Over the weekend, I visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for the second time. If you ever go to Maryland, it is worth your time to visit it.
The museum has a pleasant gallery exhibition plan that features mixed media in every room. If like many people, you tire of seeing painting after painting, the Walters’ rooms are set up like learning rooms or the halls of curiosity of European palaces, with paintings on the walls, objects of interest and sculptures on tables, and historical artifacts of practical use placed throughout.
Moreover, the diversity of the collection is impressive. You can visit art rooms from the Dutch Renaissance, an armor and weapons collection from the Holy Roman Empire, a treasury of macabre memento mori pieces, a gallery of French porcelain from Sèvres and Russian treasures from Fabergé, an Orthodox icon exhibit, several rooms dedicated to medieval Western life, culture, and religion, and even antiquities from Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. Each period room contextualizes well its collection with complementary pieces and interestingly informative signs.
The museum has offered free admission for the last several years, and the surrounding neighborhood downtown is quite charming in Charm City. After the National Aquarium in Baltimore, it is the best attraction in town.
In celebration of my father’s birthday, I wish to introduce a guide book to Cincinnati that was published in A.D. 1943, Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors by the Ohio Federal Writers’ Project. You can read the book online with Google Book.
My favorite passage is the following from page 433, which caused quite a chuckle for my father who grew up in the said neighborhood:
A century ago Dayton Street was the “millionaires’ row” of Cincinnati. Here lived men who had amassed fortunes in the early pork-packing and beer-brewing industries; some of them moved on west with their businesses, to help found the great packing companies of Chicago and the breweries of Milwaukee and St. Louis. Many of their descendants stayed in the city but moved to the hill suburbs. Today the stone-front town houses, each with its rusting iron fence in front, still are in good condition, and the street has an anomalous and somewhat false air of well-being.
Well, that was my Dad’s ‘hood, which was rough even back then, as he tells me, when the area was still a white neighborhood. Ghettos come in all shades. My father grew up in a former carriage house, which would have belonged to one of the industry baronial families in earlier years.
The guide book is a fascinating read for any Cincinnatian—or for anyone interested in urban American history, for that matter. It gives you insights into the city’s history and its present circa A.D. 1943. I find the past backward looking perspective quite interesting; a local history book written today would cover different material—and do so differently. Moreover, I appreciate texts published before our nauseating cultural revolution as a welcome respite from current fads and quirks. Read, for example, the guide’s coverage of the tensions between the city’s abolitionists and the citizenry not so disposed: “The disorders of 1836 and repeated assaults upon local Negro colonies were reactions to the Islamic fury of abolitionism.” The passage on page 42 breaks so many contemporary rules, it verily warms my heart. I especially enjoy the phrase, “the Islamic fury of abolitionism.” Consider, also, how the guide treats (on pages 226-227) the beginning of Cincinnati’s white flight, which would have been rather recent for the book’s writers:
Lincoln Park signified peace and contentment to the crowded West End. No doubt it helped formulate the goal of many West Enders—a home on one of the cool hills. As the Negro population of the city expanded and the colored folk moved north, additional white families who had acquired the necessary capital took the momentous step of buying homes on some hill. The main participants of this mass migration of the 1920’s and 1930’s were the Jews who now live in Avondale, Walnut Hills, and Price Hill. Negroes and also white hill folk from Kentucky and West Virginia moved into the rapidly decaying and emptying houses, and in two decades the entire West End became homogeneous—rough, tough, and squalid.
I find its honestly and straightforwardness rather charming . . . “White hill folk,” or as we are supposed to say nowadays, “urban Appalachians.” The squalor of the West End remains, though the Jews have long since abandoned Avondale, Walnut Hills, and Price Hill for tonier environs like Amberly Village and Montgomery. When they left, the black American ghetto arrived. Strangely, I never knew that Price Hill had a significant Jewish population. To me, Price Hill is a West Side Catholic bastion, and only recently has it been affected by demographic shoving.
Anyway, enjoy the guide and, if you hail from the Queen City, learn a bit about your heritage. Did you know, for instance, that wineries existed along the Queen City Avenue artery in Fairmount, Westwood, and Price Hill, or that, during Prohibition, that area was known as “Death Valley”? Did you know that Cheviot’s Harvest Home Festival has occurred every year since A.D. 1860? I bet that you were not aware of a massive castle home at Werk Road and Harrison Avenue modeled on the chateau of Blois, France—which I visited as a boy. The soap making Werk family built the home at the end of the nineteenth century, but, unfortunately, it was razed just before the Second World War. In fact, the West Side used to have many fine sites, from botanical gardens to art museums. I suppose that the influx of the white West Enders and others from downtown guaranteed that the Western Hills would become the middle class, blue collar, German Catholic neighborhoods that we now know them to be. The moneyed folk moved to the outer East Side, such as Indian Hill.
If you are not familiar with Cincinnati, you can read my post, “The Queen City of the West,” or learn a bit about our town by reading Ed the Sports Fan’s somewhat unflattering “Cincinnati—As Nasty As It Wants To Be.” Naturally, I would not expect a foreigner such as Ed to understand us perfectly, but it is an amusing piece, nonetheless. I am reposting a fragment that includes my favorite part concerning the city’s East - West cultural divide [emphasis added]:
When it was founded in the 1700s on the northern banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati quickly grew into what has been called America’s first inland boomtown. It rapidly became a gateway to the untamed West.
Today, nobody calls this a boomtown. The metro area population is around 2 million, placing it in the top 25 nationally, and there are many major corporations located here. But its residents admit that Cincinnati is as likely to think small as it is to think big: resistant to change, wary of the outside world and happy within its own cultural cocoon.
“From the day I got here [from New York], I was totally struck by how much better this place is than our own people give it credit for,” says nine-year Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski.
For comparison’s sake to other cities, Cincinnatians might need to get out more. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer says he has neighbors in his suburb whose idea of a vacation is to go downtown and stay in a hotel.
Not even the widespread passion for Ohio State football resonates much in Cincinnati—the Enquirer doesn’t have a Buckeyes beat writer.
And you can forget any kinship with the state’s largest city, Cleveland, well to the north.
“Cleveland is an East Coast city,” Daugherty says. “This is a Southern city. I’d say it has more in common with Louisville.
“I think Cincinnati is sort of an island unto itself, because it has nothing in common with the rest of the state.”
Which seems to be fine with the locals.
“I don’t really think of myself as an Ohioan,” says Cincy native Tori Meeker, a bartender at the Rock Bottom Brewery downtown. “Cincinnati is very self-contained.”
Cincinnati is almost its own nation-state, its life separated from Kentucky by the river and from the rest of Ohio by the I-275 beltway. Provincialism is fairly predictable.
“This is the only city in America where if they ask what school you went to, they don’t mean college,” says Cincinnati Bearcats basketball coach Mick Cronin, a Queen City native. “They mean high school.”
The city basically has two factions to it: the gritty, working-class West Side and the more affluent East Side. Cronin describes the difference in terms of youth sports.
“On the West Side, they play to win,” he says. “On the East Side, everyone gets to participate.”
Pete Rose is the ultimate West Sider—the hometown tough guy who made it big. You do that, and the headfirst slides count more with your constituency than the years of lying about betting on baseball. A recent reader poll in the weekly magazine CityBeat said Rose is still the favorite athlete in Cincinnati.
“We’re homers,” Cronin says, “which explains our affinity for Pete Rose. If the people in this town could vote for Pete to get into the Hall of Fame, he’d get in unanimously.”
Similar affection has been extended to another famed-but-flawed hard-ass, Huggins. Certainly, Huggins’ winning percentage dictated most of his popularity, but his unpretentious, combative style played well here, too.
“He was perceived as a blue-collar man of the people,” Dougherty says. “We love our white-bread, Chris Sabo, Cris Collinsworth, shut-up-and-play, dirty-shirt heroes.”
Don’t underestimate the “white-bread” part of that quote. Cincinnati has championed several minority sports heroes: Oscar Robertson, Anthony Munoz, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, among others. But it’s probably easier to be Carson Palmer in this town than T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
In terms of demographics and lifestyle, this is a long way from New York, Miami, San Francisco and even Atlanta.
There are a lot of adjectives tossed around about Cincinnati: family-friendly, affordable and safe, to name a few. But one word that comes out of every mouth, without fail:
First, I love the bit about youth sports! Simplified and generalized, but it captures the spirit of the difference.
Second, in no way are we a “Southern city.” Rather, Cincinnati is at the nexus of several American regional cultures. You can definitely tell that the world changes once you drive into Kentucky.
Third, and much to the chagrin of Andrew, Ed is absolutely correct in his perception of Cincinnatians’ self-understanding. His nation state, not part of Ohio analysis is right on. I was not aware of “Ohio pride” until Andrew explained the ways of our corn fed Buckeye kin to me. I just assumed that everyone self-identified with his hometown rather than the state. Per Tertullian, what has Cleveland to do with Cincinnati?
Fourth, I obviously do not agree with Ed’s racial assessments. His words betray the white “unilateral disarmament” mentality about which I have written elsewhere, as, for instance, in “‘Crazy Bastard’ Old Code Words for Black.”
Yet, this is not meant to be a political post. It is about my father and my city. However, in my mind, there is a strong connection between my father and Cincinnati. Perhaps, some of my love for the city has elements of filial devotion, literally. I never thought much about this, thinking that it was normal and natural for everyone, until I began to discover that many folks do not share such an intellectual and emotional connection between locality and family. Certainly, the ancient Greeks did so. Perhaps, the blood and soil (or Blut und Boden for those who like to paint us as fascists . . . and German sounds so much scarier) paleoconservative tendencies of the city’s population, which I largely share, are due to this simple cultural trait. It inoculates those who have it from the universalist tendencies of the Enlightenment that serves as the animating philosophical principle of the Left and of the “propositional nation” theory of American history and society. The more people feel grounded and belonging to a particular place, the more conservative they tend to be. Even in Leftist dominions like Vermont, you can detect strong conservative cultural currents. Their conservatism may not translate into the political language or policies of the American Right, but it is unmistakable in its value of that which is local and rooted. As Rod Dreher’s so-called “Crunchy Cons” are wont to point out, there are many traditional, conservative elements in the American Left where we can find common ground. The political axis moves considerably according to different issues.
Well, happy birthday, Dad! Thank you for siring me in such a special town and for raising me to love it.
I have been researching a possible trip to Rome for my father and me. I wish that the dollar - euro exchange rate were different, but post-war American prosperity could not last forever.
Something that I discovered during my searching was Monastery Stays—an information and reservations site for all of the religious housing accommodations in Italy. This is not for a traditional monastery stay, where you would participate in the life of the community. In such cases, people sometimes leave donations, but the “cost” of such stays usually involves minor labor. Rather, these religious communities have prepared certain rooms that they offer to guests for an inexpensive rate. It makes money for their community; instead of making vestments, candles, or coffee, they run a hostel service. We’ll definitely consider a monastery stay, as it seems a lot cheaper than Roman hotels. Plus, I would rather our tourist money help to support such communities. Evidently, some of the religious houses offer dinner for reasonable rates, too. What could be better than an Italian meal convent-cooked by nuns?
I have heard that such accommodation is available elsewhere in Europe, but I have never taken advantage of it. The unfortunate thing behind this is that these communities have extra rooms because their orders are dying. I have no problem with their making money and offering inexpensive hospitality, but they make use of mostly empty religious houses. Were Western Europe spiritually healthy, most of these institutions would not have any room for guests. The end is near, indeed . . .
When I travel, I typically spend a good deal of my touring time in religious edifices. There are several reason for this . . .
1) Religious buildings are usually free, and therefore they are good places for someone on a budget.
2) Religious buildings generally have the most beautiful, most impressive architecture in a town. Before the heathen age, men thought it proper to dedicate their finest artistic and civic achievements to God. In our land of mammon, architectural genius is more often dedicated to banking, commerce, funeral arrangements, and sporting events. Sigh . . .
3) You can learn much of a people and a period by examining their temples. I suppose that I subscribe to a generalized form of lex orandi, lex credendi, where the cultic life of a people demonstrates, and perhaps determines, their general way of life. The link between cult and culture is not only etymological.
4) I am keenly interested in religion, and I suppose that such interest leads to my enjoyment of religious buildings.
5) Churches, at least, function for me as sanctuaries. Of course, thieving gypsies might wait outside in ambush, but locals typically treat you well in their churches as long as you are respectful. If you need a rest, stop in a church and just sit. Observe, pray, and collect yourself before continuing on your journey.
My favorite churches, in general, are English Gothic cathedrals. The Anglicans do not deserve their beautiful hallowed halls anymore, but they are lovely. I appreciate the English practices of altar choirs, entombed notable figures around a cathedral, cathedral gardens and cloisters, and the Lady chapels in the apse. Each town’s cathedral is unique and beautiful in its own way. The windows, the sculptures, the vaults, the colorful ceilings, and the side chapels all delight the wide-eyed visitor. Durham, Winchester, Peterborough, Wells, Salisbury, Saint Alban’s, Canterbury, Exeter, Lincoln, Worcester, and others show how the English once had good taste and appropriate priorities. Now, the well fed peasants on the dole act like barbarians at soccer games. Sic transit gloria mundi.
It is hard to choose a favorite, but I think that Ely Cathedral captured my heart more than the rest. I have never seen its octagonal turret like tower anywhere else, and the interior and adjacent Lady Chapel are breathtaking. The town of Ely’s visitor center has this page for the cathedral, too.
The vistors’ center page mentions that Cromwell (hot coals be upon him) had the cathedral closed during his tyrannical reign, during which he used the cathedral as horse stables. Calvin and his minions were perhaps the most disgusting and worthless creatures to carry the name Christian before the French revolution.
Anyway, let the celebrants of ugliness rot—the beautiful cathedrals that embellish the English countryside remain. You ought to visit them before they undergo the same fate as the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople and become mosques or museums.
I happily am a lifetime member of Hostelling International—one of the “progressive” era’s few real worthwhile accomplishments. Begun in A.D. 1909 by a German teacher, Richard Schirrman, Hostelling International has spread throughout the world, providing inexpensive quarters, an international meeting place, and cultural opportunities to young travellers in over eighty countries. Next year is the centennial anniversary of youth hostels. To celebrate, you may wish to try them out.
I have greatly benefited from Hostelling International in my own travels. Far from home, often in countries where I did not know the local language, H.I. hostels were always safe, clean places where I was sure to meet interesting people from all over the world and to receive reliable travel information from fellow travellers and the hostel staff. Even as an adult, I continue to take advantage of hostels. H.I.‘s reservation service is rather hassle free, and H.I. maintains a pretty consistent quality control standard. Unlike many hotels and motels, I always feel that H.I. is on “my side” as a traveller instead of attempting to milk my wallet of its remaining pennies.
I have also stayed at dozens of independent hostels, some of which are considerably nicer than HI hostels and some of which are not. My favorite independent hostels so far are probably Hostel Vista Serena in Manuel Antonio and Luna Loca Hostel in Montezuma, both in Costa Rica, and a wonderful hostel in Munich, the name of which I do not remember. It was in a residential neighborhood and had great food. The Costa Rican hostels were set in paradise; each morning, I woke up to the sound of monkeys. I found iguanas, birds, frogs, lizards, and those same monkeys close to these hostels or on the properties themselves. A huge jungle frog tried to take a shower with me one morning. They were so beautiful. If you can make it to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I recommend both.
In addition to cheap prices, fellow travellers, and helpful staff, there is almost always a kitchen in a hostel. Grocery shopping abroad is quite fun, and preparing a meal in a communal kitchen with random foreigners is even better. After the meal, you can hang out in the common areas, play games, watch movies, or strike up a conversation with folks that will expose you to rather different perspectives.
I have so many great hostel stories. In Berlin, I met an older woman of Serbian descent who was from Australia—I discovered in my travels that Australians come to Europe and travel for several months at a time. Anyway, we had several fascinating discussions after visiting Berlin each day. She told me that she was glad that so much of the city had been destroyed during the war; she still harbored tribal grievances against the Germans for what the Nazis had done in Serbia. Vindictiveness lasts for many years. In Bonn, I roomed with a young Norwegian man who bought me my first German beer, as I was too cheap to buy it myself. He did not harbor any ill will to anyone; he was probably just happy to see how far Norwegian money would go in less expensive countries. Adam and I stayed in several posh hostels throughout Britain, including some converted castles and mansions. In the U.S.A., I really like the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel in San Francisco and the Point Loma hostel in San Diego—both clean, convenient, and full of character. Hostels really are the best way to travel.
Some of my mother’s family have been in southwestern Ohio since the eighteenth century, while my father’s folks arrived in Cincinnati before the American Civil War. I was born and raised there, and I share the civic love and pride of my people.
Coastal types that never venture to places like the Midwest think that there is nothing there but churches, corn, and factories—you know, where provincial xenophobes fearfully cling to their guns and religion. It is their loss. I love New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco—their denizens may justly boast of their cities’ many fine qualities. However, there is more to America than the wealthy urban metropolites.
Cincinnati lies at the nexus of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, our “Tri-State.” This location puts us on the cultural frontiers of several regions that have enriched the particular Cincy way of life. In the Queen City, you find elements Midwestern, Eastern, and Southern. You sense a mixture of the city and the small town—urbane and cosmopolitan institutions adjacent to the local chili parlor . . . world class venues mixed with the provincial inclinations of the people. The local neighborhood, parish, and high school hold claims of allegiance over Cincinnatians’ hearts. The city and its elements are part of its inhabitants, as Cincinnatians make up, quite obviously, the city.
I believe that it is this localism that has kept the official boundaries of the city so small. While other large cities annexed surrounding communities over time, Cincinnatians have largely resisted becoming part of Cincinnati proper. In Columbus, for instance, the edges of town are corn fields, while Cincinnati has been able to swallow very few of its extra-urban suburbs. Cities, villages, and townships surround and infiltrate the political bounds of Cincinnati, but everyone in the Metropolitan area considers himself to be a Cincinnatian. As such, the city proper now has 332,252 residents (down from 503,998 in 1950), while the metropolitan area has over two million people.
Cincinnati was once the fastest growing urban area in the United States and the fifth largest city, and the neighborhoods and architecture of the nineteenth century beautify our town. The German Catholic presence in the city is palpable in every area of life, from social morés to religion to architectural styles to festivals to diet. The Roman Catholic school system is one of the largest in America. Corporate presence has long been strong in Cincinnati, which is the headquartered home to some of the country’s largest companies, like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s / Federated, and Chiquita. Until recently, the city was heavily industrialized, but like the rest of the United States in general and the Midwest in particular, the last forty years have been rough on the city. The medical establishment in Cincinnati is one of the finest in America—something that you take for granted until you see the world beyond the seven hills. Surprising to coastal elites, Cincinnati is also home to great dining; I have heard that only San Francisco has as many fine restaurants per capita.
Politically, Greater Cincinnati has been a bastion of Republican conservatism for generations, but white flight has reduced the white population in Cincinnati proper to just over half its residents. The black population is predominantly poor and has guaranteed Democratic municipal government for decades. Needless to say, such government has been utterly dysfunctional. From Cincinnati to Detroit to New Orleans to Washington, D.C., any city governed by demagogues who have been given blank checks for power and corruption by the large poor uneducated black population has suffered greatly. Aristotle wisely stated long ago that healthy representative government requires a large middle class—otherwise, you get Marion Barry, Kwame Kilpatrick, David Denkins, and the other embarrassments to republicanism. This is mainly an issue of class, education, and intelligence, not race. However, penurious demagoguery in America has had better fortunes in the race hustling business than in class warfare amongst the majority population. When concerned citizens try to resist these demagogues, the black population circles its wagons in tribal reflex, since any attack on one their own is yet another example of the Man’s telling them what to do. Sigh . . .
However, we cannot blame the stupidity of Cincinnati’s local government on the black newcomers. Before the Great Migration, there were few blacks in Cincinnati, but the incompetence of the city council goes way back into the nineteenth century. Local politicians have done their damnedest to choke Cincinnati for many generations. Note that white flight did not cause Cincinnatians’ resistance to annexation, though certainly that has been an influence for the last four decades. Rather, Cincinnatians knew that Cincinnati’s city council would harm their communities even back when everyone was white. It seems that, in Cincinnati, at least, bad local government is color blind.
Despite the foolishness, short-sightedness, and general stupidity of the political establishment, Cincinnati is still a wonderful place to live. We eat Cincinnati style chili (not Texas chili!), we say “Please?” instead of “Excuse me?” or “Pardon” if we do not understand you, and we’re sophisticated enough to read the paper but sensible enough not to believe it.
Space513 (our area code) is a nifty site that highlights some of Cincinnati’s beloved dives, while the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is one of the best zoos in the world.
Below are links to some Cincinnati and Ohio area fixtures.
City of Cincinnati,
Architecture of Cincinnati,
Camp Washington Chili,
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal,
Cincinnati State College,
Cincinnati Transit History,
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden,
City of Cincinnati Government,
College of Mount Saint Joseph,
Covedale Center for the Performing Arts,
Delhi Flower & Garden Center,
Elder High School,
Macy’s / Federated Department Stores,
Fifth Third Bank,
Gold Star Chili,
Graeter’s Ice Cream,
Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce,
Greater Cincinnati Convention and Vistors Bureau,
Hebrew Union College,
LaSalle High School,
Mount Airy Forest,
Northern Kentucky University,
Ohio Book Store,
Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism,
Ohio Right to Life,
Ohio State Government,
Ohio State University,
Price Hill Chili,
Procter & Gamble,
Putz’s Creamy Whip,
Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati,
Saint Catherine’s Review,
Saint Xavier High School,
Seton High School,
Southwest Ohio Amusement Park Historical Society,
Spring Grove Cemetery,
Supreme Nut & Candy,
Thomas More College,
Treasured Churches Of Cincinnati,
United Dairy Farmers,
United States Playing Card Company,
University of Cincinnati,
Yahoo Local Pages, &
Young’s Dairy Farm