Get To Know OHC Better

Ohio Humanities Programming in Northwest Ohio

Ohio Humanities will hold a general introduction workshop in Perrysburg on July 9. Free and open to the public, this informative session will provide an introduction to Ohio Humanities programs and grants, including information regarding new grant deadlines and guidelines, and the OHC heritage tourism initiative.

The session will serve as a chance for those in Northwest Ohio to begin conversations about program ideas with Ohio Humanities’ experienced program officers.

“We’re looking forward to expanding our engagement with individuals and organizations devoted to the humanities throughout Northwest Ohio,” said Ohio Humanities Executive Director Patricia Williamsen.

Those interested in learning more about opportunities offered by Ohio Humanities are encouraged join the staff at Fort Meigs, located at 29100 West River Road in Perrysburg, on July 9th from 10 a.m. to noon. The session is free to attend, but reservations are required. To reserve a seat or for more information, call 614-461-7802, or e-mail David Merkowitz,

On the Corner


Recently, the News York Times ran a series of articles about Donna’s Diner in Elyria, hard hit by the recession, yet staying open to take care of its regulars. Check out the story at

Now, read Connie Schultz’s blog article. The struggle to keep the business open is by no means over, but Donna’s Diner may have turned the corner!

Stories in Stone

I have to confess that I love cemeteries. Doesn’t matter where they are – Spring Grove in Cincinnati with its majestic mausoleums or a tiny plot tucked next to a country church – I’ll slam on the brakes to spend an hour walking among tombstones. Anytime is a good time to visit a cemetery, as historian Shirley Wajda points out in this post.

A community’s local history isn’t necessarily recorded in ink or collected by a museum. The WPA Writers’ Project of Ohio understood this when they created The Ohio Guide. The writers sought stories to add to what Harlan Hatcher, the Project’s director, called “the usual data about the State.” The writers talked with “venerable citizens who know things not written in the histories,” and they traveled “the highways and by-roads through towns, villages, and farmlands, to report what Ohio is like at this moment and to tell the story of how it came to be.”

The writers found that the venerable citizens often pointed them to the local cemetery. Other workers in the Writer’s Project were recording the information on every gravestone in many of the state’s cemeteries. All history, they discovered, was like all politics: local. A visit to a community’s cemetery was like walking into history. Twenty-one cemeteries are listed in The Ohio Guide.

Cemetery tourism at the beginning of the 21st century is increasingly popular. Check any newspaper in October, and you’ll find tours of historic cemeteries sponsored by local heritage organizations. Some of these feature local tragedies as “ghost” or “haunted” walks, but many more are based on a more dignified exploration of a community’s past.

For many small, volunteer historical societies in Ohio, the local cemetery is the primary—and sometimes the only—historic artifact with which to engage the public in the past. Lacking any collections and a permanent home, the Vienna Historical Society, for example, began in 2008 to document the historic section of the Township’s cemetery. In 2010, the Society began offering cemetery walks dedicated to an annual theme. Preservation days bring together community members and students to clean gravestones, and fundraising has resulted in the professional restoration of several important gravestones. All this focus on community history has increased residents’ shared sense of place and, as the information is shared via the Society’s website, others have visited the cemetery.

A community’s “story” may be best told in stone. And perhaps it’s better to use the plural here, for there are many stories in a cemetery’s gravestones. Of course, biographies of local leaders, whether famous or infamous, are easily discovered. Gravestone art and symbolism tells us much of local carvers, sculptors, and masons, the social status of the interred, and fit into larger movements in social and cultural history. The lives of women and children, of the poor and marginalized, are memorialized in cemeteries when they aren’t visible in the historical record. Veterans’ graves relate a given community to larger national and international conflicts. Even the vegetation tells us of funerary practices and pilgrimages of earlier generations. Vienna’s cemetery is crisscrossed in spring with wild strawberry blossoms, forget-me-nots, and daffodils. Here and there are flowering bushes that have burst the ceramic pots that once held them, the potsherds barely beneath the earth’s surface, surviving alongside the markers.

Shirley Wajda, Ph.D, is an independent historian living in the Connecticut Western Reserve. She is the creator of Viennapedia (, a wiki devoted to her hometown of Vienna, Ohio. She likes cemeteries, too, which makes her a ideal travel companion!

Take a Drive!


Autumn is my favorite time to travel. With the lazy days of summer behind us and school back in session, daydreaming about a quick getaway becomes an alluring pastime.

Dream no more! Check out for The New Ohio Guide driving tours. With eleven audio tours to choose from, you’ll find fascinating heritage itineraries on a wide variety of themes that will introduce you to places in Ohio you never imagined.
Drive through Cleveland’s ethnic neighborhoods, or along the Maumee River to visit War of 1812 sites. Or start in the Dayton area for a tour that takes you from the Wright Brothers bicycle shop to Neil Armstrong’s moon lander in Wapakoneta.

Each audio tour introduces you to heritage experts and is narrated by an individual intimately familiar with the route. The tours are downloadable to disk or mobile devise, and most come with turn-by-turn directions, listed on the website.

This Autumn, see Ohio first.

Memorial Day Weekend

Celebrate Memorial Day weekend by taking a trip to significant Ohio military sites. Check out! The New Ohio Guide offers a drive along Lake Erie (Tour 8) that includes a visit to Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie, site of a Civil War prison camp. The tour, which starts in Sandusky and ends in Archbold, includes stops at several historic and scenic attractions, with a little viviculture thrown in to whet your whistle. Or choose Tour 6 for a drive through the Maumee Valley to visit sites associated with the War of 1812, including Fort Meigs in Perrysburg where re-enactors recreate historic battles that helped secure America’s hold in the Old Northwest. Downloads of the tours are free, so check out

An interesting item just crossed my desk:
Muskingum County Community Foundation director David Mitzel recently stated “You have to know where you’re going to get there.” So to guide visitors to the thriving artist community in downtown Zanesville, the foundation helped the Zanesville Downtown Association produce a map featuring shops, galleries, and studios. Quoted on, David said the map will help art lovers find the hidden gems around town. Copies of the map are available at locations listed here: http:// Launches 2012 Travel Season

In 1940, the Federal Writers Project produced a massive book detailing the scenic treasures and everyday life along Ohio’s roads – roads that went through the big cities as well as through farmland and tucked-away places. 70 years later, the roads have changed and the pulse of the people is different – in some places. The Ohio Humanities Council has launched The New Ohio Guide Audio Tours at

“Long before Ohio had an interstate system, the Federal Writers Project staff traveled the state’s main roads to compile a history of Ohio,” said Pat Williamsen, Executive Director of the Ohio Humanities Council. “But the New Dealers also wanted to use tourism to spark the economy during the Great Depression – so they included driving tours as part of The Ohio Guide.”

OHC has updated eleven itineraries from the original Ohio Guide to encourage motorists to get off the interstate and enjoy Ohio’s small towns and scenic beauty. This new guide takes those older routes and gives them a 21st century twist — as free downloadable audio tours. Recorded by independent producers and public broadcasting partners, the tours highlight Ohio’s history, culture, and geography. Each tour on is accompanied by maps, photographs, and other information.

Save gas; buy local – See Ohio First!

Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry

With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 just around the corner (on June 1, 1812 the United States declared war on Great Britain), it’s a good time to read up on the war. In my search for books about Ohio’s role in the War of 1812, I came across a delightful travel memoir by Craig J. Heimbuch — Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry: Travels in the Footsteps of the Commodore Who Saved America, (Cincinnati: Clerisy Press, 2010).

Acting on a lifelong fascination that began as a youngster visiting the Perry International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay, Heimbuch set out to learn all he could about the young naval commander who won the Battle of Lake Erie during the summer of 1813. Stirred by Perry’s brief report of victory – “We have met the enemy and they are ours” – Heimbuch wanted “to see if I could call upon Perry’s … spirit and do something brave.”

Doing something brave involved mimicking Perry’s “swagger,” at least in part. After a year of research, trip-planning, and pinching pennies, Heimbuch took off “to chase Oliver Hazard Perry to the ends of the earth – or all the way around Lake Erie, whichever worked better with my schedule.”

Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry is as much about the writer’s aspirations as about his inspiring hero. During the course of his journey, Heimbuch visited historical sites, boarded a replica of the Niagara, and contemplated his literary ambitions. Heimbuch has written an excellent history for non-historians, outlining the war on the western frontier in layman’s terms.

Craig Heimbuch is an award-winning journalist who lives and writes in Cincinnati. He is currently the editor-in-chief of, an on-line magazine “for the man who wears a dozen hats and worries about losing his hair.” Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry makes me hope that he finds time to write second travel memoir about another Ohio hero. Perhaps Mad Anthony Wayne?

Journeys to Freedom

A different kind of tourism than I might normally write about, but too interesting not to pass along — Miami University is offering a learning experience for sophomore level students, Journeys to Freedom: The Underground Railroad.

This 3-week workshop will provide students an immersion educational experience that will explore the various journeys into freedom of several different cultural groups important in Ohio history. This workshop will allow students to reclaim the Ohio histories associated with the journeys into freedom during some of the most important periods of the US history. Students will walk in the paths of runaway slaves and abolitionists, Native Americans and immigrants, Hispanics and women.

Team-taught by Rodney Coates,, and Nishani Frazier, Additional information about content, requirements, and fees can be found at

Behind These Doors ….


Behind these doors at the Westerville Public Library ...

Ken Burns came to town today to premiere his  latest  documentary, “Prohibition.”
First stop on his itinerary was the Westerville Public Library for a luncheon with civic leaders and library employees.

What? Ken Burns in Westerville? Why the great civic pride?

Besides the fact that Ken Burns is a great filmmaker — and who wouldn’ t want to have lunch with him? — behind those doors, Ken Burns and his research team poured over the

Burns raised a glass of iced tea in a toast to the library for its stewardship of the history of the Anti-Saloon League.

Anti-Saloon League Museum collection.

“Here’s the story of Prohibition – not the gangsters or the flappers” of popular imagination,   Burns said. In the local history collection at the Westerville Public Library, Ken Burns found the story of “ordinary people” who created an extraordinary national movement that led to the 18th amendment and the prohibition of alcohol production and consumption in the United States.

Directors Lynn Novick and Ken Burns with Beth Weinhardt, WPL Local History Coordinator

The Anti-Saloon League was founded in Oberlin in 1893. The organization moved to Westerville several years later, which earned the town distinction as “The Dry Capitol of the World.” Westerville remained dry until just a few years ago, but the local history collection at WPL is a favorite stop for temperance-loving historians.

What’s in your library?