Cincinnati – June 2017 – Observatory

The Cincinnati Observatory is located on the aptly named Mount Lookout. As one of the oldest observatories in the country, they feature two fantastic telescopes. A visit to the Observatory is highly recommended.

The main building has a 1904 Alvan Clark & Sons 16″ refractor telescope. The docent who took us up to the telescope allowed us to open the large metal roof with amazing ease with the rope and gears. Once open we spun the telescope over so we could look into the lens.

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The second building houses what is thought to be the oldest continually used telescope in the world, a 1945 wooden and metal Merz and Mahler 11″ refractor scope. While not as functional as new ones, you will not find a more beautiful telescope!

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Chicago – June 2017 – Historic Skyscraper Tour

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a non profit organization that encourages learning about the city’s architecture by volunteer docent lead tours. Compared to the commercial tours, these are always more informative, with the passionate volunteers adding much to the subject.

Our tour started out in their headquarters, the former Railway Exchange Building.

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The Railway Exchange Building was built by Daniel Burnham in 1904 for the Santa Fe Railway. Having previously designed the World’s Columbian Exposition a decade earlier which used the Greek and Roman-inspired, this building featured the same. The glazed white Terra Cotta of the Railway Exchange is similar in use to those used in the ‘White City’ of the Exposition.

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In the impressive two story lobby is a large model of downtown Chicago, along with impressive skylights.

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Marquette Building – Built in 1895 it is also one of the earlier steel frame skyscrapers, and is renown as the example of a ‘Chicago School of Architecture’ building. The reddish terra cotta has darkened over the years due to pollution. When entering the two floor lobby you are greeted by beautiful mosaics of native scenes as well as reliefs.

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Field Building – As the last building finished between a lull in construction between the Great Depression and World War II, the Field Building was completed in 1934. With a fantastic Art Deco interior, including the elevator indicator panel and mailboxes in the lobby, the building was an early adaptor of air conditioning and high speed elevators to take people up the 535’ high skyscraper.

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The Rookery – Name after an old City Hall building that had previously stood on the ground, it was a reference to not only the pigeons and crows that took residence there, it was also a pun towards shady politicians that worked city hall (a rook is known to scavenge things). Designed by Burnham and Root in 1888 it is considered their masterpiece. To add to that Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the lobby in 1905.

An amazing building both inside and out, Burnham and Root combined a great mix of old materials (for time time) like plate glass, elevators and metal framing, with the traditional brick and ornamentation.

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Chicago Board of Trade – Opened in 1930 in a perpendicular position across the end of LaSalle Street it is striking in it’s 605’ height, copper roof, and limestone exterior. Built with ‘wedding cake’ setbacks to allow some light onto the street surrounded by buildings, a concession to being the first building in the city to crack the 600’ mark, and remained the tallest building until 1965 when it was exceeded by the Daley Center.

The highlight of the interior is the 19,000 trading floor, which at the time was the largest in the world. Also prominent is the black and white polished marble, along with the vertical hallway trim.

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Monondock Building – Boston real estate developers Peter and Shepherd Brooks were building a number of buildings in Chicago when, in 1881, they worked the then young Daniel Burnham and John Root on the Monondock. Of note is the 6’ thick walls at the bottom to support the load of the building.

With the success of the building, they purchased land to the south and built an addition. When completed it was the largest office building in the world, with space for over 6,000 workers. It was also the first building in Chicago wired for electricity.

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Fisher Building – A Neo Gothic, 275’ high building built in 1896 by Daniel Burnham. As only the second building built in the city 18 stories high, it remains the oldest, as the other was torn down in the 1930s.

Old Colony Building – Completed in 1894, at 215’ high it was the tallest building in Chicago at the time.

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Manhattan Building – Completed in 1891 it is the oldest surviving skyscraper in the world to use a purely skeletal supporting structure. With bay windows throughout it is obvious the Wyandotte Building in Columbus was patterned after it. The architect, William Le Baron Jenney was a pioneer in the skyscraper industry.

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Completed in 1929 in classic Art Deco, it too was designed by the Burnham Brothers. It is clad in dark granite, and green terra cotta. The top is said to be a champagne bottle with gold foil. It is now a Hard Rock Hotel.

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Cleveland – May 2017 – An Afternoon in University Circle

The University Circle neighborhood in Cleveland is the home to most of the major museums in the city, the Cultural Gardens and Case Western Reserve University.


The Cultural Gardens is a collection of 31 unique Nationality gardens, most with sculptures interspersed with the plantings. Unfortunately we only had time to visit a handful.

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A residential neighborhood near Case Western Reserve University is home to Hessler Court – an amazing little street that is made out of wood. Known as Nicolson Pavement, the wood block construction was popular in the mid 1800s. Now less than 5 remain in America, and Cleveland is home to one. It is smooth and quiet.

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The Cleveland Botanical Gardens roses were in full bloom.

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Sculpture in front of the Botanical Gardens.

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Nearby they were having stilt walking lessons.

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New Bremen, OH – March 2017 – Bicycle Museum of America

The very small town of New Bremen, Ohio sits in far western Ohio, not far from Indiana. It is a very unlikely place for a world class bicycle museum, but it is there, the Bicycle Museum of America. 

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The museum’s content was purchased by Jim Dicke, who owns Crown Equipment Corporation. Crown’s primary business is fork lifts, and business must be good because it allowed Jim to purchase the collection from the Schwinn family which had displayed it on the Navy Pier in Chicago.

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Among their holdings is the oldest existing bicycle in America, built in 1815. Their collection of pre 1900 bikes is amazing. Also of note is the collection of bicycles that challenged standard engineering, including direct drive bikes, one with a massive gear in front, spikes for riding on ice, and many others.

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The first floor has the showpieces, a collection of 1800s bikes including some high wheeled ones.

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On the upper level is a nice display of Ohio made bicycles, as well as some Whizzers.

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The day we were there they opened the lower level where they store the others not normally shown. While impressive, it pales in comparison to the quantity that we saw at Bicycle Heaven in Pittsburgh. This is no way takes away from the stunning collection upstairs. It is clear Bicycle Heaven has the quantity, this museum has the quality. Both are well worth a visit, and spectacular in their own way.

This was our second visit, and I am certain it won’t be our last.

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Delphos, OH – March 2017 – Postal Museum

The small northwest Ohio town of Delphos, like all American towns has a post office. But Delphos goes one better, they have one of 3 Postal Museums in the country. Their long time postmaster, Gary Levitt, started collection Postal Memorabilia and displayed it in the post office lobby until it became too large, so it was moved to a former horse livery.

As you enter the museum you are greeted by a large elephant covered in stamps, along with a mural depicting the town and a postal wagon.

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One of the first exhibits shows an older postal office, complete with the sorting bins, tables, and a great looking old bell.

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Throughout the museum are a number of old stamp machines. Once ubiquitous, they are now a relic of the past. Many have a classic elegance to them.

Also located in the museum are hundreds of thousands of stamps from various collections.

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A number of postal based toys are included in the exhibits.

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The highlights of the museum are the antique postal delivery vehicles including a sled, a wagon and a number of small 3 wheeled scooters.

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Columbus – October 2016 – Landmarks Foundation Historic Tour

The Columbus Landmarks Foundation offer guided walking tours once a month during the warmer months. The tour we took offered a look at the architecture and history of downtown buildings range in style from Beaux Arts to Gothic, Art Moderne to Greek Revival, Italianate to Arts and Crafts.

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Starting at the center of Columbus, the corner of Broad Street and High Street, with the first building discussed being the Huntington Bank building, just south of Broad Street on the west side of the street directly across from the State Capital.

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Built in the 1920s the 13 story Huntington Bank Building has a very ornate entrance that thousands of people walk by every day without noticing.

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Just around the corner on West Broad Street is the Wyandotte Building, a Chicago school of architecture style eleven story building, considered Columbus’s first skyscraper.

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Renown architect Daniel Burnham designed the building with vertical alignments of bay windows called oriels to provide additional lighting and ventilation. The lower floors have battered walls, providing a sense of stability  and strength.

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Across Broad Street is the LeVeque Tower, along with the Palace Theater. Completed in 1927 at a height of 555 feet 6 inches, intentionally built to be 6 inches taller than the Washington Monument, it was the tallest building between New York and Chicago when completed, although it was eclipsed by the Terminal Tower in Cleveland a couple of years later.

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The building is currently undergoing a restoration include repairing the crumbling, cracking terra cotta skin of the building and restoring its art elements of cherubs and guardian angels, shields and garlands. The renovation will create high-rise apartments and revitalize office space in the base.

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Across Front Street from the LeVeque Tower is Columbus City Hall. Also built in the 1920s directly facing the Scioto River, it was built in three sections surrounding a central courtyard, a fourth section was added on the west side of City Hall in 1936 to enclose the courtyard and provide additional office space utilizing the Art Deco style of the period.

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Interestingly the original main entrance faced the river; this has been long abandoned with the main entrance facing Front Street. The exterior grounds have a number of interesting sculptures, the most noteworthy is a 20 foot tall bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, a gift to the city from Genoa Italy in 1955.

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Continuing south of Front Street we stopped outside the Ohio Supreme Court building, a building we toured extensively in December 2015, noted in an earlier blog posting.

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Our last stop was on the Statehouse grounds where we viewed a number of sculptures and monuments, starting with the The Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial, completed in 2014.

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After passing another Christopher Columbus statue, we had a quick tour through the statehouse, viewing the rotunda and a couple of the upper floor rooms.

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Our final stop was at the Jewels of Ohio statue, honoring 19th century Ohio sons including Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, Edwin Stanton, James A. Garfield,  Rutherford B. Hayes, Salmon P. Chase, and William Sherman.

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The tour guide was informative and enthusiastic, making the event on this cold October day worthwhile. We ended our morning with lunch at Jack and Benny’s Downtown Diner, warming up to some good diner food.

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Cape Cod & Plymouth, Massachusetts – Late Summer 2016 Road Trip – Day 5

We drove to Cape Cod National Seashore, home of the first transatlantic telegraph line.  With this being a National Park, our annual pass that we purchased almost a year ago at Pictured Rocks, Michigan was still good – the best $80 we spent all year.

Once in the park we went to a cliff overlooking the ocean and beach where you could see obvious evidence of erosion wearing away the cliff. It occurs so much here that the Salt Pond Lighthouse was moved 600 yards inland, with the original lighthouse site now in the Atlantic Ocean.  The beach now has natural grasses and rose hips shrubs on the cliff trying to deter further erosion. This area is a glacial deposit and the land diminishes quickly, so much so, that it is only a mile wide where the Marconi Wireless Station is located.

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Inventor Guglielmo Marconi erected large antennae of four 210-foot wooden towers on this site, and established a transmitting station powered by kerosene engines that produced the 25,000 volts of electricity needed to send signals to a similar station in Poldhu, Cornwall, United Kingdom, after building ones earlier in St Johns, Newfoundland. This was also the location of the first trans Atlantic undersea cable.

Later we moved on to Chatham, where there is a Marconi RCA Center. Here is the original building where messages from ships were interpreted by the US Navy in WWI and WWII, now a museum housing exhibits of machines related to Morse code sent by radio waves from ships at sea then transmitted over telegraph wires on land were keyed into a machine here that printed a ribbon of coded dots and dashes that were then decoded into an alphabetic message.

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The US Navy worked in the attic of this building decoding messages of German u-boats very close to stateside, where the Naval ships would then use this information to sink German submarines.

Also located in the museum is a Turing machine. Jane, a volunteer of the museum, referred to”The Imitation Game a movie about a decoding machine created by three Poles and Alan Turing, a Brit, who completed the decoding machine that decoded thousands of German messages to help win the war.

One of Cape Cod station’s most notable roles occurred with the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912 when operators at the station were able to alert the RMS Carpathia so that rescue of some of the Titanic‘s passengers could be saved.

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After we left Cape Cod we drove into Plymouth to see the rock where the pilgrims of the Mayflower landed.  The rock was not noted as significant until 120 years later when a wharf was to be built there and the rock should be moved.  It was at that time that a preservation group established the historical importance of Plymouth Rock, creating America’s first tourist trap.  Plymouth Rock with the date of 1620 etched into the face of it sat at the center of a pit below a covered granite shelter for spectators to peer over the rail and see the rock.  A replica of the Mayflower II is docked nearby Plymouth Rock but we chose not to board.

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We had lunch at a small stand called Pebbles where we had lobster roll and a shrimp platter, both were excellent.  Plymouth erected artistic statues of lobsters around town similar to Cleveland’s guitars that stand throughout the city. A lobster with a broken claw and crutches and another lobster dressed in a tuxedo stood not far from Plymouth Rock.

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We drove to the edge of town to see the National Monument to the Forefathers, formerly called the Pilgrim Monument. The 81-foot solid granite monument was completed in 1889. It is thought to be the world’s largest solid granite monument. The monument faces northeast to Plymouth Harbor and roughly, towards Plymouth, England.  On the main pedestal stands the figure of “Faith” with her right hand pointing toward heaven and her left hand clutching the Bible. Upon the four buttresses beneath the figure of “Faith” are four seated figures of the principles upon which the Pilgrims founded their Commonwealth; Morality, Law, Education, and Liberty.

Each was carved from a solid block of granite, posed in the sitting position upon chairs.  On the face of the buttresses, beneath these figures are reliefs in marble, representing scenes from Pilgrim history, a quote of William Bradford from the Mayflower, as well as the names of the pilgrims that reached the new land.  It was had to believe that we were the only visitors at this site looking at this magnificent monument.

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It was a cloudy but warm day when we arrived in Boston, and after quickly checking into our favorite lodging, The Longwood Inn, we headed downtown to see our daughter, meeting her near her workplace. From there we all took the Red Line train to Harvard Square where we stopped for a cocktail and appetizer at a small tavern called Beat Brasserie. Afterward we walked to another restaurant, Alden and Harlow for dinner. This restaurant served everything family style but the portions were the size of tapas. We tried lamb, rabbit, steak, potatoes, broccoli and pickled green beans.  The food was good and the place was packed.

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We all took the green line train back to Brookline where we crashed for the night.