Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign …

Front of American Sign Museum

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.

Nine foot high, fiberglass Frisch’s Big Boy sculpture, restaurant headquarters in Cincinnati

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.

Rotating Satellite Shopland

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.”

Main 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.

Neonworks Shop Tour – making a sign
Yeah – it worked!

Below is a photo from the repair shop – the place where signs come back to life again!

Repair Shop

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.

Skyline – My favorite Cincinnati Chili
Camp Washington Chili – where is everyone?

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!

More Exploring in the Hocking Hills

Conkle’s Hollow Trail

On my second day of exploring in the Hocking Hills I stopped at Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve. Although located in the vicinity of the other Hocking Hills State Park attractions, it is not part of the Park. The Preserve includes a gorge trail and a rim trail. I took the gorge trail which started out paved and traveled through a beautiful forest next to a stream with lots of greenery.

After the paved trail ended, the gorge began narrowing and the scenery began to look more primeval, with rocky cliffs and an abundance of large moss covered rocks and ferns. I passed under a few overhangs dripping with water before reaching a recess cave with a small waterfall at the end of the trail.

The end of the gorge trail
Relaxing in the recess cave

With all the rock, water and greenery, this was a beautiful spot to experience, especially with few people about. At one point everyone was gone and I was alone. I decided to stay longer and enjoy the stillness and grand scenery around me.

Looking out from inside the cave

After finishing my walk in Conkle’s Hollow, I drove to Rock House, another popular spot since it is the only true cave in Hocking Hills. Getting there involves descending a trail which passes by tall sandstone cliffs until arriving at an opening midway in a 150 foot cliff. From the outside it is hard to imagine how big the Cave will be inside.

Entrance to Rock House

The cave has one long corridor that stretches 200 feet, is 20 to 30 feet wide and has a 25 foot ceiling. There are seven windows but it was still fairly dark so some were using flashlights to find their way around.

The interesting shaped windows are one of the best things about the Cave. At one end is the largest window where a seasonal waterfall can be seen dropping from the cliff above. When I visited it wasn’t flowing. Below are photos of a few of the windows with forest views outside.

The Cave has Native American history with ovens that were carved in the rear wall. In addition, the Cave has the nickname “Robber’s Roost” as at different times it was allegedly used as a hideout for those of a criminal nature. I enjoy visiting caves and was glad I had made the trip to see the unique Rock House.

Columbus Washboard Company and the largest washboard

And now for something completely different. One day, Mark commented he saw there was a washboard factory in the nearby small town of Logan. I know I have said before, but I love learning about and seeing how things are made and this place sounded unique. The Columbus Washboard Company is located in an old brick building where washboards have been made since 1895. Outside on the building you can see the world’s largest washboard. This is the only washboard factory remaining in the U.S.

A sampling of their washboards

Visitors can take a very short self-guided tour of the factory rooms and see original equipment used to make the washboards. There was one employee putting washboards together when I visited. She showed me the process and I think she put one together in a few minutes as there are not many pieces to a washboard. Many of us (like me) might think washing clothes with a washboard is a thing of the past, but staff at this factory report otherwise. I was told that people still regularly use washboards for scrubbing out stains, while traveling or living off grid. Of course they are also more economical. I don’t remember how many washboards are manufactured here in a typical month or year, but I recall an expectation of about 200 per day. There are only three employees that manufacture them, so it is a small company. The gift shop has a variety of sizes for all washing needs as well as washboards for decorative purposes. There is also a choice of different surfaces including galvanized, stainless steel, glass, chalkboard, cork or mirror.

Washboard Musical Instruments

Washboards are also popular as musical instruments and there was a nice selection of those as well. Every year the Washboard Music Festival is held in Logan. Unfortunately, we would just miss it since it was scheduled around the middle of June, the week after we left.

Display for the troops.

Columbus Washboard supports U.S. troops overseas by providing a kit including a washboard, washtub, clothesline, clothespins and soap. They even provide a printout with the supplies showing how to do wash the old fashioned way. The kit is useful for military personnel located in remote areas away from bases with laundry facilities. I would never have thought about washboards being used in this way – very cool of this company to think of the troops!

I left Columbus Washboard Company with a magnet but alas no washboard!

Thanks for checking in – until next time!

Exploring Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio

Ash Cave

After leaving our RV park in the Amish Country we headed further south to the Hocking Hills. The reason for staying here was to visit Hocking Hills State Park. This is a beautiful and different area than the rest of Ohio. In the midst of lush forests lie large sandstone rock formations, caves, gorges, streams and waterfalls. I had heard about the Hocking Hills but initially wasn’t necessarily planning a visit here. Thanks to my friend Anette for encouraging me to not miss visiting the Park. I am very glad we did as this is a one of a kind, special place.

Ash Cave Falls

Hocking Hills State Park is divided up into seven major hiking areas and therefore does not have one main entrance to see all the attractions. As the Park is large, a little bit of driving is required to visit each area. One day I checked out three different spots, beginning with Ash Cave which involved a short and easy walk. This is a trail that anyone can access as it is paved and handicap accessible. Ash Cave is perhaps the most awe inspiring sight in the Park because of its size. It is the largest recess cave in Ohio at 700 feet long and 100 feet deep. Ash Cave Falls flows during the spring time, dropping 90 feet from the Cave’s rim and adding even more to the grandeur. I was pretty amazed by the sight of this Cave and Falls.

View of Ash Cave after ascending some steps at the far side

The Cave got its name after early settlers found huge piles of ash left behind by Native Americans.

View looking out from inside Ash Cave

After visiting Ash Cave I drove over to Cedar Falls. The trail involved a bit of a walk including 100 stone steps down to the Falls. They drop 50 feet into a large pool that looked popular with both kids and adults wading and swimming. I did read signs while visiting the different parts of the Park to not get into the pools or creeks, but for some, the temptation was irresistible.

Cedar Falls

The Falls got their name from early settlers who mistakenly thought the nearby hemlock trees in this gorge were cedars.

Cedar Falls

My next stop was Old Man’s Cave, the most popular spot in the Hocking Hills. This is an amazing gorge with a trail that winds for about a mile past rocky cliffs, rock formations, several waterfalls, stone bridges and into the Cave itself. There are a variety of stone steps to navigate and even a few rock tunnels so it is a nice little workout.

The front of Old Man’s Cave

Like Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave is also a recess cave but not as large or impressive. It was named for the “old man” Richard Rowe, a recluse who made the Cave his home in the 1800’s.

Tiny people under the ledge
Inside the Cave

In the photo below you can see to the right one of the narrow rock tunnels leading to a set of stairs.

Narrow rock tunnel

One of the beautiful stone bridges arching over Salt Creek which flows through the gorge.

In the photo below is a view of one of the large sandstone rock formations. Several kids were having fun playing in the cave like holes at the bottom of the cliff.

Upper Falls was my favorite waterfall in the gorge and in my opinion perhaps the most scenic part of the trail. The Falls were a beautiful sight dropping into the large pool with the stone bridge above.

Upper Falls
Upper Falls

In the photo below, I liked the way the tree with gnarled roots and the fern covered rocky cliff frame Upper Falls.

It was a day of scenic wonders at Hocking Hills State Park and I hope you enjoyed a look. Stay tuned for my next blog where I explore more of this Park.

A Day of Carvings in Ohio Amish Country

When researching things to do in the Amish Country, I read about David Warther Carvings. It had excellent reviews and sounded like another not to be missed attraction. David is a carver of ships and in about 40 years, he has carved 80 of them which he displays at his museum near the town of Walnut Creek. David has another primary job, so these ships are a hobby as he doesn’t make them to sell. In order to see the ships, you have to take a paid tour. Our guide pointed out that he makes about two per year, which is not surprising as they are so detailed and intricate. He has been working on a history of ships from 3200 BC in Egypt to modern times and states that his carving project is about the story of civilization. To create his ships he uses antique ivory, ebony wood and abalone pearl. The Warther Museum reports that the ivory is legal antique ivory that has been donated from museums and private collections within the United States.

The ship used by famous King Tut during his reign from 1339 BC to 1327 BC
Magnifying glasses at many of the cases allow visitors to see parts of the ships up close like the Royal Ship of King Tut

The museum displays the ships in rooms by era with large maps on the walls to show the location of the countries where the ships originated. Besides Egyptian, the ancient room includes ships from the empires of Phoenicia, Greece and Rome. Looking at the ships in this museum was a combined history and art lesson. Part of the painstaking work involves doing delicate hand etching and engraving with ink known as scrimshaw as can be seen in the photo below.

Closeup of the Star of Memphis built in 1350 BC. This was a passenger ship that traveled between the different cities of the Nile

David uses blueprints and drawings that he obtains from museums, researchers and scholars around the world so that his ships are built to the same exact specification as the originals.

The photo above is a Greek warship from 330 BC that used 170 oarsmen working an oar each at three different levels. Information from the museum noted that the oarsmen were paid citizens who freely joined and were not slaves. Can you see the little seat at the end of the ship on the left side of the photo? That was the throne for the ship’s commander.

One of the ships in the Age of Exploration Room was the Sao Gabriel, pictured above. It was sailed by Vasco da Gama to India in 1497. He was the first explorer to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, opening the way for trade and discovery. In the photo below is a closeup of this ship’s stern with the little cannons as seen through a magnifying glass.

Closeup of the Sao Gabriel

In the modern room can be found ships from the 1500’s through the 1800’s like the ships of Christopher Columbus (Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria); the Golden Hinde sailed by Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the earth; the H.M.S. Bounty of the famous “Mutiny on the Bounty” story and the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest Naval ship which still sits in Boston Harbor today. Below is a photo of the Mayflower, a merchant ship which brought the pilgrims to America in 1602.

The photo below shows the intricacies of the rigging which David has developed. He makes a point to come out of his on-site studio for each tour group and demonstrate how he works with such fine lines. He has perfected a special method creating “ivory threads” where the rigging is hand worked to seven thousandths of an inch in diameter before being used on a ship.

The Bonhomme Richard of 1779 – Famous warship captained by John Paul Jones

Mr. Warther began carving ships as a boy and when he was 17, completed his first major ship model, the U.S.C.G.C. Eagle. Built in Germany in 1936, it served as a training ship for the Coast Guard.

I was really amazed by this museum of carved ships and when the tour was over, we were free to wander and look at them all again if we wished, which I did. It was rather hard to leave as they are such beautiful works of art. But I needed to go on to the next carving museum – the Ernest Warther Museum located about a 30 minute drive away in the town of Dover. Ernest was the grandfather of David, so this is a family of master carvers.

Illinois Central Railroad Engine driven by legendary engineer Casey Jones

Ernest Warther was born in 1885 to Swiss immigrant parents and began carving at the age of five when he found a pocketknife outside while playing. He came from a poor family and at first whittled sticks and then pliers. Only completing school through the 2nd grade, he later began to focus on steam train engines, carving them from all different time periods. His work spanned 40 years and 64 carvings before he passed away at the age of 87. While pursuing his hobby, Mr. Warther worked at the local steel mill and also started a knife business. For a few years he lived in New York City when the New York Central Railroad convinced him to come and exhibit his trains. He also spent about six months touring the country with some of his carvings. He decided though that Dover was his home and if anyone wanted to see his carvings, they would have to come there. The museum is located on the property of Mr. Warther’s former home that he shared with his wife Frieda and their five children. Next door is a knife factory and store that his family still operates today.

Tours are given throughout the day and unlike most places where a visitor has to start a tour at a certain time, people are incorporated into existing tours when they arrive and then finish up what they miss with another guide. It all works well with no waiting involved. The train carvings were incredible to see. They were designed with moving parts and some of them had wheels and gear shafts turning during our tour. The biggest trains were on rotating tables in large separate cases, like the Great Northern train in photo below. This made it easier to see the different parts of them.

The most well known piece in the museum is Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train. Ernest was a great admirer of Lincoln. Our tour guide explained that Mr. Warther felt a certain connection to the President as Lincoln had also only attended a few years of school and came from poor circumstances.

Lincoln’s Funeral Train

Ernest carved his trains using walnut, ebony and ivory. He started as a boy using beef bones left over from his mother’s soups. As part of the tour we viewed his simple and very small workshop where he made and kept all the knives he used for his carvings. The exactness in his work and amount of detail was evident as we toured each room that exhibited his trains. At Lincoln’s funeral train exhibit you can look in a window and see a lock on a door with a key hanging on the wall above. There are furnishings, a sink with faucet, even a little coffee pot on the counter. In the photo below, the head of Lincoln is visible as he lies in state in the last car.

In the photo below is more detail from the New York Central train he carved. Four men are enjoying some conversation at their table in one of the cars.

Ernest’s wife was creative as well. During her life she collected thousands of buttons and put them together in intricate patterns, creating many pictures. A small separate studio displays her work. Below is a photo of just one wall of her button creations.

The two carving museums were among the best museums of our travels. I don’t think my photos do them justice though as the carvings are under glass with lights shining on them. This made it hard to take clear photos. I will close with a photo from the town of Sugarcreek, near the museums. Here you can find the “World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock” as listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. At the half hour figures come out and dance as music plays by an Oompah band.

World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

A Day in Columbus, Ohio

Front of the Ohio Statehouse, Statue of President McKinley

Visiting as many state capitol buildings as possible has been one of my goals and the Ohio Statehouse was number 15 since full time RVing. It has been interesting to see the uniqueness of each building and a great way to learn more of the particular state’s history. Before RVing, I had visited other capitol buildings while on vacations, but usually those visits were self guided. During our travels now, I have made a point to take a tour as it adds so much more to the visit.

Back of the Ohio Statehouse

Construction on Ohio’s Statehouse began in 1839, but was not completed until 1861. This was not the original capital city but was chosen as the final site because of Columbus’ central location and nearby river transportation. Much of the construction was completed by prison inmates. The photo below is of the flower beds in the back of the building. There were several of these with flowers shaped to look like the Ohio State flag and the U.S. flag.

During our tour we saw the major parts of the building including the Senate and House which were both in session the day I visited. I really liked the striking colors of the flooring inside the rotunda. It consists of 5,000 pieces of hand cut marble which came from places around the world including Italy, Portugal and Vermont.

The Capitol Rotunda

One notable piece of art in the rotunda is the Lincoln-Vicksburg Memorial which was made of marble by a Cincinnati sculptor. The bust is the only portrait statue that Lincoln sat for during his lifetime and is considered a good likeness. When Lincoln was asked by the artist what he thought of the work, he replied, “ I think it looks very much like the critter.” Lincoln visited the Statehouse twice. The first time was in September 1859 when he spoke to a group on the Statehouse steps. A plaque on the building now designates where he stood. I read that only 50 people showed up to hear him speak as he was not very well known outside of Illinois.

Lincoln-Vicksburg Memorial

Our guide pointed out what was different about Ohio’s state flag. This is the only flag that is not rectangular in shape and is called the “swallowtail flag.” Ohio didn’t have a state flag for almost 100 years after achieving statehood.

The swallowtail flag

After visiting the Statehouse we headed to German Village which was several miles away. This historic neighborhood was settled by German immigrants in the mid 1800’s and many of the red brick homes and buildings still survive today. There are also shops and businesses with one of the most popular the “Book Loft” which is housed in pre Civil War era buildings and features a lovely courtyard entrance filled with plants and flowers. We really enjoy book stores and this one boasted nthat it had 32 rooms. I was interested to see what a 32 room bookstore would look like.

While the bookstore does have a lot of books, the rooms are small to tiny. Staff hand out a map when you arrive so you can find the sections of books you want. It can be kind of confusing because this place is a maze! During my visit, I wound up and down steps and along passageways with occasional signs to help direct. Some of the books, especially those in the courtyard were discounted.

Book Loft Courtyard
Books can be found in every nook and cranny

This is perhaps the most interesting book store we have found in our travels and I am glad we stopped in for awhile. I didn’t get any books because I have a number of them (either Kindle or print) that I still need to read. But browsing always gives me ideas for future reads. The store not only sells books, but also other items such as cards, puzzles, posters, music and book themed clothing like shirts and socks. In a few areas, they were next to the books they represented, for example socks of famous paintings from Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Picasso and Rockwell in the art book section.

Colorful socks to go with books

St. Mary Catholic Church just down the street from the Book Loft is a prominent landmark in the Village with its very tall spire. It was completed in 1868 so the German residents could have their own church. Two years ago it was struck by lightning and had to close for structural repairs but now has opened again.

St. Mary Catholic Church

One of my favorite things to do is wander historic neighborhoods looking at the homes and gardens. If there are brick sidewalks and brick paved streets than even better and German Village has all of these. Some of the homes were quite adorable like the one in the photo below with its arched windows, green shutters and wrought iron fence.

Of course for our late lunch/early dinner we had to eat some German food and the place to go is Schmidt’s. They are a fixture in the Village having been open since 1886 and still owned by the 4th generation of the same family. They have served a lot of sausages in over 130 years! This is only the second German restaurant we have eaten at during our full time travels with the first time in Panama City, Florida.

Mark enjoyed a buffet of sausages and sides and I had the sauerbraten with spatzel and pickled cabbage. The restaurant was recommended by my Statehouse tour guide who also suggested we have one of their cream puffs which are the favorite dessert. I saw the display case loaded with these delicacies when we walked in and was amazed at how giant and beautiful they were! We decided to split one for dessert. You know how some things are better looking than they taste? Well for me, I enjoyed the sight of this cream puff better than eating it. Mark seemed to like it okay though.

Until next time!

Very large cream puffs displayed at Schmidt’s.

A Ride on the Ohio and Erie Canal

Horse drawn canal boats in Ohio were once a main form of transportation in the 1800’s. From 1825 – 1832, the Ohio and Erie Canal was hand dug by laborers using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, digging a channel at least four feet deep. At 308 miles, the Canal bisected the State, starting from Lake Erie and continuing down to the Ohio River, the border of West Virginia. The larger freight boats were towed by mules and passenger boats called “packets” were towed by horses. Most of the Canal is no longer usable, but near the town of Coshocton, visitors can take a ride on a restored section of the Canal the old fashioned way.

Max and King

Meet Max and King, a pair of draft horses that regularly pull the Monticello III, a replica passenger packet that was built in 1990. A chance to ride on a canal boat pulled by horses seemed like a not to be missed activity while we were in Ohio, especially since I had learned quite a bit about the Ohio and Erie Canal while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Plus, I am always up for anything to do with boating and water.

Bow of the Monticello III

During the late spring when storms were often in the forecast, I wondered if the boat would actually go the day I chose to plan a trip here. I was told that they don’t take the horses out if rain and thunderstorms are likely and the skies were cloudy with rain possible that afternoon. Mark stayed behind at our campsite in Amish country and texted me after I arrived that the worst thunderstorm he had seen in our travels had just descended on the RV park. After telling this to another couple that was waiting for the ride, one of the employees came up and asked me about the storm I was reporting, concerned if one was heading our way. Luckily, nothing materialized and we boarded the boat for our 40 minute trip down the Canal.

View of the Canal from the boat

I found the boat to be roomy inside with wooden benches all along the sides and middle. Since there weren’t a lot of people onboard, we had plenty of room to spread out and move around. I was surprised at how smooth the ride was, there were no bumpy or rocking movements. During our journey the Captain told us stories of the Canal’s history and life in the early 1800’s. From the stern of the boat, the owner’s granddaughter steered using a long wooden stick connected to the rudder called the tiller.

Boat Steerer

Keeping Max and King moving from behind on the towpath was a “hoggee,” a Scottish term for mule driver. Although on this day a man was actually driving these horses, during the 1800’s the drivers were often boys. One of our former presidents, James Garfield worked as a hoggee in Ohio when he was 16 years old.

Looking out from inside the boat

The scenery was beautiful, lush and green along the Canal. Since it is not very wide in places, at times the boat was brushing up against foliage along the canal bank. I took the photo below when the hoggee was turning the horses around midway to go back to our starting point.

I was standing in the back near the steerer and looking over the top of the boat when I took the photo below. You can see where the rope connects from the boat to the horses’ harness. I would really have liked to have a picture of the horses from the front pulling the boat but that wasn’t possible of course since I was in the boat! (Where was my driver and photographer, hee, hee)!

Shot of the boat at the end of our trip

When the trip was over, I drove over to nearby Roscoe Village, once a thriving town on the Canal and now a living history museum. The Village has a number of buildings that can be toured with staff available in some to provide information and demonstrations. I have been to a number of these kind of places on our travels and this one was okay, but nothing too exciting. I did enjoy seeing the old brick buildings and gardens along the Main Street.

Roscoe Village

Following a map of the Village provided by the Visitor Center, the first stop was at the blacksmith shop. I have joked in a previous blog about the profusion of blacksmith shops we have seen on our travels and how I have grown a little weary of them. They are everywhere as blacksmithing was one of the most essential services needed in a community. I planned to keep walking to the next stop, but one of the blacksmiths was standing outside so I felt bad not stopping in. It turned out this was probably my favorite blacksmith shop so far. The two guys were friendly and funny and showed not only their craft but also gave me some useful travel information. While on the road, one of the greatest things is chatting up the locals.

Two “cool” guys at the blacksmith shop

Other buildings open the day I visited were a local doctor’s office and home, a school, printing shop, weaving shop, canal boat exhibit and broom shop. I thought the broom shop was the most interesting and the young man working there showed me the three machines and various steps to making one. The binding machine puts the strands together after the broom corn has been soaked to make it more pliable. The next step is the sewing vice which holds the broom in place so it can be sewed. The last step is on the trimming board.

Broom shop sewing vice

The neatest surprise was a museum not part of the Village that I found at the end of the Main Street, the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum. Since I had time, I wandered in not knowing what I would find. The museum houses the collection of two brothers from Coshocton who traveled the world collecting 15,000 objects from Europe, Asia and American Indian sites. Their Native American basket collection is one of the best I have seen and included baskets from tribes all over the U.S. The brothers were living in Washington State when they willed their collection to the town of Coshocton with all the items carefully packed up and sent by train in 1931. If I wasn’t behind time blog wise, I would write more about this interesting museum, the Asian artifacts were quite intriguing. The museum was having a temporary exhibit of quilts from around the world and I thought I would close with one I thought went along with my canal exploration that day. This quilt of two draft horses was beautifully made.

Thanks for checking in and Happy Independence Day!

Exploring the Ohio State Reformatory

The day after I went to the “Farm at Walnut Creek” I toured the Ohio State Reformatory. What a startling change it was to explore this old building when the day before I was in the peaceful and beautiful Amish countryside surrounded by animals. When I think of the Ohio Reformatory one word comes to mind – gritty! In fact, this is the grittiest building I have ever been in. Built during 1886 through 1910, it housed and reformed young first time offenders. Since it closed in 1990, It has mostly been left as it was with only a few rooms renovated. Almost every wall has peeling paint, unswept floors with missing tiles, pipes and iron railings corroded and rusted. Both the exterior and interior have a medieval castle feeling; dark and creepy. I learned about the building when I was reading a blog post from another traveler I follow. When I realized that the Reformatory was only a little more than an hour away from our campsite in Berlin, I knew I wanted to visit. This former prison is not only architecturally interesting, but also the setting for a movie I enjoyed, “Shawshank Redemption” which was almost entirely filmed here in 1994. It sounded like it would be an interesting and unique place and we had yet to visit a former prison in our travels.

Stand up of one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman, who played Red in Shawshank Redemption

The Reformatory offers several guided tours including self-guided, “History meets Hollywood,” evening ghost and a tour with an ex-inmate. I decided to take the self-guided and Mark decided to forego this attraction and headed off to do a little shopping in the nearby town of Mansfield. Most of the building can be seen on your own, but the tours offer more information and some extra rooms as well as the prison yard. I decided to do the self-guided and also obtained an audio wand that provided additional details at certain stops. Signs and arrows point the way throughout the building.

Andy and Red at one of the stops on the tour.

For those that haven’t seen the popular film, “Shawshank Redemption” is the story of the two main characters, Andy and Red who become friends while incarcerated. Andy who is the newcomer maintains his innocence, but Red has spent most of his life in prison and doesn’t expect to be paroled. The two men along with their friends deal with prison issues such as a ruthless warden, cruel guards and abusive inmates. Andy never gives up his dreams of a better future and does his best to encourage Red and also improve his own situation while at the prison. The photo below is of a room in the Reformatory that was used as a film scene of the hotel room of paroled inmate Brooks. You can see scratched on the ceiling beam, “BROOKS WAS HERE” and “SO WAS RED.”

Hotel room that Brooks used after parole

Another room used in the film was where the parole board met when they reviewed Red’s application for possible release.

Although I am not posting any photos of the prison warden’s living quarters, I was surprised at how many rooms were used for the family, taking up two floors of the facility. The photo below is the chapel where all inmates were required to attend services. It was in this room that I met a young couple and the man told me that both his father and brother had been incarcerated here. He explained that his father was here in the 70’s and his brother shortly before it closed in the 90’s. He said his brother who has been incarcerated at other facilities as well reported it was the worst place he had ever been imprisoned. The young man said that when his brother gets out soon, he wants to bring him back here so he can show him the cell that he used to live in.

Reformatory Chapel

The Guard Control Center is pictured below with the two cell blocks, west and east on either side. Another popular film was also shot here, “Air Force One” which starred Harrison Ford and was released in 1997. This action film was about terrorists taking the president’s plane hostage and demanding the release of a Russian prisoner. In one scene from the film, the Russian prisoner, General Radek is brought to this room prior to release. Unlike some of the others, this room has cleaned up floors and walls.

Guard Control Center

From here, the tour continues to the East Cell Block, where you step out on a walkway six tiers up. The area is very open with views of all the floors below. It was a little much for me with my fear of heights and I didn’t want to be walking by the cells and start feeling panicky. One lady I talked to found it scary and said she had a difficult time walking around up there. So, the coward I am, I took the elevator down.

View looking down the cell block from the top floor

The East Cell Block is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block. The block could hold up to 1,200 men. It was quite a sight for me to stand and look up at this enormous and magnificent collection of cells. (Much better to look up than look down).

View of East Cell Block with stairway at the back to the levels
View of the enormous East Cell Block

Most of the cells I passed on the bottom floor were open and could be entered. These cells were tiny at 7’ by 9’ and housed two men. They continue to have the old bunk beds and some even have old mattresses. I saw a few people plunk themselves down on these disgusting mattresses and have someone take a photo of them. Visitors are supposedly warned to not close the cell doors when they enter as they can lock and the facility does not have keys to all of them. Being stuck in one of those cells would certainly put a huge damper on a visit! As can be imagined, they are dark, depressing and creepy.

I have only been locked in a jail cell once in my life and it was not an enjoyable experience. My job as a social worker required me to visit the local jails occasionally to visit clients. Most of the time I met with them in a common area or a small, unlocked room. But one time while at the men’s jail, I was led by a guard to the cell of the client I planned to interview. I was put inside and the door locked. When the guard left, she gave no indication when she was returning and the guard station was quite a distance away on the bottom floor (I was on the top). It was somewhat unnerving to be sitting there, listening to all the loud sounds of other inmates around us. I focused on asking questions, writing down answers and trying not to think that I was stuck in there. After about 40 minutes, one of the guards came down the hallway to put another inmate in a cell across from us. I stood up and made it known I was ready to go. Thankfully, I never visited that jail again.

West Cell Block

The West Cell Block is not as large as the East, but it still housed 700 inmates. It was the first set of cells built in 1886 with completion in 1896. The cells are larger here and considered luxury quarters that housed trusties. Trusties were inmates who had earned the confidence of the staff and held better jobs. No loud talking was permitted and the Inmates were given tin cups to be used for emergencies only. If an officer was needed, the inmate would ring the cup against the bars as many times as the range number he was located on. Scenes of the Russian prisoner were filmed here for “Air Force One.”

Solitary confinement cell

One section was used for solitary confinement when inmates did not cooperate with regular incarceration. They were placed in cells in either total darkness or total light for 24 hours a day. Originally there were no cots so the temperature was kept around 90 degrees as inmates slept on the floor and they didn’t want them getting sick. They were served bread, broth and water with a full meal on the third day. Scenes from the film ”Shawshank Redemption” when Andy was in the “hole’ were filmed in this part of the facility.

Shower facility – Once a week men hung up their towels on wall hooks and walked down in a line under the pipe for their shower.

The prison closed in 1990 by Federal court order due to overcrowding and inhumane conditions. A new prison facility was constructed close by and from the windows of the guard control center the new facility is visible.

It was a fascinating visit and I am glad I had the chance to explore.

Next time, something much less gritty……….

The Farm at Walnut Creek

A farm with exotic animals is not what I would expect in Ohio Amish country. But two people highly recommended this place, talking about their recent visit and how enjoyable it was to pet the animals and ride in the wagon. The Trip Advisor reviews were excellent as well and people said it was great for all ages. I really enjoy farms and animals so it sounded like a fun adventure. I ended up spending half a day and was not bored. The countryside was beautiful with interesting animals and plenty to see and do.

A welcome to the Farm from this gorgeous peacock

Since it was spring there were a lot of new babies on the Farm. Here are a few photos of ones I enjoyed seeing. In the first photo are Jacob lambs, a British domestic sheep known for having four horns and piebald coloring.

Jacob lambs
Mute Swan with goslings

As I was walking down a path I came upon this cockatoo who was hanging out by himself. He sat on my foot for awhile and could even say a few words like “pretty bird” and “hello.”

A friendly Moluccan Cockatoo

The Farm exhibits a number of exotic birds in aviaries as well as other animals in enclosures or in the fields such as camels, kangaroos, pot-bellied pigs, donkeys, goats, sheep, cows and horses. One of my favorites to watch were the ring-tailed lemurs. There was a baby who was very active jumping and climbing all over the adults, making a nuisance of himself at times. When I took this photo though he was taking a break.

Ring-tailed Lemurs

The highlight for visitors is the horse drawn wagon ride to feed the larger free roaming animals in the hills above the Farm. People lined up for a turn but the wait wasn’t long as there were multiple wagons. Small buckets of pellet feed were provided for each person. Before we left, our driver gave instructions on how to feed the animals such as dropping the food in the mouths of the larger beasts and putting food in our palms for the smaller animals.

It was a bit of a crazy ride as some of the animals mobbed us, grabbing at the buckets. A few had long and rather dangerous looking horns and there wasn’t much protection from getting poked in these open wagons, but everyone was having a great time.

Watusi Cattle from East Africa

I decided to just watch others have fun feeding the animals and getting slobbered on by big tongues.

Dropping food into the mouth of a Water Buffalo

Not all the animals were mobbing us, some like the fallow deer below were relaxing and left us alone.

One option at the Farm is to drive the road in your own vehicle. I only saw one on the road, the rest were wagons. In front of us was a wagon of Amish, so the locals seem to enjoy this activity as much as the tourists.

Emus enjoying a handout

When we reached the downhills on the road our elderly driver picked up the pace by trotting the horses and giving us a bit of a thrill ride.

A Brahma checks us out

Wagon riders were hoping to feed the zebras and giraffes but they ignored us, showing no interest in a handout or being petted. Our ride lasted about an hour and covered over two miles. After the ride I headed over to the house and barn area.

Amish buggies and wagons on display

This is considered a working farm although a family was not living in the home. Visitors are allowed to wander in and out and see what a typical Amish farm house would look like. There is minimal furniture and household items though, so not much a tourist could bother. Around the house were gardens that had been planted but it was too early for harvesting. I was told that later in the summer they will be selling some veggies. Free cookies were a nice touch and there were also items for purchase such as homemade bread made in the kitchen on site as well as jams, pickles and canned goods. There were friendly locals to talk to and answer questions. I was told that the farm owners lived elsewhere on the property and there was a lot to keep up with. This was one of the more easygoing attractions I have visited. People were allowed to wander all over the property and enjoy themselves.

Separating the milk and cream

In the mid afternoon was a milking demonstration in the dairy barn. A cream separator was set up for visitors to see the old fashioned process. The cats seemed to enjoy milking time too as they hurried to lick up any spills.

I really enjoyed my time at the Farm and I hope you liked following along!

Exploring Ohio Amish Country

It was good to be back in Amish Country! It was the same time last year that we were exploring the Pennsylvania Amish Country and I was looking forward to seeing the differences between the two places. We had already learned that Ohio has the largest Amish population. The countryside here was just as beautiful as in Pennsylvania and actually seemed a little greener. The first thing I noticed was how hilly it was compared to Pennsylvania. We felt a little bad for the horses pulling those buggies up and down the hills. The other thing I noticed right away is that the Ohio Amish ride bicycles. In Pennsylvania they use foot powered scooters instead of bikes. I was told that the Amish want to stay close to their home and community and a bicycle is faster and can take them further away.

Our campground was located in the small town of Berlin in the heart of Amish Country where we sometimes saw horses and buggies ride by next to our Park. Just as in Pennsylvania, shopping is a popular pastime for tourists with a number of stores and flea markets. We are usually not much for shopping and the stores seemed to carry a large assortment of stuff that is not made locally. One stop at a “flea market” was enough for us. The best shop we visited was for quilt and sewing where we watched four elderly Amish women quilting and also saw a beautiful display of finished quilts. Something was said about me learning to quilt and the women laughed and said I was not nearly old enough. Okay with me as I have never liked sewing!

Amish buggies lined up near the parking lot of Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen

Eating is another favorite pastime here and we did hit up a couple of buffets which are hard to pass up in Amish Country. At Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen we were happy to see a favorite Amish specialty, red beet eggs and there was something new for us, pickled banana pepper eggs.

Colorful pickled eggs

Located on the table of both buffet restaurants was something else new – Amish peanut butter, which is basically a mixture of peanut butter, corn syrup and marshmallow cream. We squeezed it onto their homemade bread. It was good, but a little too sweet for me to make a habit of.

Trying some Amish peanut butter at Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen

In this land of dairy where there are several cheese companies, we visited Heini’s Cheese Chalet which has been in business since 1935. They have more samples of cheese than any place I have visited in the U.S. You can sample almost every cheese they make and there must be at least 50 different ones although I lost track. One of their specialties is cheese fudge and they have over ten different flavors with interesting ones such as root beer float and rainbow sherbet. On certain days you can watch them making cheese and take a tour of the plant which wasn’t offered the day we visited.

Too much cheese to try at Heini’s Cheese Chalet

When there is a chocolate shop in the area my driver and I are there as we are chocoholics! Coblentz Chocolate Company has a beautiful store where they make amazing chocolate treats with large viewing windows to watch the process. A signature treat from Ohio is buckeye candy which is peanut butter fudge partially dipped in chocolate that resembles nuts from the buckeye tree. The buckeyes looked great but I went for the dark chocolate toffee.

One day Mark and I made a stop at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center which turned out to be a great visit. They have an amazing and very large oil painting completed by one painter in 1992 called the “Behalt” which means “to keep” or “remember.” It measures 10 feet by 265 feet and is a circular painting or cyclorama that wraps around one large room. The Behalt illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist (believers in adult baptism) beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland in 1525 to the present. Due to persecution in their native country, they were forced to immigrate to America in the early to mid 1700’s. Our guide took us around the room explaining the historical scenes depicted and important people involved. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of this masterpiece, one of only four cycloramas in the United States (we saw one in Gettysburg). In the photo below, I am standing outside in front of the mural completed by the same cyclorama artist, Heinz Gaugel. This mural is called a sgraffito which is a European art technique where layers of paint are scratched to form the design.

Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center Mural depicting immigrants arriving in the New World

After our Behalt tour we checked out the museum where we saw artifacts and learned more about the Amish/Mennonite lifestyle such as clothing choices. Below, Mark sports an Amish hat with his serious photo face.

Display of Amish/Mennonite head coverings

The most fascinating part of the museum was the display of Amish song books called “Ausbund.” There were a number of printings going back hundreds of years. There were also Bibles including the one below dating from 1531. In 1750 it came from Germany to America with an Amish immigrant named Johannes Holly. At that time he had a new cover put on the Bible with his name on the back and the year 1740 stamped on the front. Through the years it was passed on to other family members where it traveled from Philadelphia through other Pennsylvania Counties, to Ohio, Kansas and then back to Ohio. It was donated to the Amish Library in 1996. This edition has many illustrations.

Johannes Holly Bible

While at the Center we also took a guided tour of a typical Amish barn where we learned about a barn raising and how Amish barns are constructed. Community barn raisings are only done when a family doesn’t have one, for example if one was destroyed or if this is a new couple. We also viewed a former Amish school and learned how all children in a district are taught by one teacher in one room. He discussed the curriculum and showed us a few books including one he said would not be seen in a public school – a buggy driver’s manual.

Amish students only attend school through the 8th grade as the prevalent belief is this gives them all the education they need. Our guide told us he felt his 8th grade education prepared him very well for life. He said a Harvard professor evaluated their program and determined the education they receive equals an 11th grade education at public schools. He also said having the different grades together was helpful because students learned from those in the grades above them.

Holmes County Rails to Trails

While staying in Ohio Amish country, I found a great walk/bike path. But this is more than a path for feet and bikes as horses and buggies are also allowed. The Holmes County Rails to Trails is 12 paved miles and bills itself as the only dual purpose trail in the U.S. as half of it consists of chipped limestone for horse traffic. I loved walking on this trail because it was beautifully shaded with trees and near water but mostly because it was fun to be on a trail where there were walkers, bicyclists and horse and buggies. I never get tired of watching those horses and their passengers go by!

Holmes County Rails to Trails

One family with four or five children passed very close and I was amused to see a little girl holding a McDonalds cup, an interesting blend of the old and the new.

I hope you enjoyed this look at Ohio Amish Country with more coming in my next post when I visit a farm with exotic animals.

Ohio Amish Farmstead

Exploring Cleveland Museum of Art

While staying in the vicinity of Toledo, several people recommended the Toledo Museum of Art, reporting it was one of the best in the country. We got so busy seeing the birds at Magee Marsh, that we didn’t make it to that museum. Once we had moved on near Cuyahoga Valley National Park and closer to Cleveland, I set my sights on visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art. When I researched the best art museums in the U.S., this museum usually showed up as a top contender. I was excited to get to visit a museum of this caliber as we hadn’t seen one since full time RV traveling except for the fantastic Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. That museum though focuses on American Art. The last time I was at a big art museum was in New York City in August 2012 for our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding and we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Royal patterned carpet designed for the dining room of Louis XV of France.

I found the Cleveland Museum an easy place to visit. For starters, there is no admission fee, so when I walked in the main door there was no counter or anyone to direct me. The Museum also had few visitors and in some rooms I was the only person there, except for the occasional security staff walking around. It was so great to see the art without fighting any crowds. Another nice thing was that the day we visited, Wednesday, it stayed open until 9:00 p.m., so no worries about not having enough time! My big decision had to be where to start and what to focus on as this place is huge!

My driver decided he didn’t want to spend hours at the Museum and since he was interested in checking out two coin shops (he is a collector) he dropped me off at a side door and went on his way. His plan was to return for the minimum acceptable art experience knowing also there was a nice cafe and sitting area in the Museum. I started off with the armor collection which is located in one big room and is quite impressive. It features European arms and armor from 1400-1700. There were exhibits of chain mail, helmets, plate armor, shields and cross bows. The horse and rider above are wearing armor from around the year 1575.

Yosemite Valley, 1866

I next spent some time looking at the paintings of American artists as well as the European Masters. Here are two of my favorite American artists. I really like the works of Albert Bierstadt and have enjoyed many visits to Yosemite, so his painting of Yosemite Valley in the photo above is one of my favorites.

White Flower, 1929

I love New Mexico and the Southwest with Georgie O’Keefe another favorite artist. I especially like her big flower paintings like the one above with the title, “White Flower.”

Gray and Gold, 1942

The colors on this painting, “Gray and Gold” really popped out when I walked in the room. The artist, John Cox painted it shortly after the U.S. joined World War II. The symbolic image is of amber waves of grain threatened by ominous storm clouds with two dirt lanes at a crossroad. Vincent Van Gogh is perhaps my favorite European artist and I always love getting a chance to see his paintings. I still remember reading the biographical book about him, “Lust For Life” when I was a teenager. It is one of the books from my early years that stands out. This painting is called “Poplars at Saint-Remy” and was painted while he was in an asylum near Saint-Remy in Southern France. It was so neat to be able to stand inches away admiring this work and think about Van Gogh applying these thick strokes of paint so many years ago.

Poplars at Saint-Remy, 1889

I found the Contemporary Section to be …. well, interesting. One of the more unique pieces was called, “Washing Away of Wrongs” and featured two stainless steel dryer doors that “speaks to the experience of loss and separation.” When doing a little research after my visit I read that each door supposedly transmits a different scent, but somehow I missed during my visit that you could open the door and sniff inside.

My favorite part of the museum were the antiquities. It is quite an experience to see works of art with some dating just a few hundred years after Christ. The antiquities section includes Egyptian, Near East, Greek and Roman works. The painted “Coffin of Bakenmut” from 976-889 BC was made for the priests of Amen and their families. It has amazingly preserved decoration.

Coffin of Bakenmut

I spent a lot of time looking at the antiquities and there was so much I enjoyed seeing. Here are a few pieces I thought were especially impressive. Below is a bronze Roman statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius from around 180-200 A.D.

The Emperor as Philosopher

The relief pictured below is from the palace of the Assyrian King, Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. It is believed at one time there were 300 reliefs decorating the palace. The city was destroyed in 612 BC and the palace lay buried for 24 centuries until rediscovered in 1845.

Saluting Protective Spirit, 883-859 BC

The museum has a huge central Atrium that is three stories high and nearly as big as a football field. It was completed seven years ago and is very impressive. Mark and I took a break and had a late lunch at the cafe which is situated at one end with table seating in the Atrium. After eating we both spent a little longer looking. I think I spent about five hours with the exhibits altogether and still didn’t see it all. But, I was so tired from all that I did see!

Museum Atrium

Below is a gallery of some main pieces the Museum lists as “Must See’s.” My favorite was the “Tomb Guardian” from China in the early 700’s. I was a little disappointed with Monet’s Water Lilies though. The one at this museum is part of a three panel with the two other panels at different museums. I guess it just didn’t grab me although I usually like Monet’s paintings but this one didn’t seem as colorful as I thought it would be.

One of the fun things about doing a blog is that I get to relive my travel experiences and I usually learn more about what I experienced because I do research that I didn’t do at the time of my visit. I hope you enjoyed following this post and stay tuned for next time when I write about our time in Ohio’s Amish country.