Cleveland

Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art Redux

dsc09619Because I went back to Ohio for a few weeks over Christmas (and now I’ll have that stupid Back to Ohio (actually called “My City is Gone” apparently) Pretenders song stuck in my head all day), I wrote and scheduled a whole bunch of posts in advance because I knew I’d be too busy eating doughnuts, ice cream, and pancakes, and hanging out with my brother to want to do much writing while I was there.  As a result, I haven’t really written anything in about a month, and I’m finding it really hard to get back into the swing of things (and this damn jet lag (which I should probably just call insomnia at this point) isn’t helping).  So I thought I’d start by revisiting what used to be my favourite Cleveland museum: the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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I first wrote about the CMA in my first month of blogging, nearly four years ago now, shortly after they had finished their extensive remodelling project, and unfortunately at that point I was so attached to the old museum that I didn’t really give the new museum a fair chance. I also think that many of the galleries had yet to re-open then, so I wasn’t experiencing the museum at its fullest potential.  Well, this was my first trip to the CMA since that last ill-fated one, and I’m happy to report that it feels like a museum I can love again!  It doesn’t hurt that the CMA is still one of only a few free museums in Cleveland, though they do get you with the $10 minimum parking fee in their garage (yikes! Try to find a metered spot on the street if you can, because I think those are only a couple bucks), and they charge for major special exhibitions, but there were none on at the time of my visit.

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The main reason I was inspired to go back was that the museum was hosting a small exhibit on early portrait photography that sounded interesting (I confess I was hoping they’d have some of those creepy Victorian death photographs, but no such luck), but the exhibit was hidden away in the  middle of the second floor galleries, which meant I got to do a lot of exploring before I found my way there.  And look, I found one of my favourite paintings on the way (that I bitched about not being able to find last time): Cupid and Psyche, by Jacques-Louis David (above left).  And that excellent saucy portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale that I also know well and love (above previous paragraph).  And the three Van Gogh paintings the museum owns (my favourite is the tree one shown above right).  It was glorious, like finding long-lost friends.

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I am also very glad that the museum seems to be ordered in a manner that makes sense again.  I think when I visited four years ago, only about half the galleries were actually open, so they only had some of the collection’s highlights on display, and they weren’t really arranged in any particular order.  Happily, the paintings are now sorted chronologically, by country of origin, and by genre again, which makes it easy to find paintings that I know are there and want to see, like the handsome fellow on the left, above (Jean Terford David, painted by Thomas Sully.  I believe his wife’s portrait is also there, but the poor woman is kind of unremarkable next to Jean’s strong jawline and dreamy tousled hair). The only exception to this was Henri Rousseau’s Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo, which I love, but wasn’t in any of the places I expected to find it.  However, thanks to the free wifi the museum now offers, I was able to search for it on my phone, and discover that it wasn’t currently on display.  Annoying, because I really wanted to see it, but still better than me aimlessly wandering in search of it (or I guess I could have gone old-school and just asked someone working there, but if I can avoid human contact, all the better).  You will also notice that unlike at the hideous (except the armoury) Wallace Collection that I wrote about a couple weeks ago, the paintings are attractively displayed against plain walls painted in soothing solid colours, which makes them a pleasure to look at.  (The painting on the above right in Mary Spain’s Girl with Birds, but I was so busy looking at the cat that I scarcely noticed the birds.)

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And the CMA genuinely does have a first-rate collection.  You’ll notice the Picasso and the Velazquez above, but they’ve also got Monets, Manets, Gauguins, Toulouse-Lautrecs…basically all the big names, as well as an extensive collection of top-notch American paintings, like Ryder’s The Racetrack (Death on a Pale Horse) shown below left, and the portrait of Nathaniel Olds by Jeptha Wade that I included in the last CMA post, but had to include again because I love it so much (below right).

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I did eventually find my way to the portrait photography display that I had come to see in the first place, though ironically, it was pretty much the only place in the museum that photography wasn’t allowed.  It was only one room, but it was pretty interesting, mainly because I enjoy photographs of Victorians that prove that they weren’t always as stuffy as we sometimes imagine them to be, especially all the posed “joke” photographs that were apparently popular at the time, including one of a couple guys pretending to rob their friend, and another of men pretending to fight.

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There was also a small temporary display on Catholic vestments (more copes and chasubles, woot?), which I suppose was fine, but after seeing the incredible pieces of medieval English embroidery at the V&A, boring floral embroidery really paled by comparison.

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The final temporary display I saw was in the aptly named “Focus Gallery” and revolved around the 14th century Gothic table fountain (above left).  Apparently, table fountains (basically automata that spouted water at the dining table in various clever ways) were very common amongst the wealthy in medieval Europe, but eventually almost all of them disappeared, and the one now in Cleveland is believed to be the most complete surviving example.  And splendid it is too, full of dragons, and little grotesque figures that play instruments and spout water.  I presume it’s too fragile to actually see it in action, but they made a video of what it should look like when it runs, and the fact that it wasn’t in motion allowed me to study all the charming little paintings around its sides in detail.  Delightful.  I also liked the less elaborate castle themed fountain (above right).

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Because Cleveland is only a medium sized city, they don’t really have the resources to have separate museums for archeology and antiquities and all that kind of stuff, so it all gets lumped together at the CMA.  Although my description probably makes it sound like some poky local museum, which it is definitely not.  It’s a big museum, and everything is beautifully and professionally presented.  My whole point is that this is also the place to come in the CLE if you also want to see armour, or Ancient Egyptian stuff and other ancient artefacts.  There’s lots of very old Asian and Islamic art too!

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And the Christian religious art might not be in the creepy old gallery I used to love anymore, but it it still full of disturbing pieces (and some funny ones, like ol’ St. George above, who appears to be sprouting some sort of potato from his head).  That throne puts me in mind of Mr. Burns’s “chair” at Springfield University (which I would totally have in my flat, by the way).

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At some point Marcus decided he was going to photograph all the lions, only a couple of which I’ve included here (they have a surprising amount of lion-themed art), but I liked his thinking – I think picking one theme and focusing on objects relating to it is a good way to gain a new perspective on museums you’ve been to before, or just keep them interesting (I know the head on the left is not a lion, but it is a splendidly derpy face, so I couldn’t not include it, and it was in the same gallery as the lion on the right).

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The museum also had a few new technological/interactive things that I don’t recall seeing before, like a giant wall where you could select objects from the museum’s collections, and learn more about them, and some kind of motion wall thing that I noticed children jumping up and down in front of.  There were also quite a few touchscreens in “Gallery One,” which highlights some of the museum’s best pieces, and gives you a chance to discover more about the meanings behind them, and the historical periods in which they were created.  I think it’s a neat idea, even though the execution wasn’t quite as attention-grabbing as I would have liked.

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I think there were a few small galleries we didn’t have the chance to see, but I feel like I got to experience most of the museum, and have a much better appreciation of what the big remodel has done for the CMA.  Although the historic 1916 exterior is still hidden within the atrium, you do get excellent views of it from inside the atrium (you frequently have to go out on the balconies to move between galleries, so you get lots of chances to admire it) and it is a gorgeous space.  I can imagine that with Cleveland’s long and crappy winters that it is also nice to have a place to walk around and get some sunlight without trekking through ice and slush.  I have indeed completely revised my previous opinion, and can say that the remodelling process, though very irritating in the last few years I was actually living in Cleveland and wasn’t able to visit the Art Museum, was a good thing in the long run, and the museum has eventually emerged all the better for it.  4.5/5, and unquestionably the most spectacular museum Cleveland has to offer.

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Cleveland, OH: The Dittrick Museum of Medical History

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I can’t believe I waited this long to visit the Dittrick Museum (or this long to post about it!  I went here in September, and I’m already back in NE Ohio again for the holidays!).  I mean, I lived in Cleveland for the first 23 years of my life, I love medical history, I spent a fair amount of time hanging around the other museums in University Circle, and I almost went to school at Case Western Reserve University (twice!  I was accepted both as an undergrad, and into their History of STEM Ph.D programme, but stupidly turned down both), so there is absolutely no reason I shouldn’t have been there before.  But I guess all that doesn’t matter, now that I’ve finally remedied the situation.

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The Dittrick Museum is located inside the Allen Memorial Medical Library on Case’s campus; I recommend parking in the University Hospital visitor’s garage a short distance away, because they offer free parking for the first two hours (more than enough time to see the museum) and the metered spots on Euclid Road are usually all full.  Once you find your way inside the building, it’s a little confusing, because the main staircase takes you up to the library on the second floor, with no apparent way to get up to the third floor.  So you need to take the shaky, slightly unsafe looking lift on the far left side of the ground floor up to the 3rd floor, as directed in the lift.  (We did find a staircase once we got up there that led to the toilets, but I’m not sure how you accessed it from the ground floor.  I think it went straight down to the basement.)  The museum is free, and though university professors have their offices in the hallways all around the museum, no one is actually working at it, so you can look around without anyone breathing down your neck, which is nice.

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The museum is actually larger than I expected, with a number of different galleries/areas.  The centrepiece of the collection is undoubtedly the museum of contraception, of which more later, but they also have a number of exhibits about local and general medical history.  There was also a temporary exhibition, which was about childbirth (to tie in with the whole contraception/women’s health thing), which includes some fine (albeit a bit full-on) anatomical models.  I have to say, some of the childbirth implements there, especially the historical dilators (although the display informed me that they still use them in modern medicine; they’re just made from softer materials) made me very glad that I live in an age where the option not to have children exists.

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Case Western has a very well-renowned medical school, and many fairly prominent doctors have trained in the Cleveland area.  One of the most famous was George Washington Crile, a surgeon who performed the first operation using a direct blood transfusion, and was one of the founders of the Cleveland Clinic. (Cleveland used to also be home to Crile Military Hospital, as I found out from one of my grandpa’s letters.  However, Crile didn’t actually work there as it opened a year after he died, it was just named after him.)  There’s a wax model of his hand in here, perhaps to show the fine touch that made him a gifted surgeon.  A more notorious doctor who trained in Cleveland was the creepy Dr. Crippen, of alleged wife-murdering fame.  Even though his eyes scare the crap out of me, I still think that’s pretty cool.

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The museum discussed a variety of medical topics like anaesthesia, dentistry, and polio (complete with an infant sized iron lung), but with a special Northeast Ohio focus that as a former Clevelander, I found most interesting.

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The Museum of Contraception was located in the back section of the main room, and this too was pretty damned interesting.  Ohio is generally nowadays more known for trying to restrict women’s reproductive rights, so it was nice to come to this bastion of common sense and freedom of choice.  The collection was started by Percy Skuy, former president of Ortho Pharmeceutical (appropriately enough, since they make Ortho-Tri-Cyclen and other birth control pills), and has received so many donations that it’s doubled in size since its arrival in the museum, to include over 1100 objects.

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It contains information on birth control throughout history (some of the early attempts being not only ineffective, but distinctly unpleasant, shades of the childbirth section again), the attempts of campaigners to educate women on effective methods of contraception, and how they faced extreme opposition, especially from the horrible shit-stain of a man, Anthony Comstock, who was responsible for the ridiculous Comstock Law that allowed distributors of anything deemed “lewd” (birth control among them) to be successfully prosecuted.  Seriously, he was the worst, and someone eventually clubbed him over the head, but it wasn’t enough to kill him (more’s the pity).

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This gallery also includes some delightful contraception related art, like a display of IUDs (or maybe that was just a normal display, but it looked cool), a pearl ship given to Margaret Sanger by the Japanese people in thanks for her efforts to make birth control available to all, and an American flag containing stars made out of birth control pills, which is also available as a free postcard from a table in the middle of the museum.

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There’s a little balcony area up some stairs at the side of the museum, containing a collection of medical instruments.  While not quite as interesting as the contraception stuff, I did enjoy looking at the range of early stethoscopes, tongue depressors, and other instruments.

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But that wasn’t all!  In addition to a small room at the back currently (well, at the time of my visit) housing a collection of anatomical drawings, there were also cases lining the walls on the outside of the museum, and these contained some of the most fascinating and hilarious artefacts of the whole collection.  Part of the display was about how you would have been treated if you’d been sick in various eras in history, and obviously the historical treatments weren’t pleasant (that enema plate though! If I owned it, and if I was the type to host dinner parties, I would so serve people something chocolately off of it, just to be gross.  Maybe like a warm chocolate fondant, or a brownie pudding.  Mmmmm).

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But there was also a case on forensics, and displays on the Cleveland smallpox epidemic of 1902, which was not something I knew much about, and was definitely keen to read up on, what with my love of infectious disease and all.  Cleveland also had a diphtheria problem, and there was information on that too.  Undoubtedly one of my favourite objects, just for nostalgia’s sake, was Juno the Transparent Woman, pictured at the start of the post.  Apparently she was built in Germany in the 1940s, and has resided in Cleveland since 1950, but I remember her still being a big deal when I was a kid in the ’80s and early ’90s (at least to me).  She used to live at the Cleveland Health Museum, which was my favourite museum in my youth, and perhaps where I got my love of medical history (they had fetuses in jars, a giant tooth you could climb through, and put on a special Where’s Waldo event one year that was really fun), where she stood in a darkened room, and told visitors all about her internal organs, lighting up each one as she talked about it.  The Health Museum eventually got pretty lame, due to lack of attendance I guess, and closed in 2006, so Juno was moved here, and I was glad to see her.

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There’s also a small display of venereal disease posters on the ground floor, which I only noticed because a torrential downpour had started when we were in the museum, and we were waiting for it to die down.  Overall, the museum was much better than I had anticipated, and made me kind of angry at myself for not doing that Ph.D, as I likely would have had the opportunity to do some work on it (but then I’d still be living in Clevo, so perhaps it’s for the best).  There were a surprising number of cool artefacts, a tonne of signage, and the museum of contraception was very neat indeed.  Cleveland really doesn’t have that many free museums, other than the Art Museum, so I’m extremely glad this exists, and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone visiting Cleveland with any interest in medicine.  I’m just ashamed it took me so long to follow my own advice.  4/5.  And if you’re in the area, you’re also very near to Little Italy (Get the gnocchi al burro at Trattoria), and Lake View Cemetery, and are only a hop, skip, and a jump (though it admittedly involves a drive down the long and horrible Mayfield Road) from East Coast Custard (best frozen custard in NE Ohio, possibly the world).

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Cleveland, OH: The Western Reserve Historical Society

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So it’s come to this.  I wanted to visit all sorts of places I haven’t been yet in Ohio when I was back home this holiday season, particularly the Dittrick Medical Museum, but with decorating, and shopping, and making pierogi and cookies, and other Christmas related activities, I just ran out of time, and only managed two museum/historic home visits.  One of these was the Western Reserve Historical Society.  I have talked quite a lot of crap on the old WRHS in this blog, mainly because of the really really terrible internship I did at Hale Farm, and yet here I am visiting their “history center.”  Surprisingly, I have mostly nice things to say about the revamped museum.  So let’s get stuck in, shall we?

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Residents of Northeast Ohio will know that the “Western Reserve” part of the name refers to some of the land that would become Ohio; just after the American Revolution, before it became a state, it was officially part of the western lands reserved for Connecticut because they were upset at having to cede part of their original territory to Pennsylvania.  Well, obviously that didn’t quite pan out – Ohio became its own entity, but there were a lot of settlers from Connecticut there initially, and the term Western Reserve is mainly used nowadays for historical institutions or to give some of the hoity toitier suburbs around these parts, like Hudson, a sense of history and that New England connection.  But I digress…the museum building doesn’t only house the Society’s historical collections; it also features the Crawford Automobile Collection, which is nationally renowned for the range and quality of its cars.  This is the main reason why I came here quite often with my family when I was younger; clinging stubbornly to gender stereotypes, my grandpa, father, and brother would go look at the cars whilst we ladies admired the dresses in the Chisholm-Halle costume wing (though I was quite tomboyish in many ways as a child, cars didn’t interest me in the least).

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The WRHS is located in Cleveland’s University Circle, which is sort of the museum district, as it’s also home to the Natural History Museum, the Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and Case-Western Reserve University.  Admission is currently $10, and includes two rides on the carousel (of which more later) and the option to take a free tour of the Hay-McKinney Mansion.  The entrance hall of the museum is essentially unchanged from how I remember it, and includes a giant glowing Chief Wahoo (the undeniably racist mascot of the Cleveland Indians.  There is a sign next to him that mentions how controversial he is, and like it or not, he is admittedly a pretty big part of Cleveland history, so I get why he’s there) and a large horse-based mural that covers one of the walls in its entirety.  Because I visited just before Christmas, they also had a couple displays from the old department stores downtown, wherein some of the creepiest elves I’ve ever seen moved their heads around and made toys (to be fair, Higbee’s was still around when I was very young, and I do remember going shopping downtown with my grandma and peering excitedly in their windows, exactly like Ralphie does in A Christmas Story (which was filmed in Higbee’s), so they can’t have been all that traumatising).

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The museum also had a temporary exhibit up about the LGBT community in Cleveland, which included a lovely dress by a transgender designer, and some disturbing articles about hate crimes against LGBT individuals back in the ’80s (I mean, the fact that the articles were there wasn’t disturbing, but the crimes described in them sure were).  Moving on from there, I headed into the old section of the museum (I believe that entire section of the building was once part of the Hay-McKinney mansion, but most of it now serves as galleries, which means they have a lovely Gilded Age atmosphere, abounding with huge vases and interesting portraits) to check out the good old Chisholm-Halle costume wing.  They had an exhibition on called “In Grand Style: Fashions from the 1870s-1930s,” which I guess is meant to showcase Cleveland’s golden age, before all the industrialists packed up and left town.  To that effect, it had dresses relating to two of Ohio’s presidents – the blue one, above, belonged to Lucretia Garfield, wife of the ill-fated James, and the tan/peachy one was worn by a guest to the equally ill-fated McKinley’s inaugural ball.

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As always, the Edwardian fashions were probably my favourite since I like the more tailored, menswear inspired look that was popular at the time, but there was also a dress I liked (shown right, above) produced by a fashion society of which Eleanor Roosevelt (surprisingly) was a founding member, I guess because their primary goal was to make attractive fashion available and affordable to people of all classes.

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The room next to it was full of random bits and bobs, including magazine advertisements for various local clothing companies, a promotional spinning top from the Taft presidential campaign, and bizarrely, one of those basins that they use to wash people’s hair in hospitals, but I was most drawn to the sketches of the old industrial side of Cleveland.  I love pictures that relate to Cleveland’s past, especially if they include the Terminal Tower, which remains my favourite skyscraper ever.  There was also more Garfield memorabilia in the form of a safe that once held papers relating to farm business at Lawnfield (which sounds like a must-see object, doesn’t it?).

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I inwardly groaned when I saw that the next room was all about the 1964 Browns, because I couldn’t care less about sports, and particularly about football.  I guess maybe it was commemorating the only season in which the Browns may have actually performed semi-decently, but I didn’t really look at enough of the stuff in here to find out.

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It didn’t much matter in the end, because the next display was all about Cleveland design, like the groovy retro dishes seen above (I swear one of the sets was called the Brookpark or something equally Clevelandy, but I forgot to grab a picture of that one so I can’t remember exactly what it was), and was thus more to my liking.  I found out that the Tow Motor company, where my grandpa used to work, was founded in the year he was born, 1915, which was kind of neat.

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There was also a display relating to the Taylor Chair company, which used to be based in Bedford, apparently by this railroad trestle that I used to hide out under and drink with my friends as a teenager, which was not something I was aware of on those occasions when I was chugging down Woodchuck (and subsequently puking in the bushes, because Woodchuck is way too damn sweet).  I made sure to relay to anyone who would listen (meaning my mother, basically), that people who make chair legs are called bodgers, which I learned a long time ago courtesy of the Wycombe Museum.

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I kind of feel like at this point I’m just naming individual objects in there (which is what I normally do anyway though), which might make it sound like they have more stuff in the museum than they actually do.  But yeah, there’s a room with miniature trains in it, and a pretty baller portrait of Lincoln, as you can see.  And an equally impressive statue of the excellently named Oliver Hazard Perry, who was the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 (shown at start of post).

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I’m rambling on so much that it’s probably for the best that I didn’t have time to visit the Hay-McKinney House, but I’ve been in there plenty of times before, so I can tell you that it’s a fairly standard Edwardian home tour, wherein they whip out old-timey cooking and cleaning devices so you can marvel at how huge and inefficient they were.  Fine, but nothing special, although I believe they do make some effort to decorate for the holidays and such.  They also have a new children’s area in the rooms next to the mansion with lots of interactive crap, which again, I didn’t bother with.  However, I will take the trouble to tell you about the picture on the right, which is the earliest known painting of Public Square, dating to 1837, when everything was all green and looked like a quaint village (shame they couldn’t have preserved any of the buildings from that time, though as I’ve said before, I am very partial to the Terminal Tower and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument that surround the modern Public Square).

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Alright, finally on to the Crawford Auto/Aviation section.  As much as I dislike long flights, I think antique planes are kind of cool, and Cleveland has a pretty illustrious history in that field, as the National Air Races were held here throughout the 30s and 40s, so they had a couple of the old racing planes, as well as lots of cool banners and other promotional materials from the Air Races.

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I’ve never learned how to drive, despite living in a very non-public transport friendly area until I was 23, so as I’ve said before, cars hold no particular interest for me.  However, although I couldn’t tell you what kind they are, I do like the ones from the 1910s and 20s that were big enough to be homes away from home (none of which are pictured here because my phone is crap and I couldn’t zoom out enough to get a whole car in frame, that’s how big they are (but I got a new phone for Christmas, so I might be able to produce slightly better pics in the future!)); some of them even had full-size lanterns stuck on the outside and those nice plush leather interiors (note to self: if I ever get married, I totally want to cruise up to my wedding in one of those).

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For those who may be interested in that sort of thing, they have some stainless steel cars, including the DeLorean shown above.  What they do not have, at least at the moment, is the Street of Yesteryear, which used to be the only way I could survive the car section without dying of boredom.  As Streets of Yesteryear go, it was a fairly modest affair, but I still loved it, especially as most of the other people in there were solely concerned with the cars, and I had free run of those cobblestone streets.  I could still see it just sitting there, all alone and unloved, for all they tried to hide it behind posters, but a sign claimed that they will restore and re-open it, so I just have to hope that happens sooner rather than later, and that they don’t destroy too much of its charm.

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Last, but certainly not least, is that carousel (or carrousel, as they curiously spell it) that I mentioned at the start.  Euclid Beach was a famous Cleveland amusement park of yore, and the WRHS has gotten their hands on the 1910 carousel, which they’ve beautifully restored.  As I said, you get two free rides with admission, but I unfortunately didn’t use either of them because I am very prone to motion sickness, and I was feeling rather poorly that day anyway, having been up all night with stomach issues, so I didn’t want to risk it, especially as I was going out to lunch right after.  It looked like a blast though, so I’d like to revisit on a day when I’m feeling normalish and just hope I don’t hurl.

Overall, I think I have to say I was impressed with the most part with the renovation of this museum.  Though they still have too many posters, which made some of the displays kind of confusing, at least they have some actual artefacts in there now, instead of just all posters in some of the galleries, as it was in the recent past.  None of the exhibits were up to the calibre of the ones I saw there in their heyday (Eliot Ness and the Torso Murders, for example), but they weren’t terrible either, especially if you don’t hate football as much as I do. And the Chisholm-Halle wing is always very nicely laid out, so I can’t complain at all about that.  3.5/5, which I’m willing to bump up half a point when they bring back the Street of Yesteryear, definitely not anywhere near as bad as I was expecting!  Maybe this is the beginning of a new and improved relationship between me and the WRHS?  (I stand strong in my distaste for Hale Farm though!)

 

 

 

Mentor, OH: Lawnfield (Home of James A Garfield)

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I promised you more about James Garfield in my Teddy Roosevelt post, and here ’tis!  I grew up probably equidistant between the McKinley Memorial and Garfield’s estate, and yet hadn’t managed to visit either until after I moved to London and was back home visiting (isn’t that always the way?).  So this was my first visit to Lawnfield, although I’ve been to the Garfield Monument inside Lake View Cemetery many times.  The main thing putting me off visiting Lawnfield in the past was the fact that it was run by the Western Reserve Historical Society, since I’ve never been overly impressed by them (long story, involving an ill-fated internship and the general decline of their museum over the years). However, a while back, Lawnfield was taken over by the National Park Service; as my experiences with the NPS have generally been quite positive, I was finally willing to check it out.

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Lawnfield is currently closed for the winter season, but will reopen in the spring of 2015, at which time my pricing information and tour times may no longer be accurate. When I visited, it was only $5 for the museum and a tour of the house, and tours seemed to run at least once an hour, or whenever they got enough people together for one.  The next tour wasn’t due to start for 20 minutes, so the ranger put on a video about Garfield’s life for us to watch in the meantime, which talked a lot about his faith, his education, his role in the Civil War, and his relationship with his wife, Lucretia (basically, he held off marrying her for ages because he didn’t want to commit, although I think he should have been glad to snag her as she was well-educated and quite pretty, and he was average looking at best and seemed like kind of a drip).  He lived a fairly average, albeit blameless life, and was picked for the presidency primarily because of his bland inoffensiveness – when no one could agree upon a Republican candidate, he was turned to as the least objectionable option.  After finishing the video, we headed off on our ranger-led tour along with another couple who had just arrived.

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The Garfields bought the property in 1876, and James was assassinated in 1881, so he didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, but they still managed to enlarge the house from a 9 room farm house into a 20+ room veritable mansion within his lifetime.  The family lived in Hiram before this, but Lake County was gerrymandered in the 1870s, so by moving to Mentor, Garfield was able to place himself back into a Republican stronghold.  It was here that he led the first “front porch” campaign (later emulated by McKinley), where he would give speeches on his front porch to reporters and members of the public who camped out on the lawn.  The interior of Lawnfield was fairly unassuming, which reflected Garfield’s modest background, but everything was furnished prettily and it came across as a place where people actually lived, rather than some kind of imposing, Rockefeller-esque monstrosity.

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The ranger had plenty of amusing anecdotes for us.  For example, although Garfield wasn’t an only child, he was obviously his mother’s favourite, as she chose to live with him, and her entire room was decorated with pictures of him.  Seriously, every available surface was plastered with his portrait, and I didn’t see any pictures of any of her other children anywhere. This kind of made me feel bad not only for his siblings, but for Lucretia, as I could picture an awkward relationship similar to that between Sara and Eleanor Roosevelt going on.

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I’d take a closer look at those fireplace tiles in the picture on the right if I were you, because they were painted by Lucretia and the Garfield children, and are really rather handsome (although the picture quality isn’t really good enough to pick out the detail, sorry about that).  Although their house was already large and nice, after Garfield’s death Lucretia expanded it even further, primarily for the purpose of creating a library in his memory (which is said to be the first presidential library, but lots of other presidential libraries make similar claims, and Garfield’s isn’t officially recognised as such or anything).

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The library initially housed all his books and papers, but his papers have since been moved to the safety of the Library of Congress.  However, Lucretia did her best to protect them whilst they were in the house, creating a special vault to put them in, which had a thick, fireproof door.  Today, the vault holds a wreath sent to Garfield’s funeral by Queen Victoria, which was dipped in wax to preserve it.

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His Congressional desk is also in this room (Garfield was in the House of Representatives prior to becoming president), and is dismayingly tiny, as Garfield was at least 6 feet tall (and rather portly too).  One wonders how he squeezed himself under it, much less used it to show off his famous displays of ambidextrousness, where he would write in ancient Greek with one hand whilst simultaneously writing in Latin with the other.

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Much of the rest of the tour was devoted to the children’s bedrooms, which were upstairs (the Garfields had a bedroom upstairs for winter, and downstairs for summer, when it would be the coolest place in the house, though nowadays the house is air conditioned – a relief as it was 90+ degrees on the day of our tour!).  There was only one girl in the family, and she got the largest bedroom by far; really, it was almost her own personal suite.

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The room I found most interesting, however, was Garfield’s study.  Take particular note of the chair (because I want one for myself!); it was specially designed for reading, so you would put your back against the flat side, and hang your legs over the low arm opposite.  Pretty nifty.  There was also a picture featuring the official portraits of all the presidents up to and including Garfield (he was the 20th), that had hung in the White House at one point.

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There was a small museum inside the house that the ranger left us to look over for as long as we wanted.  It contained short biographies of all the Garfield children, as well as of their uncle, who was caretaker of the house for a number of years.  It also told more about the history of the house, and contained some personal objects belonging to the family.

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Upon leaving the house, we came directly to a small outbuilding next door that served as Garfield’s campaign headquarters during the presidential election.  He even had his own personal telegraph machine so he could receive important messages, like the election results!  There’s also a windmill on the property, although there’s nothing inside anymore.  Even though the estate is very near a busy road (which was a major road even in Garfield’s day), the many trees around the property help to give it an air of seclusion (though it’s obviously nowhere near as gorgeous and private as FDR’s Hyde Park estate).

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There was an additional small museum inside the visitor’s centre, which was our next stop.  This one had wax figures of (“come on in, come to the place where fun never ends, come on in, it’s time to party with…”) Garfield and friends with a selection of audio recordings by actors to accompany the scenes they were portraying. And there were lots of Garfield’s personal effects, plenty of hats and clothes and things.

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The final room contained an array of objects mourning Garfield’s death (he was shot by the madman Charles Guiteau for what was essentially an imagined slight, and lingered on for two months, being “fed” by enemas for a large part of that time.  It was the misguided care of his doctors (dehydration from the enemas, plus the main problem of infection where they had decided to probe his wound with dirty fingers) that was probably more responsible for his death than the actual bullet.  If they had left well enough alone, he might have survived.  Recommended reading: Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard (yes, another excellent Millard book, I really wish she’d write some more!)).  Sad though it was, his death helped to unite the nation, precisely because it was so lingering and unfortunate.  The items on display included a letter of condolence from Queen Victoria to Lucretia, which I have to believe was heartfelt, as Victoria was certainly familiar with the pain of losing a beloved husband unexpectedly.

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I also think the gift shop was very good, probably better than the disappointing one in Hyde Park.  They had an array of books pertaining to Garfield and other presidents, postcards, magnets, and an Ohio Presidents mug, which I naturally purchased for myself (Ohio lays claim to 8 presidents, and while I would dispute some of them, like William Henry Harrison, who was a wealthy planter from Virginia who laid claim to Ohio primarily for the purposes of his “Log Cabins and Hard Cider” campaign, I still enjoy the hell out of my mug).  I was glad to finally see another piece of Ohio history, and was very happy with my experience here.  3.5/5.

I also have a couple of recommendations for you.  First, if you do go out to Mentor to visit Lawnfield, definitely stop at the East Coast Custard out here.  They have my favourite frozen custard in the world (it’s the proper kind that is creamy yet scoopable, rather than soft serve masquerading as custard), and it’s literally down the street from Lawnfield, on your way back to the highway.  Second, I also very highly recommend visiting Lake View Cemetery, where Garfield is buried (I’m including a couple pictures of his tomb so you can see how awesome it is).  It is a fascinating  and beautiful cemetery with famous people other than Garfield buried in it (like John D Rockefeller and Eliot Ness), and it has many creepy mausoleums and the spectacularly spooky Haserot Angel.  It is also right next to Cleveland’s Little Italy (because, Italian food) and is actually not that far from another East Coast Custard (just saying), and University Circle, where many museums are located.  It’s another way to appreciate this little-remembered president, especially while his house is closed for renovation.

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Cleveland, Ohio: West Side Market

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Merry Christmas Everyone!  I’m going to use the holiday as an excuse to highlight one of my favourite places in the world ( at least, one of my favourite places that is neither a museum nor a library): The West Side Market.  Growing up in Cleveland, no Christmas was complete without at least one visit to the West Side Market to stock up on essentials; from the special farmers’ cheese for pierogies (though I was always partial to potato and cheddar, which I also make every year), the holiday ham or roast (I always gave that one a miss too!), delicious breads, and of course, lots of veg for the side dishes!  My grandma would throw on her Russian style fur hat (which we all laughed at, but she was probably much warmer than the rest of us) and my grandpa donned his adorable flat cap, and off we’d go for an afternoon of leisurely shopping!  Although my grandparents are now sadly deceased, and I no longer live in Ohio, I still come home for Christmas every year, and a trip to Cleveland’s most famous market is always a must.

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The West Side Market just celebrated its centennial last year, and the market building itself dates back that far as well.  I always love spotting its distinctive tower in the distance when driving over the Hope Bridge (which is another piece of architecture I’m very fond of), and as a result of a (small, fortunately) fire this past year, they’ve given the interior an extensive cleaning, so it’s currently less grimy than in the past, though it has managed to retain its distinctive musk (an interesting combination of raw meat, stinky cheese, coffee, and an occasional whiff of something delicious, depending on where you’re standing).  The produce vendors are all in an unheated tent-like structure outside, but the actual market hall is where all the good stuff is at!  (You may notice the much better than normal photos in this post, which are courtesy of my brother and his fancy camera!  Don’t get used to hipstery bokeh or decent picture quality around here though!)

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The interior of the market is a jumble of stalls selling things as varied as Cambodian curries, Chinese meets hipster steamed buns, crepes, gyros, and both traditional and unusually filled pierogies, reflecting the unique ethnic makeup of the city, though the floor space is dominated by the abundance of traditional butchers hawking all manner of beef and pig parts (and lamb, and chicken, etc, etc).  Although I don’t eat meat myself, I’m not especially squeamish about looking at pig and sheep heads, which is probably necessary for surviving the market experience (could definitely do without all the gross meaty smells, but you can always linger by the coffee stall when it gets too much!).

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Of course, though the fun of the market is in exploring all the wonderful things for yourself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the things I like the most.  The best falafel in the world, as far as I’m concerned (and I’ve eaten LOTS of falafel) can be found at Maha’s Falafil, located in the outer left corner of the market over by the fishmongers.  Get the jumbo, you won’t regret it!  I like the enchiladas verde from Orale (though their prices are kind of steep, in my opinion) for a quick snack, and my brother never leaves without sampling a crepe from Crepes De Luxe.  The sourdough bread from Christopher’s is excellent for French toast, and I can put away a loaf of their asiago bread all too easily just by itself.  As far as sweets go (and you all know I have a real sweet tooth), I love the elaborate chocolate covered pretzel creations from Campbell’s, even though I always feel slightly ill after eating a whole one, and Vera’s bakery does proper old school coconut squares.  There’s loads of other bakeries too, so shop around and get whatever looks best that day; it’s probably all delicious!

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The market is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, but mid-day Wednesday or Friday are usually the best times to shop, as all the vendors are open, but it’s not super crowded.  If you ever find yourself in Cleveland, please try to come experience it; most Clevelanders are extremely proud of it (and rightly so), and I don’t think anyone will leave disappointed! I hope everyone is having a marvellous Christmas, and I’ll be back with another Ohio post next week!

Adventures Around Ohio: A Post of Odds and Ends

There are a few places in Ohio I visited that for one reason or another don’t merit their own write-up, but I’d still like to mention them, so this post will serve as a kind of dumping ground for the odd ones out (I’m so eloquent, aren’t I?).

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First up, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Cleveland’s Public Square.  I’ve admired it from the exterior many, many times before, but had never been inside.  I’m glad I was finally able to check out the interior as well, because it was pretty awesome.  The man inside gave us a brief history of the monument, which was built in 1894 by architect Levi Scofield as a memorial to deceased Civil War soldiers from Cuyahoga County.  The interior holds a few glass cases with various Civil War memorabilia, , as well as some information about African American and Jewish soldiers.

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It also features some gorgeous decorations, like delightful stained glass windows commemorating different divisions of the military, and the most special thing of all – four bronze relief sculptures that dramatically depict events from the Civil War (with great artistic licence taken, mind), including the emancipation of the slaves, the ladies of the Soldier’s Aid Society (with Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes), and the beginning and end of the war.  Lincoln is superbly rendered.  The walls are lined with the names of all the fallen soldiers, and a bust of Scofield hangs above the door.  Obviously, the exterior is very attractive as well, and the lady at the top was modelled after Scofield’s wife.  Going inside is free, and only takes a couple of minutes, so I definitely recommend doing so if you visit Public Square on a weekday.

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Secondly, I paid a visit to the International Women’s Air and Space Museum inside Burke Lakefront Airport.  It’s also free to visit, as it is located just inside the airport’s entryway.  It consists of a few display cases around the centre of the room, and some more lining the hall, with information and objects belonging to famous female astronauts and aviatrixes.  Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride, but there were many lesser-known women featured here as well, like Bessie Coleman, and Katharine Wright (sister to the Wright brothers, and owner of a gorgeous lace dress that she wore to meet President Taft, or T-fat, as I call him).

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There were even a couple of planes, including the “Purple Puddy Tat,” and a stumpy little plane used for training exercises.  The NASA section had a few interactive bits, so you could practice exercising in space, though sadly, there was no practice astronaut toilet.  This museum is quite small, but it was better than I was expecting, and it’s always nice to learn more about women who were pioneers in their field, so I hope by posting about it, I can bring some attention to it, as it seems somewhat overlooked.  They even have a shop, so again, please consider stopping in if you are downtown and have some time to kill.

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Next, there’s the Canton Art Museum, which I only popped into briefly during a “First Night” event (basically a kind of arty open house thing).  It seemed pretty small, only three rooms, but there were craft stalls set up around the place for the special event, so some parts of the museum may not have been open, I’m not sure.  The parts I did see featured all 20th-21st century artists, including a special exhibit on environmental themed art, which was actually quite cool.  Those polar bears above are made from plastic utensils, and there were lots of other naturey type paintings.  And they seemed to have detailed explanations on a lot of the pieces, which I appreciate, as I’m definitely more of a reader than an observer when it comes to art.

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Then, there’s Farnam Manor.  I was reluctant to even post about Farnam at all, because despite appearances to the contrary, I really don’t like to say only bad things about a place, especially somewhere historical, but this place was seriously awful.  I went for one of the “lantern tours” for Halloween, which they stress is not a typical haunted house experience.  What it is, in fact, is parting with $20 for the privilege of waiting in an unheated carriage house filled with creepy dolls for an hour, because although I called in advance and was told I could show up any time, the people running the house were incredibly disorganised and didn’t employ enough staff.

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I knew I was in trouble when a group of incredibly earnest and overenthusiastic preteens showed up who had evidently been on the tour before, and were avid “ghost hunters.”  This meant they took pictures with flash every two seconds throughout the tour, hunting for “orbs,” so I was basically blinded the entire time.  The only other people on the tour seemed to be ones who actually believed in ghosts.  Now, I like visiting “haunted” stuff, and I won’t say I’m entirely disbelieving when I’m left alone in a dark room at night, but I am generally a skeptic, and these people were just over-the-top gullible.  The tour ended with them asking yes or no questions of a candle, which appeared to be responding because the woman leading the tour just happened to open the window.  The entire tour was really lame, contained almost no history (and the few “facts” she did spit out were incorrect), and had weird “historical actors” in several of the room, one of whom was so enthusiastic that he almost crushed me with a door.

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I’ve posted some pictures I took around the house so you can look for orbs or mist too…although I suspect my camera lens wasn’t dirty enough.  There was also an outdoor “Trail of Terror” that had crappy lighting, and wound through a forest, which I ended up leaving early because it was so lame and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Seriously, avoid this place.  It is NOT a good time.

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Finally, to end on a more positive note, I visited the annual Apple Butter festival/Oxtoberfest (that’s not a typo, they roast an ox) in Burton.  I went to this quite a few times as a kid, and mostly just remember eating apple fritters whilst freezing my ass off, but I was pleasantly surprised by my visit this year.  It helped that it was still really warm outside, but I also think more buildings were open than in the past.  The festival is held in the historic village of Burton, and so many of the old buildings are open to the public, some with costumed interpreters practicing various trades, but the apple butter is also a key attraction, with people taking turns stirring massive cauldrons full of it over an open fire, and then canning it, so you can buy a still-warm jar.

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Of course, it is a festival, so expect lots of other carnival type (i.e. fried) foods.  The apple fritters are still there, and definitely a treat, as are caramel apples, freshly cut fries, and funnel cakes.  You’ll also find a variety of craft stalls.  It’s held during the peak of leaf season in Ohio, and Burton is fairly rural, with cute shops on the main street, so it’s a good chance to take in the scenery and indulge your greasy food cravings.  I definitely appreciate the fact that there’s some history on offer as well, and people-watching at these sorts of events is a must!

Well, I think that about does it for now as far as NE Ohio is concerned, though you can expect more Ohio posts when I go back again next month for the holidays!

Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Police Museum

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The Cleveland Police Museum is one of those places I never knew existed, partly because it’s located inside the Justice Center, and as I’ve never been arrested, and am frankly kind of intimidated by the building, I’ve never had reason to venture in.  Its unique location means you get to take a trip through the metal detector/bag scanner before entering.  Then, you’ll need to sign in under the watchful eye of an officer once you make your way over to the corner of the ground floor that houses the museum.  However, all the inconvenience of the security measures is probably worth it, because the museum is surprisingly entertaining, in spite of its small size.

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We were greeted by the wax police horse and policeman shown above.  The policeman actually kind of freaked me out, because I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking someone was standing beside me, when really it was just the mannequin. The room has a line of cases down the centre to act as a dividing line, and the walls are cluttered with photos and other cool stuff.  I have to give props to whoever made the signs, as they were written using charming Kevin McCallister style diction.

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“Olden Days Bad Guys.”  I love it!  Although probably the olden days bad guys wouldn’t have been quite so enamoured with the museum, as I think all of the ones featured here were executed for their crimes. They actually had various generations of “bad guys” up until modern times.  McGruff the Crime Dog was also included in these cases, although I always want to refer to him as McGriff thanks to that episode of the Simpsons.  But I digress. On the opposite wall, I learned about the history of the mounted police in Cleveland, and enjoyed looking at a collection of old photos, including those of old police headquarters.  I believe the earliest one was where the Terminal Tower (my favourite skyscraper ever) stands now, which, based off the photos I saw last year at the Maltz Museum (see how everything comes together!), was made up of shanty towns which were also demolished to build the tower.

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Really, I had visited because I heard they had a section devoted to the Kingsbury Run Murders (aka the Torso Murders), and as I’ve established, I do have a morbid fascination with that sort of thing.  Judging by the impressive display, I’m not the only one.  I’m going to go ahead and conclude that American sensibilities are less delicate than Danish ones (or British ones for that matter, they won’t even let you in to the London Police Museum unless you’re an officer!) because the gory crime scene photos of the murder victims were just hanging there on the wall, along with the fake heads made of the victims to help the public identify them.  I was a little perplexed by this, as my understanding of the Torso Murders was that only the torsos of the individuals were found (hence the name), but apparently a couple of the heads turned up later, which is how they were able to make the masks.  Twelve people were killed (at least, twelve whose bodies they recovered), and most of them were never identified, as they tended to be quite poor and perhaps didn’t have families.  The killer was never found, but as these happened in the ’30s, there’s probably not much point worrying about the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” now.  Fascinating stuff, though undeniably grisly.

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On a lighter (?) note, there’s a jail cell in the back, so you can climb in and have the fun of pretending to be in prison!  Across from it is a collection of unusual weapons confiscated by the police, so I marvelled for a bit at the vast array of guns that can apparently be constructed from pipes and things.  There were also sections dedicated to the first female and African American officers to serve on the Cleveland Police Force, and I especially enjoyed the recruiting pamphlets for women handed out (I think they were from the ’40s, but can’t remember), when female officers weren’t yet allowed to carry guns, since they were mostly engaged in undercover work.  It also answered helpful questions on the uniform, and whether or not you would carry a purse.

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The other side of the museum was not quite so interesting as the first, although I did enjoy the section on Eliot Ness (of Untouchables fame), who served as Public Safety Director of Cleveland after dealing with the mob in Chicago, and managed to make Cleveland one of the safest cities of America, traffic-wise.  I don’t know whether that’s still true, but the man clearly did impressive things in his time (I’ve been to see his grave, he’s buried in Lake View Cemetery with most of the other famous Clevelanders if anyone’s interested).  Most of the rest was about police vehicles, which doesn’t really do much for me. Car museums bore me to tears, so I didn’t really linger here, though I imagine some people would be keen.

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There was a small shop located at the back of the museum (I had to wait quite a while for the woman working there to emerge, but I guess they’re not too worried about theft in the Justice Center!), that had a few old-school Cleveland postcards, and a range of books and things.  There are a few more cases scattered around the museum holding old uniforms, and telling the story of an attempted hijacking at nearby Burke Lakefront Airport (back in the ’70s or ’80s) which I was absolutely intrigued by, since I’d never heard about it before (and haven’t been able to turn anything up about it on subsequent internet searches.  Bizarre), that are well worth a look on your way out.  I really only took the time to study them in detail as it had started pouring rain outside, and I was waiting for it to die down, but I’m glad I did.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the Cleveland Police Museum.  Although it is a modest size, and getting in can be kind of a hassle if you go when staff are returning from lunch, there was some neat artefacts on show.  And I’m always grateful when police museums actually welcome the public (yeah, I’m looking at you London).  3.5/5

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Cleveland, Ohio: Money Museum

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At last, I’m able to bring you a post from Cleveland!  The Money Museum, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, is primarily aimed at children, but as it was basically deserted on the day I visited, I was able to take advantage of all the interactive games.  The museum is free, but because it’s at the Federal Reserve, you have to pass through a security screening to enter (not a problem for me, but I get the impression that some Americans carry around a veritable pocket arsenal, so leave the guns at home!).  Once inside the rather magnificent building, someone will come give you a brief introduction to the collection, and then you’re left on your own to wander.  The museum is spread over two floors in a corner of the bank building, and aims to educate visitors on the history of currency and how money is made.  To that effect, they offer a number of computer games and other activities, such as a game where you have to try to pick the counterfeit bills from the real ones (with the help of an ultraviolet light), and one where you have to match the scrip to the company that produced it.

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There was also a “money tree” filled with squirrels to teach visitors about what helps make an object a good form of currency.  There were posters spread throughout the exhibits, but the text on them was rather large and sparse, to reflect the museum’s primary aim of educating schoolchildren.  I was still able to pick up a few interesting facts about the history of the American banking system though.

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Upstairs, there was the probably inevitable dollar bill you could stick your head through for a photograph, but this wasn’t the coolest thing to do with a bill here.  For, when I ventured into the back room, I discovered I could design my own million dollar bill, with my picture on it!  I think I got just the right look of haughty disdain to be money-worthy (have a look below).  There was also a crayon rubbing station where you can design a slightly shoddy bill – mine had Vincent Van Gogh in the centre, and a squirrel off to one side, because, well, why not?  The other neat features were the gun holds built into the glass, in case of robberies, and and some of the other random security features in place.

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Although the permanent collection may have been fairly child-centric, the museum also hosts temporary exhibits, which are aimed at an adult audience, and the current one was on the history of war bonds.  It was mainly about WWII, and included uniform jackets and photographs, which was nice as there weren’t many artefacts in the other section.  It also had some great propaganda posters; obviously, Norman Rockwell was well-represented, but there were some lesser known artists as well, including some great ones of women (that actually weren’t pin-ups, for a change), and others depicting African Americans in wartime.  I quite enjoyed this exhibit, and was glad to learn more about how America financed WWII.

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The staff I encountered where all very nice, and offered free souvenirs – not only did a get a printout of my “bill,” but I was also offered a bag of shredded money (valueless, but cool), and a pencil, in exchange for filling out a brief survey.  It doesn’t take very long to look through, but it’s a nice place to visit if you find yourself in downtown Cleveland on a weekday between 10 and 2.  And whilst you’re downtown during the day, consider stopping by Vincenza’s for a delicious slice of NY-style pizza (thin crust is highly elusive in Ohio, even though it’s really the only type of pizza I like – thick, bready, Midwestern style seems to dominate here).  3/5 for the Money Museum.

Canton, Ohio: William McKinley Museum

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Since I haven’t been in the States since last December, most of my posts have, by necessity, been very UK-centric.  I thought I’d liven things up a bit for any American readers with a post about one of my favourite museums in Ohio, the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.  Located in Canton, near Ida McKinley‘s childhood home and the First Ladies’ Library (which, shamefully, I have yet to visit), it’s a worthy destination for anyone in Northeast Ohio.

For some idea of scale.  Yep, those doors are huge!

For some idea of scale. Yep, those doors are huge!

One of my goals is to eventually visit all the presidential museums in the US, but as my current total stands at one, that’s going to take some doing.  I haven’t even made it to the other ones in Ohio, like Hayes, Harding, and Taft, which is really just a poor show on my part.  I have been to Garfield’s tomb in Lakeview cemetery many times, but never to his actual home, largely because it used to be run by the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Western Reserve has upset me with its decline in quality over the years.  In fact, I’d never even been to the McKinley Museum until about two years ago, despite having lived within forty miles of it for most of my life (which may sound like a lot to British readers, but forty miles is nothing in America.  My dad has been known to make the drive to Canton for the sole purpose of procuring a Bittner from Taggart’s. (Taggart’s is admittedly well worth visiting if you’re already in Canton for McKinley.  I’m partial to their hot fudge sundaes myself.)).  This is all a roundabout way of me explaining that I don’t have any other presidential museums to compare McKinley’s with, so I don’t know if it’s a typical example of its type or not.

This picture was taken in October.  The trees will not be this pretty if you visit now.

This picture was taken in October. The trees will not be this pretty if you visit now.

The first thing you’ll notice as you drive up to the museum is the giant mausoleum at the top of a hill.  A hill that is accessible by walking up about a million steps.  Many locals seem to use these steps for their cardio routines, including running and some strange aerobics moves, so you’ll have to dodge them on the way up, but will be rewarded by a nice view (see above).  If you come in non-winter months, you should be able to have a peek inside the mausoleum wherein William and Ida are interred.  It’s not as ornate as Garfield’s tomb, but then again, it was built well after the peak of Victorian ostentation (which I’m not knocking, I have a lot of random crap in my flat), so that’s to be expected.  It’s totally free to just come check out the mausoleum, but obviously you’ll want to have a look round the museum as well, which is $8.

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I love the dress!

I always like to head upstairs first, where you’ll come across a tiny room screening a film about the financing and construction of the mausoleum and the planetarium, which I have never been in.  The shows are sporadic, and that’s not really what I’m there for, though you might want to check their website for the times if it appeals to you.  The first section of the museum is devoted to the history of Canton, and you’ll learn that the early settlers all have satisfyingly long-winded biblical names.  I swear one of them was called Zebezekial or something.  There are a few displays of various machinery, and more of clothing and furniture as you progress through time.  Sometimes a volunteer will be passing through and offer to show you how some of the stuff works, including an old crank record player that isn’t a Victrola, but some other rare type that actually had impressive resonance.

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This is blurry because of the spinning, I swear! Though I have no excuse for all the other blurry pictures on here.

The best things about this section are the interactives, which are primarily the vacuum chair, and the spinny thing shown above.  Canton is the home of Hoover vacuums (side note, British people call vacuuming “hoovering,” yet every vacuum I’ve used here has either been a Dyson or Miele.  Intriguing), so the museum has devised a chair hanging from a chain which is hooked up to a Hoover. You sit down, and the vacuum will suck the chair upward until your legs are dangling.  I suppose it’s at least a good advertisement for the power of a Hoover, and is also fun. I could spend all day messing around in the vacuum chair, but I can usually only handle about one rotation of the spinning thing before I want to hurl.  I think it’s supposed to be demonstrating the power of different types of force, but is really just a self-powered glorified carnival ride, which can probably be better appreciated by people who don’t suffer from motion sickness.

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To add to the carnival atmosphere, they also have a Laughing Sal, and her maniacal laugh will indeed haunt you as you make your way through the rest of the museum.  There is a back room which is generally used for special exhibits; the ones I recall seeing were dollhouses and Christmas ornaments, but they change every couple of months.  Excitingly, you’re not done yet, as there is still a “street of yesteryear” awaiting you.  I am totally unashamed about my love for these recreated 19th century streets you see every now and again.  Although this one lacks the authentic smells that I adore, it’s nonetheless a good effort.

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The museum seems like it’s never terribly crowded, so I have generally been able to wander the street alone and pretend that I have somehow travelled back in time (because I am that lame).  It’s not like a living history museum or anything, so there’s not people there to pester you.  Rather, they’ve replaced actual people with mannequins sporting hilariously bad wigs, which I think we can all agree is a thousand times better than having to converse with some random person who is trying to stay in character.

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You can pop in and out of various shops, and they’ve even got a set of stairs leading up to a second row of shops.  The firehouse has a pole you can slide down, but I chicken out every time.  The thing is seriously only seven feet high, at most, and there’s a giant cushion on the bottom, and I have witnessed tiny children gleefully sliding down it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  Every time, I climb to the top of the stairs and think I’ll be able to, but, nope, I’m inevitably forced to slink back down the stairs in shame.  I honestly don’t even know why I’m admitting this.  There’s just something about having to step out over a sheer drop that freaks me out, and I totally don’t trust my arms to actually hold me on the pole.

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There’s also a train room with a large model train track.  I gather that many people like trains, so this may be of interest.  I like miniature things, so I’m happy to look at the tiny buildings and people set up around the track, but I’m not that keen on actual trains.  I guess I have to ride insanely crowded trains that reek of B.O. and rancid burgers far too often in London for me to appreciate the nostalgia for the quaint age of train travel that exists in the US.  I will concede that there is a big difference between a packed commuter train and an old steam train with nicely upholstered seats and wooden trim.

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You may be wondering where William McKinley fits into all of this, as I’ve managed to write over a thousand words whilst barely mentioning him.  The truth is, there’s not actually all that much about McKinley in the museum.  The only part devoted to him is one large room full of display cases and a recreation of his parlour.  I can almost forgive this oversight because smack-dab in the middle of the parlour, animatronic William and Ida McKinley await you.  They only have about three different conversations programmed in, all of which you’ll hear more than once in the time it takes you to look at the displays in the room.  I don’t think this is really the place to get into politics, and the legacy of McKinley, but I know he’s not very well looked upon by a lot of people due to the Spanish-American war, and you know, the whole imperalism thing.  Though I’m no McKinley apologist, I tend to take a longer view of the situation, as I think imperialism was a long, probably inevitable road that has its roots in the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, but even I couldn’t help making some snide remarks to animatronic William when he started going on about wanting to avoid war and bloodshed (“But you must remember the Maine, Willy! You used it to help start a war!”).  Yes, I talk to animatronic presidents, even though he is not the type of animatronic that is interactive.  I have also been known to converse with Bruce the Talking Spruce, but that’s another story altogether.  I did try to warn William off from visiting the Pan-American Exposition, but I kind of think that’s what they expect you to do.

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Anyway, the non-talking artefacts in here are pretty good.  They include some Maine (the battleship, not the state) shaped commemorative objects, and various articles of McKinley clothing.  It’s nice to learn more about McKinley’s life, rather than just his politics, as I tend to favour the biographical side of presidential history.  I just wish there was a bit more of it here.  But all this only covers the top floor of the museum.  There is still a lower level to contend with.

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Fortunately, I can dispense with that fairly quickly.  The downstairs is aimed at children, though that didn’t stop me from playing with all the interactive science exhibits, as always.  They have some dinosaurs, including the one above, which moves when you least expect it (you will jump), and some geological stuff, and a collection of small animals to look at (living ones, not taxidermy).  This is the main thing that annoys me about the McKinley Museum; I feel like it’s trying to be all things to all people.  I could happily do without the dinosaurs in favour of more displays on presidential history, but I suppose to attract repeat visitors in the area, they have to have activities that appeal to families, and that’s where the dinosaurs come in.

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After all that, I’m going to give the McKinley Museum 4/5, because it does include my top museum criteria of historic recreated streets, wax figures, and the animatronic McKinleys.  I’m happy enough with the Canton history section, but I do wish they could find the focus to make it more of a McKinley orientated attraction.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that a presidential museum should be mainly about said president.  However, for a smallish, local museum, they do what they’ve chosen to do well, and with no shortage of quirk, so despite my complaints, it will remain on my list of favourites.

Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Museum of Art

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The Cleveland Museum of Art is undoubtedly the museum I’ve spent the most time in.  When I still lived in Cleveland, before they began the lengthy remodelling process that meant huge chunks of the museum were closed off, I went there about once a month.  Because of this, it’s nigh on impossible for me to be unbiased about the complete redesign of a museum I knew so intimately.  I’d been to a few new galleries as they were reopened, but the first time I had the chance to check out the complete refurbishment was when I was back home last Christmas. I was pretty excited about it, since I hadn’t seen the museum in its entirety in six or seven years, as the construction was interminable.  Unfortunately, (and I suspect I’m in the minority with this opinion) I couldn’t help but wish they had left things well enough alone.art2

I’ll begin by talking about all the things I loved about the old museum.  Firstly, the progression through the galleries was more or less chronological, which I liked, as it gave things some context (and also helped ease you into modern art, which I needed, since I’m not the biggest modern art fan).  The art was spread out nicely between both the newer, uglier (1971) building, and the gorgeous Classical 1916 original museum.  There was an enormous, cavernous basement devoted to the extensive Asian art collection, beautiful Egyptian and Islamic galleries (going to see the sarcophagus is one of my earliest museum memories), and my favourite bit; the hall of armour, which opened up into the prettiest little courtyard, with an indoor garden, a fountain, and plenty of benches and chairs scattered about for relaxing in.  I knew exactly where to find all my favourite paintings, from the Van Goghs, to Cupid and Psyche, to the Jeptha Wade portrait of Nathaniel Olds sporting his distinctive green glasses.  Visiting the Art Museum felt like visiting an old friend.

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Reading what I’ve just written, it seems almost inevitable that I wouldn’t like the new museum, as I was so fond of the old one.  But honestly, I really did want to like it.  I think it’s fantastic that Cleveland has such a well-renowned museum, and I know they poured a tonne of money, and years of effort into the remodel, so I truly did give it a chance.  The most noticeable feature of the new museum is the way both buildings have been combined under one roof via a massive atrium, pictured at the start of this post.  It was neat to stroll around in a huge indoor courtyard, and I liked the way the museum shop and cafe were situated facing out into the atrium, so I was given the feeling of meandering through a self-contained village.  However, once I was actually inside the museum proper, I was distinctly unimpressed.  There was no logical order to the galleries, so it was confusing finding your way around, and I kept having to consult the map.  Even then, I still feel like I missed seeing parts of the museum because I couldn’t find them.  I’m sure they must have added some new pieces, but the only one I’m positive was a recent addition was a Damien Hirst; with a stained glass effect created from real butterfly wings (which was not a good thing for my lepidopterophobia.  I took a quick glance and got the hell out of there).  The hall of armour seemed essentially unchanged, except it no longer opened out onto that lovely courtyard, and was no longer surrounded by religious art.  They used to have this amazing, dim, vault-like room with a heavy door where they kept loads of crucifixes and icons; it kind of creeped me out, but I was simultaneously fascinated by it.  That’s gone now as well.
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The old museum building only had a few small galleries housed in it, mostly Byzantine and Roman art. I didn’t see any Asian or South American art at all, so I’m not sure if they don’t have it any more, or if it’s in a section that isn’t open yet.  I hope it’s the latter, as they used to have loads of great objects in there.  I also found it galling that I could clearly see the Islamic art was there, but it was in a gallery that only members were given access to.  They’ve had those same pieces for as long as I can remember, so why are they now restricting access to them, as if they were a new exhibit?  It seemed bizarre.  Overall, I was left with the impression that they had about half the collections I remembered, but spread out in twice the space.  I genuinely hope they get more galleries open in the near future, because the current state of things was not at all what I was hoping for.  art5

With all of that being said, if you were visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art for the first time, I doubt you’d be disappointed.  They still have some stellar pieces, and it is one of the best museums in Cleveland (and the only free major museum in the city that I know of).  I certainly wouldn’t let the redesign stop me from returning, I just wish it had been better executed.  I think my real complaint is that it doesn’t feel like my museum anymore, but maybe I can get to know it again someday…if they ever reopen ALL the galleries!  (Side note: spread out throughout this post are random photos of some of the pictures I like best. They include: Lot’s Wife by Anselm Kiefer, Nathaniel Olds by Jeptha Wade, Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens, mysterious cat picture (I can’t find it on their website, and I can’t recall the artist), and Goldsmiths by Emil Nolde.

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I’ll give it a 3 out of 5, though I really wish it was higher.  Before the remodelling, I would have given it 5/5.