And Dilbert the parachute dummy.
  
There was also a gallery upstairs, and this was a more general history of wars that Ohio troops had some involvement in, going all the way back to skirmishes between Native Americans and some of the earliest settlers (obviously not a shining moment in Ohio’s history), up until roughly the present day (I can’t remember where exactly it finished but there was definitely stuff about the Vietnam War, and possibly the Gulf War as well). There were also displays about the Civil War, which were of more interest to me (the Civil War is great for social history, because it had such a huge effect in shaping the country America became (for better or worse) and totally changed American death practices, in addition to being fascinating from a medical history point of view), including a small display about Harvey the dog, who I encountered 5 years ago at the Massillon Museum (not the real dog, obviously (though I suppose he could have been taxidermied), but a display about him).
  
I liked the section on WWI also, though I could have done with more stories about individual soldiers from Ohio, like the one about Eugene J. Bullard, the first black fighter pilot (he fought in the French Foreign Legion because he was living in Europe when the war started, having found that it offered many more opportunities than still segregated America), and less general history, though I suppose most Americans aren’t particularly well versed in WWI (since we were only in it for about a year) so perhaps it’s for the best that it’s there. I did enjoy the display about failed WWI inventions, like the poor fellow who had to wear the giant headset shown below (captioned simply and amusingly “didn’t work”).
  
I also have to mention the story of a teacher named Eva Sparrowgrove, because it made me tear up a little. She wrote to all 310 of her former students that enlisted during the war, and made a window banner to commemorate their service, including gold stars for the 9 who died in combat.  There was a fire at her house in 1950, but another one of her former students who became a fire fighter was able to save the banner, albeit with a little water damage. Lest you worry, Eva also survived the fire and continued to teach until 1973. She died in 1985 at the age of 82.
  
The museum was more on the scale of the Wings Museum than that of some larger aviation museums I’ve visited, but had far better (and more coherent) content than Wings (though sadly, nowhere to put my ass where Damian Lewis’s ass had been). Because we did have to leave to see the film (and get frosty chocolate milkshakes after!), I didn’t read everything completely thoroughly (honestly, it was just too damn much to read), but I guess that will give me a reason to return (my brother informs me that their displays also change regularly). I think they could be a little more discerning about the amount of material they’re including (as in, there doesn’t need to be quite so much of it!) but I get the sense that they are largely volunteer-run, and the volunteers were all super friendly and helpful, so I’ll cut them some slack. 3.5/5.
  

Youngstown, OH: Arms Family Museum and Tyler History Center

When I mentioned a few posts ago that I hadn’t done anything particularly Christmassy worth blogging about, it wasn’t entirely true. I did go to a decorated historic home, but it was after I wrote the post that would go out near Christmas, and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the house’s interior, so this post won’t look very festive anyway. But yes, whilst I was in Youngstown, I also went to the Arms Family Museum, which is just a few buildings down from the Butler Institute on the edge of the YSU campus.

Admission to the house is normally $7, and though I can’t find confirmation of this on their website, I seem to recall that when we visited, it was a little bit more, maybe $9(?) presumably on account of their Christmas event “Memories of Christmas Past,” which runs throughout December. This also includes admission to the Tyler History Center, located across Youngstown, of which more later.

There wasn’t much about the family inside the home, other than a small display in the museum section, so I’m not even sure what they were known for, if anything, but I get the impression that they were sort of like the Seiberlings of Stan Hywet, on a much smaller scale (obviously not many are going to match the wealth of the founder of Goodyear). Like the Seiberlings, the Arms family were also ardent Anglophiles (say that five times fast), with a special interest in the Tudors (at least their architecture), and thus they collected as many old world antiques as they could reasonably stuff their home with. And, like Stan Hywet, the Arms House (named Greystone, another similarity, as Stan Hywet is old English for stone quarry – looks like the Seiberlings were more pretentious too) also goes all-out when decorating for Christmas, albeit not quite as all-out, since the Arms House doesn’t have gardens (or a glass house, or a restaurant or a gingerbread stall) like Stan Hywet. The two families would have roughly been contemporaries, though Greystone was actually built first, in 1905, whilst Stan Hywet wasn’t completed until 1915.

Anyway, enough about Stan Hywet, and more on Greystone. The ground floor of the house was adorned with vintage decorations, with a different era/theme being represented in each room. The only text in here was about the decorations, and there was a scavenger hunt where you had to try to find certain decorations in each room, which was probably intended for children, but of course Marcus and I did one together (there weren’t prizes though, just the satisfaction of having completed it, I guess). I do wish there had been more about the family – there were volunteers stationed in each room to make sure we didn’t touch anything, who would presumably have been happy to provide information if I’d asked, but I much prefer to just read it for myself. I did get the impression that 99% of their visitors were from Youngstown and come every year for the Christmas event, so maybe they just assumed everyone knew about the house already, but it’s not the best way to attract tourists, and it made the whole thing feel a bit cliquey, especially as everyone there seemed to know each other.

The decorations were mostly adorable though, and there was a lot more information (though mostly not on the house itself) once we got upstairs to the museum section. This included a room full of mid-century modern furniture manufactured in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, another full of the collections of Benjamin Franklin Wirt (a lawyer and Ohio state senator who loved collecting all sorts of crap), a display on the First World War (I was a little disappointed that the song they’d chosen to accompany it wasn’t “Over There” or the “Madamoiselle from Armentieres,” the latter of which has become a particular favourite since twice watching They Shall Not Grow Old), some illustrations from a Christmas children’s book that I’d never heard of (by a Youngstown-based author), and finally, a room full of Olive Arms’s architectural plans for the house, which I guess at least explained something, though not being particularly well versed in architectural terms, I would have much preferred something about the family and how they got the money to build their damn house in the first place.

Once we’d returned downstairs, we thought we had finished, but were instead directed to the “North Pole” in the basement. This was obviously aimed at children, though fortunately there was no Santa on site when we were there (he sometimes is though, I think), so we were free to put on teeny costumes and get a picture in Santa’s sleigh (the hat was about all we could fit into, and even that was a squeeze), or participate in craft activities (we gave those a miss). The shop on the ground floor had a wonderful collection of vintage decorations that you could actually purchase, and if I was richer I would have bought almost everything, but the prices were a little high and I was worried about transporting stuff back to the UK (my suitcase is always so full of bagels and cereal that I don’t have much room to spare), so I left empty-handed.

  
But we weren’t finished with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society yet, as we had to head across town to the Tyler History Center, which wasn’t actually all that far away, since Youngstown is pretty small. They had parking right outside, along with a creepy old advert for Good Humor products, since the company was started in Youngstown.
  
The museum is in quite a large building, as you can probably see, but only one floor of it is currently actually museum (they might occasionally have displays on some of the other floors, but one of them just looked like it was used for events, as it had tables set up on it). This was a reasonably comprehensive journey through the history of Youngstown, told mostly through panels, with some artefacts. It was fairly standard local history fare, but I did like many of the artefacts, especially the roller coaster car from Youngstown’s old amusement park (why is every amusement park that looked cool now defunct?!), and the old police ledger from 1932, where 90% of the arrests were for drunkenness (bearing in mind Prohibition was still in effect). I also thought the layout was quite good because the panels divided up the space and made it into more of an experience since you had to work your way through chronologically.
  
There was also a small gallery in the back that contained more of Benjamin Franklin Wirt’s possessions – at least we were allowed to take pictures of these ones, so you can get a better idea of the sort of thing he collected (other than my earlier evocative description of “crap”); mainly Eastern artefacts, and a bit of presidential memorabilia. The History Center had a shop with a freezer full of Good Humor products, which is smart if you ask me, because after reading about the company in the museum, I’m sure many people go on to crave an ice cream (I totally was, but since it was winter, I worried they might have been sitting around for a while, and it’s probably for the best that I didn’t, because we stopped for pizza at this little hole in the wall with a brick oven (literally a hole in the wall) in Akron on the way home, and I stuffed myself stupid on NY style thin crust margherita and fried provolone wedges). I did, however, buy a t-shirt for Marcus featuring anthropomorphic peppers in oil (apparently a Youngstown thing due to their large Italian population, but this wasn’t explained in the museum, so I looked it up later. I thought maybe it was peppers sauteed in oil, like some people (not me!) put on sausages or whatever, but apparently they just can peppers in olive oil, and eat them on bread or toast).
  
So I did learn a lot more about Youngstown (which to be fair I knew almost nothing about going in, other than Handel’s), and got to enjoy some Christmas decorations. I don’t think the Tyler History Center is worth the price of admission if you’re not visiting the Arms Family Museum as well, but I think they figure people will go to both properties, in which case I do think you get your money’s worth. 3/5 for the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as a whole (more signage in the Arms House though please!).

Youngstown, OH: Butler Institute of American Art

I might have taken a bit of a break from blogging over December (though you wouldn’t know it because I wrote so many posts in November, which went out in December), but I certainly didn’t take a break from visiting museums, since that is fortunately still more of a joy than a chore (even with working at a museum. I wouldn’t visit the museum I work at on my days off though!). I was back in the States as usual for Christmas, and actually managed to hit up a few new-to-me museums on this trip, which was great!

  

I had never actually been to Youngstown before this trip, but I did have some negative associations with it, thanks to my disgusting pervert former boss. I worked at an ice cream shop throughout high school and college, as I’ve mentioned before, and the owner was truly revolting and sexually harassed us pretty much every time he was there (fortunately, because Youngstown is over an hour away, he only came up once every couple of weeks, which is the only reason that job was bearable. Well, that, and the free ice cream), and it soured me on the whole city, especially because Youngstown (or rather Boardman, just outside Youngstown) is where Handel’s Ice Cream was started in the first place. So when my mother suggested checking out the Butler Institute of American Art there, I was initially apprehensive, but their website actually made it sound pretty good, so I acquiesced.
  
The museum is located right on YSU’s campus, and was easy both to find and access, with parking out front. On the day of my visit, they were evidently going to be hosting a wedding later in the day (and having seen the place, I would absolutely get married there. And have a buffet table full of dumplings, as the couple in question seemed to have been planning, judging by the signs on the tables), so the main hall of the museum was somewhat taken up by people setting up tables and the like, but there weren’t very many artworks in that section, so it didn’t overly affect my visit.
  
Admission is free, and there wasn’t even really an admissions desk. The only members of staff we saw on our visit were the ones setting up for the wedding, and a security guard by the back entrance, so I guess it wasn’t great if you’re the sort of person who has a lot of questions, but I am not that sort of person. The museum opened well enough, albeit not terribly excitingly, with some 18th century American landscape painters, but quickly got a bit creepy with these terrifying twins and disturbing Santa (I don’t want to find him coming down my chimney), which is really what I prefer to landscapes anyway. I thought Washington looked rather fetching in the painting of his wedding to Martha, but it obviously wasn’t drawn from life since it was done about a hundred years after the fact by the excellently named Junius Brutus Stearns, who was born 11 years after Washington’s death.
   
One of the Butler’s prize pieces is Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip, which is totally charming in a ye olde kind of way, even though some of the children’s faces look a bit too adult, in my opinion. They even have a Van Gogh (despite being called an institute of American Art), though it is definitely one of the lesser known, fairly unmemorable ones (so much so that I can’t even remember what it was). William Paxton’s painting Sylvia (pictured above left) caught my eye though – there’s something about her expression that I really love.
  
From here, we wandered into a gallery with some holograms on the wall and a giant zoetrope, then into a section with a video showing the destruction of an IKEA living room set, and then into a really cool display of lenticular photographs by Margeaux Walter, which all starred Walter herself (I didn’t realise this until after reading the exhibition description, even though one of her photos was of an entire crowd of people doing the wave. I did think that one man who kept appearing in all the photographs looked a lot like the woman who was in them all, but figured they just might have been siblings). I also really enjoyed the mirror art just outside this gallery, which had an X to stand on in front of it so you could get in the optimum spot to capture yourself in all the mirrors (I’ve failed slightly, but it was a nice idea).
  
At this point we made our way upstairs via the flight at the back of the gallery, even though there was obviously still more to see downstairs, as I was hoping to escape some of the noise that the wedding set-up was creating (nothing too noisy I hasten to add – just people discussing where to put things, but still a bit more background noise than I like in a museum). This floor was much quieter and contained a nice mix of temporary and permanent exhibitions, an example of the latter being the American Western gallery with loads of paintings of Native Americans (and I hope it’s not culturally insensitive for me to say that I think the mask in the above picture is kind of adorable), as well as some background information about their lives and culture. There was also a gallery full of busts, including a giant one of Martin Luther King.
  
I wasn’t too keen on Todd Gray’s Pop Geometry, as it was meant to be a sort of homage to Pop Art (even though it was just mimicking Pop Art as far as I could tell, which isn’t really an homage), which is far from my favourite genre. I did love Winfred Rembert’s pieces though, which were made with carved and dyed leather, and featured vignettes from Rembert’s difficult life, including growing up black in the still heavily segregated South, picking cotton, and being forced to work in a prison chain gang. Despite the often depressing subject matter, his paintings were vibrant and full of life (as seen above).
My absolute favourite part of the whole museum was the Americana and Folk Art Gallery, located in a separate wing of the museum (accessible by a footbridge, and overlooking the interior of a chapel). I love American primitive folk art, and there was loads of that, including wooden signs (the Raven and Ring is the best. I would go to that pub for sure) and a whole room full of carousel animals (I felt bad for the poor sad donkey stood in one corner all by himself).
 
I also loved the intricate wooden bird carvings by Cliff McGinnis, and the giant facsimile of Audubon’s bird book, and even the collection of glass bells, though I couldn’t quite see the point of them (they were given as wedding gifts, but were obviously strictly for decoration, because how do you use a glass bell?). But I think the best and creepiest part was the gallery full of dolls showing off a century of American fashions. Both dolls and outfits were made by Pete Ballard, and he even gave them all names (Marcus was so freaked out by them that he spent no time in this gallery at all, other than to snap a couple quick photos, and I did my best to scare him even more by seeing if I could bring the dolls to life by calling them each by name. No dice). The only improvement would have been to move the captions explaining each outfit next to the doll in question, as they were all just up on the wall, and the dolls weren’t numbered in order of display, so it gave me a headache to keep looking back and forth to figure out who was wearing what.
  
The final room in this section was about ship art, and even contained a tiny diorama of a whale hunt (I in no way condone the killing of whales, but I am fascinated by how horrible whaling was, and I also love tiny models of things, so pretty great).
  
Having seen all this, we still had a few galleries downstairs to check out, including one with sports themed art that only got a cursory look from me, and then a few galleries of more modern stuff. Marcus and I were both initially a little apprehensive around the “Security Guard” installation, as we both thought he was a real person at first glance (and the painting on the wall behind me with all the faces is by the singer John Mellencamp, aka John Cougar, aka the voice of the Midwest, which I didn’t realise until I was researching this post). The other piece shown above is a triptych featuring residents of Youngstown in 1978 (I would totally wear the one woman’s penguin sweater).
  
Because the shop was on the other side of the museum from where we ended up, I gave it a miss, and I also didn’t get to see the Print Room downstairs because they were installing 100 Years of Print at the time, which opened in January. Even without these things, the museum was so much bigger and better than I was expecting, and I really enjoyed myself. It felt much more laid back than the CMA (even though I do love the CMA), with the only steward being an automated voice that came on and told you to step back from the paintings if you accidentally stood too close, and as a result, I felt more at liberty to really enjoy myself and interact with some of the art (unlike in some museums where I’m terrified that my shoe will accidentally squeak and a security guard will yell at me for it). And there were a lot of secret corners and stairwells with things hidden on them, like one containing a miniature of every single US president (including the current one, sadly) – it seems like you really need to visit more than once to find everything, since Marcus and I walked around separately from my parents, and we found that my parents had seen things we hadn’t, and vice versa. This is really a fantastic, little-known museum (at least in NE Ohio, maybe the CMA overshadows it?), and I highly recommend paying it a visit if you’re nearby. 4/5.
  

Cleveland, OH: The USS Cod

Oh god, the USS Cod. Where do I begin?! Actually, if it wasn’t for the strange incident at the end of my visit, I would have rated it quite highly overall, so in all fairness, I should leave the weirdness for the end, and focus on the positive that was the bulk of my experience there (and leave you in a bit of suspense for once), starting with the excellent tagline on their brochure, “In 1944 she terrified the Japanese fleet. Today she will fascinate your family!”

  

The USS Cod is a decommissioned WWII submarine that is docked in Cleveland’s harbour, near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which I have visited exactly once, about fifteen years ago. That place is expensive!). Because there wasn’t anything particularly enticing that I hadn’t already seen at Cleveland’s museums at the time of my visit, I was searching for alternative attractions, and the Cod popped up. It had been dimly on my radar for a while (ha!), but I’ve toured a few ships before, and they usually involve climbing up and down ladders, which I am not keen on (when I worked in a brewery, I had to regularly climb down into the 1000 litre kettle to scrub it out, which remains the most terrifying thing I have done to date). Plus the Cod is only open from May-September, which doesn’t usually coincide with my visits, but as we were there in August, I had no excuse. Because Marcus was interested, I agreed to go, provided we could get pancakes first, and ice cream after, since I am motivated primarily by food. This of course presented no problem for either of us.
  
So we headed downtown, and happily discovered that the Cod had its own free parking lot, so we didn’t even have to pay for expensive downtown parking. Admission to the submarine was $12, which was collected by a cheerful man in the admissions booth who handed us brochures containing a self-guided tour, and told us more about the ship (which unfortunately I wasn’t really paying attention to because they had a sign saying they needed dollar bills, so I was digging through my purse to find four ones to give him so he wouldn’t have to make change).
  
Cod was launched in 1943 – because so much of the US Navy’s fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor, there was a real rush to produce a new fleet, including submarines, and Cod was part of that, so it was quite a technologically advanced submarine for the time, though apparently with terrible torpedoes, as they were defective. Cod has a couple of Cleveland connections, the first being that her engines were built here, and the second is that she was towed to Cleveland in 1959 to serve as a naval reserve training vessel. After she was struck off the Navy register in 1971, Clevelanders fought to save her, and in 1976 the Cod was opened to the public as a museum.
  
The Cod is the only decommissioned US submarine on display that has not had doorways cut into her hull for access, which is jolly well for authenticity and all that, but not so great for me with my fear of ladders. You have to actually climb into a narrow hole and launch yourself bravely over the edge onto the ladder (I’m smiling nervously to hide my fear). It wasn’t just any ladder though, as it strangely bent at an angle for the bottom few rungs, which you could not see when you were actually on it, so I had a brief moment of panic where I thought I would have to jump three feet to the floor, but then I felt one of the rungs with my flailing foot, and all was well. I would recommend not taking a bag with you if you go, as it was quite tricky manoeuvring down the ladder with my purse, but I saw some portly older gentlemen and a child come down the same ladder with relatively little difficulty, so maybe it’s fine if you’re not as afraid of ladders as I am. Fortunately, I am not claustrophobic, so once my feet had safely touched down, I was fine (at least until I had to go up again).
  
We had entered via the forward torpedo room, and we were pleased to see that our brochure guides were actually quite comprehensive. In addition, some of the rooms had audio guides in them that were activated at the press of a button, so we were able to learn quite a lot. I find the most interesting thing about submarines to be how so many men lived in such close quarters, so was more interested in the aspects of daily life than in the details of its missions or torpedoes. Therefore, it was neat to learn that the torpedo room was apparently the preferred spot for bunks, because it was the quietest part of the ship (when they weren’t actively launching torpedoes, of course!).
  
The officers’ quarters were directly behind the forward torpedo room, and frankly, I think I would have had to have been captain to have survived aboard this sub, because it was the only way you got a room to yourself (even the officers had to bunk two or three to a room, though at least it was theirs, and they didn’t have to hot bunk like the men). Their dining room had nice plush booths, and actually seemed quite cosy. They got china with adorable little anchors printed on it, and their shower seemed nicer than the one I have at home! (I’d take a pass on the toilet though. There was a long list of instructions on the wall that had to be followed every time you used the damn thing!) I could even deal with the yeoman’s teeny tiny office I think, because at least he got his own space (hell, I’d take that any day over awful open plan! I’m glad I only have to share my office with one person at work, and they’re often not in). One thing I loved about the Cod was that you could touch almost everything, and actually crawl right into some of the bunks, as you can see above!
  
The conning tower/control room area was all lit in red, and had another ladder to climb up to get a view of the conning tower, but I only made it up about halfway before I chickened out and gave up (there was nowhere to put your hands once you got past a certain point, which freaked me out). I was relieved to climb through yet another portal into the crew’s living quarters (the portals/doorways/airlocks (not 100% sure of the correct term) were pretty low – 6’2″ Marcus struggled a lot more than I did!), which had my favourite part of the audio guide, done by the submarine’s cook (or someone pretending to be the cook), who was of Italian ancestry.
  
Men on submarines had a reputation for being much better fed than the rest of the military (everyone who served on a submarine volunteered for it – as in, they were part of the Navy, and were still paid by the Navy, but they volunteered to be put on a submarine rather than a ship), because it was such dangerous and mentally draining work that they wanted to keep morale up somehow, and that was with food! The sub had giant cans of food stacked in every available space, which was apparently historically accurate. In addition to three very hearty meals a day, they also had access to unlimited snacks, and the Italian-American cook introduced many of the men to pizza for the first time (although he mentioned having to improvise based on what supplies they had on board, so I’m picturing ketchup instead of sauce, and horrible government issue cheese instead of mozzarella). They even had an ice cream machine, and with space at a premium, ice cream must have been REALLY important! The men also used the small mess hall (there were only 24 seats, and usually 72 men on board, so they had to eat in shifts) for movie nights, listening to records, etc.
  
After that, we made our way through several more engine and manoeuvring rooms before emerging into the aft torpedo room, where we were greeted by another very friendly gentleman who was telling a story about Andrew G. Johnson, the Cod‘s only wartime casualty, who was swept away and drowned whilst trying to fight a fire in one of the torpedo rooms. On a happier note, he also told us about how the Cod saved a Dutch submarine stuck off the coast of Japan in August 1945. They tried to pull the sub free, but it wouldn’t move, so the decision was made to take all the Dutch crew on board and blow up the Dutch submarine, so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. This meant that for the two and a half days until they reached Australia, there were over 150 men on board. This also coincided with news of the Japanese surrender, so the entire ship was basically a massive, crowded party for the whole of that trip. Obviously, the Dutch were very grateful, and they still send dignitaries over every year to re-enact the saving of the crew of the O-19, which I think is pretty cool.
  
There was some memorabilia in this torpedo room relating to the O-19, as well as flags and things to show how many Japanese ships the Cod had sunk. The volunteer offered to take us back through the sub and point out things we might have missed, but neither one of us relished climbing back through all the portals, so we politely declined and instead headed up another scary ladder into the extreme heat outside (it was such a hot day that I was initially a little worried about visiting the submarine, since I imagined something with metal sides and no air conditioning would get pretty steamy, but they had fans on throughout and it was actually quite pleasant).
  
This is where things got weird. There is lots of fun stuff to take pictures with on the deck of the sub, including a big wet gun with seats, so we were walking around doing that when a female volunteer approached us and offered to take our picture together in front of the submarine, which was very nice of her. This would have been all well and good had she not started talking to us. I could tell when she started going on about how she thought Princess Diana’s death was a conspiracy that it would be better to get away sooner rather than later, and started inching my way towards the exit, but she followed us and just kept on talking. She went on to say that she wanted to visit Ukraine, but was waiting until Trump “sorted things out.” By this time, I was desperate to get away, but as we were about to make a run for it, she came out with, “I don’t know what your politics are, but I just want you to know that Donald Trump is a great president. Anything is better than the last one,” and carried on for some time about her love for Trump while we politely smiled and nodded and frantically eyed the exit. We were finally able to break away and get in the car, but wow, what an odd experience! I understand that a site like this is likely to be pro-military, and that’s completely fine – if she had wanted to talk about how great the US military is, that’s a different thing entirely and I’m certainly not going to argue with a submarine museum staffed by veterans – but it was not really a comfortable experience for politics to be brought into it, especially since we hadn’t mentioned it at all; to the contrary, I was trying to steer her away from the subject! I didn’t say anything, because it wasn’t really the time or place to do it, and of course she is entitled to her opinion, but I don’t really think it’s appropriate to bring up such a controversial subject to visitors who hadn’t mentioned anything even vaguely related, especially when said visitors were trying to look at the Cod merchandise for sale, because I probably would have bought something if I hadn’t been so keen to end the conversation.
  
If it wasn’t for that volunteer, I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting the Cod, as it is a very interesting experience, and I guess even with the incident at the end, it was still certainly an interesting experience, though not in the way I would have hoped. I’m pretty sure proceeds from your admission fee only go towards preserving the submarine, and not to any political causes, so I certainly wouldn’t tell people not to visit on the basis of one volunteer (and coincidentally, I happened to read an article in Cleveland Magazine a couple days later about a different volunteer on the Cod who sends letters every day to Trump about all the people that already make America great (implying that he doesn’t need to “Make America Great Again” because it already is great) The woman in the article was actually a Republican, she just didn’t support Trump, and after reading that, I’m thinking maybe she was also there that day and had said something to get our volunteer riled up, which was why she was otherwise inexplicably on the subject of politics) – but maybe once you’ve seen the sub, best to just hightail it out of there before you get drawn into anything (and I’m not just saying this because I don’t support Trump – if she had started going on about how much she loved Bernie Sanders or someone, with nothing else political in the conversation preceding it, I would have found it odd. Maybe not as awkward, but odd nonetheless)! If I ignore the end of our visit, 3.5/5.

Butler County, OH: The Donut Trail

This is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but I’ve kept mentioning the Donut Trail, and I realise some of you are probably curious about it, so here we are. There is clearly some kind of PR genius working at the Butler County Visitors Bureau, because the Donut Trail is a brilliant way of attracting tourism to an otherwise unremarkable part of Ohio. I had never even heard of Butler County before the advent of the Donut Trail, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought of planning a trip to Southern Ohio before it – I took a trip to Wapakoneta as a teenager, which I suppose is actually central Ohio (I tend to think of everything south of Akron as “Southern Ohio,” at least culturally), but nonetheless, that experience was enough of a taster for me (this will make me sound like a snob, but I had driven down there with my jerk ex-boyfriend to see his friend’s punk band play a show, which turned out to be at a 4H Club. We accidentally went to the wrong place when we first got there, and walked into a room full of hunters gutting a deer, who didn’t take particularly kindly to two weird looking kids. Even after we hightailed it out of there and made it to the correct 4H Club, it was…interesting. I’m sure those kids were perfectly nice, but man, were they ever hicks). But once I heard about the Donut Trail, I was willing to brave just about anything to get my hands on all those doughnuts, not to mention the t-shirt.

   

Basically, someone noticed that there was an unusually high concentration of independent doughnut shops in Butler County, Ohio, which is just north of Cincinnati. Therefore, they had the clever idea to devise a trail incorporating 12 of them, with an accompanying passport. Visit all the shops, get your passport stamped at each one, and you get a free t-shirt, which you have to go to the Visitors Bureau to collect. As I’ve said, this is brilliant, because it not only attracts tourists, but it gets them to spend money at local businesses, all for the price of a t-shirt, which I’m sure they get cheaply printed in bulk.

  

Now, I love doughnuts, but I am a realist, and I know there was no way in hell I could eat a dozen doughnuts in a day and remain in any kind of functional state. Therefore, we decided to spread the trail over 3 days. This was also useful because a lot of these establishments open at 4 in the morning, and are closed by noon, if not sooner, so unless you want a much earlier start than I find acceptable, there is no easy way to hit them all in a day, given that the trail is about 80 miles long. We also had to first drive the four hours to Butler County from Northeast Ohio (where my parents live) before we could begin, so unless we left around midnight, we couldn’t have made it there early enough anyway. One of the doughnut shops is optional because it is much farther away than the others, so we decided early on that we were going to have to skip it to make the trail work, which I guess is not ideal, but it was a fully sanctioned cheat, so we took it.

   

Our first stop was the Central Pastry Shop in Middletown, and I started in the stupidest possible way – by ordering a giant cake doughnut. I love cake doughnuts the most, and this one came highly recommended by the woman working there (almost everyone we encountered on this trail was super friendly, and once they saw we were doing the trail, were very keen to point out all their specialties), but as I learned (actually, this was something I already knew going in, I just chose to ignore it at first), if you’re eating doughnuts in bulk, raised doughnuts are the way to go. The doughnut I chose was called an ugly, because of its crusty, irregular surface, and though it was delicious, it was very very fried.

   

By the time I’d eaten it, I kind of never wanted a doughnut again, which was unfortunate because we’d arrived at stop number 2: Milton’s Donuts. Here I just opted for a simple glazed (to the disappointment of the man working there, who really wanted us to get some kind of cream cheese concoction. I didn’t mention that I hate cream cheese with a passion, even if I had been in the mood for something rich, which I definitely wasn’t), and even though Holtman’s, our next stop, had an impressive variety (shown at start of post), I just went for a basic chocolate iced, along with an orange juice in an attempt to cut the grease. We tried to visit Stan the Donut Man on the way, which was already shut despite it supposedly being open until 5, and though I didn’t think much of it at the time, this would prove a bad omen.

   

Having already eaten two more doughnuts than I wanted to, we called it quits for the day, and headed into Cincinnati for Taft’s House, then checked into our hotel, and paid a visit to the excellent Rhinegeist Brewery (we specifically stayed downtown so we could walk there and both drink some beers for once. One of the annoying things about America is that they have like a million breweries, but no public transport outside major cities, which normally means that because I can’t drive, Marcus doesn’t get to drink, unless we go somewhere with my parents and they drive. And I don’t even like drinking very much, but I feel obligated to do it to at least justify not driving). The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed straight back to Butler County to Ross Bakery, which had a really nice man working there who was keen to hear all about London. I got off to a much smarter start by ordering a glazed twist, though I think the doughnuts might have still been with me from the day before, because I almost immediately started to get a stomachache. Things started to blur together at this point, but I know we visited Mimi’s, because I told myself I was only going to have a bite of their sprinkle doughnut and save the rest for later, but it was so damn delicious I ate the whole thing. We also went to Martin’s and the Donut Spot, and I was spending the time in between doughnuts slumped over in the car seat, clutching my gut with one of the worst stomachaches I’ve ever had. This was not a particularly fun day (you can actually see how much my enthusiasm plummeted between Ross Bakery and the Donut Spot).

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Fortunately, things eventually settled enough that I was able to grab a picture with the Alexander Hamilton statue in Hamilton, visit the Harrison Memorial outside Cincinnati, venture into Kentucky so Marcus could take a picture in front of the awful Creation Museum (we definitely did not go in, and it was kind of creepy even being near it), and even eat one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had from Taft’s Brewporium, which also has an excellent logo, based on the story of Taft and the bathtub (shame their beer was just OK, but I would go back for the pizza in a heartbeat), followed by soft serve from Putz’s Creamy Whip. We even made it to Jungle Jim’s later that night (the largest grocery store in the world, which I have wanted to visit for years, though sadly it was disappointing. It was big, it was just not as nice as I’d been led to believe, feeling more like a bargain store than anything), where we developed a problem with the brakes in our car (borrowed from my parents).

   

Because of this, Marcus was understandably a bit anxious about driving it the next day (I should point out the brakes still worked, they just made a terrible grinding noise every time we stopped suddenly. I can be a bit reckless, but I’m not suicidal), but we’d come so far that I wasn’t ready to give up on the Donut Trail. So we successfully visited Jupiter Donuts, Kelly’s Bakery, and the Donut House, just leaving old Stan the Donut Man. As it was only 9 in the morning, we weren’t really worried about them being closed, because who closes at 9, when you’re supposed to be open until 5?! Stan’s, that’s who. By the time we got there, there was a sign on the door reading, “Sorry, Out of Doughnuts!” At 9 in the morning. On a weekday. I mean, that’s a hell of a business model – making only enough doughnuts so you sell out eight hours before you’re supposed to (we were aware that a lot of these places closed as soon as they sold out, we just didn’t think anyone could possibly sell out that early). Needless to say, I was pretty damn pissed off, and spent a fair amount of time in the parking lot bemoaning my fate, and life in general, when I noticed a man going into Stan’s. Curious, I followed suit, and though they were indeed out of doughnuts, there was a woman working there who was more than happy to stamp our passports, so I could claim my damn free t-shirt. So while we did technically complete the Donut Trail, I felt a bit unfulfilled, having not actually eaten the final doughnut. Still claimed the hell out of my t-shirt though (there are more doughnuts printed on the back).

   

We had wanted to spend the rest of the day in Columbus, but because of the car issues, we paid a quick stop to Brewdog in Canal Winchester (since it was on the way anyway and we needed to stretch our legs), which now has a beer museum (which was OK, not really worth blogging about though) and headed straight back to my parents’ house. Although the Donut Trail didn’t turn out quite as I was hoping, I am still glad we did it (and honestly, I would probably do it again if I could space it out more. Writing this post has really made me want a doughnut!). All of the doughnuts we tried were good, and some were exceptional, though I would have loved to be able to complete it in a more leisurely way so I could have tried more of their specialties rather than limiting myself mainly to plain glazed so my stomach didn’t explode (I did allow myself one cake doughnut a day, so there was some variety, just not as much as I would have normally gone for). If you live in Ohio, I’d recommend doing it in a series of smaller trips rather than all at once. From talking to the people at the doughnut shops though, we certainly weren’t the only people who had travelled to do it (they mentioned people from all over the US, and a few other Europeans), and some people actually did complete it in a day, so I guess it is doable, though probably not particularly enjoyable. Now someone needs to come up with an ice cream or pizza trail, so I have something to do on my next trip to the States! And I think someone at the Butler County Visitors Bureau definitely deserves a raise!

Bonus incredibly unflattering action shot of me eating a doughnut.

Cincinnati, OH: The American Sign Museum

Doing the Donut Trail ate up a fair chunk of our morning the day after visiting Taft’s House, but we still had time in the afternoon to visit a museum, and though I suppose I should have done something more worthy and intellectual like the Underground Railroad Museum, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s House, or the Taft Museum of Art (founded by President Taft’s wealthier half-brother (he married money)), really I just wanted to see the American Sign Museum, so that’s where we headed.

  

The American Sign Museum is, appropriately enough, housed next to an old neon sign manufacturer, in a somewhat industrial looking part of town. It is apparently the “largest public museum dedicated to signs in the United States!” (exclamation point theirs). It is also probably the most expensive, with admission clocking in at a whopping $15, but honestly, from the moment I stepped foot in the parking lot and was greeted by a pig, a genie, an oversized bowling pin with a face, and many other giant vintage signs, I was ready to pay pretty much whatever they asked. (It was actually reminiscent of “Attack of the 50 Foot Eyesores” from The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror VI (one of my favourites, next to the “Shinning” one, and the one where Homer sells his soul for a doughnut. Actually every one of the first eight Treehouses of Horror is pure gold, and I’m glad it’s nearly the time of year for me to re-watch them all again!) which was both delightful, and somewhat concerning (though there was fortunately no lightning storm when we visited).)
  
Anyway, we parted with our $15 (each) and in turn received a souvenir button reading I ❤ Old Signs, as well as admission to the museum, of course. Walking into the museum was kind of like walking into a massive kaleidoscope, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend visiting if you’re susceptible to seizures. I loved it though, and had even worn my kitschiest 50’s style “atomic cocktail” print dress so I would fit right in (it makes me happy to theme my outfit with whatever I’m doing, if possible).
  
The museum was divided up into three main areas, plus a workshop where they restore the signs (you could go into the workshop, though no one was actually in the act of restoring whilst we were there). The first area made some effort to trace the history of signs, the second was a vaguely chronological progression of neon signs until the mid-20th century, and the third was kind of just a free-for-all of giant signs lining a street of yesteryear, including ones for McDonald’s (gross, but the sign was cool) and Howard Johnson’s (which I have never had in my life, though I think there are still some around, or at least there were when I was a kid. I feel like it’s more of an East Coast thing).
  
Many of the signs had their own signs (as in object labels) telling you more about them, but it was hard to focus on reading them with all that neon staring you in the face, so I think the best thing to do may just be to stand and soak it all in. This is a popular wedding venue, and I can certainly see why, though I suspect the background of the photographs might detract from the actual couple a little (not gonna lie, I would still totally get married there).
  
One of my particular favourites was the giant rotating Sputnik inspired sign shown above, which reminded me of a retro Christmas tree decoration (hell, I would just have that thing in lieu of a Christmas tree, and stick ornaments on its points), though I also loved all the ice cream and dairy signs, especially this one with a moving cow (and I want a chocolate malted right now, but Britain does not excel in the making of milkshakes (here’s a tip: a milkshake should contain ice cream, and not just be literal shaken milk) so I would just have to make it myself, which isn’t the best idea with shakes, because then you see how much ice cream goes in (a hell of a lot, if you like your shakes as thick as I do)). And the big Popsicle wall ad brought back memories of childhood, even though cherry is obviously the best flavour of twin pop, not orange. (It seriously must be at least twenty years since I’ve had a twin pop, and I don’t really know why, since I love them. Oh wait, maybe it’s because they’re impossible to snap in half cleanly, so more often than not, the whole damn thing ends up falling on the ground.) This definitely seems to be the kind of place where people go to reminisce, and you’d probably get even more out of it if you actually grew up in the ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s.
  

The theme was even carried through to the bathrooms, which of course had neon signs pointing to them, and the shop had quite a few reproduction signs and American Sign Museum t-shirts (with a retro-look logo) available for purchase, but I just went for one of the glow in the dark enamel pins of an ice cream cone (I have about a million enamel pins, but I keep buying more of the damn things. I also keep buying jackets, so I guess it all balances out). So, was this worth $15? No, absolutely not, but I had a fabulous time in the kitschiest (I know I keep using that word, but it fits better than anything else), most neon environment imaginable, and I am so glad I went. 3.5/5 based sheerly on the amount of joy this museum brought me.