Posts Tagged ‘Ohio’

James Thurber Country in Columbus, Ohio

Wednesday December 11, 2013 at 6:06 AM | 4 Comments

James Thurber's college years home

James Thurber’s college years home

Which high schooler reading James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” didn’t dream of having a secret life? I know I did. Happily, what I envisioned when I doodled in the margins of math papers has come to pass. I am a traveler. In my travels, I’ve had the pleasure of learning more about James Thurber’s genius as a social commentator and humorist through his connection to Columbus, Ohio.

James Thurber was born in Columbus on December 8, 1894 and now enjoys status as one of the city’s favorite sons. Thanks to a dedicated, enamored with James Thurber following of staff and volunteers at the Thurber House Museum and Thurber Center, Thurber has a firm footing in Columbus’s must see landscape.

The Thurber House at 77 Jefferson Ave. is at the edge of  Columbus’s downtown. The tree-lined street divided by a picturesque boulevard evokes thoughts of Thurber’s era when people took Sunday strolls, even though, most of the Victorian-style red brick, once private homes, now house businesses and non-profit organizations. Thurber’s home on the left, towards the end of the boulevard, looks just like it did when Thurber lived there.  The house is both a house museum that showcases James Thurber’s legacy, and a literary power house that, in conjunction with the Thurber Center located next door, promotes literary excellence.

Poet and author Charlene Fix at the last of 2013's Literary Picnics

Poet and author Charlene Fix at a Literary Picnic

The literary power house role of the Thurber House Museum and Center starts with the tidy side yard by James Thurber’s former home. Its wrought iron fence provides the boundary for the Literary Picnics that take place each summer.  The Literary Picnics feature renowned Ohio authors who read their works from the house’s back porch to a rapt audience of picnikers who bring their own food or order a gourmet box meal ahead of time.

At other times author readings are held either at the Thurber Center or at other Columbus venues. Both local and nationally known authors are featured. The mix is a literary banquet that happens throughout the year. Last month, I delighted in Tom Barlow’s reading of one of his short stories from his newly published collection Welcome to the Goat Rodeo.

Self guided tours of the Thurber House are daily from 1–4 p.m. These tours are free. Guided tours are on Sundays for $4 for adults and $2 for students and seniors.

Formerly The Great Southern Hotel where Thurber visited

Formerly The Great Southern Hotel where Thurber visited

For more James Thurber travel (and food and libations), head to the Westin Columbus Hotel (formerly The Great Southern) 310 South High St. 614-228-3800. Here, James Thurber would visit his mother and brother, Robert, who lived at the hotel from the mid 1940′s to 1950′s.  In Thurber’s, the hotel’s bar/restaurant you can take in framed prints of James Thurber’s cartoons while enjoying the ambiance and offerings of this AAA 4-Diamond hotel that first opened in 1897.

At The Ohio State University, Thurber’s alma mater, Thurber Theatre is located in The Drake Performance and Event Center. The theatre is named for Thurber who began his time at OSU in 1913 and served as a staff member of The Lantern, the university’s paper.

James Thurber's grave at Green Lawn Cemetery

James Thurber’s grave at Green Lawn Cemetery

Although James Thurber did not live in Columbus as an adult, his grave is in Columbus’s historic Green Lawn Cemetery. Thurber died November 2, 1961. The cemetery, founded in 1848, was designed to serve as a park as well as a cemetery and is known for its birdwatching opportunities, as well as its notable residents.

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter and follow @ThurberHouse on Twitter.

Post courtesy of Jamie Rhein of Midwest Travel Writers Association. Photo of Charlene Fix, courtesy of Jamie Rhein. Other photos courtesy of The Thurber House and Westin Columbus.

Haunted Prison Tours: Three historic places of frightful fun

Monday October 21, 2013 at 11:11 AM | 2 Comments

Inside Ohio State Reformatory Cell Block One

Inside Ohio State Reformatory Cell Block One

The Ohio State  Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio is a creepy edifice of Victorian Gothic, Richardson Romanesque and Queen Anne  loveliness– even on a sunny day. Opened in 1896, its architecture was meant to inspire Ohio’s young bad boy men to reform themselves by turning to a more spiritual life. These days, come Halloween season, the prison’s creepiness sets the stage for another type of spirit–the ghostly, ghoulish and zombie-with-a-chainsaw kind.

The Haunted Prison Experience–each Thursday-Saturday through Nov. 2, is a fright fest guarantee. Last year, I had the pleasure of gripping a friends arm and shrieking my way up and down dark stairways,  around dark corners and past the peeling paint of  shadowy rows of cells that reached four stories high, anticipating the next time a ghoulish type either chased me with a chain saw or whispered in my ear, “I’m still here.” At each turn, there was a staged surprise–coffins where the dead person wasn’t quite dead, a burning car that blared its horn when we passed, a lightening flash and thunder crash that unexpectedly went off–that sort of thing. Creepily delicious.

Chainsaw carrying creepy guy

Chainsaw carrying creepy guy

Although, The Haunted Prison Experience is a show staged by actors, The Ohio State Reformatory is thought to be haunted. Ghost hunts are possible during other times of the year. The prison, closed in 1990, is also the prison that was used for the main setting of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.”

As a note, no one under 13 is allowed in the Haunted Prison Experience. Those who are under 13 can see the prison from May 1 to Sept. 1 during the prison’s regular tour season.

Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the temporary homes of bad boy Al Capone, is another Gothic-style prison that has crumbled into perfection to provide a haunted Halloween backdrop.  Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, through Nov. 9, offers six Hollywood-like sets in various parts of the prison that scare and thrill due to actors trained to know how to up the fright factor depending upon the visitor.  Younger kids with parents get a toned down version unless they seem up for more. It’s recommended that kids 7-12 come during Family Night on Sundays. Those under 18 who tour without a parent or guardian need to have a signed waiver form.

Terror Behind Walls at the Eastern State Penitentiary

Terror Behind Walls at the Eastern State Penitentiary

Insider Tip: Buy tickets online. They are cheaper and you shouldn’t have more than a 30 minute wait once you arrive.

West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, another Gothic architectural style prison of creepy proportions, was opened in 1876 and closed in 1995. Back in the day, its active death row  sent almost 100 men to the electric chair or the gallows. The result of this activity has placed the West Virginia Penitentiary at the top of the most haunted places list.

Tours here are not Halloween specific and are April through November. For the creepiest experience, take the Twilight Tour, daily from 7-10 p.m.– or the Ghost Adventures on Saturday nights. There is an age constraint for each. Only children 12 and over can do the Twilight Tour. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Ghost Adventures has an 18 or over requirement. The younger crowd can go on a regular daily tour. The West Virginia Penitentiary is closed on Mondays and holidays.

Post courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association; Ohio State Reformatory photo courtesy of Mansfield/Richland County CVB; creepy guy photo courtesy of Jamie Rhein; and Terror Behind Walls photo courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Disclosure: My tour of the Ohio State Reformatory was courtesy of Mansfield/Richland County CVB, but the views are my own.



Mansfield, OH, a getaway to write home about

Wednesday February 20, 2013 at 2:02 PM | 0 Comments

Tubing hill at Snow Trails, Ski and Snowboarding Resort

Every time I head to Mansfield, Ohio–or talk about its virtues as a getaway possibility, I think about things to do there. One day really isn’t enough.

This past weekend, along with passing out Mansfield travel advice to a woman I met at a car repair shop, I went to Mansfield myself. This time the draw was the tubing hill at Snow Trails, Mansfield’s ski and snowboarding resort. With only a few weeks left in the season, I didn’t want my son to miss out on this winter thrill.

Along with the tubing hill, Snow Trails, Ohio’s first commercial ski resort, has slopes that range from beginner to difficult.  There’s a lodge with a restaurant and bar, as well as, a separate snack bar for warming up and gnoshing on simple fare near the tubing hill.

Snow Trails is not the only trail type activity Mansfield offers. The Shawshank  Trail is a major draw to the area.  Several scenes of the 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption” were filmed here. The most impressive site, of course, is the prison.

Ohio State Reformatory, a major feature of the movie The Shawshank Redemption

The Ohio State Reformatory, a massive, stone building designed as a blend of Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne architecture, first opened in 1896. Before it closed in 1990, it had housed 155,000 men, the youngest of them boys. These days, the reformatory is a tourist draw. In the fall, the building’s windy staircases and twisting halls that lead through cell blocks of peeling paint and metal are a perfect backdrop to The Haunted Prison Experience. . This top notch haunted house attraction can give a person the creeps even without the actors dressed in ghoulish finery, some of them with chain saws. At other times of the year, people seeking the paranormal can take tours and also stay overnight.

In addition to the prison, The Shawshank Trail goes past several other sites that were significant to particular scenes in the movie.  A couple of them are at Malabar Farm State Park, the former home of Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and conservationist Louis Bromfield.

Bromfield was friends with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and hosted their wedding in his gorgeous home that is a testament to his travels, family and ideals. The house is now a museum and looks exactly like it did in the Bogart and Bacall days. Malabar Farm is an Ohio State Park that operates as a working farm similar to the days when Bromfield ran it.  Throughout the year, special events keep visitors busy. The next major event on the calendar is the annual Maple Syrup Festival.


Novelist Louis Bromfield’s house and wedding site of Bogie and Bacall

If you do head to Malabar Farm, eat either lunch or dinner at the Malabar Farm Restaurant. The restaurant that is close to the park, offers farm-to-table dining at reasonable prices. I’ve eaten here three times and have never been disappointed. The crab cakes and mushroom soup are particularly splendid.

Along with the rolling rural landscape that surrounds Mansfield, the town itself has its charm. Central to downtown is the Richland Carrousel Park where a magnificent carrousel of 52 hand- carved animals that range from horses to rabbits to ostriches give riders of all ages a spin. Built in 1991, this is the first hand-carved carrousel to be built in the U.S. since the 1930s.

Also impressive is the Renaissance Theatre. This historical landmark building opened in 1928 as a movie house dazzling movie-goers with its leaded glass chandeliers and marble floors. Restored to its glory through the 1980s and 1990s, the building is host to the Mansfield Symphony, as well as various concerts and theatrical performances year-round.

The historical Renaissance Theatre

Mansfield is roughly halfway between Cleveland and Columbus off of I-71

Other area intractions include the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Kingwood Center and Gardens, The Mansfield Fire Museum and the Mansfield Memorial Museum.

The area has several hotels and Bed and Breakfasts.

I’ve stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites and definitely recommend it. Its downtown location, just off of the town square, is perfect for wandering on foot.

I wandered to  Cypress Cellars Winery for wine tasting and to pick up a bottle of the Reformatory Red  which gives another nod to the prison and The Shawshank Redemption.

Photos courtesy of the Mansfield and Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Post courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association

*I’ve been to Mansfield, both on my own and as a guest of Mansfield and Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.