I often seem to have songs stuck in my head and when I was thinking about writing this article the lyrics from the song “Sign” crept in – “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign.” Although that song doesn’t have anything to do with our visit to the American Sign Museum, we did find lots of signs at this Cincinnati attraction. The Museum advertises to be the largest public sign museum in the world. It promotes sign preservation and restoration by displaying signs from the past 100 years collected from all over the U.S. There are pre-electric, the earliest electric using light bulbs, Art Deco neon to modern plastic faced signs.
Inside the Museum is an explosion of light and color with signs of all sizes and shapes along the walls and on floor bases. This was a fun museum to visit – I think brightly colored signs especially neon ones are hard to resist. Although there was history to learn about, we enjoyed mostly walking around this rather small museum and checking out all the variety from this great collection. This is the first sign museum we have been to on our travels and visiting unique and unusual places like this is something we are happy to explore.
Since Mark is a McDonald’s fan, I had to get a shot of him in front of this sign, one of the largest ones exhibited here. It was created in the 1960’s and features Speedee, the original mascot who promised quick service.
Some of the signs rotate like “Satellite Shopland” from the 1950’s which used to sit in an Anaheim, California shopping center and has eleven lit metal spikes. This sign was part of a style called “googie” which celebrated the dawning of the space age.
Tours are offered for visitors which would have provided us with more information but we didn’t take one. Most likely though, each sign has a story to tell. For example, the ”Fergi ” sign hanging from the ceiling is from the former Ferguson Car Wash in Cincinnati and you might be able to see the stars on the front sides of the car noting that it is now “sparkling” clean. “Kona Lanes” in a Polynesian Tiki style from the 1950’s came from a bowling alley in Costa Mesa, California. It was in business from 1958 to 2003 and after the sign was transported to the American Sign Museum and unloaded, the bottom half with “Bowl” collapsed. They were only able to salvage the top. The Sky Vu Motel sign came from a small motel built in the 1940’s in Kansas City, Missouri. When the sign was discarded for a new plastic one, an area photographer saved it and now has a new home at the American Sign Museum.
Probably the neatest part of the Museum is the Main Street which is set up with store fronts that might typically be seen in a small town like a barber shop, TV repair store, pizza shop, Howard Johnson’s Restaurant, tavern, drug store and furniture store. Of course, there are plenty of painted and bright neon signs as you stroll down the “street.”
One of my favorite signs was the flashing white “Pops” which must have come from the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. The Museum spends a lot of money on replacing light bulbs, for example it costs $35.00 to replace each and every bulb in this installation.
Located onsite is Neonworks, a shop that makes and repairs neon signs. From the museum you can look into the big windows and watch the technicians. A tour is also available which I joined. We watched two different employees repair and put together neon signs with their special glass tubing. Below are photos from the tour.
Below is a photo from the repair shop – the place where signs come back to life again!
After our museum visit we went down the street to Camp Washington Chili, one of the original Cincinnati Chili parlors that has been around since 1940, dishing up their chili 24 hours a day.
Before traveling to the Midwest, the food I was most looking forward to trying was “Cincinnati Chili” which is the iconic dish here. Although it has chili in its name, it is quite different from most chili one eats. It is based on a Greek recipe that uses a variety of spices including not only chili powder but cinnamon, allspice and sometimes chocolate. The sauce is also not as thick as regular chili. Below is a photo of part of the menu at Camp Washington Chili. Chili is served on either spaghetti noodles or coneys (little hot dogs). The decision is whether to have a 2, 3, 4 or 5 way. Mark had the coneys and I had a 5 way starting with spaghetti, then chili, beans, cheese and onions.
The day before Camp Washington we tried “Skyline Chili,” perhaps the most popular Cincinnati Chili chain. Gold Star is the other well known chain, but we weren’t in the area long enough to give it a try. I thought the Skyline chili had more flavor than Camp Washington Chili, but I liked the atmosphere at Camp Washington Chili better with its old time look inside.
Cincinnati chili is served with something I would not have expected – oyster crackers, which seem to go well with the dish. We liked Cincinnati Chili enough that I wanted to make It. While staying in Indiana after our time in Ohio, we were camping next to two couples from Ohio and Jane offered to send me her recipe when she got back home (thanks Jane). We really liked the recipe and have made it twice now. But I have made it a little different. Although Mark and I aren’t necessarily vegetarians, we try to eat less meat when we can, so I made it with non-meat or soy product crumbles and it worked out well. I am also a cinnamon fanatic so I added more cinnamon (and allspice) to my serving when it was done.
Goodbye for now, until next time!