Ohio

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.
Advertisements

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)!

Cleveland, OH: “The Jazz Age” @ the Cleveland Museum of Art

Yes, I’m still on Ohio posts, but this is the last one, for now (though I am getting so tired of London that I’m very seriously debating moving back to the US in the next year or two (yes, even with stupid awful Trump there, sigh), and editing this post made me homesick). I love the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I love 1920s fashion, so I knew I had to make sure to see this exhibition whilst I was back home. “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,” ran from September 30, 2017 – January 14, 2018 – I visited Cleveland in the fall, and it started right around the time I left, so I’m glad I was able to catch it this time around before it finished, especially because it was so popular that tickets were selling out most days.

  

I actually contemplated booking advance tickets, but they charged a booking fee, and when I looked at the website, it looked like all the time slots for the remainder of the day were still available, so we risked it. And the gamble paid off, probably because it was midday on a weekday before most people had started their Christmas vacation.  Admission was a hefty $15 (which is why I didn’t want to pay a booking fee on top of it) and parking was another $10, though that was because we couldn’t be bothered to drive around looking for a spot, and just used the museum lot (there’s often metred parking around University Circle, which is just a couple of bucks). Although I hadn’t been to a special exhibition at the CMA in years, I remember always really enjoying them when I was younger, so my hopes were high.

  

And fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed this time around either. The exhibition was held in the basement galleries of the museum, which I don’t think I had even seen since their major remodel, and they’re actually really nice.  And big!  I lost track of how many rooms we walked through. And it wasn’t just clothing – there was furniture, art, textiles, jewellery – even household objects like perfume bottles and cocktail shakers – really, anything that encapsulated the style of the period was here. (The bowl above was commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt for FDR’s gubernatorial inauguration. And how gorgeous is that dress?! I love the goat chandelier too!)

  

I liked that we were allowed to take photographs, and that the exhibition wasn’t at all crowded by London standards (though maybe by Cleveland ones, because I really hate crowds, but people there seem to get even more fed up with a crowd than I do). It was busy to be sure, but the exhibition space was large enough that we could spread out and I didn’t have to queue to read anything, which is always a plus, because there was a decent amount to read in here (I do wish that some of the clothing had more information, but the descriptions of the furniture and art were pretty detailed).

  

This is one of those exhibitions where I want to show you all the things, because they were all so damn fabulous and displayed so beautifully. They had a lot of pieces by the Rose Iron Works, which was based in Cleveland, including this “Muse with Violin” screen. They were all on loan from the Rose Iron Works collections, which makes me wonder if there’s a secret room full of these pieces somewhere that I could go and look at.

  

I love skyscrapers built in the 1920s and ’30s (the Terminal Tower is my favourite skyscraper ever, although it is admittedly Beaux-Arts rather than art deco), so I loved the skyscraper motif on many of the pieces, like that mural and the skyscraper book desk (the desk is pretty ugly, I will concede, but I would still have it on account of how many books I could cram in that thing).

  

Another motif was methods of transport, because people were fascinated by all the new technologies. I’m not a big car or plane person, but I would absolutely carry either of those adorable purses, and oh my god, that Zeppelin cocktail set is amazing. There was also a chair with a WWI plane embroidered in the back (you can glimpse it just to the left of the yellow dress in the photo above the third paragraph).

  

There were of course a lot of cocktail sets disguised as things, like the owl shaker, above, and even more interestingly, there was a perfume set made to look like a bar set (above right), where you could mix the scents just like a cocktail to produce your own perfume (I don’t even wear perfume (or drink cocktails more than a couple of times a year, for that matter), but I kind of want this).

  

To be honest, the jewellery, whilst gorgeous, was less interesting to me than many of the other objects, and was certainly difficult to photograph (shiny + behind glass is not a great combo), so I hope you enjoy this selection of fans and cigarette holders instead (I especially love the fan with the stars and moon on it, which is of course the hardest one to see, because it’s shiny).

  

A lot of the furniture was admittedly not really to my taste (ugh, avocado green!), but it was still neat to look at, even if I wouldn’t want it in my house (I wanted pretty much everything else though (as you can probably tell). Especially that bathing suit).

 

This quilt represented the quilter’s hope of how Hoover was going to end the Depression (sorry to burst your bubble lady, but it ain’t gonna happen), with people of many different professions all looking towards Uncle Sam, who strolls in at last in the bottom right square with a big barrel of “Legal Beer.” (“Beer. Now there’s a temporary solution.”)

   

I want to keep showing you things, but we’ll be here all day, so suffice it to say it was a wonderful exhibition, with a good amount of explanation about the trends and themes of the era, and obviously fantastic objects on display, though I’ll downgrade it a teeny bit because it was so expensive, and I wanted to see more clothes! 4/5. I also REALLY wanted to buy that hat in the gift shop at the end, but it was like $95, so I had to let it go. I think it suited me though (since first writing this post, I have given into temptation and purchased an elaborately beaded flapper dress for myself (seriously, it must weigh at least ten pounds) that I will probably never be brave enough to wear anywhere. I need to start going to fancier places I guess, and then I could justify buying the hat too).

  

There was also a free temporary exhibition of Depression-era photography in a gallery upstairs which we stopped to see (I love old photos), and it was a good counterpart to the excesses of the Jazz Age exhibition, since it more accurately represented what most people’s lives were like towards the end of that era. We were meeting friends nearby later that evening, and had originally planned on going back home for a few hours in between, but then I discovered the new interactive gallery at the art museum (I think it had been there on my last visit, but it was busier then so I didn’t get to try anything out). Well, there went those plans, because we ended up spending almost two hours in there, which worked out well because it meant by the time we grabbed dinner, it was time to meet my friends, and we saved ourselves a drive home and back again.

  

They had a bunch of different stations which all seemed to have slightly different games on them, and because there were only a handful of other people there, we were able to try them all. They had computers that scanned your face to track your reaction to different works of art, and others that followed your eyes to see how you looked at a piece of art, which you could compare to how other visitors looked at the same piece.

  

There were also games where you had to decide what various objects in a painting were meant to represent, and an activity where you got to mash up your face with a painting (by the way, I’m super jealous of people in America who can use that face match thing in the Google Arts and Culture app, and I’m really annoyed that it’s not in the UK). As you can probably tell from the above photos though, the most fun game of all was Match a Pose, which is just what it sounds (and looks like), with points given for how accurately you matched the painting. This was pretty much the best thing ever, and I spent way, way too much time doing this, but all the games were great. Go at a quiet time and play them all, you won’t be disappointed!  I love the Cleveland Museum of Art anyway (as I said at the start), and by adding so much interactivity to an art museum, they’ve made the experience practically perfect (if they lowered the price of parking, it would be very close to perfection indeed).

 

 

Columbus, OH: Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival

And now we come to the reason my mom was so keen to go to Columbus while I was home: she wanted to see the Chinese Lantern Festival being held at the State Fairgrounds, and she knew that I was the only family member (except for maybe my aunt) who would willingly go with her (though we ended up taking along my brother and Marcus too). I was intrigued, because it looked very similar to the Chinese Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House every year, which I have always wanted to visit, but never had on account of the prices being so high (I think around 20 quid).

  

At $15, this festival wasn’t all that much cheaper, but going with my mother meant she paid for it, so I didn’t have to (god, I’m cheap), and a performance was included with the ticket price. We arrived right when the festival opened, at 5:30, and headed straight out to see the lanterns before the performance, which was due to start at 6:30.

  

It wasn’t very crowded when we arrived, which was nice, though I think the lanterns were probably spread out enough that it wouldn’t have mattered much anyway if it had been busier. I realised pretty quickly that although the lack of crowds was a definite plus, I was probably losing out in atmosphere compared to Chiswick House. Chiswick House has lovely gardens, and unfortunately, the Ohio State Fairgrounds are just not the most pleasant surroundings for an event like this. Thanks to all the asphalt, I had the impression of walking through a giant parking lot the entire time (though I did like the map of Ohio on the ground, where I could try to stand in my hometown).

  

The lanterns themselves were pretty cool, and there were more of them than there appeared to be when we first stepped outside (the path wound around a few times), which is a good thing, because it initially looked disappointing. Not to be rude, but the English on some of the signs was so odd that I sort of wondered if it was deliberate, to play off the whole “Engrish” meme thing. Take this slightly spectacular run-on sentence: “There is a long running folk belief that blowing out the white puffball of seeds that the flowers turns into will grant you one wish as well as others use it as a reminder to use intelligence in dealing with every kind of situation.”  I could just be being horrible and cynical though, and they could have actually been written by people for whom English wasn’t their first language, in which case, ignore me.

  

My favourite lantern there was undoubtedly the giant cabbage, apparently included because cabbage is a very popular vegetable in China (I’m paraphrasing slightly, but that was more or less what the sign said). There was also a slightly incongruous Christmas scene (incongruous because most of the other lanterns were of Chinese animals and flowers and things), where I learned the wonderful fact that Santa is called “Sheng Dan Lao Ren” in Mandarin, which translates to “Christmas Old Man.”

  

I also really liked the series of archways depicting each animal in Chinese astrology, with facts about the supposed temperament of people born under each sign written on the underside of each arch. I’m an Ox, and though I guess I am stubborn, easily driven into a rage when annoyed, and patience is indeed not my virtue, I’m certainly not tranquil, relaxed, or dexterous (plus some of those things seem like contradictions. How is someone tranquil but also impatient?). I mean, all astrology is a load of crap, but I think I fit more of the traits of a Virgo than an Ox, if we’re comparing Western and Chinese astrology. The arches were still fun though!

  

I also liked the tent full of facts about how the lanterns were made, mainly because it was slightly warmer than outside (it was cold that night, even with a warm coat on (my brother foolishly chose to wear a hoodie despite us all telling him to bring a warmer jacket, and he ended up running inside way before the rest of us)), but also because I had a soft spot for Nian, the lion monster. Look at the poor thing being taunted with a carrot on a stick! I felt awful for him (even though he apparently eats people).

  

We eventually all gladly made our way back into the main hall, which was heated and had bathrooms. There were stalls in here selling a mix of carnival and extremely Americanised Chinese food (like egg rolls), which was overpriced even by carnival standards (if it wasn’t for the price, and the two hour car trip ahead of me, I might have given in to the lure of the funnel cakes), and a few Chinese craftsmen were selling their wares (I liked the cat painting, but not enough to pay $40 for it. Unlike the chipmunk painting in the last post, which I would definitely spend $40 on). We were about 15 minutes early for the performance, but we decided to go get seats anyway, which was smart because the seating area filled up quickly after we got there.

  

This is where the festival got quite irritating. There were apparently special VIP tickets available for purchase, which included access to the VIP seating area (the first few rows of bleachers). We were sitting directly behind it, and the picture above shows how full the VIP area got (i.e. not very). The annoying thing was that there wasn’t enough seating for everyone else, thus, many elderly people who arrived after the performance started were forced to stand (I was trapped in the middle of the row, so I couldn’t do much about offering my seat), and people in wheelchairs had to sit quite far back next to the bleachers, meaning they probably couldn’t see very much at all. It seems to me that the right thing to do would have been to offer access to the “VIP area” to some of the people less able to stand, instead of making them stare at rows of empty seats.

  

The performances themselves were fine – I enjoyed the acrobats and the quick-change mask performer, though I did get an unfortunate laughing fit during one of the dance performances, not helped by the fact that I could feel my brother shaking with laughter on the bench next to me – but the music was WAY WAY too loud. You’d think the sound guy would have figured it out from the way half the audience were covering their ears, but nope, he carried on blasting it out, so we all left with headaches and ringing ears.

  

Though I did like the actual lantern aspect of the Lantern Festival, it was too cold to really linger and enjoy them (though that is just a side-effect of being in Ohio), and the performance had such obnoxiously loud music that it was hard to truly enjoy that as well. I also thought the whole VIP thing was frankly ridiculous, especially because the event was so overpriced as it was (we had to pay for parking too, which I think was something like $10).  It was something to see once and get it out of my system, because now I won’t have to waste the money seeing it at Chiswick House, but I certainly wouldn’t go back. 2.5/5.

Columbus, OH: Franklin Park Conservatory

As I’ve said before, I like to try to make it down to Columbus whenever I’m in Ohio, and my last trip home over Christmas was no exception. Usually I just go with my brother and/or Marcus, but this time, my mom and aunt wanted to come too, so all five of us crammed into a car for the two hour drive south. My mother really wanted to see a Chinese lantern festival that was taking place there in the evening (more on that in the next post), but that left the day open. Knowing that certain members of our party had a limited tolerance for most museums (namely, my brother), I suggested that after stopping at the North Market for an early lunch (I got PB&J waffles!), we could head over to Franklin Park Conservatory to see their Christmas decorations since none of us had never been there, and most importantly, unlike many other botanical gardens, including the one in Cleveland, which feature live butterflies year round, Franklin Park only has them in the spring, so I would be perfectly safe visiting in winter (I can’t say that my lepidopterophobia limits my activities too much, otherwise I probably would have tried to get it treated, but botanical gardens can admittedly be a problem. I don’t get it – even if you like butterflies, do you really want hundreds of them flapping all over your body?! Ick!).

  

I realise that trying to look at Christmas decorations, which of course included lights, during the day wasn’t the brightest idea (ha!), but if we were going to see the lantern festival in the evening, visiting the conservatory at midday was the only way we’d be able to get back home at a decent hour (and sorry for doing a Christmassy post after Christmas, but I didn’t have time to write this post until after I got back to London). I also assumed it would be much less crowded in the daytime, and though I don’t know how crowded it gets at night, it certainly wasn’t too bad during the day. Admission to the conservatory was $14 each, which is another reason why I haven’t been to many botanical gardens – they’re expensive!

  

The first thing we went to look at was the small art gallery, which housed equally tiny pieces of art. My favourite thing was undoubtedly the very derpy middle chipmunk (though I also love the fat horse above the previous paragraph. Actually, a lot of the stuff in here was pretty great), and I’m only just now noticing that I could have bought him for $40! Life is full of regrets.

  

There was also a display of gingerbread houses of widely varying degrees of quality (to be fair, some were done by professionals, and others by children) which were evidently part of a competition (though voting had ended by the time of our visit). They were all charming though; in fact, the amateur versions were probably more charming than the polished professional displays, and certainly looked more edible (though I’m not entirely sure edibleness is the end goal of a gingerbread house. I’ve never actually built one out of gingerbread, just the crappy graham cracker kind which I could never get to stand up straight and thus ate pretty much immediately).

  

Franklin Park Conservatory also had (has?) Dale Chihuly as an artist in residence, so there was a special display of his pieces, as well as examples of his glass work throughout the gardens (including one piece that looked unfortunately like a collection of very fragile sex toys). I am not the biggest Chihuly fan, mainly because my alma mater wasted like a million dollars on a stupid giant rock candy sculpture that he made, and I guess I’m still not keen, but I did like how the colours popped because of the way the display was lit, especially the collection of vases that are identical to the one that Frasier had in his apartment to replace the frog thing by the fireplace (I’ve watched far too much Frasier, especially considering that I hate Kelsey Grammer because of his awful political beliefs. I do really like Martin and Niles though, so I watch it for them. And Eddie).

  

Anyway, onto the gardens themselves. They extended out from the central building in two separate wings, which was fine, except for it meant that you had to walk through everything twice to get back to the other side. The first garden we entered was meant to be Himalayan, and it was cold because they leave the windows open even in winter! None of us lingered here – not with nice warm deserts and rain forest awaiting us!

  

I felt quite bad for the poor macaws in a cage in one of the gardens, though apparently they get to stretch their wings in the garden when the conservatory is closed.  It still is a long time for a couple of birds that big to be stuck in a cage that small though, and they seemed kind of agitated as the one kept squawking impressively loudly.

 

My favourite garden was one of the tropical ones, because it had a look out point you could climb up to and survey the rest of the garden, and also a koi pond full of grossly overfed koi (there were signs warning people not to throw anything in the water, because the fish will eat it, and I suspect some visitors have not been obeying the sign). And a nice cold waterfall, which I definitely stuck my hand into, because it was hot in there (especially since we were bundled up for winter)!

  

After passing through a very noisy interactive area for children (with miniature versions of some of the gardens!), we emerged into the tranquility of the Palm House, which was lovely. I reckon I’d have a palm house if I had a giant yard, and you know, loads of money. That way, I could sort of be outside, but keep all the butterflies and other horrible bugs away.

 

The last garden we passed through was the one with the most elaborate Christmas decorations, including a neat model railroad with all sorts of fairy buildings around it, some retro silver trees, and some trees made of poinsettias. It could have been because we visited during the day, and because the Christmas display is specifically called “Gardens Aglow,” which would seem to indicate that most of the event takes place at night, but other than this section, I only noticed a handful of Christmas decorations in the actual gardens, which was a little disappointing. I feel like they could have made more use of ornaments and things for a display that would work during the day as well.

  

I’m not the biggest fan of gardens generally (the exhibition of tiny art and the gingerbread houses were my favourite parts of the conservatory), and I definitely think the admission fee was super steep for what we got, but I didn’t pay for it (my aunt treated us all), so I can’t complain too much. It was perfectly pleasant, I just think I was expecting more (I am grateful there were no butterflies though, don’t get me wrong!).  Marcus snapped this photo of me and my brother which really captures how over this place we were early on, when everyone else was still busy looking around, and I think it encapsulates my feelings better than words could. I probably wouldn’t return, but I guess it was nice to see it once. 2.5/5.

Canton, OH: The Pan-American Exposition @ the McKinley Museum

I blogged about the McKinley Museum about four and a half years ago, back when this blog was all shiny and new, and that post was based on a visit from 2011 (I was anxious to get a lot of posts up quickly when I started blogging, so I covered pretty much everything I’d visited in the relatively recent past). I’ve been to the McKinley Museum a few times since that post (and yet I still don’t have a better picture of the monument than the one I used in my initial post, as you may notice), because I think it’s actually pretty entertaining (see the vacuum chair, street of yesteryear, spinny thing, and interactive science displays from my original post), but this is the first time I’ve seen a temporary exhibition there that I thought made it worth blogging about again. So here we are.

  

Admission to the temporary exhibition (which runs until February 2018) is included with general museum admission, which is $10 (I think it was only $8 on my first visit, but things haven’t really gotten any better for museums in the intervening years, so I can’t begrudge them the extra $2 too much). I was visiting with my mom, and of course we walked around the rest of the museum as well, which was much as I remembered it. The upstairs part is still the history floor, with a timeline of Canton’s history, illustrated by many fun and interactive objects, and the picture of a young McKinley inside one of the displays gave me the chance to show my mother a young Rutherford B. Hayes, who unlike McKinley (who was sadly never attractive) was straight-up smoking hot until he got old and beardy (I also think he could have done better than ol’ Lemonade Lucy, who frankly seemed like kind of a dud). The street of yesteryear is still amazing (and I am still too damn scared to slide down that fireman’s pole), and of course, the McKinley room is still there, with animatronic William and Ida McKinley (they’re real blurry in that picture because they’re in motion). This time, there was actually a guide in the McKinley room as well, and he told us many fascinating things about the objects in the room, even going so far as to take my mom’s camera behind the velvet rope so he could take pictures of McKinley’s presidential desk from the front, which is the side the public doesn’t normally get to see (sadly, I forgot to get the photos from my mom, so I can’t show them to you). He also told us a story about how McKinley’s barber’s great-grandson came to the museum one time and talked about how his great-grandfather was killed under mysterious circumstances – he went out one day for a walk and never came back, and the family thinks it may have been because McKinley told him presidential secrets that someone didn’t want to get out (maybe Marcus Hanna was responsible…? I’ve been unable to verify the barber story, but it’s still intriguing). Anyway, he was an interesting guy, and clearly very keen on McKinley, and it was nice to see that kind of enthusiasm in a museum.

  

But onto the Pan-American Exposition exhibition (wow, that’s hard to say). The museum’s special exhibition space is simply one smallish room (I remember it being full of antique ornaments when I visited around Christmas), and most of the exhibition was in the form of blue and white posters on the walls, but they did have a few cases full of relevant artefacts as well.

  

The Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo, New York in 1901, is primarily famous for being the place where McKinley was assassinated. The assassination tends to overshadow the exposition itself, which is unfortunate, because from what I learned in this exhibit, it sounded amazing! Just look at some of the attractions: A Trip to the Moon, which I picture as being like an interactive version of that creepy Georges Melies film which freaks me out so much that I can barely watch the Smashing Pumpkins’ video for “Tonight, Tonight” (Billy Corgan doesn’t help matters); the Upside Down House, which was a fully furnished Victorian mansion, flipped upside down; Venice in America, which was a gondola ride through the whole damn park (they had a film taken on the ride, and it looked rad); and Darkness and Dawn, which followed the journey of a “departed spirit” from hell to heaven. Of course, this being turn-of-the-century America, there were some hella racist exhibitions too, like a mock-up of an old Southern plantation and lots of “happy” slaves, and some offensive stuff involving Native Americans.

  

Like all World’s Fair type events, many things were created specifically for the exposition, including, apparently, Ohio’s unusual state flag (we’re the only state to use a pennant or “burgee” shape), which I feel is something I’d learned about during Ohio History in 4th grade, and then promptly forgotten; and of course, a most enticing range of souvenirs, many adorned with buffalo. They erected a number of buildings for the event, though the only one that survives is the New York State Building, which is now the Buffalo History Museum. It also was an opportunity for inventors to showcase new technologies, like the x-ray machine, and incubators for premature babies. Interestingly, the fair started in May 1901 and ran until November, despite McKinley being assassinated there in September, so even though his death is all people know about the expo today (if they know anything about it at all), it wasn’t even enough to close it down at the time.

  

Of course, this being the McKinley Museum, they talked a lot about the assassination too – when the anarchist Leon Czolgosz (who lived in Cleveland for a while) queued to shake McKinley’s hand, and then shot him twice in the stomach. There was video footage of McKinley’s last speech, which took place just a couple of hours before he was shot, as well as the last photo ever taken of him. But the most interesting thing had to be the many ironies of McKinley’s treatment, which were covered here. In a place showcasing new technology, including, as I mentioned, the x-ray machine, and electric light bulbs, McKinley’s treatment was primitive. His doctors refused to use the x-ray machine on him, as they didn’t trust the technology, and the operating theatre at the exposition hospital didn’t have electric light, even though the outside of the building was covered in light bulbs!  He was operated on by a gynecologist, as he was the only doctor available (the official exposition surgeon was operating on another patient at the time, and refused to leave mid-surgery, which was kind of a shame as he was actually a really good surgeon for the time, and had previously saved the life of a woman with gunshot wounds almost identical to McKinley’s). McKinley rallied at first, but gangrene set in and he died a week later from what would today be a highly survivable wound with proper treatment.

  

To illustrate all this, the museum had copies of a number of telegrams between his doctors discussing McKinley’s condition, so we could see that at first he was expected to make a full recovery (Teddy Roosevelt, McKinley’s vice president, who was on holiday when McKinley was shot, actually returned to his holiday because he thought McKinley would be fine), and then he rapidly declined. Although it was small, it was a very interesting exhibition, and I’m glad I got to see it, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about what the exposition actually contained out there on the internet, and it was nice to see photographs, souvenirs, and descriptions of the attractions, even though it made me wish more than ever that I could go to some kind of excellent Victorian exposition of this nature (why don’t we still have things like this? I mean, sure, there’s health and safety regulations, and people aren’t likely to be all that impressed by light bulbs, but I would still be extremely happy with an upside down Victorian house and a dark ride to the moon).

  

We finished our visit to the museum by checking out the basement science gallery again (which still has animatronic dinosaurs and a collection of small (live) animals like frogs and snakes, but did seem to have been rearranged a bit since my last visit) and playing with all the excellent interactive science games, which also appeared to include a few new machines I didn’t remember, like a green screen where you could choose a natural disaster background and pretend to be a meteorologist reporting in front of it (we had a lot of fun with that one, and played around with it for a good fifteen minutes). (I had to also throw in a couple pictures of the new mannequins in the street of yesteryear, above, because I loved them so much.) And of course, no visit to Canton is complete without a stop at Taggart’s for ice cream (it’s right down the road from the museum) – I went for the chocolate chip ice cream pie with caramel sauce, which was most delicious, and I think Tina Belcher may have sat at our booth at one point, because it had the word “butts” carved into it.

I’d still give the museum 4/5 for sure, just for its eclectic mishmash of anything and everything Canton (plus dinosaurs), and the Pan-American Exposition exhibition, though on the small side, was actually very informative and well-worth seeing, so I’ll give that 3.5/5, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be back to this museum again within the next couple of years!