Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Kentucky, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, Parks, Sightseeing

Mammoth Cave

Ben and I had been to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky when we were both kids. It is the world’s longest cave system (currently 420 miles mapped) and we thought the kids would enjoy seeing it.

The Mammoth Cave National Park has a nice Visitor Center with bathrooms, ticket booths, a gift shop, and a book shop (basically another version of a gift shop). There is another smaller gift shop in a trailer outside. There are spots to eat lunch outside as well.

MAMMOTH CAVE TOUR

We booked tickets for the extended historic tour ($92 for 4 tickets). Book your tickets early and online! When we went, there was only 1 tour that wasn’t completely sold out (over the course of two days).

Will is our history buff, so we thought he would enjoy the history tour. We got to see the old mining equipment that had been left there for saltpeter and a house that was part of an experimental tuberculosis hospital.

The tour is listed as moderate, but we found the 2-hour tour to be pretty easy. There was some stooping and bending with a tight squeeze in Fat Man’s Misery, but it was a relatively slow walk (Ben’s watch said it was a 42-minute/mile pace). There was some uneven ground, which could be tricky in the low light if you have bad ankles/knees or balance issues. There were also some stairs. Ben’s note: At 5’10” and 260 Fat Man’s Misery (narrowest part) was more fun than scary. I found this and Tall Man’s Misery the best part of the tour as you felt like you were actually caving.

The black writing on the ceilings is old-school graffiti, made from candle smoke. There was a bathroom down in the cave, but it is a while to get to it, so I would definitely recommend going before your tour (some tours do not go by the bathroom!).

It was pretty, but I found Carlsbad Cavern a much better experience overall. I felt rushed during Mammoth; the tour guide pretty much said this wasn’t a picture-taking tour and he would not be stopping for long. Without being able to use the flash (to preserve the cave and its creatures), taking pictures can take a little bit of time. I didn’t want to hold up the group, so I did not get very many. Carlsbad had an audio self-guided tour, so we could go more at our own pace and were able to take more pictures. The monochromatic interior of Mammoth Cave and the lack of copious Stalagmites and Stalagtites left me wanting more. The main plus is that Carlsbad is very desolate and tough to get to, whereas Mammoth Cave is fairly close for many visitors and has a more built-up infrastructure around it. We did see a cave cricket and a bat in Mammoth though, whereas we didn’t see any at Carlsbad (we were a month too late for the bats). Now, to be clear, we saw pictures of different cave features that are supposed to be in Mammoth Cave on postcards and posters, so it may have just been the tour we were on that lacked a lot of cave features.

SAND CAVE HIKE

Mammoth Cave Rating: 3 stars out of 5 (Will liked it the most.)

Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, National Park, School, Sightseeing

Carillon Historical Park

Will and I explored the Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. Admission was $20 ($12/adult, $8 kids).

We ended up going on one of the hottest days so far this summer, complete with a heat warning. We paid for our admission and decided to do the outdoor area first before it got even warmer. Our first stop was the oldest house in Dayton. There were information signs throughout the downstairs (upstairs closed off), as well as a docent. The docent had some great information to tell us and was enthusiastic about the history.

There are a few other houses on the park grounds (the houses have been moved from their original locations). The one had a neat summer kitchen and we saw how they would make lots of candles at once (Would use a dipper with multiple strings. The dipper would hang on a rack for the was to set and then they would dip again. Rack held multiple dippers.)

If you follow the trail from the museum to the right, it is like a journey through Dayton’s history. After exploring the historical houses, we made it to the electrical era and manufacturing. I had no idea that Dayton, Ohio made cars!

The NCR, National Cash Register Company, was huge in Dayton. It was amazing to see the different things this company did, as well as the different types of cash registers. There were some beautiful ones on display in the museum building.

Because the area has several rivers nearby, flooding happens every few years. There are also the floods that are called 100-year floods as well, where there is a huge amount of water deposited and the flooding is extreme. Dayton’s major flood was in 1913, when the water got to 20 feet deep in some areas!

I was beat by the time we got up and down the tower due to the heat, but the views were pretty nice. The modern buildings (not historical buildings) did have air conditioning, so that did help keep us cool as we walked around the park.

We learned a lot of new things and enjoyed the park. We found a few things in the gift shop, got a pressed penny, and enjoyed the air conditioning while exploring the interior museum. There is a carousel inside the museum building/visitor center; it costs $1 to ride.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE:
  • HOURS: Monday to Saturday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm
  • COSTS: $12/adult, $8 child (3-17), $10/seniors
  • PARKING: Yes 
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1.5 hours+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double-check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School

Fort Ancient

Will is a huge history fan, so we decided to take a trip out to see Fort Ancient.

The price is pretty reasonable at $7/adults, and $6/students. Admission is paid at the museum/visitor center (not the unmanned booth in front) and covers the grounds and the museum.

The museum had some interesting information (a lot of reading), a few mannequin types of displays, and a gift shop. (Restrooms are also located in the Museum building.) There are a set of round mounds right near the visitor center/museum.

There are a few hiking trails available on the grounds. We went along three short trails. Our first trail, Mound Trail, was not maintained that well and was not very well marked. We did not get lost, but there were a few spots along the trails that seemed like another path joined in or it wasn’t well defined. I would recommend bug spray and long socks or pants, as we came across a lot of poison ivy.

The mounds were hard to see in the woods, as nothing is cleared around them and nature has taken over (trees, grass, weeds, etc. growing out of them). The Mound Trail supposedly had 5 mounds; we did some numbered posts, but it wasn’t clear if those were the mounds. If it was, we did not see them for the forest.

We did see a fawn in the woods and they had a decent sized picnic area available. It was a decent short excursion, but if you are looking for well-defined/visible mounds, you may be disappointed. There are several long ones along the park road, but again, the forest is reclaiming them. I want to take him out to Serpent Mound, which is much more visible as a mound (trees/grass/weeds trimmed around mound).

Posted in: Exploring Illiniois, Food, Hiking, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Exploring Chicago: Day 3

I gave Nick three options for today: Art Institute, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Museum of Science and Industry. He chose the Museum of Science and Industry which featured The Art of the Brick ($71 total for admission).

I had eaten an omelet while Nick slept in. On our way to explore the museum, we stopped at Stan’s donuts to get Nick some breakfast and to check it off my list. The donuts were crazy, very thick and full of decadence; it was like biting into a doughy candy bar. Too much sugar for me, but Nick seemed to like it. With an iced coffee for me, the total came to $15. Nothing seems cheap these days.

A quick Uber ride later and we made it to the Museum. The museum was amazing. I had such a great time teaching and learning. There is a reason I am an engineer. The Art of the Brick was a great exhibit. I took a bunch of pictures because what this artist does is so remarkable. That being said, the $14/person adder cost was steep. One of the best parts of this exhibit was the interactive Lego build I did with Nick. It’s fun to just play with him.

The museum also had a farming exhibit. I loved getting into the tractor and combine. It is clear why these pieces of equipment are very, very expensive. From sailing, to bicycles, to U-boats, to genetics, to Lego art, to Outer Space, to Chemistry, to farming, and even the circus, this museum covered a lot of ground. We went from 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM and were exhausted.

Lunch was disappointing as they are working on a new cafeteria space and only have vending.

We hit some peak Uber time on the way out of the museum, so I opted to try the Chicago bus. The native Chicagoans were very helpful in figuring out the route home. Although crowded and slow, the bus was a good experience for Nick and cut our travel cost from a $40 Uber ride to a $5 bus trip.

I had read about the Ventra card in preparation to take the L to Wrigley Field later in the night and opted to load $10 onto the new $5 card that I purchased ($15 total). This covered both trips. Based on the crowds, we wore masks on both the bus and the L.

Sarah helped us figure out that we couldn’t bring backpacks/bookbags into Wrigley Field, so we had a quick stop at the hotel to reorganize. We had bought Nick a Cubs jersey for the game that he needed to change into as well.

It was getting close to rush hour, so we decided to go early and make sure we got to the game in time. The L red line was close to the hotel and we got on with no problems. It was a fun experience to take the subway/elevated train.

We got to the stadium around 4:30 PM. The gates didn’t open until 5:00, so we grabbed some drinks from a close by 7-11, took the mandatory picture for 1st timers to Wrigley, and got in line.

It was free cowboy hat night for the first 10,000 attendees; since we were 2 hours early and likely the 20th attendee, we got a hat. It was sponsored by Jim Beam, so only ages 21+ received hats. Nick ended up wearing mine and looked great in it.

Our first stop in the stadium was for the Chicago dogs. This was not for the newbie as they gave you the basics and then had a fixings bar. If we hadn’t had one the day before and did our Chicago dog research, this would have been a disaster. As it was, it was just kind of a mess as both Nick and I went a little heavy on every possible topping, making these some sloppy dogs. Still delicious, but it required two fistfuls of napkins to manage and we still ended up having to hit the restroom to clean the mustard off Nick’s shorts. ($16 for two dogs). Side note: The bright green relish looked a little scary, but didn’t have much of a taste at all.

We found our way to our seats (2nd to the top row, along the 3rd base line). It didn’t seem like there was a bad seat in this ballpark. Our seats were under the cover/overhang, providing some nice shade and since we were up high, it also allowed for a nice cooling breeze.

After taking in the views, we decided it was too hot and not much action was happening yet. So, another trip to the food stand got Nick a baseball helmet ice cream and me a souvenir cup with Diet Pepsi.

We watched batting practice for a while and took in the sites. With my phone battery low, we tried out a phone charging station and walked the stadium. Along the way, we grabbed a soft pretzel and Nick found a pressed penny machine.

Unfortunately, the game was delayed due to inclement weather. We watched the grounds crew roll out the tarps, and collected my phone just in time to shelter in place for a Tornado warning. It was a little crazy with huge amounts of rain and 90 minutes of hanging out on the steps with our fellow Cubs fans.

The weather passed and the game restarted at 8:30 PM. Nick got Pizza and a Gatorade before returning to our seats. With the long delay, the stadium was only half full when the game restarted. We made it through about an inning before Nick was ready to go. To his credit, the first inning ended around 9 PM. We took an Uber back to the hotel, and while it seems like we shouldn’t be hungry at this point, we both were, so we stopped at Elephant & Castle to get Fish and Chips for me and a Burger for Nick before grabbing showers and crashing for the night.

Posted in: Exploring Illiniois, Food, Hiking, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Exploring Chicago: Day 2

(NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.)

We got up at 6:45 AM to beat the crowd at Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe. We rolled out of the hotel around 7:30. A fog hung in the air still, which gave the cityscape a different look from the day before. On the walk to breakfast, Nick suggested we stop at the Bean and get pictures. Yesterday Millenium park was crazy with a festival, but this morning it was empty. In fact, the whole city was nearly empty at this hour on a Sunday morning. It made for easy pictures.

We got immediate seating at Wildberry which was a great surprise since many reviews called out wait times over 2 hours on a Sunday. Nick got the Oreo S’more pancakes. I got the egg white veggie omelet with a side pancake (Key Lime pie). Everything was delicious. I couldn’t even finish my whole omelet.

Nick wanted to do the Architectural boat tour, so I put him to work booking us tickets. We took a short 1.25 mile walk to the boat. The end cost for a 90-minute tour was $121 ($116+$5tip).

The boat was the Ft. Dearborn, named after the fort that started Chicago. Marshal was our docent (tour guide) on the boat tour. Captain Carol drove the boat. We explored all 3 branches of the Chicago River. It was very educational and neat to learn the difference between “Modern” architecture (Modern architecture has a flat roof and no ornamentation) vs. the other styles. We did learn an interesting fact about the Chicago flag as well.

Chicago borders Lake Michigan on the East. Chicago’s name comes from the smelly wild onion plants that used to blossom on the shores. In the Native American language, it sounds somewhat like Chicago. Willis Tower was constructed with a tube construction (9 towers bundled together to fight the wind). They dubbed the area around the rivers as “From warehouse to our house.” (Conversion of river warehouses to upscale apartments and condos).

Next, since we were close, we walked to Navy Pier. It was pretty lame. But on our way out we shared our first Chicago dog from Relish ($6). It comes with jalapeño, pickle, celery salt, mustard, relish, tomato, cucumber, and of course the all-beef hotdog. We both liked it a lot. Which was strange for me because I don’t normally like mustard, relish, jalapeños, or pickles. Who knew I would like it when you shove them all together?

On our way to the Magnificent Mile, we detoured to see a beach at Lake Michigan. People had donned wet suits and were swimming in the lake. It was 60F and windy. These are some tough people.

We wandered the Magnificent Mile. We stopped at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which was an insane 5-story Starbucks that we had to wait in line to get into. We didn’t buy anything because it was nuts inside, but they did have a tempting flight of Starbucks-themed martinis and a silk-lined blazer made from coffee bean bags for just $525. Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size.

We souvenir shopped our way back to the hotel area, picking up a Cubs hat for me and postcards.

We stopped at the Buckingham Fountain for the quintessential Chicago picture. Nick noted that the horses look like they are vomiting and are surprised about it. Strangely I agree.

We walked over 9 miles before stopping back at the hotel to rest before dinner. When I told Nick we were over 20,000 steps, he said, “No wonder my feet hurt.”

~Ben

Posted in: Exploring Illiniois, Exploring Ohio, Food, Hiking, Hotel, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Exploring Chicago

(Note: Click on an image to view full screen.)

I have always wanted to try traveling by train. Something about it sets your imagination wild. Nick and I decided to take a trip to Chicago on Amtrak this summer. We had been to Indianapolis multiple time, but Nick had never been to Chicago and it was the next closest stop. The Saturday train was scheduled to depart at 1:41 AM. Sarah and Will dropped us off and we got to Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio at 12:30AM. We checked in and Nick’s state ID came in handy. (An alternative could have been a school ID). The train’s arrival was delayed until 2:01AM, and then again to 2:16AM.

We finally boarded and were underway by 2:30AM. Our conductor assigned us our seats, which were towards the front of the train. It was a relief to be assigned rather than having to scramble and fight for a seat together. They were big seats (2x the size of an airplane) with many comfort adjustments (foot rest, leg extension and reclining). There seemed to be plenty of overhead room for carry-on items. The restrooms were in the back of each car.

Expert tip: Remember to bring your phone charger and longer cords. Each pair of seats has two 110V outlets. This is super convenient and way better than coach seats on planes.

Indianapolis was the only stop longer than 1 minute during our trip. We didn’t get off, but some smokers did to get their fix and stretch their legs.

The train started much slower than I expected (9-10 mph through city area) and gently rocked like a boat. As we got further out from the train station, the speed picked up to around 30 mph. The snoring of other sleeping passengers lingered in the air. If you really want to sleep well, ear plugs, eye masks and a pillow are mandatory equipment. It was fun to try to identify the various chemical plants as we passed by them in the city. I never realized how many existed in the Cincinnati area along the train line.

By 3:30 am Nick had calmed down and fallen asleep. He didn’t look comfortable, but even uncomfortable sleep was probably good for him.

We crossed a river near Hamilton, Ohio. It was fun to see the river from a different perspective. I can see why writers wrote on trains. It is a ‘romantic’ way to travel and the perspective change gives different insights. Something about going a little slower, the changing scenery and interacting with so many different people creates a spark of creativity.

Nick and I both managed to sleep a couple hours before it got light again around Indianapolis. The seat was rough on my knee somehow and left me feeling stiff, but rested well enough.

The track seemed bumpier after passing through Indianapolis. We moved at a quicker speed (up to 60 mph), so that likely played into it.

At 6:30AM we rope-dropped the Cafe car for breakfast. It was a reheated, unremarkable, bordering on gross breakfast sandwich that I ate completely. Despite the food, the cafe car was a different and nicer venue than our seats and we got to sit in a booth. The coffee was fine. Nick liked his bagel and hot chocolate. It was $13+$1 tip. I also grabbed a can of Diet Coke for an exorbitant $2.50. Expert tip: Bring your own food.

The bathrooms on Amtrak are kind of gross. They meet the minimum, but would get old over days of traveling. They use a vacuum assist flush and Nick said they seemed like RV toilets. I think he means that they are smaller seats. We were reminded by the conductor to make sure that we locked the door when we used it because he said, “there is always one that doesn’t on every trip.”

I am glad we chose a short trip to test things out on Amtrak. The price was certainly right since we got a Valentine’s Day BOGO, making the whole thing $84 for both of us. The fare was by far the cheapest part of the trip. With gas prices over $5/gallon, other than biking or walking, it seemed the cheapest way to go. Maybe the Megabus is competitive? I will have to check it out.

The train was 75%+ full in the coach sections. It was quite the eclectic mix of people with a large mix of all races, ages, ethnicities, and wealth.

The sleeper car people are at the back of the train and are really separated from the masses. They get the VIP treatment starting with the boarding processes, where they are taken out a separate way to the train. I would like to see what a sleeper room or roomette would feel like. Maybe next time.

It takes about 5 hours to drive from Cincinnati, OH to Chicago, IL. Flying is just 1.5 hours (+1 hour of airport security and chaos). We took from 12:30 AM to 10:00 AM terminal to terminal (9.5 hours) via train. All that to say, train travel via Amtrak is not fast. For Cincinnati users, the departure time is very inconvenient at 1:41AM.

After arriving via the Amtrak in Chicago, Nick and I had 3 hours to kill before going to the Skydeck in Willis Tower. We walked by Millennium Park (the Bean), Maggie Daly Park with an amazing “Play Garden,”and rode Centennial wheel at Navy Pier ($40).

After 2 hours of walking we were beat and Ubered back to Willis Tower from Navy Pier to catch our 1:00PM appointment.

Willis Tower (formerly Sears tower) was wonderful. My friend Bill sent us on a wild goose chase for Chicago dogs that he said were in the Willis Tower food court lobby. Not finding them and running out of time before our ticket time, Nick and I settled for a trail-mix that we had brought for emergencies. It had been awhile since breakfast, so we counted it as an emergency.

After our snack, we went to the Skydeck ($80). There was a nice Chicago fact museum and Instagram selfie studio prior to going in, where we grabbed several pictures. I got pictures with Michael Jordan and Oprah. Nick got pictures with the Obamas and Chicago food.

After capturing enough selfies, we ventured up 103 floors to the glass ledge where we “dangled” out past the building. It is a great hook and super fun. Nick, who doesn’t like heights, did great. We grabbed some pictures and some great footsies.

Having conquered the Himalayas of Chicago, we were ravenous and decided to go to Giordano’s. The restaurant was a block away, so we didn’t have far to go. We got the appetizer sampler, a Cobb salad, and a small stuffed deep dish Meat & More Meat pizza (each slice is 1,000 calories). The pizza was amazing!

Naomi was a great server and even helped us get pictures and video of our experience.

We left Giordano’s right at 3PM, which was the  first available time we could check in to the hotel, and headed to the hotel. The Central Loop Hotel was close to all the things we wanted to see and it was reasonably priced for a bedroom with two twin beds. We had no issues checking in and found ourselves exhausted in our room at 3:30 PM. We showered, changed, and promptly fell asleep with an alarm set for 7:30 PM and no specific plans for what we would do when it went off.

~Ben

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Kanga Klimb at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo has added a few things since we last had a membership. Ben and I went a few weeks ago for a date day and made sure to check out the new Roo Valley. It was lots of fun and the kangaroos are adorable! (Make sure you go earlier in the day to see them active. They are diurnal, active at dawn and dusk.)

One of the things we saw was a new ropes course called Kanga Klimb. It is next to Roo Valley; in fact, if you are on the upper level, you can see into the kangaroo exhibit. Both boys took a break to stand or sit on the platform and watch the kangaroos.

I really wanted to give the boys a chance to do the course, especially since Will will be under activity restrictions in July and August.

(click to enlarge)

The lower level is easier. The platforms are mostly stationary. The upper level is harder; the ropes and platforms move. If you are an observer, the upper level has a walking deck where you can observe your climbers. I could see most of the upper-level course from the walkway. There is part of the walkway that is a clear glass/plastic, so you can see down to the lower level as well.

The average length of climbing on the course is an hour, but it is up to you how long you want to climb. It looked like there was a nice variety of obstacles: a climbing wall, a rope wall, a platform to pull yourself across, a few different kinds of walkways.

(click to enlarge)

The zoo employees have to check the course every morning! They walked the boys through using the safety gear. They were all really nice.

The boys had lots of fun and were even a little worn out at the end. They were a little sore the next day, so it must have been a good workout.

(video sped up)

Tips: Closed-toed shoes are required, no sandals/crocs. Wear sunscreen. Drink water. If observing, a hat would be good. Climbers must be 48″ and taller (48″ to go with a partner, 60″ to go alone), ages 4+.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45220 (Parking lot address is 3427 Vine St.)
  • HOURS: Daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Members can get in at 9:00 am (except during Festival of Lights).
  • COSTS: Kanga Klimb ($18/zoo members, $21/non-members). Purchase Kanga Klimb tickets at the attraction entrance booth. Zoo admission prices vary on the day. Prices start at $15.50/adult (ages 13+), $9.50/child. Please check website for pricing. Parking is $10 (or included with membership).
  • PARKING: Yes, on-street or paid zoo lot.
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1 hour+ for climbing, 2+ for the zoo
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double-check before you go.

Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, YouTube Video Link

The Van Gogh Exhibition: Immersive Experience

If you didn’t know, Ben is a big art fan. He enjoys art museums and has taken art lessons to learn new techniques. When he heard the Van Gogh exhibition was coming to Cincinnati, he was excited to go. The Van Gogh Exhibition travels to different cities in the US and Europe. We made it a date day and got the VIP tickets (which included the VR room).

If you buy the tickets ahead, it will say “Secret Location”. You will be notified before the exhibit (we got the email about two weeks before). Cincinnati’s location was located downtown, in the Carew Tower building. There is on-street parking, as well as a parking garage attached to the building.

We grabbed breakfast down at Findlay Market and headed over to the exhibit. After you check in, you enter the Museum portion. Take your time here! There is so much to read and learn. There are prints of his works on the wall (not his real artwork, but canvas prints of his paintings), as well as panels detailing his history. There was a short film about the use of color in his paintings; they think he may have been color blind! The use of bright colors may have stemmed from the fact that those were the ones he saw well. The film showed an image of what Van Gogh may have seen color-wise, and it was all muted.

(click to enlarge)

As you traveled down the room, there was a statue of a vase against a screen. A projector showed images of different vase-based paintings, imposing them over the larger-than-life-sized vase.

(click to enlarge)

The Immersive Room was a large open room, and this is the image you will see the most when it comes to advertising the event. There were benches and lounge chairs scattered throughout the room. You could see various paintings of his shown on a large scale. They added movement to the images, for example, the blossoms falling from the flowers and trees. It was nice to sit and relax and take in the experience. (Click for longer video clips of immersive room.)

(click to enlarge)

After the Immersive Room, you went to the coloring station. You could pick an artwork of Van Gogh’s and color it yourself, or create your own on a blank piece of paper. They had crayons available for you to use. When you were done, you could scan your artwork and it would be uploaded to their website. You could keep your creation or tape it to the wall.

The VR room was next and was optional for an additional cost if you had the standard ticket (but is included with the VIP ticket). I enjoyed it, but Ben’s headset was a little fuzzy. They had you wear a paper mask under the headset (I’m guessing for minimal cleaning on their part?). If you have used a VR before, this isn’t the crisp, clear, high definition you may expect. All the graphics make it seem like you are in a painting.

NOTE: Based on other people’s reviews, we choose the VIP experience because we wanted to do the VR room. The VIP included the standard ticket, the VR, “skip the line”, and a poster. Our ticket time was at 10:00 am, right when they opened, so we didn’t have any trouble with waiting for a spot in the VR room. The VR was only $5 per person, so if you want to save some money and don’t think there will be a big line, and don’t need/want a poster, I would just buy a standard ticket and the VR when you get there. (There was not an option to simply add the VR to the standard ticket online.)

(click to enlarge)

It was a really neat experience and I am glad we went. If you love art, or are simply a Van Gogh fan, then you would probably enjoy this exhibit.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: Various locations. Cincinnati’s location is at 18 West Fourth St. Check website for other cities.
  • HOURS: Monday/Wednesday/Thursday/Friday 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, Weekends/Holidays 10:00 am to 9:00 pm
  • COSTS: Standard ticket $34.90/adult tickets, ages 13+, $19.90/child.
  • PARKING: Yes (paid on-street or garage)
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1 to 1.5 hours
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double-check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Off To Prison: Exploring the Ohio State Reformatory

Ben and I had both seen the movie Shawshank Redemption many years ago. (Who hasn’t at this point?) With our post-trip adventure spirit of wanting to see new things, we decided to finally see the Ohio State Reformatory (aka the OSR). What do the two have in common? Parts of Shawshank were filmed at the OSR. The Ohio State Reformatory closed in 1990, after a lawsuit filed by prisoners citing conditions and overcrowding.

The prison does not have all of the outbuildings anymore, but the main building is still standing. The architecture is amazing and gives an imposing castle-like appearance.

(Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) Exterior Images: click to enlarge)
(OSR Interior Images, Tour Details, Handcuff queue barrier: click to enlarge)
(OSR Interior Images: click to enlarge)

There are two wings to the prison: East Block and West Block. The East Block was the second cell block built and holds the record for being the “largest free-standing steel cell block“. The West Block was built first and is made with concrete. This part of the prison was supposedly better for temperature control (concrete as an insulator, versus metal heats up in the summer).

EAST BLOCK IMAGES:

(East Cell Block Images, East Cell Block Showers, Mail Station: click to enlarge)
(East Block Cells, Library, Spiral Staircase: click to enlarge)
(East Block Cells: click to enlarge)

WEST BLOCK IMAGES:

(Room Between East and West Blocks, West Block Images, Solitary Confinement Rooms: click to enlarge)
(West Block Cells: click to enlarge)
(West Block Showers, Walkway, 1896 Prisoner List: click to enlarge)

You begin the tour on the upper floors of the East Block Cells. If you get vertigo, do not look down over the railings!

During our walk through the East Block, we went through a corridor. The building was built so symmetrically that when there is sunlight coming through the windows and the room doors are open, an X forms on the floor. We were there on a cloudy, rainy day, but were lucky enough that the sun peaked through enough that we could see the X.

(Symmetric Building, X in Sunlight: click to enlarge)
(Chapel, Elevator: click to enlarge)

You will eventually make it to the Guard Room on the upper floors. It sits between the East and West blocks. I almost wish we were able to start the tour here. It gives you a good overview of both sides of the prison. This room has been restored with large glass windows for viewing both cell blocks and is available for event rental.

(Guard Room Images: click to enlarge)

One of the main differences between the movie and the prison was the cell layout. The movie had the cells looking at each other, but the prison actually had the cells facing the outer walls/windows. The shower rooms were horrible. Although the movie shows them all standing next to each other in the shower room, our audio tour stated that in the East Block shower room, the prisoners would hang up their towels and would then have one minute to walk down the line of showerheads, washing as they went, single file. They got showers once a week! (FUN NOTE: During the shower scene in the movie, there was no hot water. They used dry ice to create steam and they were all washing in cold water.)

Walking The East Block Shower

The interior of the prison is striking. Not necessarily for good reasons. The common areas, where visitors would arrive and the offices are more decorative; detailed wood door and window frames, tiled floors, decorative staircase (looks like carved wood, but is actually painted metal). The cell blocks are six levels high, facing the outer walls/windows. The doors are very small. If you were a bigger person, it would not be comfortable getting in and out of the cells. The cells are also small for two people. Some of them were designed originally for 1 person occupancy, but later had two people per room (the room size did not change).

It’s a little haunting walking through, even in the daytime. The lighting is dim, especially on a rainy day like we had. There are several layers of paint peeling off the walls, bars, cells, etc. The building sat empty for many years, and maintenance has been done on the building, and the administration rooms. The rest of the building is in various states, so I would recommend wearing flat, closed-toe shoes. There were several areas of puddles or debris on the floor. The building was constructed in the late 1800s, with its first prisoners admitted in 1896. I am sure there is still lead paint and asbestos contained in the building. There were spots where windows were missing or broken, letting the weather into the building. The cell blocks are not really heated or air-conditioned, although the museum/store/ticket area is temperature-controlled, so dress for the weather.

The museum area had some interesting items, including several different types of shanks and souvenirs people could buy about the prison/prisoners (including postcards of death row inmates).

(Museum Images: click to enlarge)
(Museum Images, Souvenirs, Prisoner Woodworking Items: click to enlarge)
(Shawshank Redemption Movie Items: click to enlarge)
(Round Rooms, Tiny Doors: click to enlarge)

Shawshank Redemption may be the most popular movie shot at the prison, but there have been several other movies that have been filmed at this location. There have even been some music videos!

(Small Cell Door Width, Lil Wayne Music Video Cell: click to enlarge)

There are several different types of tours available: self-guided, self-guided with an audio wand rental, tour guide, Shawshank, ghost, etc. I would definitely recommend renting an audio wand. It was $5/wand. The volume is not very loud and you hold it next to your ear, so you may be able to get 1 wand per 2 people if you place your heads close together, but it is worth it to rent them for your whole group. There are a few signs around, mostly markers for the audio tour that have extremely limited information on them. You will miss out on a lot of information if you do not have an audio wand or go with a tour group. I think it would make the experience a lot less enjoyable. Even if you are not a ghost believer, I think going on a ghost tour at night would be extremely freaky. The atmosphere of the prison is haunting during the day, but without sunlight, it would be scary (even just for tripping hazards).

TIPS:

  • Wear closed toed shoes.
  • Dress for the weather.
  • Rent the Audio Wand for the self guided tour!
  • Be aware. Although not currently a prison, there is an active prison located behind it. You will know where because on the windows that face the active prison there are “pictures taken out these windows is prohibited” signs.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH 44905
  • HOURS: Daily 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • COSTS: $25+ (adult tickets). Please check website for pricing for children/adults/seniors and different tours offered.
  • PARKING: Yes 
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1.5 hours+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

William Howard Taft National Historic Site

The boys were off school for President’s Day, so we decided to head to the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.

I double-checked the park’s hours before we left, but when we got there, we were told the house was closing in 10 minutes for a staff meeting and wouldn’t be open until later that morning/early afternoon. We rushed through the house and then spent time in the Visitor Center.

(Click to enlarge)

Nick got his Junior Ranger Badge. They had a neat package for the kids: a bag with the Junior Ranger program booklet, a pencil, a Junior Ranger badge sticker, and a William Howard Taft sticker. Once the booklet was completed, he turned it in to be sworn in and receive the plastic Junior Ranger badge.

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It was neat to see, especially since there is no admission fee for this Historic Site. I think we will go back again when we can spend more time in the house though and really read through everything.

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DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 2038 Auburn Ave, Cincinnati OH 45219 
  • HOURS: Grounds open sunrise to sunset. House/Visitor Center open daily 8:30am-4:30pm. (Some limited hours/holiday closures)
  • COSTS: Free
  • PARKING: Yes (small sized lot)
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 30 minutes+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks Optional (as of March 2022)
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
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(Click to enlarge. Left middle picture: Ours are in the middle, Starry Night and Sunflowers.)
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(East Cell Block Images, East Cell Block Showers, Mail Station: click to enlarge)
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(Small Cell Door Width, Lil Wayne Music Video Cell: click to enlarge)
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