1940s Flashback

Cincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendCincinnati Museum Center held its first “1940’s Day” in 2011. It became “1940’s Weekend” in 2012 and is again a two day (Aug 10 & 11) event this year. The Museum Center occupies Union Terminal which saw its heaviest use in the 1940s. It opened in1933 with a capacity of 17,000 passengers per day; A number that not only seemed adequate but, with rail travel already on the decline, major overkill. It was World War II, of course, that changed that. The terminal became a hub for the movement of troops and as many as 34,000 passengers, twice as many as it was designed for, passed through it daily.

Cincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendCincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendThough it doesn’t completely ignore them, “1940’s Weekend” doesn’t focus on the horrors and hardships of the war years but on the bright spots they contained and the brighter years that followed. Music figured into many of the bright spots both then and now. The Jump ‘n’ Jive Show Band and several guest vocalists kept energetic attendees jumping and the Sweet and Lows roamed the building with their wonderful harmonies. The picture shows an “on location” performance of The Trolley Song (a.k.a. Clang Clang Clang went the Trolley).  The Sweet and Lows perform both days but the Jump ‘n’ Jive Show Band gives way to the P & G Big Band on Sunday.

Cincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendCincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendCincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendThe rotunda was filled with vendors of, mostly, railroad memorabilia and there were demonstrations of some of the grooming procedures of the day. The theater showed newsreels that were post war or at least post V-E Day. The picture I’ve posted is of General Eisenhower praising the rank and file members of every military branch for their war contributions. I also attended two live presentations in the theater.

Cincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendCincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendThe first was a recreation of an episode of the Seckatary Hawkins radio program. Seckatary Hawkins was the creation of Covington, Kentucky, native Robert Franc Schulkers. The mystery solving character first appeared in 1918 in the Cincinnati Enquirer then in novels and a radio program. Initially the show was done in Cincinnati by Schulkers and friends and family but it soon moved to Chicago where professional actors filled the roles. Following the presentation of a little history, a volunteer cast was assembled and a fine performance delivered. The once huge Seckatary Hawkins Fair and Square club has been revived and you can join for free. I did.

Cincinnati Museum Center 1940 WeekendThe second presentation stepped away from music and laughter. For the first time, each day of the weekend will feature a Holocaust survivor presenting their own story. Today’s speaker was Werner Coppel who had been sent to Auschwitz-Buna as a teenager. He subsequently escaped during a death march. I have seen movies and read books and have had other personal Holocaust stories told to me directly but none more insightful or delivered as articulately as what I heard today. Calling it a highlight may seem strange but that’s what it was for me. There is a short video of a previous Werner Coppel talk here. Henry Fenichel will share his story on Sunday. He can be seen in a video here.

Dead Sea Scrolls in Cincinnati

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterSeveral Dead Sea Scrolls form the centerpiece of and lend their name to a major ongoing exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. The full name of the exhibit, which I attended on Monday and which runs through mid-April, is Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient TimesThe “scrolls” are in that circular table whose edge is near the center of the photograph at right. They’re not really scrolls though. Not many of the things comprising what we call the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The first manuscripts pulled from caves near the Dead Sea in 1947 were actual scrolls — seven of them — but not so most of the items found since then. Those first scrolls have been described as “relatively intact”. Subsequent finds have largely been fragments of varying sizes. Pieces of parchment and papyrus containing writing were found in a total of eleven caves in the area and by 1956, when somebody decided they had found all there was to find, some 15,000 to 30,000 fragments of what are estimated to be more than 900 manuscripts had been retrieved. About 40% of the manuscripts are copies of books in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament), 30% are religious documents not part of the canonized Bible, and another 30% are secular.

Ten of those manuscripts are represented in that big circular table. To help preserve them, they will be swapped out for a different ten half way through the exhibit. The actual bits of ancient writing are inside sealed climate controlled compartments. Enlargements, notes, and English translations are on the table’s surface. Attributed to the period between roughly 250 BCE and 100 CE, most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew with a respectable number in Aramaic and a few in Greek or Nabataean. All those in the exhibit are either Hebrew or Aramaic. I can’t read one word. Studying the scrolls doesn’t do much for me in practical terms but gazing on documents produced two millennia ago is downright awesome.

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterDead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterThe scrolls are the big draw but by the time most people buy their tickets, they are aware that there is more — a lot more — on display. I regret getting no pictures in the first room of the exhibit where a museum guide uses three ancient jars and walls filled with changing pictures of the region to illustrate an overview of the scroll’s discovery and a little history. From there, visitors enter a long hall with dates on the floor and some seriously old artifacts displayed along one wall. Some sense of the world that preceded the writing and hiding of the scrolls can be obtained here.

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterDead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterNext up are some newer and larger artifacts. An accurate count of artifacts displayed is elusive but something above 600 is probably close. This is reportedly the largest exhibit ever mounted in Cincinnati. The 2011 Cleopatra exhibit had about 150 items and the Pompeii exhibit from earlier this year was just over 250. The rightmost picture is of pottery shards with writing on them. Waste not, want not.

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterDead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterAs visitors get nearer the scroll display, artifacts seem to become a bit more involved with religion. Holders of incense and offerings are well represented and there are hints of a bit more idolatry than I might have suspected. The tall painted cylinder in the second photo is called a cult stand. It’s thought that a bowl with incense or other offerings would have been placed atop it.

Not surprisingly, no photos are permitted in the area where the scrolls are displayed. What was at least a little surprising to me was that the scrolls are not displayed in isolation. They are surrounded by more artifacts, descriptive texts, a short movie, and a stone wall. The movie and texts present some of the facts and theories about who wrote the scrolls, the circumstances of their hiding, and their relationship to the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The wall is basically a replica of a section of the Western/Wailing Wall in Jerusalem but it frames what is believed to be a stone from the actual wall. The three ton cube was not ripped from the wall for the exhibit. Roman soldiers of about 70 CE get the blame for that. Touching the stone is permitted and this can be a very emotional experience for some. Visitors may also insert written prayers into crevices in the replica just as is done at the real Wailing Wall. These prayers are collected periodically and sent to Israel. A nearby video screen displays a live feed from the real wall.

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati Museum CenterThe last part of the exhibit is, I believe, a Cincinnati exclusive. The Hebrew Union College here has been involved with the scrolls from shortly after their discovery. An HUC professor played a key role in the purchase of four of the first seven scrolls in response to a 1954 classified ad in the Wall Street Journal. In the 1970s, HUC secretly stored many photographic negatives of the scrolls for safe keeping. When publication of translations dragged on and on, another HUC professor published his own interpretation of many scrolls in 1991. That exposed him to being sued over copyright violations and he lost. Any 250 BCE copyright on the actual scrolls had most likely expired but the suit involved some intermediate translation work. Despite a courtroom defeat, a lot of the scrolls were now out of the bag and things have been a lot more open since then.

Pnina Shor - The Conservation and Preservation of the Dead Sea ScrollsAnd they’re about to become even more open. The picture at left was taken at a free lecture I attended at the Museum Center in November. The speaker is Pnina Shor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The screen behind her is demonstrating a digitization project that the IAA has undertaken in partnership with Google. This is not the first time that some Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized. The scrolls are not all owned by one entity though reporting who and where is way beyond anything I want to deal with. Lots of people have some and some are already available on line. But the IAA has a bunch and their digitization project is a big one. Estimated completion is 2016 with the first phase, consisting of a few manuscripts, going live in mid-December. The images are being recorded at 1.2 gigapixels. You’re going to need a bigger screen.

Phirst FotoFocus Phinished

Paul Briol exhibit at FotoFocus 2012It’s officially over and I pretty much missed it. The inaugural FotoFocus festival ended along with October and, despite some good intentions, I barely caught a whiff. Of the over fifty exhibits that were part of the event, the only one I actually saw during regulation time was the “The Photographic Legacy of Paul Briol, 1909-1955” at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Briol’s photographs of Cincinnati in the first half of the last century are both documentation and art. He was a master in the dark room and learned to combine images to enhance the finished product. For example, a blank sky might be turned into a pleasant background by adding a few clouds. That was neither common or easy in those pre-PhotoShop days.

FotoFocus is the name of a a Cincinnati nonprofit that “champions the ubiquity of photography and its important role in contemporary culture.” It is also the name of the just concluded month long series of exhibits, presentations, and lectures. There were a couple of receptions and at least one lecture that I wanted to attend but each of those encountered a conflict. I had a whole month to take a look at the many exhibits but just kept putting it off. When I finally panicked and got serious, it was too late. I managed to get to the Briol show at Cincinnati Museum Center on Monday and two others on Friday. Of course, Friday was November 2 and the majority of exhibits were history. The two I visited on Friday were fairly major productions whose runs extend beyond FotoFocus.

Herb Ritts exhibit at FotoFocus 2012Herb Ritts exhibit at FotoFocus 2012On Friday, I headed first to the Cincinnati Arts Museum in Mount Adams to see “Herb Ritts: L.A. Style”. Since I do stop by here once in a while and wouldn’t feel the need to see all of the permanent displays, I thought my visit would be fairly brief. Though I did essentially limit my viewing to the Ritts exhibit and a traveling Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at its entrance, it wasn’t exactly a dash in and out. For one thing, Friday was the first of three days of an expanded “Holiday Expressions” gift shop that filled the lobby. Secondly, several bus loads of students were touring the museum in groups of twenty or so. I love seeing kids in museums. They can be a little noisy and can sometimes block an intended path but they deserve to be there a lot more than I do. Kudos to the schools and teachers who get their kids out to see “stuff”. There also happened to be two musical performances going on. In the lobby, a string trio played on a balcony for the benefit of “Holiday Expression” shoppers and two fellows played and discussed some “old timey” music for the benefit of the students in the main hall.

“Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” was curated by Paul Martineau for the J. Paul Getty Museum. Although I was not familiar with Ritts by name, I definitely recognized some of his photos including the cover of Madonna’s True Blue album. Not all of Ritts’ assignments were successful from the client’s point of view. Several examples of his most impressive work came from assignments that were rejected because they matched Ritts’ vision a lot more than the client’s. Ritts’ vision was darned good.

Even now. it seems, Ritts doesn’t please everyone. There are some stunningly beautiful nudes in the exhibit. A sign at the entrance states this and suggests parents check out things and decide for themselves whether their children should see them or not. After I had viewed the exhibit, I stopped for a while just outside the entrance and listened to the musicians below. As I stood there, a fellow I guessed to be about sixteen or seventeen exited the exhibit and approached me. “My male instincts told me to go in there”, he said. “They were wrong.” There are nudes of both genders on display and I’m guessing that this was the teenager’s problem. I doubt he had ever before considered that the word “nude” was not synonymous with “naked woman”. Ah, the insecurity of youth.

“Herb Ritts: L.A. Style” runs through December.

Edward Steichen exhibit at FotoFocus 2012Taft Museum of ArtThe other exhibit I saw on Friday was “Star Power: Edward Steichen’s Glamour Photography” at the Taft Museum of Art. To my shame, this was my first visit to the Taft since its major expansion and renovation in 2004. That meant I needed to look over the whole place and not limit my visit to the Steichen display. Christmas season is starting here also with Friday being the first day of “Antique Christmas”. This consists of a number of decorations, toys, and other Christmas related items from holidays far in the past spread throughout the museum.

Edward Steichen was a name I half recognized but couldn’t connect with anything in particular. It turns out that, had I made any sort of guess, there’s a good chance I’d have been right. He did a lot. He painted, directed movies, and played a key role in the publication of books and magazines and in the running museums. And he was a photographer. In World War I, he commanded the photographic division of the American Expeditionary Forces. In World War II, he was Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. His many activities between the wars included a fifteen year stint as photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines. That stint ran from 1923 to 1938 and I believe that most, if not all, of the photographs in this exhibit are from that period.

The title refers to “Glamour Photography” and his work for the world of fashion is well represented. It also mentions “Star Power” and the stars are all there: Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and many others including my fav, Claudette Colbert. The way Steichen handles light in these black and white images is remarkable as is his frequent use of stark high-contrast backgrounds. His lighting often adds a 3-D quality and both it and the composition automatically and consistently focus the viewer right where Steichen wants.

“Star Power: Edward Steichen’s Glamour Photography” runs through January 27.

Even though I missed the majority of FotoFocus exhibits, I did see three of the bigger ones. With the Annie Liebovitz exhibit I visited a couple of weeks back, that means I’ve been exposed to some of the best lens based art of the last century in a fairly short span of time. I’ve never called myself a photographer. In fact, after seeing what can be done, I’m almost embarrassed to even be seen with a camera. I’ll get over it and I won’t stop snapping pictures but it was a clear reminder of just why I never call myself a photographer.

On Friday morning, I wanted to check out something about FotoFocus via my phone but I misspelled FotoFocus. I did it by correctly spelling Photofocus. Photofocus is a long running website that I was aware of though not one I can claim to be familiar with. By coincidence Friday was Photofocus’ fourteenth anniversary. It was also the day that founder Scott Bourne announced his retirement. He is not retiring just yet. That will occur in exactly one year and the website will continue. Scott has already made arrangements to assure that. Accident, coincidence, and the reading of a couple of interesting articles made me think that maybe I should become familiar with Photofocus so I’ve subscribed to its RSS feed.

Signs of Summer

Fountain at Cincinnati Museum CenterThe fountain in front of Union Terminal, a.k.a., Cincinnati Museum Center, runs all summer and is turned off all winter. Therefore, one sure sign of summer in Cincinnati is the turning on of the fountain. That happened Friday at 10:30 AM. I had kind of hoped to see the stepped pools below the fountain go from bare concrete to a series of waterfalls right before our eyes but it wasn’t quite that dramatic. Whether the pools were primed in the interest of time or whether the standing water was simply left over from some secret testing I cannot say, but they started the day ready to overflow at the slightest provocation.

Fountain at Cincinnati Museum CenterFountain at Cincinnati Museum CenterFountain at Cincinnati Museum Center




I still think bare concrete morphing to cascading waterfalls would have been cooler but watching the fountain go from zilch to a spurt to a full spray wasn’t bad.

Day in Pompeii CharacterDay in Pompeii CharactersAll the kids, and there were plenty, were properly wowed and they also enjoyed the characters on hand to promote the ongoing A Day in Pompeii exhibit. I’ve seen the exhibit and it’s a duesy. University of Cincinnati Professor Steven Ellis, along with several UC students, has been instrumental in the current excavations in Pompeii and that was instrumental in making Cincinnati one of only four US cities hosting the exhibit. As you can see, security was tight.

The weather was obviously quite nice for the events at the fountain but Friday was just one of several consecutive near perfect days. Perfect not only for fountains of water but for fountains — or taps — of root beer. I made it to three different root beer stands on three of those near perfect days.

Jolly's Drive In, Hamilton, OhioJolly's Drive In, Hamilton, OhioOn Thursday it was the Jolly’s on the west side of Hamilton, Ohio. Back in 1938, Vinny Jolivette opened an A&W Root Beer franchise in Hamilton. He built this place in 1967 and, casting off the A&W identity, used the family name to inspire a new one for the restaurant. It’s west of the Great Miami River on Brookwood. Somewhere along the line, they added another on the east side of town on Erie. That one has a cooler sign but this one still makes its own root beer and that trumps the sign. The two remain officially connected (The car side signs carry both telephone numbers.) but are managed somewhat separately by two brothers. There is a third Jolly’s in Tiffin, Ohio, that was started, also as an A&W, in 1947 by Vinny’s brother, Roy, and it seems there was a fourth somewhere in Indiana (possibly Bloomington) but I know very little about it.

The Root Beer Stand, Sharonville, OhioThe Root Beer Stand, Sharonville, OhioI stopped by The Root Beer Stand in Sharonville, Ohio, on Friday afternoon. It started life in1957 as an A&W then went independent in 1982. It stopped using carhops in 1972. Originally built and operated by the Rideour family, it moved on to its second and current owners, Scott & Jackie Donley, in 1990. The Donleys have kept everything pretty much the same and that definitely includes making the root beer using water from their 280 foot well. Claims that “it’s something in the water” may very well be true here.

Neil's A&W, Union City, OhioNeil's A&W, Union City, OhioI got my Saturday root beer fix at the A&W in Union City, Ohio. Despite this being a place I frequented as a teenager, I know few details of its history. I do recall that is was owned by a fellow named Smith in the 1960s and that he operated a used car lot right next door. I have vivid memories of sipping root beer and drooling over a black 1956 Thunderbird that sat in that lot when I was about seventeen. At some point, it became Neil’s A&W Drive In and so it remains today. Curiously, this place doesn’t show up on a the official A&W website nor does it have its own site but it does have a FaceBook page.

All three of these places make their own root beer using at least some of the original A&W equipment. Guess that stuff was made to last. All of them taste great and I’m guessing that the recipes are all the same or similar. The Root Beer Stand has its special water and both it and Jolly’s serve their brew in chilled glass mugs. I love ’em both and I do tend to dislike chains but “real” A&Ws (Not stuffed-into-a-corner-of-a-gas-station A&Ws.) are pretty cool and it’s hard to beat an ice covered mug.

Neil's A&W, Union City, OhioJolly's Drive In, Hamilton, OhioI’m guessing that some noticed the slightly red convertible in the center of the Root Beer Stand photo. That’s my 1963 Valiant and plans to drive it to Darke County and the A&W at the border led to the warm up visits to Hamilton and Sharonville. The 200 mile round trip was the cars longest outing since the cold drive home from Cambridge in early 2011. She done good. These pictures show her at Jolly’s and Neil’s.

Flipdaddys: Burgers & Beers... & BrunchI recently learned that the neighborhood Flipdaddy’s does brunch on Sundays so I walked over this morning to check it out. It was quite good. I’m always dismayed but rarely surprised to find myself alone on a restaurant’s patio. But, with the thermometer at 74 degrees, I was a little bit surprised today. Lots of people just don’t like any temperature I guess. To be fair, one couple and their home from college daughter did venture outside to eat. That was it. The restaurant was fairly busy inside but just one other outside table was ever used all the while I leisurely worked through my bacon & eggs and slowly sipped my Magic Hat dessert.