Toledo- October 2015 – Great Lakes Museum & Tony Packos

Among the stranger events I found online while researching the road trips was coffin racing in Elmore, Ohio, but more on that later. It did spur us to head to northwest Ohio for the Saturday before Halloween. Our first stop was in Fremont, at the Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center. A far cry better than his birthplace in Delaware, Ohio, which is now the infamous BP Gas Station, the Presidential Center in Fremont has his primary adulthood home and grounds, as well as a museum.

I had no desire to see the museum, and we were early anyway, so we toured the grounds and the exterior of the house. Called Spiegel Grove, the 25-acre estate is the setting for the 31-room mansion, along with a mile of paved trails. The gates on the drives into the estate were removed from the White House in Washington in 1928 and donated to the Hayes Presidential Center.

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President and Mrs. Hayes are buried within the grounds of Spiegel Grove. A granite tombstone, made from granite quarried from the Hayes homestead in Dummerstown, Vermont, marks their burial site. The President’s son Webb C. Hayes, a Medal of Honor recipient, is buried next to his parents. Outside of the fenced off tombs for the President, there are stones commemorating the burial places of favorite animals and pets, including Old Whitey, a Civil War horse.

Leaving Fremont, we arrived in Toledo about an hour later taking the little used, but nice 4 lane US 20 across the flat lands, the highway having been long replaced by the Ohio Turnpike. Roads like this always seem to provide a time capsule of the country from the 1940s and 1950s as there are always remnants of the road when it was the main route.

The National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo was our destination. Located on the Maumee River just downstream from downtown Toledo, the museum opened in 2014, replacing a much smaller one that the Great Lakes Historical Society ran in Vermillion.

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The museum contains many artifacts documenting life of the lakes over the years including lamps, navigation tools, anchor links, bells, lighthouse lights, and a life preserver from the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Docked outside is the 617′ long ore boat, the James Schoonmaker. Built in 1911 with a capacity of 12,200 tons she is one of the few ships on the Great Lakes that have twin steering wheels. Taken out of service in 1980, she sat unused for years before the city of Toledo starting using her as a museum, before being restore recently and moved to the Great Lake Museum. On the day we were there they were celebrating Halloween by having volunteers handing out candy at strategic locations throughout the ship, so we were accompanied by  a number of kids running about in costume.

The entire ship is open to explore; the engine room has been restored to pristine condition. It was however a bit ‘eerie’ dropping into the massive, mostly dark cargo holds

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The ship offers excellent views of both downtown Toledo and the Toledo Skyway Bridge, with towers 400′ high and a vertical clearance of 130′ this cable stayed bridge was completed in 2007; an impressive structure.

Just up the street from the museum is Tony Packos Cafe, a very famous eatery started in a Hungarian neighborhood of Toledo. It was made famous because a Toledo native actor, Jamie Farr, starred in the TV show M*A*S*H, and mentioned it in a number of episodes. It’s more current claim to fame is the collection of autographed hot dog buns from celebrities, starting with Burt Reynolds in the early 1970s. Now they sign foam hot dog buns, since the real things tend to fall apart after time, and there appear to be ‘hundreds’ of them adorning the walls.

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The famous Hungarian Hot Dog is really more similar to a kielbasa, much larger than a traditional hot dog. I thought it was pretty good, but in reality the hot dog buns on the walls are the attraction.

After lunch we moved on the Elmore, a very small town. As we arrived we noted there was very little activity, but the ladies in the small visitor center in the old train depot assured us it was the day for the coffin races. We hung around for about an hour, and by that time 5 or 6 ‘coffins’ showed up for judging. We then learned the actual races wouldn’t be until nighttime so we cut our loses and headed home. While a couple of people came dressed for the occasion, and the coffins themselves were unique, just too few and too long of a wait to make it worthwhile.

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