Tourist At Home

Let me show you around my city.

At the monument to The Black Brigade, in Smale Riverfront Park.

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.

Water Plus Boy
Warm day, little boy, and jets of water coming from the ground. Inevitable.

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.

Along the Wall
Serpentine Wall along the Ohio

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.

Water Cannon
At Yeatman’s Cove. Used to be a wading pool, now just fountains, but they are still for playing.

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.

When Pigs Fly
When Pigs Fly

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.


Busy, busy

Mother’s Day weekend was particularly rough for me this year, not really sure why. I was glad my choir wasn’t singing in church that day, because I’m not sure I’d have been able to get through it. For those who’ve lost parents, you know some years are better than others, and there isn’t always an obvious reason why. I had a birthday later that week, and a celebration at my sister’s house, at work, and with my father and stepmother. We went to Skyline and Star Trek. They weren’t impressed. With Star Trek, that is; they go to Skyline all the time. By the time Saturday rolled around, I was worn out.

Ault Park
More green, bigger trees, greater variety than in Colorado

The next week was a short week for me; I had that Friday off. A friend was visiting from Colorado, and I was off to pick her up from the airport. Because of the jet lag, I kept our plans for the rest of that day simple and easy. I had to get home to get fitted for my knee brace. It was a little large, but the next size down was too small. I don’t know if it’s stretched or I’ve shrunk a little (really hope the latter), but my brace is now very much too big. Still helps, though.

After getting fitted, I drove us to a couple parks in town. Ault Park first, then a brief run through Eden Park. There’s a bit more green here than in Colorado, particularly this time of year, so Ault Park didn’t disappoint.

Memorial Day Weekend is when the summer really kicks off here. Yes, I know summer’s official start is in June. Beside the point. The first major festival of the season – Taste of Cincinnati, once the largest such festival in the country, happens that weekend, and has for the last 35 years. Six blocks of food booths, four different live-music venues, and beer, always beer. Taste of Cincinnati is about food. And lots and lots of walking. So, the brace came just in time.

2013-05-25 Ducks Taste 021alr
Departing from Newport, Kentucky, the 45-minute tour gives a bit of history for both sides of the Ohio River.

First, we did another touristy thing – we rode the ducks. It was entertaining listening to the visitors from all over the place – including Bavaria. Learned an alternate word for goodbye – Tschüs. They weren’t the first, but the Germans, particularly from Bavaria, were the biggest immigrant group to move here. Can’t speak German to save my life, but I can pronounce the heck out of it. Years of vocal training probably helped. Neither here nor there. Tschüs is pronounced chuuss, approximately. Less formal than auf weidersehen, anyway.

View of Kentucky from the Freedom Center
View of the Roebling bridge and Covington, Kentucky from the Freedom Center

Next, to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, back on the other side of the river, just across the Roebling bridge. Finally, up the hill to Taste of Cincinnati, where we ate a few horribly fattening things and fought crowds. By then, we were a bit too tired to sit and listen to any of the bands. Sad, really. I usually spend hours there doing just that. The food and beverages are secondary.

I did a bit of driving around town, showing some of the best places to be. Even went up to Mt Adams, and a parking lot near Rookwood Pottery. Great views of the eastern side of downtown from there. I don’t really remember what we did after. Probably headed back to recover from being on our feet all day.

Krohn Conservatory Butterfly Show
One of the few butterflies that held still long enough for me to capture it

Sunday, there was the Butterfly Show at Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park. Krohn was packed. Holiday weekend, so I wasn’t too surprised, even though I hadn’t seen it that crowded before. Again, I blame the gorgeous weather. No real time to linger like I’ve done in the past, because of the crowd and the heat. I did manage to get a few interesting shots, though, and even had a few hitchhikers on me.

After, we headed for the art museum. By that point, after walking around Krohn, and walking back to the car, and still not completely recovered from Saturday, when we drove up to the art museum, we paid for parking. It’s not a long walk from the little lot just outside of the museum, but it was only $4, and we were worn out. Blew through that pretty quickly, then off to dinner at Skyline. Seriously, try it. Make a chili dip, with Skyline, cream cheese and regular cheese. It’s awesome.

They could have been pink with red wings, y’know.

After Skyline, I found our way to Mt Echo park in the western part of the city. Not an easy thing to do, since the route I know is no longer there. Something about the bridge being unsafe and likely to collapse any moment. It’s being replaced. Mt. Echo is a great place to get a view of the city’s skyline. After a while there, we wandered downtown to  Bicentennial Commons to walk along the river. At that point, I’m not really sure how we were both upright, frankly, let alone how I was still able to drive. Stick shift – I need both legs and both arms.

Then we were hungry again and headed for Outback, the one national chain we patronized the whole weekend. It was nearly 8, so no trouble getting a seat; we only had to wait 15 minutes. My food was just fine, but her steak was incorrect not once, but twice. The first time, her steak was medium-rare like mine. She prefers it medium-well. The waiter took it back and brought out another about ten minutes later. This one is best described as a charcoal briquette. I wanted to go back and find the chef, tell him to get over himself and learn to cook properly. But no, the waiter, then the manager, talked her into giving it one more try. They also took it off the bill. That helped, that they tried to make it right.

Cincinnati Zoo
Manatee swimming

Monday, the zoo. Once the second-best zoo in the country, behind San Diego, we’ve dropped on the list a bit. Not because the zoo couldn’t keep up, but because others made many improvements of their own. I don’t know if it made a difference, but although Monday was a holiday, I assumed there would be fewer people just because there would still be those who had to work. There was also a threat of thunderstorms that never materialized. If attendance was down, I can’t imagine how busy it was Saturday and Sunday.

We were there for quite some time, on the warmest day of the weekend. We left about an hour before closing, so we beat the crowd. We had a great, shaded, parking spot near the pedestrian bridge from the zoo, too, so we didn’t have far to walk, something becoming more and more important each day. I’d planned to go to Spring Grove Cemetery after the zoo, but it was after five. I drove around the city a bit, showing parts I hadn’t shown her before, until finally, I decided I would show her the outside at the least.

2012-11-11 Spring Grove 138a1
Spring Grove in the fall

What I didn’t consider was the day – it was Memorial Day, and this was a cemetery with veterans from wars from the Revolutionary War (transferred from another location) to present. It was open late.

We drove around a bit, seeing the beautiful landscaping Spring Grove is famous for. I pointed out notable headstones (McAlpin, Shillito, Pogue – all former department stores, for instance), and the ones in German, which I find fascinating, but didn’t seem to be of particular interest to my friend. She took pictures of some of the chapels, mausoleums, and the more intricate headstones and monuments, mostly from the car. It really was a long weekend of walking.

That’s pretty much why I didn’t post last week, and the two weeks prior to that. In case you were wondering.