The Usual Suspects

I was excited for the stop in Ohio. When I was hatching the plans for this trip, Hamilton was one of the first places to make my list, as its the home of the two-time Caldecott Winner, Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Homer Price, One Morning in Maine, Lentil). In addition, I was going to share this day with two friends. A week before I began the trip, I received an email from two pals from our Belgium years whom I shared so many adventures with that rather than mention who was on the day’s adventure our husbands’ simply asked, ‘the usual suspects’. Once they learned I was driving the Lower 48, they proposed meeting up during my Ohio stop. Both women live not far from Hamilton and I knew before I pressed send on my reply that they would meet me. They are reliable friends who are good sports and great readers; so it would be a museum tour and lunch with ‘the usual suspects’.

This small city caught my eye from the moment I drove across the river, seeing the seventeen foot tall Civil War monument with Billy Yank standing a top it. I immediately noticed several sculptures and a scattering of Art Deco buildings and later learned Hamilton, Ohio was named the City of Sculpture in 2000 by Ohio’s governor. With over forty sculptures dotting this small city set on the Great Miami River about 20 miles north of Cincinnati, it is a nice place for an outing. I prearranged our time at the museum in Heritage Hall, the former City Hall, since it is not usually open on Tuesdays.

Brandon Sole, the young curator, is a knowledgeable guide of McCloskey and Hamilton. He explained that McCloskey won a contest with a carving of a 12 foot totem pole to create the decorative art for the building when he was still a teenager. The totem pole is in the entry and in a room off the lobby is a permanent exhibit to the author/illustrator. The McCloskey daughters,Sally and Jane, donated the Caldecott Medals, several sketches, paintings and the Lifetime Achievement Medal he received from the Library of Congress. Brandon spoke about how McCloskey was not able to draw or do artistic endeavors at home because his mother forbade it. Her religious sect didn’t allow for any self expression through art; it was unacceptable. In Hamilton, his creative workplace was his grandfather’s home and photography studio. Interestingly, this was his maternal grandfather. The little museum also has McCloskey’s harmonica of Lentil fame and a donut machine just like in Homer Price.

On the tour, we also learned about the 1913 flood that ravished Hamilton; there’s quite an exhibit as it’s the Centennial of that flood. A permanent exhibit to the architect of the Art Deco Building as well as many other buildings in town, is in process. Brandon referenced the difficulties for such places as Heritage Hall. There aren’t as many schools visiting for lack of funds, there are very limited funds for maintenance from the City and many of the visitors are over 65 years old. After leaving the museum, we ate lunch at Riverfront Cafe. It was a corner restaurant, with a painted tin ceiling, long bar and had a photo of Jack Kerouac which seemed to be looking at me. I am ‘On the Road’, too, much at a much slower pace. Since I was in this German settled area, I ordered the local special of Sauerkraut with Mett, which is a type of sausage. After my pals and I spent well over an hour chatting, catching up on kids, husbands and our new life as empty-nesters, we hugged and said good-bye. (I’m so much better at ‘hello’)

Finally, before leaving town and Ohio, I visited the Lane Public Library in Hamilton’s German Village section. A Victorian building that has been fully restored, it octagon reading room is inviting and upstairs there’s full-service children’s section that had two librarians on duty. It was 2:00pm and this library was packed with patrons.

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