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Thursday, 24 October 2013

My Supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus Week in Cincinnati - Brisbane-On-The-Ohio

Cincinnati Chili - a new taste sensation!
Graeter's Ice Cream - yum!
Love Potion No 9 jacket on Vine!
Typewriter ribbons at Spitzfaden's!
Arnold's Bathtub Brew - dee-lish!
Typesetting at the Ohio Book Shop!
Dining on Mount Adams!
Going Over-the-Rhine!
Seeing the Garden of Eden (Park)!
Who could ask for more?
One could not possibly have wished for a better host than the one I had in Cincinnati last week. Richard Polt thought of everything - and did everything to ensure my visit was fun and unforgettable. There wasn't going to be a moment when I sat idle, fiddling my thumbs wondering what to do next. Richard planned meticulously, so it would be a week packed with great places to go and things to see. I have returned home to Canberra laden with cherished memories of this, his home city.
One evening Richard went to the trouble of printing out a Google map of the city and marking it with a wide range of places he thought I would like to visit. His assessment of what might most appeal to me was spot-on. When he dropped me off at Fountain Square the next morning, arming me with his map and an umbrella, I was perfectly primed to take in what I would come to consider the "pick of Cincinnati".
Blowtorches at the ready
Richard had arranged to pick me up again in the mid-afternoon at Spitzfaden Office Supplies, and I figured it would be prudent of me to find that first, so I would know exactly where to be back at by 3.30pm. My starting point was the Tyler Davidson Fountain in the city square. I was strangely mesmerised - and impressed - by the efforts going on to clean the fountain, mostly with the use of blowtorches. The fountain is an 1871 tribute to his brother-in-law and business partner from Henry Probasco, who went to Munich and found a design for a suitable structure from artist August von Kreling and Ferdinand von Miller at the Royal Bronze Foundry of Bavaria.
I next ventured on to Vine Street. For the rest of the day I kept asking myself, "Vine Street, Vine Street, what song was that in?" Then it came to me. Love Potion No 9 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (best known for writing Hound Dog,  Jailhouse Rock, Kansas City, Stand By Me and On Broadway). Love Potion No 9 became a worldwide hit for English group The Searchers in 1964, but was first recorded by The Clovers in 1959:
I took my troubles down to Madame Rue
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She's got a pad down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
Sellin' little bottles of Love Potion No 9
I told her that I was a flop with chicks
I've been this way since 1956
She looked at my palm, and she made a magic sign
She said, what you need is Love Potion No 9
It was with a certain amount of pride that I later found that the group which had most faithfully covered the original, mentioning 1956 and including the spicy alternative Love Potion No 10 verse, was Australian alternative rock band Tlot Tlot, in 1992.

The four gentlemen who convinced me to walk out of Adam's wearing a blue Velour jacket.
Something sub-conscious must have been going on in my mind ("a flop with chicks since 1956"?), because I felt (Veloured?) mysteriously drawn to The House of Adam on Vine, where I spotted in the window, amongst a dense cluster of pimp gear, my now-famous blue Velour jacket.
Unfortunately, on this particular day, I had taken with me a smaller, less reliable camera, for the sake of convenience, and it didn't serve me well. When I got to the typewriter ribbons cabinet in Spitzfaden's, my hands were shaking so much with excitement and anticipation that the photos of them came out all blurred. Still, I hope you can get a reasonably accurate impression of what I found:

Eventually I found Spitzfaden's. This business was established in the late 1930s by a Cincinnati bookkeeper, Carl Louis Spitzfaden, the son of a German immigrant, who was born in Springfield, Ohio, on February 20, 1884. He died on April 30, 1945, but the business carried on (perhaps under Carl's son, Carl [later Carr] Stewart Spitzfaden, 1919-1999) and in 1956 the present-day company moved to a three-story commercial building at 629 Main Street, Cincinnati, which was once the home of John Grossius, a manufacturer of stoves and furnaces and a dealer in household furnishings and metalware. It retained the name Carl L. Spitzfaden Inc.
Above and below, two examples of products, including a Remington typewriter ribbon tin, from Woodrow-Weil-Stanage, the original Cincinnati stationer that became Spitzfaden's.
Spitzfaden was an auditor and later secretary, treasurer and sales manager for "Cincinnati's leading stationer" Woodrow-Weil-Stanage, at 726 Main Street (now the Ohio Book Store). He took over the firm and renamed it sometime before 1940. He lived at Mount Healthy and was a director of the First National Bank of Mount Healthy and treasurer of the Mount Healthy Saving and Loan Company.
Carl (later Carr) Stewart Spitzfaden, son of company founder Carl Louis Spitzfaden
Below is the entry from the Cincinnati City directory of 1940, showing Spitzfaden (though the directory has a typo!) had changed the name of the company from Woodrow-Weil-Stanage (yet retained the former business name in the directory, at the same address):
You will note from the back of the box for one of the many typewriter ribbons I bought at Spitzfaden's (top of post) that the phone number is the same as the one shown here - PArkway 1- 1885. Could that ribbon I bought in 2013 be from as far back as 1940, I wonder? 
Spitzfaden's is still a family-owned business and to this day offers a same-day free downtown delivery service - a throwback to the days when typewriter stores sent apprentices out on bicycles to the homes of typewriter buyers, just to change the ribbon! I wonder if the gentleman in this image - Terry - would do the same today? He was the chap who served Richard and I at Spitzfaden's during my second ribbon raid there, later in the day (no doubt after having made his deliveries). Terry had to keep checking to find out what the price of the typewriter ribbons was. It wasn't much.
When I went inside Spitzfaden's first, I was hoping to find the treasure of the typewriter ribbon stock all on my own, but failed miserably. A lady noted me wandering around aimlessly, spotted the Herman Price Typewriter Gathering sweater I was wearing, put one and one together and directed me to a cabinet in the far, back left corner of the store. My eyes popped right out of my head - there were 33 drawers of ribbons there, most full to the brim, and among them were those with the metal ring for the Remington portables, as well as many other types of "specialised" spools. A few of the ribbons I bought are seen below. OK, I was greedy, but I figured this might be a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for me:
On my second visit, Richard pointed out this handy tool, which I hadn't spotted the first time. This was the last one in the shop:
After the excitement of buying all these old (new) ribbons, I needed a steadying drink, so I headed for Arnold's Bar & Grill.

Mario the barman took very good care of me as I sampled the Cherry Stout (real stout, but served in a shot glass!) and Bathtub Brew (sangria). The bathtub out front is allegedly the one second generation owner Hugo Arnold used to distill gin during Prohibition.
My drinking buddies at Arnold's
I settled on a lunch of a "hot brown". The "hot brown" sandwich was created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. It is a variation of traditional Welsh rarebit and was as an alternative to ham and egg late-night suppers.
On the wall I noticed a 1967 typewritten menu and a 2013 Esquire magazine article by David Wondrich on the Best Pubs in America, which ranked Arnold's No 4 (good pick, Richard!). Esquire wrote, "If Arnold's were in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or Boston - somewhere, in short, that people actually visit - it would be world famous. Founded, as it claims, by Simon Arnold in 1861, it's one of the flat-out oldest bars in America ... It's also beautiful, with unique woodwork and lots of historical stuff on the walls. But it's in Cincinnati, which means that despite its history and tradition of intelligent, respectful ownership, Arnold's is still primarily a no-bullshit local bar. It's got regulars, traditions and customs, but at the same time the bartenders are friendly and the regulars are - well, they're not hostile. In other words, thank God it's in Cincinnati."
I tried the "hot brown" because Richard and his charming family (wife Julie and daughter Amelia) had already introduced me the previous evening to Cincinnati chili.  
This is a regional style of chili con carne characterised by the use of seasonings such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice or chocolate. It is commonly served over spaghetti or as a hot dog sauce, and is normally of a thin, sauce-like consistency, unlike most chili con carne. Restaurants that feature Cincinnati chili, such as the Skyline chain, are frequently called “chili parlors”. According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than two million pounds of chili each year, topped by 850,000 pounds of shredded cheddar cheese. Each September the city celebrates “Chilifest” at Yeatman's Cove on the Ohio River. Cincinnati chili has earned the praise of critics, who have called it a "blue-plate food" and as such "one of America's quintessential meals".
One of the great things about eating this in Cincinnati is that later you can enjoy a bowl of Graeter's ice cream. Richard asked, in all innocence, "Do you like ice cream?" Is the Pope a Catholic? Graeter's ice cream is exactly as the ad suggests, irresistible.
 Covenant First Presbyterian Church
 Above and below, the massive and impressive City Hall.

 Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral
Isaac M. Wise Temple
But getting back to my tour of Cincinnati city. As the rain settled to a steady drizzle, I wandered through the "God section" near City Hall. Here was the Covenant First Presbyterian Church on Elm Street,  the 1866 Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise Temple (formerly the Plum Street Temple), named after the founder of American Reform Judaism (designed by prominent Cincinnati architect James Keys Wilson and inspired by the Alhambra at Granada) and the Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral, a Greek revival structure dating back to 1841. The single spire of this last church, at 252 feet, was the tallest man-made structure in the city for many decades, and is constructed of pure white limestone.
I headed back to Main Street past the Contemporary Arts Centre, where I loaded myself up with gifts for the boys and cat back home - Créatures Mécanique.
Next it was the Ohio Book Store, founded in 1940 by Virginian James Hardwick. The present owner is James Fallon, who joined Hardwick in 1956. But Jim was away when I visited. Instead, I had long, very enjoyable chats with Fallon's younger son Mike and the author of many books on Cincinnati history, Robert J.Wimberg.
Two charming and very helpful gentlemen: Mike Fallon at the Ludlow machine, above, and author and historian Robert J.Wimberg, below.
Wherever I went in America, I found the people I met or dealt with, whether in shops, restaurants, bars or socially, were far, far more polite, friendly and helpful than their counterparts in Australia. There is an awful lot for Australians to learn from Americans in this regard. Smile, co-operate, assist, chat - you will be able to leave a much more pleasant and lasting memory of your country that way. The service industry in Australia is at rock bottom, to the point where one feels uncomfortable in some stores and outlets. Take note!
Robert fondly recalled his L.C.Smith typewriter and lamented the demise of ribbons. When I told him there was shop around the corner that sold typewriter ribbons, he was astounded - and excited. The very helpful, friendly Mike Fallon - both interesting and interested - took me downstairs to the bookbinding section and demonstrated a Ludlow typesetting machine. I pocketed the hot metal line "Cincinnati" for Richard Polt, who really appreciated this small gift.
After Richard and I had made another fruitful raid on Spitzfaden's, we needed another calming ale and so adjourned to Nicholson's Bar and Tavern (where the bar staff, appropriately, wear kilts) to admire our booty and toast our success. Then we headed off through Over-the-Rhine, the largest, most intact urban historic district in the US (it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983). This area contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the country and has been compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans.
We were headed for Mount Adams, well known for its assortment of bars and restaurants. As owners of some of the city's most sought-after real estate, the 1600 residents of Mount Adams have one of the highest per capita incomes in the city. Mount Adams was originally known as Mount Ida, after Ida Martin, a washerwoman who lived in the hollow of an old sycamore tree. In 1831, attorney Nicholas Longworth bought the mansion that is now the Taft Museum of Art and transformed the hill into a vineyard. The first commercially successful winemaker in the US, Longworth is known as the "Father of the American Wine Industry". Longworth cultivated Catawba grapes, which were used in making his champagne known as Golden Wedding. The wine inspired none other than the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write the poem called Ode to the Catawba Wine:
There grows no vine
By the haunted Rhine,
By Danube or Quadalquivir,
Nor on island or cape,
That bears such a grape
As grows by the Beautiful River.
The winemaking industry around Cincinnati grew rapidly until it was virtually destroyed by mildew and black rot around 1860. This marked the end of Cincinnati's wine industry.
Longworth donated a portion of the hilltop to the Cincinnati Astronomical Society for an observatory, which opened in 1843 and owned the most powerful telescope of its kind. The hill was renamed in honour of President John Quincy Adams.
The next morning, my last in Cincinnati, Richard took me to Eden Park, with its grand overlooks of the Ohio River Valley. This was once Longworth's vineyard - he called it his Garden of Eden. The park area was originally designed by noted landscape architect Adolph Strauchs, who also designed many of the estate grounds in the area I stayed in, Clifton. My hotel was just around the corner from where Alexander McDonald's baronial mansion, designed by Samuel Hannaford, the pre-eminent estate architect in later 19th-century Cincinnati, once stood. The Ludlow Avenue business district has been designated Cincinnati's first "Main Street neighbourhood" in a program sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the Gaslight District includes Sitwell's Coffee House. The side streets I walked along to Ludlow are lit using original gas lamps.
Mount Eden is just as its name suggests and gives one a sense of removal from the hustle and bustle of the city. I mentioned in the heading to this post "Brisbane-on-the-Ohio": One of the views I shot from Mount Eden, of the bridges over the Ohio River, gives some indication why.
But it was when coming into Cincinnati on my first night in the city that I spied what looked for all the world like the Story Bridge and the approach to downtown Brisbane from Woolloongabba, so striking that I said to Richard, "We must be in Brisbane, we can catch up with Scott Kernaghan." The Brent Spence Bridge, which links North Kentucky with Cincinnati, and the Story are both, of course, cantilever bridges.
The next day, on our drive from Cincinnati to West Virginia, much of the countryside also reminded me of south-eastern Queensland, especially as one drives north of Brisbane heading past Caboolture and the Glass House Mountains towards the Sunshine Coast.
As for the reality of Cincinnati, and the many wonderful attractions it has to offer, a real highlight was my next destination after Eden Park: the Union Terminal, seen in an earlier post. And then it was back home to Australia via Los Angeles. Ah, but the memories will linger for much, much longer yet ...
How can I ever thank Richard Polt enough for this incredible week?


Richard P said...

Hey, maybe I should visit this town ... it looks pretty great!

You came here and in no time at all learned more about my city of residence than I've learned in 21 years. You are a true newsman. I'm glad that I was at least able to point you in the right direction(s). This was fun!

And thanks for the great coffeetable book on Cincinnati history that you gave us. I will study it so I can be better-informed for your next visit. :)

Miguel Chávez said...

I can tell you this, Robert: in my list of places to visit at least once in my lifetime I've always had Oz. Now, thanks to your fine reporting, I also have Cincinnati on the list. Thanks a lot for your fantastic articles and pictures! It feels like we were there with you!

Erik Jaros said...

I'm with Richard and Miguel. I don't think I've ever seen Cinci in a more appealing light. Great write-up Robert!

Steve Snow said...

Customer service ain't too bad in Brisbane. Perhaps everyone's a little more slow and troppo up here.

Ladies Australia-wide had better watch out for you with that new velour jacket. What a find!

Robert Messenger said...

On the contrary, Steve, you should be sharp and smart and provide proper, polite service. So if it's OK in Brisbane, then they can hardly be called slow or troppo.

Spiderwebz said...

What a cool typewriter ribbons cabinet! I can imagine you got a bit greedy.

Your report on Cincinnati sounds wonderful. I am not a big fan of the USA, but your story made me doubt about ever traveling across the oceans.

Scott Kernaghan said...

Rob, I sure would have rather been there, than in Brisbane. It seems to have nicer weather, more culture, and a greater appreciation of typewriters.

Not to mention clearly better pret-a-porter (wish I could manage the proper characters on this keyboard) fashion!