A Post-Refurb Peek at Music Hall

Cincinnati’s Music Hall reopened on October 6 after an 18 month $135 million renovation. I didn’t make it to that grand re-opening. Last Sunday’s third and final performance of “American Originals, Vol 2” was my first time inside the building since I attended the MusicNOW Festival in March of 2016. That was not the final event preceding the shut-down but it was among the last and it prompted my A Pre-Refurb Peek at Music Hall post. I selected the photo at right to open this post as the closest thing I’ve got to the photo that began that article. There’s a more inclusive exterior shot here.

Although these photos do not attempt to duplicate any of those in the earlier post, they do make it obvious that the chandelier that once hung over the lobby, and which I sort of featured in 2016, is gone. Apparently it was decided before renovations started that this chandelier, as well as some others, would not be coming back.

I also took a look at the balcony and gallery before I headed to my seat. Note the panels above the orchestra pit area. They’re to improve the acoustics of a place I didn’t even know needed improving.

That chandelier that hung above the main lobby is one of the three now hanging in Corbett Tower. A drop ceiling was removed and the nineteenth century stenciled design recreated. Previously blocked windows have been cleared to let in more light and provide views of Washington Park.

With all the gawking I did at the new and freshly uncovered beauty of the wonderful old building, I was at risk of forgetting why I was there, but I didn’t. Last year the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra put together an “American Originals” project featuring the music of Stephen Foster and several world class performers. This year it was the music of the World War I era and another batch of world class performers. Specifically those performers were the Steep Canyon Rangers, Pokey LaFarge, and Rhiannon Giddens plus tap dancer Robyn Watson.

With the orchestra always adding that something extra, the artists performed alone and in various combinations. The finale was a rousing version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” with all hands on deck. In fact, it was more than just all hands, the audience was encouraged — quite strongly — to sing a couple of lines. That’s Pops Conductor John Morris Russell doing the encouraging. The entire performance was recorded and a CD will be available. I assure you it’s safe to buy; I did not try to sing.

I ended the 2016 pre-refurb post with a shot of Springer Auditorium’s 2,000 pound chandelier from floor level. The closest I’ve got to that this time is a shot taken from the balcony. The chandelier is a relatively new addition to the 139 year old building. It was added during a 1969 renovation. That meant there was talk of removing it but public outcry kept it from going very far.

I’ve called this a peek and it isn’t a particularly good one. Among the much better photographs out there are those in an online gallery at Cincinnati Refined. I’ve provided even less of a peek at the concert. CityBeat published an excellent review of Friday’s performance which was essentially the same as what I saw Sunday. That review is here.

Book Review
Onramps and Overpasses
Dianne Perrier

You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. Or, sometimes, by reading the title. That was the case for me with Onramps and Overpasses and the impression I got from the title and cover pretty much explains why it stayed on the unread pile so long that I don’t remember where it came from or why I have it. The cover is a nicely done long exposure photo of cars on a divided four-lane highway passing through what looks to be a rather scenic area. The title reinforces the image of high-speed limited-access roadways. The subtitle, “A Cultural History of Interstate Travel” does a better job of describing what’s inside but the preconception created by the cover and title led me to overlook the word “cultural” and misinterpret the word “interstate”. In my opinion, Perrier goofed on the cover and even more so on the title. Those are, however, virtually the only mistakes she makes here.

A concept central to any view of American transportation history is that new roads follow old paths. As we all know, expressways superseded two-lanes which paralleled railroads which ran beside pioneer trails which followed Native American paths which mimicked animal traces. The new routes were rarely exact duplicates of what came before but they were similar. Hunting parties might take advantage of a shortcut too restrictive to be used by a herd of bison. Steam engines were simply unable to climb slopes that a man on horseback might. Paths might not precisely follow what came before but they passed through the same corridor. Perrier’s book is organized around the current set of interstate highways but her story is of what came before and why the corridors those interstates follow exist and are important.

She includes anecdotes from and descriptions of various periods in the development of each corridor. This is the “cultural” flavoring of history that I’d missed in the sub-title. That these corridors were and are the paths of travel between states is the intended meaning of the word “interstate” that I initially took to mean the multi-lane expressways we commonly identify by that word. Once I picked it up and discovered how off my expectations were, I didn’t want to put it down. As I was enlightened by plenty of details, I was entertained by stories and sidebars. I’m just sorry it took me so long to look beyond those four lanes of car lights.

You can’t judge a sister by looking at her brother.
You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.

— Willie Dixon, 1962

Onramps and Overpasses, Dianne Perrier, University Press of Florida (November 15, 2009), 9.3 x 6.5 inches, 352 pages, ISBN 978-0813033983

Movie Review
The Vietnam War
Ken Burns & Lynn Novick

This isn’t a very deep review. It is, however, a very deep and sincere recommendation. The eighteen hour documentary is simply the best thing I’ve seen in years. PBS broadcast the first of ten episodes on September 17. I watched it and the next one, and was hooked. Circumstances kept me from watching the remaining episodes when broadcast, but I did eventually see them all via online streaming. It was announced that the stream would only be available through October 15 but it still appeared to be functioning on the 17th. Check The Vietnam War for details and other sources.

There’s no question that one reason I found this production so engaging is its familiarity. I recall many of the described events from when they happened in the 1960s and early 1970s. There was both a refreshing of memories and a filling in of unknown details. But there was also plenty of totally new information, particularly concerning the earliest years, that made me realize things were even more screwed up than I thought they were; And I thought they were really screwed up.

Burns and company pulled together a lot of sources in an attempt to present every aspect from every angle. The result probably isn’t perfect but it’s mighty close. Recent interviews with a variety of participants help illuminate some of those angles and add insight and credibility.

I was more on the sidelines than not, but I was there. Watching this movie made me remember some of the clearly stupid and arguably evil things my country did. Someone in their 20s or 30s for whom the Vietnam War is more ancient than World War II was for me, won’t have those memories to be reawakened. We will see the history telling aspect of the movie differently. But I can’t imagine anyone watching this epic and thinking of it as nothing but a history report. Seeing the divisiveness associated with the Vietnam War in the divisiveness of today seems unavoidable to me. I believe that the twentysomethings of both the 1970s and the 2010s can’t help but see some similarities.

If you’re looking for a little entertainment that will take your mind off the world, this ain’t it. This will, in fact, press your mind firmly against the world of fifty years ago and help it remember and/or understand that world. I’m betting it will also get your mind thinking about the world of today although it probably won’t help in understanding it.  

Swede Mysteries of Life

DNA testing has recently uncovered a family connection with seventeenth century Philadelphia area settlers from Sweden. An uncle, two cousins, and I are off to poke around a little though we sure don’t know enough to dig very deep. On the other hand, we actually know so little that it will be hard not to learn something. Even if we return home knowing no more than when we left, we are sure to enjoy looking into our nation’s earliest history. We have arrived in the big city and the first day is posted.

The trip journal is here. This entry is to let blog only subscribers know of the trip and provide a place for comments and questions.

Positively Pike Street

Last Sunday, a website I follow (Cincinnati Refined) posted an article about a free walking tour in nearby Covington, KY. It sounded promising and my interest level climbed a little more when the information was shared to the Dixie Highway Facebook group. The connection came from the fact that the walking tour was on Covington’s Pike Street and Pike Street once carried the Dixie Highway. On Wednesday I took part in the weekly tour. The picture at right was taken at the end of the tour so I’ll cover it at the end of this post.

The tour start point was at the Kenton County Library on Scott Street just a short distance north of Pike’s eastern end. The Dixie Highway followed Scott and Pike through the intersection. A life sized Abe Lincoln stands at the entrance to the library’s parking lot. Beardless Lincoln’s aren’t as rare as they used to be or maybe they never were as rare as I thought they were. Few, however, show a Lincoln as young as the Matt Langford sculpture unveiled in 2004. That’s one good looking dude.

We met inside the library then walked past Abe to where Pike Street Ts into Scott. There our guide Krysta gave us an overview of the tour and some background on Pike Street. The street takes its name from the Covington and Lexington Turnpike that was chartered by the state in 1834. The street really was something of a commercial and transportation center with railroad freight and passenger terminals being built beside it.

Pike Street jogs south at Madison Avenue then slants off to the southwest. These buildings are in the obtuse angle on the north side of the street. I’ve driven through this intersection countless times and walked through it a few but never thought about how the buildings fit into it until another tour member mentioned it. They are, as the overhead from Google Maps shows, literally wedged in.

As we walked west on Pike we stopped frequently as Krysta told us about specific buildings and people associated with them. Two of the buildings in the preceding photo were included. The short white building in the center was most recently the home of Bronko’s Chili. It is currently being renovated for some unknown purpose. The fancy mosaic arch was added to the building next door in 1929. That’s the year that Casse’ Frocks, the name embedded in the arch, opened several stores in what was intended to be a nationwide chain. October’s stock market crash brought the effort to an abrupt end but no one has seen fit to replace the classy facade in all the years since. An identical storefront still stands on Main Street in Cincinnati.

Frank Duveneck was born in Covington and a statue of the famous artist stands in a small triangle park formed by Pike, 7th, and Washington Streets. We didn’t actually enter the park but we learned a lot about Duveneck’s life with the statue in view. We are standing on Washington Street with Pike then 7th crossing in front of us. Back in the day, Washington was something of a dividing line with stores, restaurants, and taverns to the east and grittier enterprises such as livery stables, distilleries, and mortuaries to the west.

We walked beyond Washington to the middle of the block. The brick building farthest away in the picture is the former passenger terminal. The fence next to us encloses an area where several buildings, including a former distillery where a friend operated a bar back in the 1970s, stood until earlier this summer. Bricks falling from one of the buildings last fall left one person with permanent injuries and sent three others to the hospital temporarily. Safety was a big factor in the decision to demolish the buildings.

It was here that the tour officially ended and most people headed back toward the library. I used some of the time on the walk back to raise the subject of the Dixie Highway. Neither the article where I’d learned of the tour nor the library’s online description gave me any reason to expect the Dixie to be mentioned but, as a fan of the old road, I sort of hoped it would be. Krysta’s answer to my query was simply that they had not spent any time learning about the Dixie Highway. That matched what I was seeing. The focus of the tour and of the guides’ ongoing research was the individual buildings along the street. The beginning comments about the turnpike era were pretty much taken from a marker in that park with Duveneck’s statue. The Dixie Highway thing is minor and somewhat esoteric. The tour’s purpose was to inform participants about the buildings and it did that quite nicely.

Now for that opening picture. I noticed the moon on the walk west but merely gave it a glance. With a fortune teller in the background and without my attention being directed elsewhere, it hooked me solidly on the way back. Swami! How I love you, how I love you!

Open House at Octagon Mound

It’s not really a house and it’s never actually closed but an “open house” is what the Ohio History Connection calls each of the four days a year that tours are conducted and the general public is permitted inside Octagon Mound at Newark, Ohio. On all other days, access is restricted to members and guests of Moundbuilders Country Club who has leased the property since 1910. While that may sound disrespectful or even sacrilegious, the arrangement has provided a degree of protection that not all area mounds have received. Octagon Mound is part of the largest group of geometric mounds in the world. In addition to the octagon and an attached circle, Newark Earthworks once included a larger circle, a square, and an ellipse along with several pairs of long mounds connecting the geometric figures. The ellipse and all but a fragment of the square have been obliterated and covered over by the city of Newark. Just over forty miles to the southwest, a huge circle mound that gave the city of Circleville its name has been destroyed and buried under that city. In comparison, maybe having a few golfers wandering around isn’t so bad.

Last Monday, July 31, was an Open House day with hourly tours starting at noon. I was there in time for the first one but, after listening to the guides pre-tour comments, I stayed behind when the group headed off to enter the enclosure. The group seemed overly large to me and I thought I might do better with a later tour.

Instead I took the opportunity to look at the map the guide had referenced as he spoke then walked to a nearby observation platform. The platform allows the public to peek inside the enclosure even on days when they are not permitted inside. The picture at the top of this post was also taken from the platform. A path that runs part way around the attached circle is also always available to all and I traveled it while awaiting the next tour. A feature of the circle opposite its connection to the octagon stands several feet higher than the circle itself and has been given the name Observatory Mound. The path leads to within sight of Observatory Mound but doesn’t quite reach it. Walking beyond the path is permitted today and I continued on to the raised section.

The second tour contained nearly as many people as the first so I didn’t help myself much by waiting. I did stick with this one, however. As we paused at the opening to the interior, the guide pointed out that the approximately five foot tall mounds were at an almost ideal height for an adult human to use as sighting lines. Of course, as you can see, smaller creatures can sight along them as well if they position themselves properly. Following an overview of where we were and where we were going, the group headed across the big enclosure without fear of being beaned by a golf ball.

In the first picture we are walking between the parallel mounds that connect the octagon to the circle. The arrangement suggests a walkway. Similar pairs of mounds once connected the area around the octagon with other geometric figures in the complex and possibly with points much farther away. In the second picture we are approaching Observatory Mound and in the third most of the group is arrayed on the mound’s side listening to the guide. The purpose of Observatory Mound is one of the many mysteries associated with the structures. It may have actually been built as something of an observatory. The northernmost rising of the moon can be viewed from it through the circle, octagon, and connecting mounds. It looks as if there was once another opening into the circle at Observatory Mound so it might have been built to close the entrance. The truth is that no one knows and likely never will.

The cluster’s only other surviving enclosure, Great Circle Mound, lies roughly a mile from Octagon Mound. It is also owned by the state and it isn’t leased to a country club or anyone else. It can be visited at any time. These photos were taken near the small museum that stands near the entrance to the circle. The entrance can be seen in the second photo. A large ditch runs along the inside of the circular mound. Much of the material making up the mound was taken from the ditch during construction but there is also evidence that the ditch held water once the structure was completed. Why is just another of the complex’s mysteries.

The Newark Earthworks contain no solar alignments but there are a number of lunar alignments. This fact adds to the mystery since predicting the moon’s movements is a tougher job than predicting those of the sun and their role in daily life is much smaller. The picture of lunar alignments was taken inside the museum. The Ancient Ohio Trail website offers excellent information on the Newark Earthworks as well as other Ohio sites.

Trip Peek #58
Trip #116
2014 OLHL Meeting

This picture is from my trip to the Ohio Lincoln Highway League meeting in 2014. You are quite right if you feel that’s not typical LHA headgear. The picture was taken on the third day of the trip when I stopped at the Viking Festival in Ashville, OH. The actual meeting took place in Upper Sandusky on the second day of the trip. On the first day, on the way to the meeting, I took in both the “oldest concrete street in America” and the “World’s Shortest Street” and I ducked into Ohio Caverns, too.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

Trip Peek #57
Trip #88
Lincoln Highway Conference 2010

This picture is from my 2010 Lincoln Highway Conference trip. This was my first Lincoln Highway Association Conference and part of the reason I was able to attend was that it was my first year of retirement. Immediately prior to the conference in Dixon, IL, I attended the Route 66 Festival near Joplin, MO, and drove directly from one to the other. Among the many things I learned was the difference between a festival and a conference. There were a couple of bus tours, a couple of group dinners, and a day of presentations. The picture is from the awards banquet. Brian Cassler had recently become an Eagle Scout by preparing some Canton, OH, Lincoln Highway bricks for use in a display in Kearney, NE. Bernie Queneau traveled the Lincoln Highway as an Eagle Scout back in 1928. Brian chose Bernie to share his award with and is shown pinning the badge on the 98 year old Queneau. This “pair of Eagles” photo is one onf of my favorites. Bernie is a Lincoln Highway legend who remained active in the association until his death at 102.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

I’m Not Moving Like I Used To
— Places I’ve Lived (Part 2)

The reason that I only began my sophomore year in that old apartment building that ended last week’s Part 1 post was that I got married the day after Christmas 1966 and the bride and I moved into an apartment at the rear of this building near campus. We had almost no furniture and I remember laying on the floor of the empty living room watching news of the Apollo I fire on the tiny black and white TV my wife brought from her home.

In the mid-1960s, the Forum was one of Cincinnati’s newest and fanciest apartment complexes with a bar and restaurant that attracted both residents and non-residents. It was definitely a rather posh address for a poor college student. My wife’s sister and her husband had been among the earliest lessees and had arranged a honey of a deal. The long term lease that was part of that deal became a big negative when the husband was offered a major promotion in New York. To avoid significant penalties, they arranged for my wife and me to take it over and we found ourselves in some pretty classy digs. The in-laws had literally gotten in on  the ground floor.

I finished my second year of college and started my third but the discovery of a pregnancy in the family made continuing unrealistic. I got a full time job and my wife started shopping for houses. I recall sort of dragging my feet and pushing for just a larger apartment but she found an offer I couldn’t refuse. A middle aged couple had just moved to their dream home and were dealing with two mortgages. We bought this three-bedroom house in Pleasant Ridge on land contract. After two years, we converted to a normal mortgage with payments of $137 a month. We spent about five years here and this was our home when both sons were born. The oldest was ready to start kindergarten when the marriage was ready to end.

I spent several weeks with friends then rented a trailer in a park near Morrow, Ohio. I figured that renting a mobile home was about as non-committal as you could get. I can’t be completely certain that this is the very trailer I lived in but I believe it is. There was no storage shed when I was there and the deck is much more substantial than the steps I climbed and it’s possible that another trailer has replaced the one I rented. That means it’s possible that a second of my homes is gone but this looks to be old enough and it seems quite likely that it’s my old home box.

A co-worker had found this place a few years back and when he moved out another moved in. When he moved it was my turn. First time visitors seemed to always have trouble finding it despite being told it was “right under the bridge”. They just didn’t believe it. The bridge passing overhead carries US-22 and OH-3. The address was on the Old 3C Highway which predated the bridge and its numbered routes. The Little Miami flows under the bridge and was our front yard and playground. The four apartments can be seen better in this view. The large one on the right is where the owner and eventually an onsite manager lived. I lived in the rightmost of two apartments on the second floor and there was another smaller apartment below. This is where I lived when my kids came to live with me and for a few weeks the four of us shared the suddenly tiny apartment. They got the bed and I got the couch and the last place in the line for the single bathroom. When we went looking for a place to move, the only thing I cared about was having my own bathroom.

This place in Loveland won me over with a bath in the master bedroom and decent rent. Like many rentals, it was adequate but nothing special. The location was close enough to my job to not be an issue. Although the bedrooms were small, everybody had one and, most importantly, I had a bathroom.

While living in the rental house, I left the corporate world and went to work for a startup. This would not ordinarily be the time to buy a house but there was Cincinnati Milacron stock in a profit sharing account that I had to do something with when I left. I decided that using it for a down payment on a house was the thing to do. After considerable shopping, we moved into this eleven year old split-level where everybody again had their own bedroom even though one was officially called a den. The boys’ early school years had been split between a number of locations and they didn’t like it. I also knew that my sister had not been overly pleased at changing schools for her last few years. That had been part of the discussion in moving to the rental but was an even bigger part of the purchase decision. I stayed here until the last kid was out of school which puts it in second place on my length of residence list. My second marriage started and ended here.

This is where I’ve lived for twenty years now. The kids and wives were gone and I was ready to stop mowing grass and raking leaves. A buyer appeared for the house and I bought the second unit in a condominium in the process of being built. Construction targets were missed and I had to negotiate with my buyer for a late departure from the house. The two week delay still wasn’t enough and I spent a couple of nights in a motel and a couple of weeks in the master bedroom with furniture stored in the garage while workmen completed the rest of the unit. There are two bedrooms and the second bedroom initially held a left over bed from the house. My daughter eventually reclaimed that and I’ve never replaced it. I do have a large airbed so guests can be accommodated but just barely. Condo fees take care of cutting the grass, raking the leaves, and clearing the snow. I have no pets to feed or plants to water so nothing dies if I’m gone for awhile. Works for me.

So, after having eight homes in twenty years, it took me nearly thirty years to add another eight and the count’s held steady since then. As things now stand my lifetime average is 4.375 years per location. I really don’t like to move so that number is pretty much guaranteed to increase. In fact, the odds are good that I’ll stay right here until I’m carted off to a nursing home or a crematorium.

I’m Not Moving Like I Used To — Part 1