Let me show you around my city.
In 1862, early in the War Between the States (“Civil War” just doesn’t fit), the mayor of Cincinnati declared martial law. Free black men were forcibly removed from their homes, from their families, and from their jobs, and marched to a fort in northern Kentucky, where they were to work on the fortifications intended to keep the Confederates from coming onto Cincinnati’s banks. For these men, this treatment wouldn’t have been any worse had the Confederates managed to take over Cincinnati.
Union General Lew Wallace heard of the way these men were treated. He was disgusted, and commissioned Judge William Dickson, putting him in charge of the Black Brigade. The first thing he did was send the men home, and ASK them to come, if they chose to volunteer – just like the white citizens of Cincinnati. The turnout the next day was nearly double the conscripted number. Amazing what a difference being treated with respect can make.
So there’s this new park in downtown Cincinnati, Smale Riverfront Park. The city is trying to take back downtown, and one of the ways they’re doing that is by improving the waterfront, so people would want to go down there. Part of the waterfront includes both Great American Ball Park, and Paul Brown Stadium, both open to the river, and a newer development called The Banks. Right on the river, though, on the part that floods with some degree of regularity, are the parks.
It started innocently enough, with the Serpentine Wall, a long stretch of concrete along the banks of the Ohio, sloping up from the river in a series of giant steps. There are also steps that are more closely-spaced, so you don’t have to pull a hamstring to climb up there. The biggest event involving the wall is the annual WEBN Fireworks (yes, it deserves the capital) – now called Riverfest – Labor Day weekend. Because people get there hours before the actual show, and sit and wait on the ground, it got a bit ugly, especially if someone encroached on the space you’ve saved. No alcohol is served anymore. Got ugly. You can get a beer or other adult beverage at the myriad church festivals around town, and I think you can at KidsFest too. Just not Riverfest.
Yeatman’s Cove and Sawyer Point were further developed, to become a place where people came for festivals and concerts. At some point when I was in high school – I think 1987 (yes, I’m getting old) – the P&G Pavilion was opened. I was there, along with a slew of other P&G brats (Procter & Gamble was founded in Cincinnati, and still has more power than anyone is willing to admit). Can’t for the life of me remember what we saw. But I remember when the Party in the Park kicked off. Free concerts of bands that are no longer popular, but usually still pretty good, and occasionally, bands that ARE extremely popular.
After the dedication of the P&G Pavilion, there were further developments within that area, referred to as Bicentennial Commons. See, Cincinnati was officially founded in 1788. And in 1988, we celebrated the bicentennial. It was a huge deal. There were fireworks shot from the three tallest buildings downtown, that could be seen for miles in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the Tall Stacks event which celebrated our history as a major port city during the days of the steamboats, and this new park. With a huge controversy.
The city of Cincinnati has many nicknames. Three of the most famous ones are The Blue Chip city, for the number of corporate headquarters that (used to be) we have. Then there’s the Queen City, which has a number of sources, including the Queen of the Ohio, Queen of the Midwest, stuff like that. Yeah, we were the first gateway to the west, St Louis! And the one most derogatory, the one we’ve chosen to take back and make our own, Porkopolis. Before the railroad, we were the center of meat processing, particularly famous for pork processing, which, incidentally, is what brought James Procter and William Gamble to town. One made soap, one made candles. Both used pigs to do it. Well, parts of pigs.
Anyway, in 2000, we had the first Big Pig Gig, where a bunch of large statues of pigs were given (sold?) to various organizations for them to decorate, and display all around downtown. Some of them had wings. There were some very creative designs. When the event was over, the pigs were given to their new owners, the companies and individuals who bought them. There are pigs on rooftops and pigs in parks, pigs in museums and performance halls, one decorated as a hockey player, stationed by the coliseum where our hockey team plays, and even a wing-ed pig in a guilded cage in a strip-mall parking lot. There was another Big Pig Gig, although less big, in 2012, with new pigs. Again, some really incredible designs. Going back a little further, to 1998, there was the first Flying Pig Marathon. It is, by the way, a Boston Marathon qualifier. It is also brutal. People say Ohio is flat. They haven’t been here. Or most of the rest of southern Ohio for that matter.
But back before 1988, such things were considered ridiculous and insulting. And yet…when it came time to decide on how to celebrate the history of our city, the noble pig was brought up. Well, of course, we need to do something, sure, sure. Maybe something subtle, hidden in a corner somewhere. Except – there was another faction that wanted the pigs to be prominent. Not just prominent, but brightly decorated. Bright pink pigs with vivid red wings, perched atop the steamer smokestacks which are placed along a model of the Ohio river. The model is atop an arch that serves as a gateway to the rest of the Commons. Just beyond that arch, there’s a pole with an ark atop it, and just a little below, a large stick in a notch on the pole, marking the highest the Ohio River has been since this area was inhabited by Europeans. That was 1937. Sixty years later, we had another monumental flood. It didn’t reach that high point, but it did get pretty high.
So anyway, no real surprise, but there was quite a bit of opposition to the pink pigs with red wings, to the pigs perched on pipes, and to the pigs having wings in the first place. As you can see, though, some of those objections were overruled.
I love the four pigs on the smokestacks. I liked the idea of pink pigs with red wings at the time. I’ve matured a bit since then; I’m kinda glad they lost that one.