Lent is ending (for the Orthodox), and Holy Week is upon us. I wish everyone a good and beneficial Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and all the days until Pascha. Arimathea postings will resume afterward.
I do not having anything appropriately pious for the season, but I’ll share a link that my father sent me from the Hamilton County Auditor’s site—Downtown Cincinnati 1968 Vintage Photographs. My father said that some folks at the auditor’s office recently found, scanned, and uploaded them online. They are practical photographs instead of artistic ones—like a 1960’s version of Google’s streetview. Still, I found them interesting. Below is a photograph of Izzy’s original deli:
By the way, Dusty Rhodes, our auditor (since A.D. 1990) and a well known local DJ (since A.D. 1961), is one of only three Democrats for whom I have ever voted—and I’ll continue to do so until he retires. Many years, Mr. Rhodes!
When we were visiting Saint Louis this past week, we saw the Cathedral Basilica of the town, the patron of which is fittingly King Louis IX of France—Saint Louis. He was the historical ideal of a Christian king in the West.
The church is one of the loveliest Roman Catholic places of worship in the United States. The whole cathedral is decorated by mosaics of scenes from the scriptures and Christian history. In the narthex, you can see mosaics of King Louis as a crusader, a patron of the arts, a just ruler, and a guardian of the poor. I was particularly pleased by a mosaic of Louis and one of my almae matres—la Sorbonne (Well, Paris IV, at least). The altar area, side chapels, and domes are impressive and tastefully adorned with theological instruction in stone, glass, and mosaic. I wonder how the basilica escaped the ravages of the contemporary iconoclasts.
Outside the basilica is a small garden. The cathedral school is across the street, but it is an unsightly testament to the architectural degeneration that has occurred in America over the last few generations. I imagine that the old school building was a lovely complement to the basilica but that it was torn down to put up the “efficient” monstrosity that renders its space noxious to the senses. At least, the basilica remains beautiful.
One cannot visit Saint Louis without an obligatory visit to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the bank of the mighty Mississippi. The National Park Service runs the grounds, and everything is free but the ride to the top of the arch. We bought a combined arch tram ride and riverboat cruise for $24 per person, which I found reasonable.
We first took the Mississippi riverboat cruise on the Tom Sawyer, a craft that looked like an old steamboat. The narrated cruise up and down the Mississippi was an hour long, and we enjoyed it. Afterward, we went to board our tram up the Gateway Arch. Since we waited until 7:30 PM to ride the tram, we did not have to deal with the long lines of midday. I would recommend the same to anyone. The waiting area for boarding was decorated like a steamship landing, with supplies and commercial goods in crates lying around. It had a nineteenth century rivertown charm. The tram, however, looked like a cross of The Jetsons with Woody Allen’s Sleeper mixed with the Corellian Cruiser’s escape pod from Star Wars. The tram was built in the 1960’s, and it was so evident.
The ride up in what one blog called a “womb tram” was disconcerting. We were stuck with our knees’ knocking strangers’, and the pod’s window showed the arch’s structure in what seemed an endless climb. Once we arrived at the top, we snaked our way through the crowd of people to peer out the windows at the city below. To the east, we looked out on Illinois, and there was not much there. To the west, we could see Saint Louis and eventually the sunset. We could also watch a Cardinals’ game that was occurring at Busch Stadium. We stayed up there long enough to see the city’s lights come on. It was frightening to look down at the empty space beneath the arch, but the view was spectacular.
After we returned to earth, we visited the Museum of Westward Expansion in the underground lair beneath the arch’s park. It was not too large, but it was free, and we enjoyed reading about Lewis and Clark’s journey out west. My mother particularly liked the diary entries that the museum posted on the length of its outer wall, coupled with magnificent scenes of the American landscape. It was a nice way to spend an evening.
Later in the week, we returned downtown to visit the Old Courthouse, which is also part of the national memorial. It was there that the court heard the Dred Scott case. Various rooms in the courthouse featured exhibits from Saint Louis history, but the structure itself impressed me the most. One can visit the upper floors and balconies, which pleased me, as such places tend to be off limits to visitors. The upper balconies in the dome are pretty cool, and its myriad staircases and opened vistas make it a fantastic place to play as a child. I am sure that the National Park Service does not allow kids to roam the halls wildly; they must save that for themselves after hours.
On our last day, we visited the Scott Joplin House to pay homage to America’s great ragtime composer. The house was not large, but I am glad that we went. At the beginning of the tour, a man played several piano rolls of Joplin’s work for us on a player piano. He took requests, and we enjoyed the show. For who would visit Joplin’s house who didn’t like Joplin’s music? After the performance, we visited the first floor that had a small museum dedicated to Joplin’s life and music. We learnt that Joplin’s work was featured at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, but that Joplin himself could not perform it because he was black and because the World’s Fair was segregated. How manifestly unjust! We also got to watch a little bit of his opera Treemonisha. The walls featured contemporary newspaper reviews that attacked revivals of the opera as politically incorrect [sic], in that Joplin’s piece reinforces outdated stereotypes about blacks. I do not know how outdated such stereotypes are, but I find it fascinating that Americans are as foolish as ever about racial matters. Afterward, we visited the second floor to see Joplin’s apartment. I do not think that there were any original furnishings, but the apartment was decorated with period pieces.
After our visit with the king of rag, we visited Union Station before we turned north to visit the confluence of the Missouri River into the Mississippi River. Union Station in Saint Louis, unlike that in D.C., is no longer a train station. Nonetheless, it is quite sharp. Now, it consists of a hotel, a mall, a food court, and a small, free history museum about the train station and about train travel in general. I liked the Pullman silver collection that it showcased. We had breakfast there and walked around a bit before exiting to enjoy the allegorical Carl Milles’ Fountain outside.
The castle looking station and the fountain make for a great scene. Unfortunately, a number of local vagrants ruined it. One man was bathing in the fountain, while others sat gazing on. Homeless in the park . . . Saint Louis in the modern age.
Saint Louis has a remarkable number of institutions dedicated to plants and animals, and they are all free to the public (except the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is free during certain evenings in the summer). Of course, the most impressive institution is not listed; I’ll write a separate post for the Saint Louis Zoo.
The first place that we visited in Saint Louis was the World Bird Sanctuary, located west of the city off I-44. There, we found probably more than one hundred rehabilitating birds from all over the world. I was impressed by the secluded park setting of the sanctuary, which allows the birds to feel somewhat closer to home. The sanctuary had several bald eagles; I’ve never seen so many in one place before. The only displeasing thing about my experience was that I had no quarters to buy feed for the fancy chickens. Poor chickens.
My favorite bird was the sweet mottled owl in the smaller of the two nature centers. She looked like a creature from a children’s book with her lovely little eyes and blue eyelids. She cooed and batted her eyes when I past her cage. The naturalist said that such was a warning, but it could not have seemed more endearing.
To support the sanctuary’s good work, my mother decided to go on a small shopping spree in their gift shop, which featured other animals than just birds, including rabbits and snakes of various kinds. I encourage you to visit the World Bird Sanctuary—and to leave a donation for our winged friends
The sanctuary is located in Lone Elk Park. I have never seen such a neat local park. It is large, and it has various sections that enclose free roaming deer, elk, and bison. You can drive through each of these areas, and you can even leave your car in the elk and deer sections. We looped around the park grounds a couple of times to see all of the herds. Saint Louisians are lucky, indeed, to have such opportunities for animal encounters.
After we left Lone Elk Park, we stopped at the Laumeier Sculpture Park. It does not have a nature focus, but the sculptures are located on green grounds. I liked the frog pond in the birder area the best, though the sculptures were fascinating, too—especially the massive eye.
At the end of that first day, we enjoyed dinner at Hodak’s, where my mother feasted on chicken. I enjoyed their sides; it is definitely worth the hype, and it is well priced, too.
The second day, we paid homage to Budweiser.
On our third day, we visited Purina Farms out in the country west of Saint Louis. I do not know how far one must travel to see the foothills of the Ozarks, but the land by Purina Farms fit my image of them. Purina Farms is a public visitors’ center and dog show / competition facility run by Purina. As soon as we arrived, we jumped on a departing tractor ride for a short tour around the grounds. When we returned to the center, we visited the various buildings that showcased Purina’s history, the animal food making process, and dog sports in general. Then, we visited the petting zoo. Purina had several varieties of horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs, cows, ducks, and geese for you to enjoy and to touch (well, the birds did not allow that). I had never before met sheep that allowed you to pet them, but the sheep at Purina Farms were quite friendly. We then visited the dog and cat shelter known as the Pet House. The cats stay in a towering cat house that allows the felines to live in style. Lastly, we watched the dog show, which featured some impressive dog diving. Evidently, the sport of dog diving started at Purina Farms in the 90’s. If you love cats and dogs, you’ll enjoy a few hours at Purina Farms.
On the way back to Saint Louis, we stopped at the Route 66 State Park, as my mother harbors a fascination for Route 66. Her generation grew up with Route 66’s becoming part of the national psyche, and she really enjoyed the modest museum at the state park. I liked the various roadside signs of yesterday’s Americana.
Once we arrived back in Saint Louis, we decided to continue the Route 66 theme by eating dinner at an old styled cafeteria called Garavelli’s on Chippewa Street. It was seriously old school, run by Greeks, it seems, though the name looks Italian. We had a large meal, selected in line, for little money. We intentionally saved room for dessert at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard a little down the street. I discovered why they call them “concretes” at Ted Drewes—the frozen custard stays in the bowl when they flip it upside down. I wonder if it ever falls onto customers’ feet. Anyway, Ted Drewes is very tasty. I ordered my concrete mixed with Tedads Scotch Oatmeal Cookie—so good and so cheap! After we satiated our sweet tooth, we stopped in a 50’s style doughnut shop across the street from Garavelli’s to buy doughnuts for the following morning—the Donut Drive-In. We could not have spent the afternoon in a more retro way unless we had been able to drive around in an old Chevy.
Not wanting to lose a minute even after a long day, we then visited The Missouri Botanical Garden, as it was free in the evening. We could have easily spent the whole day there; it is quite a gem. There are so many subsections of the garden that it should be called the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is huge, with lovely rose gardens, an Arab garden court, azalea gardens, hosta gardens, rock gardens, Japanese gardens, Victorian gardens, herb gardens—you name it, and it was there. Unfortunately, the space age looking Climatron was closed for the evening, but its exterior reminded me of the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. I also enjoyed the hedge maze and the many fountains and statues that beautify the garden. Saint Louisians should be proud of their fine institutions.
The fourth day, we visited the superb Saint Louis Zoo.
On our fifth and final day, we visited The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area on our way out of town. I always have to touch famous bodies of water when I travel, and I knew that I wanted to stop by the confluence of the Missouri River into the Mississippi River. As I was not sure where the Missouri ended, I made sure to immerse my hands in both rivers where they were far apart and in the rivers at the confluence. The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is not as well known as the Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones Confluence Point State Park on the northern shore of the Missouri River or the Lewis and Clark State Memorial Park on the Illinois side, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. The visitors’ center was located in a handsomely refurbished barn. Outside the barn, there were hummingbird feeders hanging near a flower garden. I had never seen so many wild hummers together in one place before; there must have been two dozen of them swarming around. The Desert Museum near Tucson had a hummingbird house that we saw, but these were free hummers. We watched them for some time, and we also chatted to the cordial lady who worked the information counter. It was clear that she was very proud of her city, and she was overjoyed to have out-of-towners visiting. The expansive park had many interesting points to visit, including a boardwalk through a marsh, but the highlight, of course, was the confluence point. At the point, one could read many poetic homages to the rivers.
Visiting the confluence was a fitting end to our visit. Afterward, we went into Illinois and left the Show Me State behind. It was a good trip.
As I stated in my post on Saint Louis, Anheuser-Busch built Saint Louis. Of course, there are many other economic forces in town, but the (once) American beer company brews large over the city’s life. From the Cardinals to the fabulous zoo, one can see the mark of the eagle throughout the town. I wondered if Coors or Miller would be tolerated, much less sold, within the city limits.
So, a trip to Saint Louis entailed for us a trip to Budwesier. In the morning, we decided to visit Grant’s Farm, which became the home of the Busch family once they emigrated from the factory grounds in Soulard to the country estate. Grant’s Farm is so called because Ulysses settled on the farm after getting hitched to Julia. The Busch family moved there in A.D. 1907.
Grant’s Farm is now open to the public, and it is free, but parking costs $11. It features a miniature safari through deer fields that one must pass on a tram to get to the main section. Once we arrived at the Tier Garten, a lady offered to sell us an “adventure package” for five dollars that consisted of two goat bottles, a ride on the carousel, and a slushie. We bought one; I had the slushie and my mother enjoyed the rest. Well, perhaps “enjoyed” is not quite accurate. Mom was wearing a pretty outfit, and she was foolish enough to enter the goat arena with the bottles. Within seconds, a flock of goats assaulted her, smearing mud all over her clothes. She fed them until both bottles were empty, but she was a mess. This was the first place that we visited during a long day; so, she was going to deck her finest hoof prints around Saint Louis. Lesson for the wise: do not enter goat corrals with milk bottles!
There were many animals and shows to see. I was especially impressed by the African elephants. I think that the Africans are so much better than the Asians. They are larger, they look more noble with their broad heads and wide ears, and their color is lovelier. For some reason, zoos seem to be getting rid of the Africans, too. Cincinnati lost its African elephants when I was a kid. Anyway, the folks at Grant’s Farm did a show with African elephants, and I have never seen that before. Evidently, one can train Africans, though it is more difficult, as Asians tend to be more cooperative. A trip to Grant’s Farm is worth it simply for the noble beasts. I also liked the tortoises around the Tier Garten. You can touch them, which is getting more rare in our land of liability.
After a morning with the critters, we visited the Bauernhof to see some Clydesdales, the Busch’s carriage collection, and many Busch won equestrian trophies. You can see some of the carriages that Anheuser-Busch uses in its Budweiser advertisements, and many of the company’s commercials are filmed on the land. Next, we had some German food for lunch and enjoyed some free beer, compliments of Budweiser. I had never before tasted a beer by Anheiser-Busch. I had a normal Budweiser and then a Michelob Ultra. I was saddened to see that the free beer bar offered Stella Artois. The humiliation—to force Saint Louisians to serve foreign beer in their own house! It was liking forcing kohanim to serve Jimmy Dean sausage in the Temple! InBev, like most multinationals, must be a heartless beast. The ladies at the counter certainly agreed with me, but what can they say? One must follow the flow of capital.
After taking the tram back to the park entrance, we visited the Clydesdale stables, where most of the horses at Grant’s Farm live. Evidently, Anheuser-Busch owns the largest herd of Clydesdales in the world, and the largest group of them live at Grant’s Farm. We also saw them at the Budweiser factory later in the day, and I have seen them at the company’s amusement parks, Busch Gardens and Sea World, too. They are beautiful animals.
We left Grant’s Farm and then visited the Budweiser factory in Soulard near downtown. Like Grant’s Farm, the tour is free, but it further offers free parking. It also gives you free beer at the end. Together, Anheuser-Busch gave my mother and me eight free beers in one day. That more than covers the cost of parking at Grant’s Farm. They offered free pretzels, too.
The factory tour was interesting and well presented. We were able to visit several buildings in the industrial complex and to see many steps of the brewing process. From the lovely old Michelob building to the Bevo building to the gorgeous Clydesdale stables, the plant is a testament to industrial design. My family visited the Miller factory in Milwaukee a couple of years ago, and I think that it is fair to say that the Budweiser plant is more attractive, though the Miller beer cave and the Bavarian inn were superior parts of the Miller tour.
After the tour, we enjoyed our complimentary beverages. I tried the rather new American Ale and, I think, Michelob Original Lager. Then, we looked around at the museum in the visitors’ lobby and learnt more about the company. What interested me most was how Anheuser-Busch survived prohibition. It is a shame that so many of its non-alcoholic products disappeared. Just think about how many kiddies Budweiser could serve at the ballpark with its root beer and ginger ale as their fathers imbibed the mature brew.
Having enjoyed our day with Saint Louis’ beer baron, we decided to end the day by walking along The Old Chain of Rocks Route 66 Bridge north of the city. The walk over the Mississippi River to Illinois’ Chouteau Island Park was pleasant and serene, though oddly abandoned. We watched the arch of the city and the river sparkle as the sun set in the west. It was a nice, quiet end to the day. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Crown Candy Kitchen for dessert. It is in a shady neighborhood, but it was a charming place nonetheless.
I decided to spend the week visiting Saint Louis with my mother. I have long wanted to visit that fine midwestern town down river, but the opportunity never came up. With its being so close to Cincinnati—less than six hours of driving away—and with so many of its attractions’ being free or inexpensive, I knew that we would have little to lose.
The drive to Saint Louis was uneventful. I decided to take the southern route down I-71 to I-64 to Saint Louis so that we could enjoy the rolling hills of the Ohio River valley. I find the flatness of central Indiana along I-70 to be somewhat soul numbing, though that is how we returned at the end of the week. I especially liked driving through Hoosier National Forest; we saw many turkey vultures and some deer on the way, but fortunately none walked toward the highway.
I enjoyed Saint Louis a lot. I knew that the city had many of the same problems that have plagued northern industrial cities. Manufacturing has collapsed, black ghettos checkerboard the city, and it is clear that the best days ended a century ago. The same can be said for Cincinnati.
Indeed, Cincinnati and Saint Louis are similar in many striking ways. They are both river towns that experienced tremendous growth in the nineteenth century, when they were among the largest, fastest growing, most dynamic cities in America. The industries in both towns became iconic companies for American goods. Moreover, many of the beer baron families that moved to Saint Louis had their start a generation before in Cincinnati. That shared experience is surely due to another similarity—both towns have a strong German presence. German immigrants made Cincinnati and Saint Louis what they are—the fact is unmistakable in the architecture, culture, and values of the cities.
Both towns have suffered the deleterious effects of racial diversity, with the common results of slums, disintegration, and social tension. Cincinnati experienced the influx of black migrants after the First World War, but Saint Louis may have had an indigenous stock. For Missouri was a slave state, and the Mississippi River connected the town to the deep South in a way that the Ohio River did not. Jazz has far more roots in Saint Louis than in Cincinnati, where there were some fledgling black musicians. When we visited the home of Scott Joplin in Saint Louis, the guide talked about a picture of a black Cincinnati musician and businessman who became one of Joplin’s sponsors and promoters. I had never heard of this fellow, and I assume that he left Cincinnati and went to Saint Louis because of its more prevalent black music scene at the time.
The people of Saint Louis seem correspondingly (to Cincinnatians) proud of their city. Perhaps, the nostalgia of the good old days contributes to provincial pride, or, maybe, it is due to the intense civic engagement that German stock brought to these cities’ civic culture. I could not tell, however, how parochial the culture was in Saint Louis. In Cincinnati, neighborhood identity matters a lot. East is east and West is west and never the twain shall meet. What hath Hyde Park to do with Cheviot? I did not figure out as much with the locals. I did notice, however, that the Italian community on “The Hill” in Saint Louis is quite proud of their turf, and it appears that they have successfully defended it from invasion—eh, I mean, “urban blight.” The Hill is composed of modest but well maintained homes on clean streets that transport you to the 1950’s. There are dozens of restaurants and specialty shops that offer Italian cuisine and goods, and all the street poles sport Italian colors. One has to admire the tenacity of the Italians. With the Germans, I think that they are the finest American immigrants, though Coulter suggests the Italians and the Cubans as the best American immigrants. The Irish are curiously overlooked . . .
As in Cincinnati, it appears that public life in Saint Louis benefits much from magnanimous citizens and engaged corporations. The city boasts many fine public institutions that generous benefactors have bestowed on the population at large. Many cultural and educational venues in Saint Louis are free and of very high quality. The Anheuser-Busch clan alone has ensured that Saint Louisians have some of the best animal encounter and wildlife conservation institutions in the country. Beer has done much for the Gateway to the West.
Culturally, the locals are clearly Midwesterners. I found people to be very friendly and unassuming. The respectable, working class feel to the city reminded me of Cincinnati, or at least of my Cincinnati. Like Cincinnati, Saint Louis also has pockets of chicness patronized by the trendy, new moneyed professional classes, such as The Loop area. I did not notice any rainbow flags; so, perhaps, such folks are more discrete than they are in Clifton.
There are substantial differences between Saint Louis and Cincinnati, of course. The street system in Saint Louis is more of a grid network. There are so many streets that run north-south or east-west over the entire city; after a few days, I could easily get around the city without a map. The Queen City also has her grand boulevards, but you can bet that they will snake and turn so much that any foreigner will quickly lose his sense of direction. Saint Louis also seems smaller in size, land wise. Perhaps, it is simply the easy navigation that allows one to cross the city in no time at all, or perhaps, we did not visit enough of the city edges to get a sense of the cultural (rather than political) boundaries of Saint Louis.
If you have a free week and you live near Saint Louis, I recommend a visit. Below, I’ll add links to particular places in Saint Louis that we visited.
See my post on the World Bird Sanctuary, Lone Elk Park, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Purina Farms, Route 66 State Park, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in “St. Lou Flora and Fauna.”
See my post on the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, with the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and the Old Courthouse, the Mississippi riverboat cruise, the Scott Joplin House, and Union Station in “History in Saint Louis.”
See my post on Grant’s Farm, the Budweiser factory, The Old Chain of Rocks Route 66 Bridge, and the Crown Candy Kitchen in “Budweiser Day.”
See my post on the wonderful “Saint Louis Zoo.”
See my post on the “Cathedral Basilica Saint Louis.”
This past weekend, my sister and I visited Young’s Dairy Farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio, close to Xenia and right up the road from kooky Leftist Antioch College.
I have been going to Young’s since I was a teenager, and it is quite a place. In the middle of nowhere, you find a rural, family entertainment complex, complete with cows, chickens, very friendly goats, a driving range, water balloon war courts, two “Udders and Putters” miniature golf courses, and children’s rides. Moreover, you can enjoy some country dining that uses local produce and ingredients, including Young’s own dairy products. Lastly, you get to indulge in the ice cream made on the farm from their own cows’ milk. Young’s also has many seasonal events that draw a crowd.
The Youngs have sensibly turned their agricultural and livestock farm into a multifaceted tourist and entertainment business. Smart folks, those Youngs!
I love Young’s mainly for the ice cream and the goats. It never fails to surprise me just how friendly and social goats are. Of course, they like you more when you have goat feed for them, but they also just like to be petted. The babies are, well, like almost all animal babies—just darling.
If you are ever in southwestern Ohio, consider spending an afternoon at Young’s. You will enjoy it.
What American city better illustrates the diminution of the United States over the last couple of generations than Detroit? A century ago, the city that straddles Lakes Erie and Saint Clair boomed and became one of America’s industrial powerhouses. Today, it somewhat resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The factories have closed, the talented continually leave, the politicians are corrupt and moronic—even by American democratic standards, and the city’s survivors remain in a forgotten town. Good job, U.A.W. and Big Three visionaries!
Detroit’s populace only has Vernor’s Ginger Ale for comfort and the ridiculous People Mover for a laugh. Oh, I forgot “Comerica Park”—even baseball has been ruined in Detroit by their obnoxious companies. Comerica Bank is not even headquartered in Detroit anymore, having carpetbagged down to Texas. Bastards! Cincinnati has likewise suffered, as all the “Rust Belt” towns except, it seems, Chicago. However, Detroit’s decay is more striking, and the rot is regional rather than limited to the core of the town. De-industrialization has devastated Michigan.
On Slate, Witold Rybczynski has a “slide show essay” on Detroit and its ruins. You can see it here. I find the Michigan Theater pictures rather emblematic of the city as a whole. Henry Ford would weep.
Of course, those resigned to their doom may amuse themselves by the spectacle of their failed city. Urban politics often make for a colorful circus show, and Detroit does not disappoint.
The councilwoman who causes a scene is Monica Conyers, the wife of Congressman John Conyers and the current president of Detroit’s completely Democratic city council. Note that John Conyers is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the second longest serving member of the House, as well as being yet another crooked Detroit politician. Yes, this is what the American government has become.
You can see more Conyersesque wonderfulness in an interview with Charlie LeDuff. Here is the first part, and here is the second part. I experience the same sort of joy with Mrs. Conyers that I had watching Saddam Husein’s Information Minister, Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (a.k.a. Baghdad Bob). If you are going to represent bad government, you can at least entertain the world while doing so. Kudos Monica Conyers—you at least have a sense of humor, if not of propriety!
Several nights ago, I had a dream about the old Ape House at the Cincinnati Zoo. It has been long closed, and I awoke not knowing if my mind had constructed the dreamscape or if I had simply remembered it. For I often dream of places that do not exist outside my imagination or of real places that change considerably in my dreams. Once, I dreamt that Catherine the Great escorted my family on a carriage tour of Saint Petersburg, but it was quite different from the city on the Neva. The mind is bizarre. Anyway, as I thought about it more, I was sure that my dream was based on my childhood memories of the zoo.
To confirm my memory, I looked online for pictures of the old Ape House, which led me to Cincinnati Views. The site has many postcards, maps, and photographs of the city. On the Downtown Streets page, you can see this view of Fourth Street looking east from Race Street:
For a more industrial look, consider this wonderfully melancholic view from Price Hill on the Bird’s Eye View page:
Spend some time on the site; it has thousands of images.
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.