A Futbol First

fcc0416_01Cincinnati has a new professional futbol… er, soccer team. It’s not the first. Rummaging through an assortment of teams, vanishing leagues, and shifting designations it looks to me as if the most recent fully professional soccer team to call this city home was the 2006 Cincinnati Kings. The match that the new team, Futbol Club Cincinnati, played yesterday was not their first. That was a March 26 loss to Charleston Battery. Nor was it their first win. That occurred April 3 at Bethlehem Steel. It wasn’t even their first home match or their first home win. Both of those were accomplished  with last Saturday’s game against Charlotte Independence. The match was, however, a first for me. It wasn’t just the first FC Cincinnati match I’ve attended or my first professional soccer match. It was the first “real” soccer match of any sort that I’ve ever seen in person.

All three of my kids played soccer at some point or another and I saw many of their games. I don’t want to belittle those games or the players efforts but the truth is that they often knew little more about soccer than I did. My oldest son, Cris, was an exception. He became a real fan. On his most recent visit to Ohio, we spent an evening in a bar specifically to see a World Cup match of particular interest to him. He worked hard to keep his old man from looking too stupid but I retained very little of what I learned. On his way to becoming an adult soccer fan, Cris did some fairly serious playing himself. Not long after high school graduation he joined an indoor soccer team and I attended a number of their matches. Those games were some of the fastest and most exciting competitions I’ve ever witnessed but indoor soccer is not the same sport embodied in the World Cup.

Part of the attraction of any sport is the culture that surrounds it. I have the feeling that that is more so with soccer than other sports but that could simply be the result of my outsider’s viewpoint. With help, I was able to overcome a little of my ignorant outsider status for my first match. Apparently formal supporter groups are standard procedure in the world of soccer. They exist in other sports, Cincinnati’s Rosie Reds immediately comes to mind, but they seem much more prominent in soccer. I am aware of three such groups, The Pride, The Den, and Die Innenstadt, associated with FC Cincinnati. I’m reasonably well acquainted with one of Die Innenstadt’s organizers and close friends with someone who joined a bit later. I experienced my first pro soccer match as a Die Innenstadt hanger-on.

For the first home game, members met at the Rhinegeist Brewery near downtown and walked to the game from there. For this and all future home games, Mecklenburg Gardens is the official meeiting place. The distance is about the same but the walk is now fairly level rather than a one mile climb up a Cincinnati hillside. Our participation was not quite as complete as we had planned. Mecklenburg Gardens was packed when my friend and I arrived. The group started their march several minutes ahead of the announced time and, more importantly, several minutes before we had worked our way through the long and slow moving beer line. We “marched” to the stadium as a group of two.

fcc0416_02By the time we arrived, the group was in place in an end zone area known as the Bailey. We took our place in the Bailey but chose seats off to the side thinking that would avoid some of the major flag waving and such and might give us a clearer view of the near goal. That helped to a degree but the entire Bailey was filled by game time and most of those fans stood through every minute of play.

fcc0416_05fcc0416_04fcc0416_03Players were on the field warming up but took off ahead of the opening ceremonies. Both teams reentered the field together. Each player was accompanied by a jersey wearing youngster. That’s something I wish I’d made an effort to learn more about.

fcc0416_06fcc0416_07fcc0416_08The home team scored first and the Bailey celebrated with an orange smoke bomb. A blue bomb had started the match. FC Cincinnati would score one more time but it was in the final minutes long after visiting Louisville City FC, who had their own small but energetic group of supporters in the stands, had three points on the board.

fcc0416_09So I got to see FC Cincinnati’s first home loss but I had a great time and may have even learned a thing or two. And I also got to be part of a record setting crowd. The 20,497 in attendance last night was a USL regular season record. Cincinnati may really be ready for soccer. Just before the match started I texted my futboler son to let him know I was about to experience something new. His reply was the best thing I read all day. “Don’t forget your scarf!”

Cincinnati Strut

od2016_01I’m sure some folks get tired of hearing about how special Opening Day is in Cincinnati but that’s not going to stop me. I won’t write as much about the history as I did back in 2012 but I will again mention that the world’s oldest professional baseball team always opens at home and always has a marvelous parade. The picture at right shows people gathering for the parade on Race Street. Behind them is Washington Park and Music Hall stands beyond the park. The park was completely renovated a few years ago and is now a popular gathering place for families. Music Hall will be closing soon for its own renovation. I reported on a performance there a couple of weeks ago.

od2016_02Lou Piniella managed the Reds in their last World Series win in 1990. I remember it vividly and recall thinking that it had been a long dry spell since The Big Red Machine wins in 1975 and ’76. But that was just fourteen years and the Reds have now played twenty-five seasons without even getting to a World Series let alone winning one.

od2016_03I snapped a picture of the Corvair station wagon as it approached but didn’t realize who was in it until it was beside me. That’s legendary King Records studio drummer Phillip Paul with who I believe is his good friend Roberta Narcisse beside him. Paul recorded the original “The Twist” with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, “Train Kept a Rollin'” with Tiny Bradshaw, “Hide Away” with Freddie King, and an incredibly long list of other hits. Paul isn’t quite as flashy as another local music legend who was in last year’s parade but, while Bootsy Collins performs only occasionally, the ninety year old Paul has a steady weekend gig in downtown Cincinnati.

od2016_04President William Howard Taft threw a ceremonial first pitch to start the Washington Senators 1910 season and every president since has thrown a first pitch at an Opening Day, World Series, of All Star game at some time while in office. Taft was a Cincinnati native and his former home is now a National Historic Site. A fancy brewpub right on today’s parade route bears his name. If you have any thoughts of being a Taft impersonator, Cincinnati is the place to be.

od2016_07od2016_06od2016_05In less than a year of existence, the Red Hot Dancing Queens have made me a most sincere fan. As I told a small group of them I encountered after the parade, if everyone could have a mere fraction of the fun these gals have, the world would be a much better place. Watch for them at parades and festivals throughout the summer.

od2016_08od2016_09od2016_10Here’s another parade group that I like a lot. I recall first seeing the Wapakoneta Lawnmower Precision Drill Team a long time ago in a Saint Patrick’s Day but they haven’t been in that parade for many years. They might have realized that the fun was draining from that parade well before I did. After completing one of their precision choreographed drills, there was a pause in the parade and some of the team members dashed over to the curb to high-five some of the spectators. Only after he had rejoined the formation did the group of boys in front of me notice the faux southern exposure on the guy they had just exchanged high-fives with. As we all know, a little snicker makes everybody feel better.

Coincidence at Play

tcamb1I’ve yet to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I have seen the 1962 movie multiple times and now I’ve seen the play. I had hoped to read the book between learning that the play would be performed this season at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and actually seeing it but that didn’t work out.

The Friday night performance would be the biggest event of my week but I didn’t expect it to lead to a blog post. I anticipated that a canned Trip Peek would be published this morning. A Friday morning email got me to thinking differently.

The email was the April E-News from the Smithsonian. One of the topics was “The Scottsboro Boys” with this two sentence tease: “The case of the Scottsboro Boys, which lasted more than 80 years, helped to spur the civil rights movement. To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, is also loosely based on this case.”

I read the article referenced in the email and could easily see similarities between the 1931 real world incident and the fictional one Harper Lee set just a few years later. Both involved black men accused of imaginary crimes against white women and both occurred in a world where color mattered a whole lot more than truth. Later I read that in 2005 Harper Lee said this was not the incident she had in mind when writing To Kill a Mockingbird but that it served “the same purpose”. Despite there not being an official connection between the Scottsboro Boys and To Kill a Mockingbird, reading about the incident and its repercussions served a purpose for me, too. It provided an unpleasant picture of this country near the midpoint between the Civil War and today. The accuracy of that picture is reinforced by a contemporary pamphlet, They Shall Not Die!, referenced in the Smithsonian article.

tcamb2I took my seat on Friday with the Scottsboro story fresh in my mind. The stage was bare except for a single light bulb which would actually be removed at the play’s start although it would return later. The stage consists of a large circular center and a surrounding ring both of which rotate. Sometimes they rotate in opposite directions which can seem to expand the distance between actors or the distance they travel. Set Designer Laura Jellinek states that “our main goal was to eliminate any artifice between the audience and the story” and this set certainly accomplishes that. As one audience member observed during the discussion that followed the play, she briefly looked around for the jury during the courtroom scene before realizing that “we were the jury”. At its most crowded, the stage holds nine chairs for the key figures in that courtroom scene.

The discussion I mentioned happens after every performance. Anyone interested moves close to the stage to listen or participate. There were naturally questions about this specific production but there were also questions about the story. There is a sign in the lobby that I now wish I’d taken a picture of. “Don’t read books that think for you. Read books that make you think.” might not be 100% accurate but it’s close. Friday night’s discussion was evidence that this play is prompting some thinking and I’ve no reason to think that discussions following other performances are any different.

tcamb3There is also a set of blackboards in the lobby. As I assume is true at every performance, the blackboards started out empty except for a question at the top of each. By the time people started heading home, the boards were full. It’s pretty clear that some thinking is going on here, too.

It was the coincidence of the Smithsonian email showing up on the day I was set to see the play that nudged me towards making it a blog entry. There is another coincidence of sorts that I find interesting.  Each week, the blog This Cruel War publishes an article on lynchings. The article is published on Wednesdays but, since I subscribe via RSS and I seem to always be behind in my RSS reading, it is often a day or more after publication before I read a specific article. I read this week’s post the morning after my Playhouse visit. In it, the source of the series’ title, “This Disgraceful Evil”, is given. It comes from a 1918 Woodrow Wilson speech in which he calls upon America “…to make an end of this disgraceful evil.”

We don’t have to deal with actual lynchings now as much as in 1918 but there’s still plenty of crap going on. “It cannot live”, Wilson continues, “where the community does not countenance it.”

Originally scheduled to end today, April 3, To Kill a Mockingbird‘s run a Playhouse in the Park has been extended through April 9.

Happy Easter Island

eiflagLast year I noted with surprise that Easter and my birthday have coincided only twice in my lifetime. But it has happened several times outside of my lifetime and that includes 1722 when Dutch sailor Jacob Roggeveen came upon a tiny South Pacific island which the residents may have called Rapa. Whether they did or didn’t mattered not a bit to Roggeveen who decided to call the island Paaseiland. Dutch Paaseiland translates to the English Easter Island. The island is now part of Spanish speaking Chili where it is known as Isla de Pascua. Its modern Polynesian name is Rapa Nui.

hcafeiheadThe opening image is the Isla de Pascua flag. The red figure represents a reimiro, an ornament worn by the native islanders. At left is an image more commonly associated with Easter Island. The island contains nearly 900 statues similar to the one in the picture. I’ve never been to Easter Island and have no pictures of my own although there are plenty to be found around the internet. This photo is one I took of an imitation at the Hill County Arts Foundation near Ingram, Texas.

The true significance of the statues, called moai, is not known but we do know that they once outnumbered inhabitants by roughly 8 to 1. The island is believed to have once held about 15,000 people. A number of factors reduced that to maybe 3,000 by the time Roggeveen came along. Contributing causes were deforestation, erosion, and the extinction of several bird species. The population probably remained around 3,000 until 1862 when Peruvian slavers began a series of raids that resulted in about half of that population being hauled away. The raiders were somehow forced to return many or perhaps most of those they had captured but they brought smallpox to the island when they did. Tuberculosis arrived just a few years later and disease, violent confrontations, and a major evacuation reduced the human population to just 111 by the late 1870s. There are currently 887 moai on the island. In the past there may have been more.

Today is the 295th Easter Sunday that Easter Island has been known by that name. The population has grown considerably and is now around 6000 which must make for a much happier island than when barely a hundred hung on. Of course the actual calendar date of the naming (and my birthday) is still more than a week away. I hope you’re looking forward to wishing everyone a Happy Easter Island Anniversary as much as I am.

A Pre-Refurb Peek at Music Hall

cmhmn01At the end of this year’s May Festival, Cincinnati’s Music Hall will close for extensive renovations. The Cincinnati icon, which first opened in 1878, will open again in the fall of 2017. I knew I ought to attend at least one more performance there before the closing and working in part of the May Festival has been in the back of my mind. A number of things lined up Friday that made attending the first night of the MusicNOW Festival possible and attractive. I may still try to make it back for the May Festival but the pressure is off and I had a most enjoyable evening.

MusicNow, the brainchild of Bryce Dessner of The National, was first held in 2005. Although The National was formed after he moved to New York, Bryce is a Cincinnati native and frequently involved with the city’s music. An Australian tour prevented him from attending this year’s festival but one of his compositions opened Friday’s concert and another was premiered on Saturday.

cmhmn02cmhmn03With about an hour to go, the lobby was pretty empty and I grabbed a couple of pictures. There are a number of large chandeliers in the building with one of the most impressive hanging in the center of the lobby..

cmhmn06cmhmn05cmhmn04I used some of the extra time to head upstairs. On the second floor, I snapped pictures of the upper level of the lobby and the balcony of the main concert space, Springer Auditorium. The third photo is of the Springer Auditorium Gallery. The seats in the foreground are about where I sat to watch Big Brother and the Holding Company in October 1968. This was the performance that was paused while Janis and the band watched the Beatles on the Smothers Brothers Show.

I believe that 1968 show was my first at Music Hall. Many, wildly diverse, have followed. If Big Brother is at one end of the range, Andrés Segovia might be at the other. He was solo and acoustic when I saw him in 1982. So was Bruce Springsteen in 1996. But Bruce was 47; Segovia nearly 90. That little old man and that little old guitar on the big old stage remains one of my most memorable concerts and a great demonstration of the wonderful acoustics of that big old space. There were numerous Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concerts that included a variety of soloists; several performances of the Nutcracker ballet; the Kinks; John (not yet Mellencamp) Cougar; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and others I’ve temporarily forgotten. But my purpose in going to Friday’s show was not to trigger old memories. I wanted to firm up my impressions of the building in anticipation of next year’s changes. It was standing at the back wall of the Gallery and looking at the distant stage that prompted the most ancient memories then not-quite-as-ancient memories just followed.

cmhmn07My seat was a last minute pay-what-you-want bargain. From the left side of the second row the visuals consisted largely of orchestra member’s ankles and partially obscured profiles of featured performers but the audio was fantastic. The Kronos Quartet performed first followed by violinist Jennifer Koh with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After an intermission, the quartet and orchestra performed together. Mandolinist Chris Thile closed the show. He performed, like Segovia and Springsteen, solo and he even stepped in front of the mic to do a couple of songs completely acoustic. Not suprisingly, it sounded great from a few yards away but I almost bolted from my seat to see if he reached the rear of the audtorium as well as Segovia had. I didn’t. I wish I had.

cmhmn08The Cincinnati Opera has put together a rather nice Music Hall Renovation FAQ in which they specifically mention that “The large chandelier in the auditorium will be restored.” I don’t know if that means the others will not be but it does raise the question. I hope that’s not the case although if only one can be saved, this is certainly the right one.

Bock Again

cbf16_01It was cold and cloudy for the 24th Cincinnati Bockfest Parade. It was, however, dry so a friend and I braved the 40-and-falling temperature to walk beside the merry participants. It was my friend’s first exposure; my fifth.  The cold seems to have kept some observers away but it had no noticible affect on the size of the parade itself. I think a few past entries were absent (e.g., the whip lady) but I doubt that temperature was the cause and there were compensating new entries to keep things interesting.

cbf16_02cbf16_03Proving that the temperature was not a deterrent to everyone was this this wading pool accompanied group wearing shorts, T-shirts, and water wings. Some Red Hot Dancing Queens gathered in front of Arnold’s, Cincinnati’s oldest bar and traditional parade starting point. The Dancing Queens instantly became one of my all time favorite parade groups when I saw them on their second outing at last year’s Northside 4th of July Parade.

cbf16_05cbf16_04I failed to get a picture of parade Grand Marshall Mick Noll and barely caught Schnitzel the goat pulling the ceremonial keg of bock beer. That’s 2015 Sausage Queen, Elyse Lohrbach, in the Caddy. Her reign ended Saturday night when the 2016 queen, Rachel Appenfelder, was chosen.

cbf16_06cbf16_07It’s always good to see perennial favorites Arnold’s self propelled bathtub and the Trojan goat. I personally prefer the original motorized tub (two paragraphs back) although I’m sure the new model is both safer and more reliable.

cbf16_10cbf16_09cbf16_08And now some of the new entries. In case you haven’t noticed, the parade is a real showcase for certifiably groan-worthy puns. Here we have “Whatever Floats Your Goat”, “Bocktor Seuss’ Whodeyville”, and “The Empire Strikes Bock”.

cbf16_11cbf16_12That cluster of Red Hot Dancing Queens in front of Arnold’s had grown to full strength when the parade stepped off. The fun that these gals have is truly contagious and there is no known cure.

cbf16_13I normally probably would not post this blurry picture of a float that has appeared in previous parades but I really need to this time. The 185 year old Rabbit Hash General Store was destroyed by fire just three weeks ago but, as the sign says, “You Can’t Keep a Good Town Down”. There were no injuries and there is some insurance but it isn’t really enough to rebuild the store. A GoFundMe campaign, accessible through the Rabbit Hash website, has been established.

cbf16_14We got inside Bockfest Hall which is something I did not do in either of the preceding two years. I guess that was our reward for dealing with temperatures that not everyone wanted to deal with. In the warmer and brighter 2014 and 2015, when the end of the parade reached the end of the route, the street outside the hall was filled withe people trying to get in. Of course getting in didn’t mean getting to see or hear much. The reduced crowd was still a very big crowd. I snapped this picture over to to of that crowd and only later realized that it contained the previously miss Grand Marshal. That’s Mick Noll in the blue hat at the photo’s left and Christian Moerlein’s Greg Hardman in the top hat on the photo’s right.

The following links lead to evidence of my previous visits: 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015

Ohio Predictions

ghd2016_01If I’d had any confidence that I would actually attend a Groundhog Day event this year, I might have posted a canned article last week and saved the Happy Imbolc piece for today to be fleshed out with the latest news. But the truth is that I wasn’t sure I would make it to Buckeye Chuck‘s dawn pronouncement until just minutes before I was on the way. I was noncommittal when I went to bed on Monday. If I woke up in time and in the mood to go, I would, but I set no alarm clock and told myself that sleeping through the whole thing would be just fine. I awoke at 4:04, four minutes past what I had decided was the ideal departure time. There was slack in that ideal time but I waffled for a few minutes before finally deciding to go. I hit the shower and then the road and reached Marion, Ohio, right about 7:00. The photo of Buckeye Chuck in his cage was taken at 7:03.

ghd2016_02The gathering in Marion isn’t nearly as large as the one in Punxsutawney but it is respectable. Radio station WMRN has been offering localized groundhog predictions since the late 1970s when Charlie Evers started sharing those provided by groundhogs in the neighboring woods with listeners. That led to a naming contest that produced the name Buckeye Chuck and Evers was instrumental in getting the Ohio legislature to proclaim Buckeye Chuck the state’s official groundhog in 1979. The original Buckeye Chuck was present today, patiently posing for photos. Evers has moved on but is still a force in the area with a show on radio station WWGH.

ghd2016_04ghd2016_03A WMRN Groundhog Day tradition is providing free ground hog, in the form of Spam sandwiches, to everyone present. That’s Buckeye Chuck’s current partner and translator, Scott Shawver taking the first bite of his. I had my own which I consumed with less ceremony but possibly more enthusiasm.

ghd2016_05ghd2016_06Broadcasting from the stage near Buckeye Chuck went live at 7:15, just a few minutes before Shawver bit into that sandwich. Sunrise was at 7:41. The time in between was filled with the reading of a couple of proclamations, including one from Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer and assorted banter from Shawver and co-host Paul James. When they began wondering about who had come the farthest, I thought I might be in the running but the first question, “Anyone from out of state?”, turned up a couple from New Jersey. They visit a different groundhog each year. Last year it was General Beauregard Lee near Atlanta, Georgia, and they have been to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania “many times”. Clouds continued moving steadily on and by the time the sun popped over the horizon the sky was pretty much clear. Buckeye Chuck saw his shadow, an indicator that six more weeks of winter should be expected, instantly.

ghd2016_07The mildly disappointed crowd dispersed rather quickly although some took advantage of the daylight to get a better view or a better picture of Buckeye Chuck while Shawver and James wrapped up the program. I dawdled a bit before walking to the car. Deciding to drive to Marion was as far as my morning planning had progressed. Just before climbing into the car, I asked the only person standing nearby if he knew of a good place for breakfast. “No,” he said with a laugh, “I’m from Cleveland.”

ghd2016_08Scanning signs and storefronts as I drove back through Marion,I spotted a likely looking place near the center of town. I took the photo as I left. The street in front of Baires Restaurant was completely empty when I arrived. A guy at the counter and another in a booth were drinking coffee and chatting with each other when I entered. Service was somewhat slow but the lone woman on the business side of the counter seemed pretty busy in the cooking area so I didn’t think too much of it. The first person to enter after me was a fellow on a walker. As he worked his way into the seat next to me and against the wall, I asked, thinking it might be easier, if he would rather sit where I was. “This one’s got my name on it,” he laughed and he meant it. He pointed to a small brass plate on the back of the swivel stool marking it as his regular seat. The cook/waitress immediately appeared with his grapefruit which I had noticed her preparing earlier. My food arrived as I chatted with my new neighbor and learned that the restaurant normally opened at 8:30. It was not yet a quarter past when I entered and what I took to be slow service was more than I had a right to expect. Now that the place was officially open, a number of people entered with new folks greeted, usually by name, by those already there. As I paid my bill, I joked with the person I now realized was cook/waitress/owner about me busting in early and she grinned. “Oh, you’re alright.” In case there is any question, I had sausage & eggs.

ghd2016_10ghd2016_09One of the reasons I had been so nonchalant about possibly sleeping through Buckeye Chuck’s emergence was that I had a Plan B. The day’s big event at Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, where I’d watched a groundhog named Rosie make her prediction in 2013, was aimed toward a much younger crowd and was scheduled for a comfortable 10:00 AM. I hadn’t even thought about it after starting toward Marion but I got curious as I was about to select “Home” on the GPS, and tapped Boonshoft instead. When I did, I realized that, without the breakfast stop, I probably could have worked in both Chuck and Rosie. Since it made the time to home only slightly longer, I proceeded to the museum. The last load of attending school children were about to climb aboard their bus when I arrived. Rosie’s appearance had taken place more than forty minutes earlier but I coud see the official result. She agreed with Chuck.

Not many did. Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring as did all the other U.S. groundhogs on my short list consisting of Staten Island’s Charles G. Hogg, Illinois’ Woodstock Willie, and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee. The only groundhog of note that I found agreeing with Chuck and Rosie lives in Canada but not all Canadians are of the same mind, either. In Ontario, Wiarton Willie sided with the Ohio rodents in predicting more winter while Shubenacadie Sam claims an early spring is on the way in Nova Scotia.


imbolc2016As stated in last week’s post, I had no plans to be awake at 4:30 AM Thursday. That was when Imbolc, the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, occurred this year. Neither did I have plans to assure that I was asleep at that time but that seemed the most likely and it is indeed what transpired. I didn’t miss it by too much, though. The picture at left was taken at 5:22, a mere fifty-two minutes past Imbolc. Admitedly I can’t prove it but I strongly suspect that the view from my bed was pretty much the same at the magic moment as it was less than an hour later.

Happy Imbolc

gknob2010Groundhog Day has long been one of my favorite holidays. In fact, attending America’s biggest Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, was among the first things I did with the newly available time that retirement brought. The photo at right was taken at 4:58 AM, February 2, 2010. Sunrise was more than two hours away and the temperature was four degrees Fahrenheit. I had a good time and I’m glad I went but the experience did not lead to plans for an annual return. Standing outside in pre-dawn single-digit temperatures is something I prefer to discuss in past tense only.

I credited my original fondness for Groundhog Day to a belief that it had no religious connections and was basically folklore that had been adopted by some Pennsylvanians largely to promote silliness. While both of those claims are sort of true, there is more to it. I started to doubt the “no religious connections” when I discovered that America’s Groundhog Day shares its February 2 date with Christianity’s Candlemas. But sharing a date doe not a connection make and there are no direct ties apparent between Groundhog Day and any of the three events (presentation of the child Jesus, Jesus’ entry into the temple, and Mary’s purification) Christians attribute to the day.

February 1 is also a day recognized by Christians. It is the day that Saint Brigid of Ireland is reported to have died and is celebrated as her feast day. Before Saint Brigid was born (in 451 they say) a Gaelic festival was celebrated about this time to honor a goddess also named, perhaps by coincidence though probably not, Brigid. I have to say “about this time” because man-made calendars had not yet taken over and feast days were not yet tied to specific numbers on pages. Brigid’s was associated with a point halfway between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox called Imbolc which happens near the beginning of what we call February. In 2016 it occurs at 4:30 EST February 4.

Without donut shops and corner diners, it isn’t clear where ancient Irish farmers gathered to talk about the weather but it’s a safe bet that they did. Around Imbolc, the coming spring would have been a big topic. Farmers without donut shops and cable television are quite observant of their environment and they no doubt noticed that bright clear days in the middle of winter were usually a little colder than cloudy ones. With Imbolc being the most “middle of winter” you can get, giving some special significance to the weather on that day was likely fairly natural. That’s about as close to science that the groundhog and shadow story gets.

I’m guessing that making a determination at sunrise was also fairly natural. Even if those early farmers were capable of determining Imbolc’s exact moment — and I’m not saying they weren’t — in those years when it did not occur during the daytime they weren’t about to get up in the middle of the night to see if the sun was shining. The crack of dawn probably seemed about right.

So there really are no direct connections between Groundhog Day and religion and there is plenty of silliness in its fairly recent (1887) use to bring fame to a small Pennsylvania town but its timing is firmly linked to the workings of the solar system and there is a tiny bit of logic in it being a day to make weather predictions. If nothing else, the days around Imbolc are most likely the coldest of the year meaning there’s a good chance that it’s all up-thermometer from here.

My 2010 Punxsutawney visit is here. I will, as usual, celebrate Groundhog Day on Tuesday by consuming pork sausage at some point. I have no plans to be awake at 4:30 Thursday to observe Imbolc.

The Brewery’s Neighborhood

sahdoc15_00Neighborhood taverns may not be as common as they once were but they are hardly extinct. Traditional beer towns like Cincinnati, Saint Louis, and Milwaukee have them and I’m sure they’re not alone. Once upon a time, some of the neighborhoods in those beer towns had a neighborhood brewery. A precious few do so today. One that does is the Saint Anne’s Hill Historic District in Dayton, Ohio. That’s the neighborhood brewery at right. It’s the Fifth Street Brewpub, the first co-op brewery in Ohio and the second in the nation. Today patrons come from near and far and even the owner/members are a widespread bunch but the founders who had the idea and made it happen are neighbors. They did it to save a little history and to put some more life back into their neighborhood. The rest of the Saint Anne’s Hill pictures are posted in sequence but this was taken at the end of the evening as I approached the brewpub for a little R&R after a guided walk around the neighborhood. There’s something of a “bonus” in the photo. The contraption at the very top is part of the rigging for the overhead wires that power Dayton’s electric trolley buses. Dayton is one of only five US cities operating electric trolley buses. The others are Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

sahdoc15_01Saint Anne’s Hill was hardly lifeless even before the brewpub opened in 2013. A downward slide that had started with the Great Depression and World War II was halted in the early 1970s as a modern sort of pioneer started restoring some of the elegant old houses in the area. A some point, residents began offering tours of homes decorated for Christmas to raise funds for community projects. The biennial tours continue to be offered in odd numbered years. They begin at this 1869 house which is now the High Street Art Gallery operated by the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors.

sahdoc15_02The area’s original heyday was in the early twentieth century and tour guides dress in the height of period fashion. That’s our tour guide, Jack, under the top-hat. There were eight homes on the tour and Jack told us about each one before we entered. In the picture we are learning about a house on High Street built by a family named Bennington in 1890.

sahdoc15_03sahdoc15_04sahdoc15_05The tour’s appeal comes from the wonderfully restored historic homes themselves as well as beautiful Christmas decorations both inside and out. Two, three, or more trees are a big part of each home’s charm which meant there were many great looking trees to chose from. The trees shown here were chosen largely because their photos came out OK and I won’t attempt to identify the houses they were in. In addition to the Bennington house this year’s tour included a 1902 house also on High Street, an 1886 house on McLain Street, 1900 and 1853 houses on LaBelle Street, and 1855 and 1865 houses on Detoit Street.

sahdoc15_06In addition to telling us about each home we entered, Jack provided information on several other houses as we passed. This house, on what is now Detoit Street, was built by Eugene Detoit in 1838. It is the oldest house in Saint Anne’s Hill and one of the oldest in Dayton.

sahdoc15_07sahdoc15_08sahdoc15_09Different homes participate in each year’s tour with one exception. The 1869 Bossler Mansion is always the final stop and that is where we were treated to some incredible bread pudding as were all the tour groups in previous years. The mansion’s thirty rooms were once divided into thirteen apartments. During tour weekend, the second floor holds a gift shop filled largely with items made by local craftsmen. The last photo is the view from the cupula atop the mansion.

This was the second time I’ve taken a tour of decorated historic homes. The first was in 2012 in Morristown on the National Road.


zns02zns01Saint Anne’s Hill is something over thirty crow miles from where I live. A holiday display that has been getting a lot of press is much closer. The World’s First Zombie Nativity Scene, which has been covered by the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC among others, is about a half dozen miles from my door. Most of the big time coverage was triggered by threats by the township to fine the owner up to $500 per day. Officials have always claimed that the threats were because of zoning violations and it seems they were even if that might not be what initially caught their attention. A day or two before I took these pictures on Friday, the display had been made smaller and a roof that extended upward a few feed removed. The township says it’s now good to stay.

Even though it was the threatened fines that brought the world wide attention, most reports focused on the “non-traditional” nature of the display. Fair and balanced Lou Dobbs called it an “obscenity” and said “I think if you’re going to mock a religion, I’m thinking they should have chosen the Islamic religion to see what would happen.” Lou and company notwithstanding, my sense is that defenders out number those who are upset and that, after two years of what some would call oppression, a new local Christmas tradition has been established.

Dancers and Prancers

lhp15_01The last time I was at a Lebanon, Ohio, horse parade was in 2011 and it was part of what I called a trifecta. On three consecutive weekends I attended horse parades in Greenville, Springfield, and Lebanon. This year Greenville held their 12th annual Hometown Holiday Horse Parade on November 21. I missed it. As happened in 2011, an open weekend separated the Greenville and Lebanon parades but I have found no evidence of Springfield filling it. The 2011 parade was their first and it may have been their last. Pictures in this post are from the 27th annual Lebanon Carriage Parade held yesterday, December 5.

lhp15_02lhp15_03Lebanon actually has two parades and a sizable street festival to go with them. The Red Hot Dancing Queens, who I’ve seen on a few other occasions, were part of the pre-parade entertainment. They are indeed red hot and seem to always have every bit of fun that the law allows.

lhp15_05lhp15_04Lebanon has both a daytime and nighttime parade. The nighttime parade, which was the one I attended in 2011, is harder to photograph but electric lights on the carriages and and horses do look cool. Obviously I attended the daytime parade this year and it’s just as obvious what is being celebrated.

lhp15_06lhp15_07lhp15_08I haven’t seen an official count but there must have been just about 100 entries. I recall seeing tags in the 90s with a few carriages behind them plus I spotted a pair of entries wearing A and B versions of the same number. There may have been more.

lhp15_11lhp15_10lhp15_09The posted photos show just a small fraction of the entries. There is absolutely nothing scientific about their selection. They are merely some that I like. Since I have no idea who any of these people are, I can’t really be accused of slighting anyone. Ignorance can be useful.