Posts Tagged With: Cincinnati

Stepping Out in Cincinnati

I know that I’m not the first to say this – see Jane Friedman’s series of love letters to Cincinnati – but Cincinnati, Ohio, is becoming cool again.  Even I, living outside of the city limits, can sense a change.  It used to be that if you wanted to find something to do or places to eat, your first thought would not be downtown Cincinnati and environs.  Now, that may be the first place to go.

One weekend last month I enjoyed a Friendship Concert at the World Choir Games, a free evening at the Taft Art Museum, and an evening movie at Newport on the Levee, where I saw a slew of events taking place – buskers at the levee, a sausage festival on the Kentucky side of the river, the Bunbury Music Festival at Sawyers Point, and people leaving Great American Ball Park.  Then there was the community night at the opera, dinner with friends, and a concert in the park just a few weeks later.

In addition to the events, I’ve been hanging out in the Coffee Emporium downtown.  I had been doing most of my work at home or at the office.  Convenient places – but rather solitary unless I was running a student event.  So, I decided to get out.  Hear the bustle of people gathering.  Share in the energy of this emerging city.   In this place, too, there is a buzzing of activity.  People gathering to meet, encountering friends, standing in line to order.

Whether in my work with AmeriCorps members from out of town or with international students at the University of Cincinnati, I’ve always wanted to promote the city.  At times this has been a difficult sell.  I often hear that there’s nothing to do here, it’s not safe, we’re backwards.  However, stepping out into the city today the excitement speaks for itself.  Something is happening and it’s catching.

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Eden Park Adventures

As part of my summer staycation last year, one of the things to which I was most looking forward was going to Eden Park in Cincinnati with my mom and nieces (ages four and six).  We were going to a playground, to eat a picnic, and then to the Cincinnati Art Museum.  They couldn’t contain their excitement as we made sandwiches and packed sketch books and pencils.  Finally we were in the car and ready to go.  I felt I was going on a field trip again.  The expectations of children are contagious.  The sun was shining and we had the fullness of the last day of summer vacation before school.  

The first stop was the playground.  The overlook in Eden Park was already filling up with people.  We pointed out the boats on the river and then went to the playground.  All the equipment was shaped into woodland scene – old tree trunks, rock ledges.  After a brief stint on the swings the girls spent a good half hour climbing and imagining on the ‘trees’ and ‘rocks’ – and even involved other kids in their games.  No one was left out.

It was hard to tear them away to eat, but we finally convinced them to come see the ducks and geese in the pond.  On the way we stopped to get the food and found a table where we could watch the birds.  We took out the food – peanut butter sandwiches, juice boxes, spotted cheese (co-jack) – and ate.  However, watching the birds was more interesting than finishing lunch.  One crust thrown soon led to others and a visit by a gaggle of geese.

On the way to the Art Museum, the girls noticed a greenhouse, the Krohn Conservatory, and asked to stop.  Immediately out of the car, the four-year old saw a butterfly bench and wanted a picture taken by it, so there they posed for the first of many pictures.  In we walked and they were awed by the colorful flowers – look here, what is that?  Don’t touch the sharp cacti, let’s see the waterfall, look at the mouse.  Isn’t that fish large?  There’s a mermaid.  Where?  So much to see.  It must seem like a virtual jungle to children.  Outside they saw footprints painted on the sidewalk and had to follow them.  Everything was a potential adventure.

Into the car one more time and finally off to the Art Museum.  This place was familiar to them.  They remembered the blue Chihuly chandelier hanging in the lobby.  We had to detour through different galleries this time, which caused some discontent and near tantrums.  But we soon came upon kid friendly, touchable exhibits and all was right for awhile.  As we came out of the detour, they noticed the Miro mural for the first time and exclaimed about its bright colors and shapes.

Up the stairs we went to galleries where they could sit and draw.  They weren’t really copying any of the paintings before them, but engaged in their own drawings.  Gardens this time, reflecting the ones they had just seen at the Conservatory.  A jigsaw puzzle in one room brought us to another stop.  After awhile exhaustion overcame them.  Our time ended with a visit to the Damascus room.  A wood paneled room from the city of its name – decorated with exquisite painting and surrounded with built-in, satin-covered couches.  It was like a room from a fairy tale.  I asked them what they thought was behind the door.  Dresses and fairies were their answers.  Here the could see another world and imagine themselves in it.

The fun wasn’t over when we left.  Taking a short detour from the parking lot, we went to a swinging platform underneath a large, red steel-beam sculpture.  Gently rocking back and forth we rested.  What a day.  My nieces helped me see the park and museums from a new, wondrous perspective.  They explored and were ready to ooh and ah.  They didn’t enter with any pre-conceived notions of how they were to act.  At times I asked questions, but mostly waited for them to look with their eyes and curiosity.  Not a bad way to live life.

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Seeds of a Novel – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

A two-story, white house, the only building left of what had been the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, is dedicated to telling the story of the seminary president’s daughter – Harriet Beecher Stowe.  It seems out of place now with a gas station across the street and a highway overpass just a stone’s throw away.  Still, it provides a sense of a story that grew to encompass much more than a small corner of this city on the Ohio River.

Four years after moving to Cincinnati, Harriet started her married life.  Eventually she moved back to New England with her husband and children.  However, the experience of living on the edge of the North/South divide remained with her.  Around the seminary and in her home she heard about and likely participated in the growing abolitionist movement.  Down the river in Washington, Kentucky she saw a slave auction and in Ripley, Ohio she heard first-hand accounts of escapes.  She learned from  friends and acquaintances how the Underground Railroad kept running.

However, this city inspired more than her stance against slavery, it provided her a place to practice writing.  During her time here she was part of a literary society – the Semi-Colon Club.  Within this group she and others shared their writing projects and found encouragement.  She honed her skills and early in her marriage published articles and stories to supplement the family’s income.  At some level this group likely planted and helped nurture the seeds that would grow into Uncle Tom’s Cabin – a novel that moved a nation to read and to act.  She wrote this novel after the family returned to New England, but it certainly had some roots in Cincinnati.

Who would have thought that the buildings of the seminary would be torn down, yet one house remains because of a book written by a woman?  Some of its views may appear dated and sentimental 150 years later, but it continues to draw readers into the story of slavery and its effects on the human spirit and larger community. This is the story that the volunteers at the house tell – of a family, a woman, a book – engaged with the world around them as they struggle to live out their deep belief that God created all humans to be free.

Together the abolitionist activity and the literary society created just the place Stowe needed to conceive and write this book.  I wonder what writing groups in Cincinnati are even now providing encouragement for the next Harriet.  What areas of town are housing young men and women that are stirred to tell a story?

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