Ohio

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!

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).

   .

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.

  

Cincinnati, OH: William Howard Taft National Historic Site

Remember how I said on my post on Rutherford B. Hayes’s house that if I could drive, I would hightail it down to Cincinnati to see Taft’s house? Well, I didn’t suddenly learn to drive or anything, but I was accompanied on this trip home by Marcus, who can drive, so although I didn’t head directly there, I did manage to finally squeeze in a trip to Cincinnati. I was visiting the US over my birthday, which I used as the perfect excuse to do something I’d been dying to do since I read about it, which was to travel to Southern Ohio and complete the Donut Trail (of which more in a later post), and while we were down there, spend some time in Cincinnati, which despite growing up in Ohio, I had never visited.

  

We went to Taft’s house (or the William Howard Taft National Historic Site Ohio as it is more properly known) first thing after arriving in Cincinnati, because it was about a four hour drive down, not counting our stops for doughnuts and Grandpa’s Cheese Barn, and they shut at 4:45, with the last guided tour at 4. The site is run by NPS, and is free to visit. They only give tours every half an hour, and we had just missed one (honestly, I was hoping to miss it because I really had to pee and wouldn’t have been able to cope if I’d had to walk around a house first), so after a quick toilet break on my part, we were shown a short video about Taft’s life, and spent some time looking around the displays in the education centre opposite the house, which were mainly about Taft’s “goodwill tour” to Japan, the Philippines, and China, undertaken when he was Secretary of War under Teddy Roosevelt, which meant he was accompanied by the irritating sounding Alice Roosevelt (I have to admit that I might have liked Alice better for her rebelliousness if she hadn’t been such a bitch to poor Eleanor, but in various anecdotes she does just come across as a massively unpleasant person. Not that I’m really one to talk). This trip was undertaken to make new trade agreements and help end the Russo-Japanese War, and also helped usher in the age of American empire. Other than the exhibition, the most memorable thing in here was undoubtedly the animatronic version of Taft’s son Charlie who told various stories about his father when you pressed a button. I would have preferred an animatronic Taft himself, but I’m not going to turn my nose up at any kind of animatronic.

  

When it was time to tour the house, we headed over with the volunteer who had put on the video for us. As is not uncommon at NPS sites, we were the only people on the tour (to be fair, it was the middle of a weekday, and I don’t think Taft’s house is one of their more popular attractions), which I didn’t mind because at least we didn’t have to listen to a load of questions from fellow visitors. Although I keep calling it “Taft’s house”, it was really just his boyhood home, so “the Tafts’ house” would probably be more accurate. Taft’s father, Alphonso, was a judge and politician (he also helped create the Skull and Bones Society at Yale, which has notoriously produced a number of presidents since its foundation), and William very much followed in his footsteps. William was the product of Alphonso’s second marriage – he married Louise Torrey of Boston after his first wife died, and brought her back to Cincinnati with him. Apparently the Tafts, while certainly comfortable, were not particularly wealthy, and the house, while good sized, wasn’t really all that large for eight people, plus a few servants (Alphonso had two surviving children from his first marriage, and he and Louise had four children who survived infancy). The volunteer told us that they had a constantly rotating nursery, as the oldest child would move out from the nursery when the youngest was born, and move upstairs to the room of his older sibling, who would have departed for university by then (this worked pretty well due to the age gaps between the first and second sets of children). Mount Auburn, the area where the house is located, is evidently nowadays a fairly poor neighbourhood, but it was solidly middle class whilst the Tafts were living here, though there was apparently a divide between Irish and German immigrants, so typically homes would have either all Irish or all German servants, to discourage fighting. The Tafts bucked this trend, and had a mix of both (they especially wanted a German nanny, since they thought she would be stricter than her Irish equivalent).

  

There were only about four or five rooms downstairs, of which the parlour was the most noteworthy, as even though it wasn’t terribly big, it used to be even smaller, being divided into a men’s and women’s parlour. However, all that Louise Taft wanted for a wedding gift was a piano, and after it was purchased, they realised that neither of the parlours were large enough for it, so they knocked out the wall and the two rooms became one (and now I’ll have the damn Spice Girls stuck in my head for the rest of the day). There were some crazy long drapes in here, which was evidently the style at the time (though rather ugly), and the wallpaper and upholstery matched the drapes.  I also liked the children’s fireplace, decorated with storybook tiles (shown above), which was installed tile by tile by the children’s grandfather to commemorate every time he and the children finished the story that goes with each tile (there were a lot of storybook tiles being produced in England at that time), which I thought was rather sweet.

  

One of the downstairs rooms has been converted into a museum, as have all the upstairs rooms, which we were free to wander at our leisure, so the tour portion of the house didn’t actually take very long. The museum rooms were actually my favourite part, and they contained a few great artefacts, including an amazing (and amazingly expensive) law desk used by Alphonso, a lot of excellent Taft cartoons (mostly spurred on by the conflict between Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, after Taft refused to become Roosevelt’s flunky once in office), and a massive chair belonging to Taft. I have to admit that one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by Taft is because he was America’s fattest president (one of these years, I do want to host a completely tasteless “Girth of a Nation” President’s Day party celebrating all of America’s largest presidents (except Trump, even though I’m quite sure he’s not far off from Taft weight-wise)), although the story about him getting stuck in the White House bathtub is apocryphal – a new bathtub was installed during Taft’s presidency (as can be seen near the end of the post), but it wasn’t because he got stuck in the other one.

  

Although Taft was an unremarkable president (which angered Theodore Roosevelt so much that he formed the Bull Moose Party just to run against his one-time protege), he seems to have been a reasonably pleasant person, and by all accounts, a surprisingly elegant dancer. He had a fairly interesting life as well, serving as a governor of the Philippines before becoming president, where he (at least according to the museum) did his best to fight against the prevailing racism towards the Filipino people at the time. Most notably, Taft got to live out his lifelong dream of becoming a Justice on the Supreme Court when he was made Chief Justice by fellow Ohio president Warren G. Harding in 1921 (never mind the slightly corrupt bargaining that got him there). I definitely can’t say I agreed with most of Taft’s decisions, but for better or worse, he was instrumental in shaping the Supreme Court into what it has now become (at the time he started, they didn’t even have their own building. This may have been good for Taft, as he managed to slim down quite a bit simply by walking to and from work every day, a distance of 3 miles each way).

  

Although there wasn’t a tonne of information in here about Helen “Nellie” Herron Taft, his wife, she seemed to have been an interesting person, as First Ladies tend to be. She traveled with him and their three children to the Philippines, and did her best to respect the local culture by learning Tagalog and inviting locals to events. She was responsible for many firsts, including being the first First Lady to ride in the inauguration parade, the first to fight for better standards in the workplace, the first to own and drive a car, and the first to publicly support women’s suffrage (and the first to smoke cigarettes, but that’s not really a good thing); but she is probably best remembered as being responsible for planting Japanese cherry trees around the Capitol (they were a gift from Japan, and she and the wife of the Japanese ambassador personally planted the first two saplings, though I’m quite sure gardeners did the rest!).

  

Though Taft’s house wasn’t anything like the extensive home/museum complex that was Rutherford B. Hayes’s site, which was what I was hoping for (nor was Taft smoking hot like Rud, but I already knew that), it was still an enjoyable enough experience, and I’m glad I finally got to see the childhood home of one of our truly “larger than life” presidents at last (poor Taft. I’m really trying not to fat shame, but it’s difficult when that was basically his defining characteristic, even during his presidency. When I did a unit about him in AP US History in high school (we focused on a different president every week, which is one of the reasons I’m into presidential history today), our teacher told us to remember him by saying his name backwards, which is T-fat, so that’s how I refer to him more often than not). I picked up a pin from the shop, and they had some nice general presidential merchandise as well. As always at NPS sites, everyone working here was very welcoming and friendly, and I do hope they get more visitors than were there on the day we visited (I think they do get frequent visits from local schools, though those are probably in the morning) so they can stay open, since they’re the only Taft site I know about! (I don’t know exactly what happened to the house he lived in as an adult, but I assume it’s no longer standing.) 3/5.

  

Ohio Oddments

The Hayes Museum was the only new-to-me museum I visited whilst I was in Ohio, but that doesn’t mean I just sat around twiddling my thumbs the rest of the time (though I did have a few days to just sit around reading some of the excellent selection of library books I can’t get in London, which was amazing. Hell, just being away from work was amazing!). I went to a few other museums which I’ve blogged about before, so I’ll share with you the exhibitions that have changed since I last visited, as well as my tour of a water treatment plant in Cleveland.

  

First stop was the Cleveland History Center (admission $10), as the Western Reserve Historical Society has been restyled (ostensibly because they’re focusing specifically on Cleveland rather than the whole of NE Ohio, but I suspect it’s also because no one knows what the Western Reserve was any more), which I visited with my brother before a very Clevelandy afternoon of gorging ourselves at the West Side Market and drinking beers at Great Lakes Brewery. Sadly, the Chisholm-Halle Costume Wing, which is my favourite part, was closed so they could change over exhibitions, but there were still some new things there to see, the first being the entrance gallery “Cleveland Starts Here” which is now very bold and graphic and fun to look at, and has some great artefacts. The highlights were the amazing wooden carving of the Terminal Tower, and that gorgeous stamp dress shown above (the painting of the family is from a different gallery, but I just had to include it. If anyone can paint me in that style, let’s talk commissions!).

  

They were also featuring a temporary exhibition on Cleveland’s involvement in WWI, which was nowhere near as extensive or devastating as Britain’s, because the US didn’t join the war until 1917, but at the time, Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the US, and had a ton of industry, so their contribution to the war effort was fairly significant. The best part of this exhibit was the propaganda posters – I’ve included my favourites above. I also looked at the small display on Carl and Louis Stokes (Carl was the first African-American mayor of a major US city (Cleveland, obviously), and his brother Louis was a long-serving congressman), which I hadn’t seen before.

  

Of course, because I was visiting with my brother, we had to look around the impressive (if you like cars) Crawford auto collection. I was much more into all the Great Lakes Exposition (held in 1936 and 1937) posters plastered around the gallery – they did have a small display on what the exposition would have included, and naturally it sounded amazing, but I’d love to see a whole exhibition on it one day (or hell, just re-create the whole damn exposition. I’ll be there in a heartbeat!). I have since purchased a reprint of one of the posters for my flat, and its glorious art deconess brightens up the whole room. Anyway, the Cleveland History Center really has something for everyone (there’s even a working carousel, but I have yet to go on it because I’m worried I’ll puke), and it looks better than ever with the new entrance gallery.

  

I also went to Columbus with my mom and aunt (mostly to visit the North Market, because I do love a food market), and though I was hoping this would finally be the trip I’d get to see the Ohio History Center (not that it looks all that exciting, it’s just weird that I haven’t been), we didn’t really have enough time for a large museum, so we ended up at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum again, since I’d enjoyed it so much the first time around. Except for the permanent gallery, it had entirely new exhibitions, so it was well worth seeing again. My favourite exhibit was Koyama and Friends, which featured comics published by Koyama Press. I’m not really into graphic novel type things normally, but these were more like quirky and irreverent strips, so I liked most of them very much.

  

My absolute favourite was Julia Wertz’s Fart Party (above left, I mean, she had me with the name alone), and I sat there reading one of her books for quite a while (I’ll have to get my hands on some of her work), but I also loved the “butt water” comic shown above the previous paragraph, and I had fun drawing the Koyama Press mascot (my attempt is at the very top, and that’s actually good considering my drawing skills!). The funniest part was that my mother and I both drew her at separate times without the other one watching, and we were able to pick out each other’s drawings from the wall on our first try.

  

The other exhibition was on Mad Magazine, and though I’m not the biggest fan of Mad, the exhibit did have some amusing cartoons in it (I like Stranger Things, but their piss-take of it was actually pretty accurate), and I’m glad it was there, because my mom and aunt spent quite a while looking at it, which gave me plenty of time to read all the Koyama Press cartoons. It remains a cracking little museum, and I’ll definitely return again when the exhibitions have changed.

I also went to see the display of Katharine Hepburn’s clothing in “Dressed for Stage and Screen” at the Kent State University Fashion Museum. There was no photography allowed, so I can’t show you anything, but if you are in NE Ohio before it finishes in September, go check it out! There’s some really beautiful stuff there (including the photos of Cary Grant), and the free guidebook had a lot of interesting facts about Hepburn’s life and personal style.

The final thing I did worth blogging about (unless you want to hear about the endless delicious parade of ice cream I consumed, but I kind of feel like I should have a separate blog just for that) was my visit to the Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant with my mom and her friend. They were offering free tours while I was there, so I signed us all up. It was really cold downtown that day (the treatment facility is on the lakeshore), so it was nice that they had a heated bus for us to wait in whilst we waited for our tour to start (we only had to wait for about ten minutes anyway). We weren’t allowed to take photos for security reasons, but it was about an hour long tour that took us through about three different buildings (they took us in vans from one side of the site to the other). At each stop, different employees told us what happened to the water during that part of the treatment process, and of course some were more informative than others, but it was all interesting. Until 1918, when a facility on this site was built, Cleveland was basically just pumping untreated water from Lake Erie into people’s homes, which led to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. But now, obviously the tap water is intensively filtered and treated before it goes out, and Cleveland is meant to have some of the best tap water in the country (at least according to the people who work at the plant!).

Cleveland actually has four water treatment plants, but Garrett Morgan is the oldest. It is named after the African-American inventor who in addition to inventing the traffic signal (not the same thing as the traffic light) and a special oil to keep sewing machine needles from overheating, which was a real problem for the local garment industry, because it could easily start fires (he also found out the oil could be used to straighten hair, which led to him starting a hair care business); also invented a smoke hood that helped save workers constructing the first version of this very plant (which was obviously not named after him at the time). They were tunneling under Lake Erie in 1916 when they hit a pocket of natural gas, which exploded. Many of the men were killed by the explosion, and more would-be rescuers were killed by the gas, but thanks to Morgan’s hood, which Morgan himself used to rescue them, two men were able to be saved, though sadly, because he was black, Morgan was not given the credit he deserved at the time.

I really enjoyed getting to learn more about him (the guy who spoke about Morgan was by far the best speaker we had on the tour), and it’s nice that he is finally getting some recognition for his good deeds through this treatment plant (he was a wealthy and long-lived man, so at least he had some compensation for his life-saving inventions). The tour ended before the last room of the plant, which was filled with stalls from local environmental organisations offering freebies (I picked up some pens, magnets, and a tote bag), and there were a few food carts and things outside, but it started completely pissing it down by the time we left, so we just ran back to the car and treated ourselves to some pastries from nearby Farkas bakery. I hear the tour of the sewage plant, which is offered in September, is even better, so I’d like to try to come back in the fall to check it out (I mean, I’d like to come back in the fall anyway – I’ve been going home much more frequently this year which is really nice when I’m there, but just makes me even more homesick when I have to go back to London. I really need to figure out what I want to do with myself!). But the water treatment tour was free, and the buildings it’s housed in are pretty cool, so it was definitely worth doing (and we had the smelliest people on our tour; not to be mean, but even the van driver was complaining about how bad they smelled (not to their face, of course), which provided many moments of hilarity, especially since it was a water treatment plant!). Since I don’t have pictures of the plant, I’ll just leave you with pictures of some of the ice cream I ate, which is all I have to sustain me until my next trip home (see, I’m not actually talking about it, I’m just showing pictures).

  

Fremont, OH: Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

Well, I finally (and happily) got to visit another presidential home and museum! I was back home for a visit in early May, and if I could, I would have driven down to Cincinnati to visit Taft’s house, but because I never learned how to drive (I really should work on that one of these days), I am dependent on the goodwill of others in places with no public transport. And since Marcus wasn’t accompanying me on this trip, this basically meant going wherever my mother was willing to take me. In fairness to her, she is of course always happy to go places with me, but three and a half hours each way is a lot to ask of someone who isn’t particularly interested in presidential history. So instead, I opted for Rutherford B Hayes’s former home and museum, located about an hour and a half away from NE Ohio, in Fremont, near Sandusky (still a bit of a trek, but doable as a daytrip).

  

Now, although Hayes appears in the list of “mediocre presidents” in the Simpsons’ song of the same name, he has something going for him that most other presidents don’t: he was smoking hot as a young man. I’ve made no secret of my fondness for a young Rutherford (even the bearded version had a certain twinkle in his eye, as seen above), so even though he doesn’t loom as large in the mind as poor Taft (who by all accounts, actually had quite an unassuming (cough, dull) personality, and would be terribly embarrassed by my rude attempt at a pun), I was not at all upset about visiting Rutherford’s house instead, especially because they had plenty of evidence of his pre-beardy hotness on display. The site is split between Spiegel Grove, his former home; and his presidential library and museum (which share a building). It costs $13 to visit both, which is what we did, but you have to buy tickets inside the museum so they can set you up with a tour time for the house, which is viewable only by guided tour.

  

Since we got there right before a tour started (they are every half an hour), we started with his home, which is lovely, though sadly does not allow photography inside. The person at the admissions desk said the tour would take around an hour, though it ended up being more like an hour and a half, which was fine, because our guide was pretty knowledgeable and had a good sense of humour. It was actually just me, my mom, and an older man on our tour (we got talking to him after the tour, and he was very nice, but he was one of those people who was like, “Oh, I wish I had done a history degree,” and then goes on to name whatever super successful career they had instead that they never would have gotten with a history degree. Not that I’m bitter), which was also fine, since I don’t like a crowd – also it meant that no one was asking stupid questions. You are only allowed inside the first two floors of the home (which has four floors, though I know it only looks like three in that picture), but the top floor is literally just full of windows, which the Hayes’s specifically had built to let in light and air. I won’t bore you with a complete rundown of everything inside, but they were able to restore it to its 1880s (after Hayes’s presidency) appearance because the Hayes family allowed someone (I think a relative) to photograph all the interiors in 1885. The bathroom was probably my favourite room, because it not only had plumbing of sorts (they collected rainwater in a tank on the roof, which would run through the pipes), but Rutherford turned it into a hiding place as well. It had all the normal bathroom accoutrements, but also bookshelves and a comfy chair, and apparently when they had guests he didn’t like, he would just hang out in there for hours reading (presumably sitting on the chair rather than the toilet), which I can definitely get behind (ha). There was also a saw on the wall, which they specifically placed there because it had appeared in one of the 1880s photos. I don’t know if you all are familiar with the story of the poop knife from Reddit (and I don’t know if I want to lead you down that path if you’re not), but that’s immediately where my mind went when I saw it. Poop saw!

  

Rutherford (or Rud, as his family called him, and I will refer to him henceforth) inherited the house from his uncle, who actually built the house with the intention of living in it with Rud and his family (Rud’s father died when he was very young, so his uncle essentially adopted him). They named it Spiegel Grove after the German word for mirror because apparently when it rains, pools form on the lawn which look like mirrors (I would think a lawn that flooded that easily wouldn’t be ideal, but what do I know?). He and Lucy had eight children: seven boys and a girl, though three of the boys died in infancy. Their daughter was named after his beloved sister Fanny who died relatively young, and as the only girl, she was quite spoiled. In fact, the boys all had to sleep together in one room, but she got her own room with really nice matching furniture. The house had a gorgeous staircase running up the middle, installed at great expense, and an extremely hideous antler chair made by a mountain man Rud was friends with (mountain man also made one for Lincoln), who also appeared in statue form in the house. Lincoln and Washington were Rud’s favourite presidents, so he collected memorabilia relating to them, which was spread between the house and the museum. It was definitely one of the more enjoyable presidential home tours I’ve been on, and since both Rud and Lucy died in their bedroom, three or four years apart (she died first when she was only 57), that’s another famous person deathbed I can say I’ve seen.

  

Speaking of their deaths, they are buried around the back of the house in a fairly modest (by presidential standards) tomb, along with their son, Webb, who was responsible for establishing the site as a presidential library and was a Medal of Honor recipient (the Hayes children mostly had terrible names. There were also Birchard, Rutherford Jr (both family names, as was Webb, which was Lucy’s maiden name), and Manning Force. Only Joseph, George, and Scott got off easily name-wise, and Joseph and George both died in infancy (as did poor Manning Force)). Family pets are buried around the fence enclosing the tomb, and there are also some very friendly squirrels hanging around (apparently too friendly, as we were told they rush at you if you have food).

   

We then headed back to the museum, because it was already getting fairly late in the day, and it looked like a biggish museum, so I wanted to make sure I had time to see it all! It looks to have been renovated not very long ago, as the layout was very eye-catching and modern, and there were even a few little interactive bits and bobs thrown in. It opened with a short video and small display on the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, which was a World’s Fair, and looked awesome, like all old fairs. 1876 was the year of Hayes’s election, which was an election of great controversy. His opponent, Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, won the popular vote, but neither man took the electoral college, and after a lengthy negotiation, the Democrats agreed to accept Hayes (a Republican) if he agreed to withdraw troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction (which meant that African-Americans were left unprotected by the federal government from Southerners’ wrath, which was the opposite of what Rud had supported when he was Congressman).

  

The museum gave a very comprehensive rundown (almost too comprehensive, since I didn’t really have time to read everything) of the major events of Hayes’s presidency, and though he is one of the least well-known presidents, his term was still full of things that we would see as controversial, particularly some of the “Indian” policies that were enacted under his administration, like the beginning of off-reservation schools for Native American children where they were forced to cut their hair, accept Christianity, and were forbidden from speaking their tribal languages, which obviously had a terrible effect on traditional tribal culture (which was basically the whole point).

  

I have to say that although his administration was responsible for some terrible things, Hayes himself seemed like a decent enough guy, at least by the standards of the time (and I’m not just saying that because he was handsome). He clearly deeply loved Lucy and his children, and had a sense of humour that comes across in his diaries and letters. And despite Lucy’s somewhat stick-in-the-mud reputation, she actually seemed like a pretty cool lady. She was college-educated (the first First Lady to be a college graduate), followed Rud to camp (with their children, which led to Joseph dying of dysentery, but she still persevered for the greater good) whilst he was serving in the Civil War to nurse soldiers, was an abolitionist and supporter of civil rights, and had an awesome set of china commissioned for the White House (see above) depicting native flora and fauna (and I just found out her birthday is the day after mine). And honestly, I’m not a big drinker myself, so I can get behind the temperance thing (and apparently, it was actually Rutherford who banned alcohol from the White House, not her!  Lucy didn’t drink herself, but was OK with others doing it in moderation). Not the Christian aspects of it, but I do think it would be nice to be able to socialise with people in ways that don’t involve drinking (especially in the UK, where it seems to be the only way people want to socialise!).

  

The upstairs part of the museum was more about Rud’s presidency, but the basement held loads of their personal possessions, including Rud’s collection of weapons and artillery (not what I would have chosen, but I would absolutely have his collection of presidential memorabilia), and some delightful tableaux depicting their service during the Civil War (Rud was seriously wounded in the arm and only survived because Lucy’s brother, who was an Army doctor, found out about it and personally took care of him – otherwise they probably would have amputated his arm and gangrene or disease would have gotten him). Before the war Rud was a lawyer, but he never ended up returning to his practice because despite his refusal to campaign until the war ended, he was elected to Congress in 1864, and later became Governor of Ohio (elected to three terms, but only served two and a bit before being elected president).

  

This floor also explained more about Rud and Lucy’s courtship – they met at a popular gathering spot (some kind of fishing hole?) at Ohio Wesleyan University (Lucy graduated from their female college, because women weren’t allowed to earn a degree from the main university, though they could attend classes), but Lucy was only 15 at the time, and Rud, to his credit, decided she was much too young for him (he was 23). But his mother thought she was a good match for him (Lucy had also lost her father at an early age (he died from cholera after travelling south to free some slaves he had inherited), and they both seemed to have fairly formidable mothers), so she encouraged him to contact her again after Lucy graduated from college, and they ended up falling in love and marrying two years later (when Lucy was 21). Above is Lucy’s wedding dress, and a delightful depiction of their first meeting (though they both look much older than they would have been!).

  

The museum contained two temporary exhibits, one on Bhutanese-Nepalese immigrants to the area, and the other on Jacob Riis’s photography. I didn’t get to spend much time looking around these because my mother had finished looking around and I didn’t want to keep her waiting too long, but they looked interesting, and I enjoyed reading a few tidbits on Bhutanese customs. At this point, we thought we had seen everything, and headed up to look around the shop (which disappointingly had no souvenirs with young Rud on them), when I spotted a postcard with a dollhouse on it, and was like, “wait, I never saw a dollhouse!” The woman working there explained where it was, and it turned out we had missed a whole section of the museum (the entire original museum building, as it happened)!  So we rushed back to see it.

  

And I’m so glad we did, because in addition to not one, but two dollhouses (only one of them actually owned by Fanny Hayes though), and a cracking bust, this was also where most of Rud’s collection of presidential memorabilia was kept.

  

This was pretty great. The highlight was definitely Lincoln’s goat (antelope?) slippers, which he wore the day he died (not actually to Ford’s Theatre, though I kind of wish he had. Poor man should have at least been comfortable before his assassination), the gloves he was wearing when he was assassinated, and a cast of his hand. There was also one of George Washington’s canes, a ring containing some of his hair that he originally gave to “Mrs. Alexander Hamilton” (Eh-liii-zaa…and Peggy. No wait, just Eliza), and some bricks taken from Mount Vernon (none of his dentures, but not to worry – I just saw a pair elsewhere, which you’ll get to see in a few weeks too!).

  

I was also pretty excited to see a copy of the famous Resolute desk, which was first given to Hayes by Queen Victoria, and used by many subsequent presidents. You could even sit behind it and pretend to be president (I should probably never be president, because I have dictatorial tendencies, but I guess I couldn’t be any worse than Trump). After this last little bit of excitement, we’d finally seen everything (except the library, which I had no real reason to visit, unless they had more pictures of young Rud in there), so we headed off (and were subsequently disappointed that the Mexican bakery in Fremont we had planned on visiting afterwards had apparently gone out of business), but I was so glad we’d ended up visiting, because this site was excellent. The museum, the house – everything was great, and I liked that they didn’t shy away from the more controversial parts of Hayes’s presidency (which is admittedly easier to do with someone who has been dead for more than a century than more recent presidents, but still). Highly recommended, and there are other museums in nearby Sandusky and Tiffin that look interesting (I was hoping to visit the Civil War Museum of Ohio in Tiffin, but we didn’t have time), but plan on spending at least three hours around the Hayes site, because there’s so much to see! 4.5/5 – a really nice day out, capped off by a stop at Krieg’s Frozen Custard in Amherst on our way home (which weirdly, Yelp says is closed, and it claimed the Mexican bakery was open, so the moral of the story is, don’t trust Yelp, but do eat frozen custard)!