Trip Peek #39
Trip #89
Following Jims

pvd20This picture is from my 2010 Following Jims day trip. The name comes from the fact that the trip’s structure came partially from a recent Jim Grey trip and partially from a book written by Jim Lilliefors. The trip covered a chunk of US-50 in southern Indiana. The pictured bridge, which Jim Grey made me aware of. once carried the US Highway. It was demolished in 2013. In finding the answer to a question from a previous trip, I learned about an old brewery and later visited a new brewery that is reviving the name. I ate at a cool diner and ended the day with a concert that had actually been the impetus for the trip.


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.

New Old Ohio

ov1890A couple of Ohio History Connection sites are reopening this weekend after pretty big makeovers. On Saturday I visited Ohio Village which moved from the 1860s to the 1890s since I last saw it. I’ll reach the Hayes Presidential Center, which reopens with new displays after a major renovation. Saturday’s journal has been posted.

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

Da Vinci — The Genius

dvtg01A new exhibit opened at the Cincinnati Museum Center just over a week ago. Da Vinci — The Genius opened on Friday the 20th and I was there on Monday. It’s a dandy. The exhibit is billed as having “17 themed galleries” and I’m sure that’s true. Another simpler — though not entirely accurate — view is that’s its the “Mona Lisa” and everything else. I say that because the “Mona Lisa” display is quite large and is different from the others. It is the last area reached in the exhibition and the last discussed here.

The bulk of the exhibit consists of modern implementations of devices envisioned by da Vinci some five centuries ago. Using his drawings and descriptions and utilizing materials available when the the ideas were committed to paper, more than 70 of da Vinci’s concepts have been brought to life. Most are full size.

dvtg02dvtg03Devices related to flight appear early in the exhibit. The photo at the top of this article is of the helicopter-like Vite Aerea. In addition to wings, screws, and propellers targeting actual flight, da Vinci sketched out mechanisms intended to test ideas or measure natural forces. Almost all of his “flying machines” were impractical because of weight or other issues. A partial exception is the “parachute” seen in the foreground of the second picture. In 2000, British daredevil Adrian Nichols stepped out of a hot air balloon with a ‘chute built to da Vinci’s specifications. Jumping from 10,000 feet, Nichols rode the 500 year old design to within 2,000 feet of the surface before turning to something more modern. Freeing himself from the pyramid shaped device and deploying something more up to date was not because of any failure of the device to do its job but to prevent being injured by the heavy wood frame on landing.

dvtg06dvtg05dvtg04Leonardo’s earth bound inventions were more viable. The second picture is of a machine used to cut threads on a shaft. The third picture shows an area that breaks from the normal “hands off” museum policy. Here attendees are encouraged to touch and operate the mechanisms to better understand the principles involved and to better appreciate da Vinci’s genius. Da Vinci didn’t invent the “Out of Order” sign but it can be useful in his world. On the day of my visit the Ingranaggio a Lanterna don’t work cause the vandals took the handle.

dvtg08dvtg09dvtg10Enlarged examples of da Vinci’s anatomy studies are displayed as are reproductions of several other drawings and paintings. His “Last Supper” is the subject of a video. The anatomical drawings demonstrate da Vinci’s talent but are also evidence of his boundless curiosity. It’s obviously good to have a healthy supply of both but I find myself thinking that curiosity without talent is to be preferred over talent without curiosity.

dvtg13dvtg12dvtg11A sad truth is that concocting dreadful machines of war was frequently da Vinci’s “day job”. That’s not to say that it was entirely unpleasant to him. He had an interest in the science and art of war at an early age but he often obtained patronage for his artistic endeavors by promising the means to destroy enemies. He certainly wasn’t the last artist/scientist to find that the case.

dvtg14Of his Stanza Degli Specchi, an eight-sided mirrored room, da Vinci said that someone in it “will be able to see every part (of himself) endless times”. There are, of course, parts of me that you are better off not seeing even once but this from-the-shoulder shot is alright.

dvtg17dvtg16dvtg15In 2004, researcher Pascal Cotte was given unparalleled access to the original “Mona Lisa”. The painting was removed from its frame and photographed multiple times with a purpose-built ultra-high-resolution multispectral camera. Analysis of the captured data has resulted in things like an understanding of the original colors and a possible explanation for the apparent absence of eyebrows and lashes. The data was also used to produce a full-sized replica of the original. That’s it in the second picture. That’s also it in the third picture in a true “dark side of the moon” rear view. The two large portraits on the far wall relate to Cotte’s most controversial claim. Cotte believes that four fairly distinct layers can be identified in the painting and that one is an almost finished picture of a completely different woman than the one visible on the surface. On the right is a recreation of that other portrait. Everyone agrees the the painting changed during the many years da Vinci worked on it. Some authorities, however, believe all changes were along the lines of constant tweaking. They are not ready to accept that substantially completed layers were overlaid with other entire layers.

dvtg18Leonardo da Vinci is believed to have spent about fourteen years on the “Mona Lisa” and he still wasn’t entirely done with it when he died. You can use your mobile phone and a chair, frame, and background provided by the museum to complete your own in a fraction of a second. Bring your own Lisa.

Da Vinci — The Genius runs until September 25. Major restoration work will close much of the Museum Center on July 1. The Children’s Museum and the da Vinci exhibit space are in the basement and will remain open. Entry will continue to be through the main doors of Union Terminal.

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.

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.

Book Review
History of the Dixie Highway in Allen County, Ohio
Michael G. Buettner

hdhac_cvrI could have called this a pamphlet review. That’s technically what it is. Or, since one definition of pamphlet is “a small book”, I could have called this a small book review. I decided to leave the title be but, in line with the publication’s size, I’ll try to be brief and do a small small book review.

Michael Buettner is a past president of the Ohio Lincoln Highway League. He has written several articles on the Lincoln Highway and other historic roads. This pamphlet, which he wrote for the Allen County Historical Society, draws from his 2006 article In Search of…The Dixie Highway in Ohio but only slightly. In contains details, plus maps and photos, that do not appear in the earlier article. An increased level of detail comes rather natural when the focus is on a county rather than a state.

The first several pages provide some early Dixie Highway history as it relates to the full ten state system, to the state of Ohio, and to the route in Allen County. Instructions for two driving tours follow. Both originate in the county seat of Lima. The first goes north to the county line and the other goes south. Descriptions and photos of points of interest accompany the turn-by-turn instructions.

When the U.S. Numbered Highways came into being in 1926, Allen County’s share of the Dixie Highway was essentially absorbed by US 25. I-75 subsequently absorbed much of US 25 and replaced all of it. A series of maps helps describe this sequence.

History of the Dixie Highway in Allen County, Ohio, Michael G Buettner, Allen County Historical Society, November 2015, 8.5×5.5 inches, 40 pages, available for $6 at the Allen County Museum

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.

Book Review
Fading Ads of Cincinnati
Ronny Salerno

faoc_cvrBuying local is a good thing and so is reading local. I was able to combine the two recently. November 30 was the official release date for a new book about Cincinnati and in the early evening its author made the book and his signature available at a downtown location that appears between its covers. The book was Fading Ads of Cincinnati, the author Ronny Salerno, and the location Igby’s Bar inside a building with a fading “TWINE PAPER” painted on its side. Those two dim words are typical of the fading ads that are the book’s subject.  How could I not?

Although this was my first time meeting Salerno, I knew the name. I first spotted it on some photographs in a small exhibit near downtown Cincinnati a few years back. I wasn’t clever enough to find his wonderful Queen City Discovery blog from that prompt but I did find it eventually and I’ve followed it for some time now. Salerno loves taking photographs and he’s really good at it. He especially loves taking pictures of old abandoned buildings with a story. A third love is also apparent in that blog: the city of Cincinnati. He brings all three loves to Fading Ads of Cincinnati.

The book is the latest in the Fading Ads of… series published by History Press. About the only reference to a publisher I’ve made in past reviews is an identification at the end. Saying a bit more seems appropriate here. Until last year, the USA’s History Press Inc. was part of the UK’s History Press Ltd. It was acquired by Arcadia Publishing in the middle of 2014. All of those entities deal with local and regional topics and often use something of a formula approach. Although it is not all they do, Arcadia is probably best known for their sepia-toned Images of America books. As hinted at by the title, these books are filled with images most of which are historical. The images are selected and described by local experts who typically also provide several pages of introductory text at the book’s beginning. More often than not, these experts are not just knowledgeable but have a personal attachment and attraction to the subject. Saying that most love what they write about would not be wrong. History Press publications tend to be wordier and, although historical images are sometimes used, include plenty of modern color photos. But, just like those Arcadia books, History Press books rely on local experts for their creation and, just like those Arcadia book writers, these experts are often in love with their subjects, too. Kind of sounds like Ronny Salerno, doesn’t it?

Salerno is a good match for the Fading Ads… series. Before reading the book it had actually occurred to me that he might have had every subject identified and many photographed long before he even took on the job. That wasn’t quite the case, however. He was naturally familiar with many of the area’s old signs but not all. He conferred with other “sign hunters” and got tips from friends but he also found his own senses sharpening as he strolled through both unfamiliar and familiar neighborhoods. The result is nearly one hundred new color photos of mostly — but not entirely — old stuff. There are also several historical photos from places like the Library of Congress.

faoc_int1The photos aren’t left to stand alone. Captions describe each of them, of course, and many get multiple paragraphs of attention. Salerno has been successful in digging up many of the signs’ histories with some of the best stories coming from signs identifying local or regional companies that are no longer with us. Names like Shillito’s and Brendamour’s will be recognized by many Cincinnatians and probably some others as well. Out-of-towners might not be familiar with local landmarks like Davis Furniture (“The Friendly Store”) or the Dennison Hotel (“105 Rooms – 60 baths”) but they are exactly what I and some other locals think of when we think of “fading ads” or the more common “ghost signs”.

faoc_int2Salerno brings up the phrase “ghost signs” in the introduction and says people often thought he was writing about the supernatural when he used the term. “Fading advertisements”, he says, doesn’t have that problem. Fair enough but it’s just possible that his position also has something to do with the book’s predetermined title. “Ghost sign” slips into the book a time or two and in the final chapter Salerno more or less acknowledges the validity of both. As for me, I’m comfortable and most familiar with the term “ghost signs” (and “ghost bridges” and “ghost towns”) so I’ll just continue to think of Fading Ads of Cincinnati as a book about ghost signs.

Geography has a lot to do with the book’s organization and the bulk of the photos are in three chapters titled “Downtown”, “Northern Kentucky”, and “The Neighborhoods”. Like any city of any size, Cincinnati has official and unofficial neighborhoods with their own identities. It’s southern boundary is defined by a river that also defines the border of Ohio. In some ways, the Kentucky communities on the south side of the river are quite different from those on the north but the ease with which a cluster of bridges usually allows interstate traffic makes them often seem like Cincinnati suburbs. The prominent “John R. Green Co” sign in Covington, Kentucky, fits in this book as comfortably as the “Little Kings” sign in Cincinnati’s West End.

I mentioned that not everything pictured in the book is old. One chapter in particular shows almost exclusively new unfaded and non-ghostly signs. The photos were taken at the Cincinnati Reds’ home field and include a shot of a huge sign announcing the 2015 All-Star Game which Cincinnati hosted. The “fading ads” connection is solid and arrow straight. Those stadium signs and many more around the area are the work of Holthaus Lackner Signs, a company headed by Kevin Holthaus. Kevin is the grandson of Gus Holthaus who started the company and whose signature appears on many signs in the area including several in Fading Ads of Cincinnati. The only old sign appearing in the “Signature Legacy” chapter is a remnant of a sign possibly painted by Kevin’s great-grandfather, Arnold Holthaus.

A link at the end of this article leads to the book on Amazon. An entry on Salerno’s blog identifies other online outlets and several area stores where it is also available. Another option is to catch the author at a local bar with a faded sign but you’ll have to be both patient and vigilant.

Fading Ads of Cincinnati, Ronny Salerno, The History Press, November 30 2015, 9 x 6 inches, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1467118729