Cincinnati, Ohio’s riverfront is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, as well as a shrine to pro baseball’s first team and a lively steamboat festival.
By Peggy Jordan
Cincinnati owes its existence to the Ohio River. Like many other Eastern American cities settled in the 1700s, it was the need for transportation “” in this case, by riverway “” that made the location advantageous to merchants, land speculators, and military strategists. Cincinnati’s history is one of its biggest selling points to modern-day visitors.
Freedom yesterday and today
To enslaved African Americans in the years leading up to the Civil War, the Ohio River was a symbol of freedom. Once they crossed north of its shores, they found themselves in a land where the majority of whites considered them humans, not property. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which opened in 2004, focuses on the area’s importance as a gateway to freedom.
The museum explores the issue of American slavery with movies, videos, changing and permanent displays, and relics, and it encourages visitors’ input and reactions to the issue.
Visitors enter on the first floor, where the gift shop is located, and take a flight of stairs or the convenient elevator to begin their journey into the past. Once up there, you’re near a theater that shows three animated short films that together comprise the “Suite for Freedom” “” Freedom and Unfreedom, Slavery, and Underground Railroad. Beautifully done and captivatingly simple, each hits the proper emotional note.
After this introduction, consider the largest item on this floor: a slave pen. The two-story log building looks like an old cabin. It was found 60 miles from the museum site, on a farm in Mason County, Kentucky, and reassembled here. It once was used to store as many as 75 slaves as they were moved farther south for sale. The fortunes of the slave trader who once owned the cabin also are examined, and fragments of items found at the site, such as dishes and buttons, are exhibited.
Freedom Center visitors learn the context of slavery in American growth and politics; slavery as it related to American geography; the most popular inland slave trade routes; and so forth. Experience the drama of a young man’s decision to escape slavery in a short film called Midnight Decision, and through a video question-and-answer display learn how choices were made about whether to escape and the best way to do so. The methods used by anti-slavery whites along the Ohio River to aid the escapees “” “conductors” on the Underground Railroad “” are also explored. Slaves were hidden in attics, outbuildings, cellars, and spots under stairs. Many slaves were assisted just east of Cincinnati in Ripley, Ohio, at the Rev. John Rankin’s house. The Presbyterian minister and abolitionist built his home high on a hill above the Ohio River, and it served as a beacon of hope to the wayfarers who made it across. Closer to the river lived John Parker, an African-American slave who purchased his freedom and also joined in the Underground Railroad’s activities in Ripley. The Brothers of the Borderland film depicts freedom fighters risking their lives to help their fellowman.
This is just a taste of what the museum holds. On the next floor are views of not only the experience of slaves who traveled by ship, but the political climate that eventually gave them freedom. The struggles that blacks endured even later under ensuing anti-black sentiment is explored, as are the hardships women faced to get their right to vote, a right they won long after it was given to the African-American male.
Atrocities still occur throughout the world today. But happily, a multimedia exhibit titled “Everyday Freedom Heroes” looks at people who in the past century have helped to extend freedom, or at least protect it. Finally, visitors are encouraged to “Reflect, Respond, Resolve” “” think about what they would do if faced with modern issues such as freedom of religious expression and racial profiling, via a video program.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is not just a look at the past, but at the idea of freedom itself. One can’t help but be stirred to take a minute and gaze southward from the museum’s outdoor terrace, where an inspiring flame glows. The flame is a beacon across the Ohio River, which once symbolized the struggle for freedom still faced in the world today.
The museum is located on the riverfront between the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for children 6 and older; children under 6 are admitted free. For more information, call (877) 648-4838 or (513) 333-7500, or visit www.freedomcenter.org.
Proud baseball history
Back in 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional baseball team in the United States. The town is still exceptionally fond of the game, and built a new stadium for its Cincinnati Reds “” Great American Ballpark “” a few years ago. When the new stadium opened, it included a spot set aside to enshrine the Reds’ storied history, players, and events: The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
This is an interactive place full of fun and interesting things to see, and it may even turn you into a Reds fan, if you’re not one already. Posters, news clippings, relics, uniforms, and more tell the story.
It shows a town that’s not easily separable from its team, especially in years when the Reds made national news in the World Series. The team’s first World Series win was forever tarnished in 1919 because their opponents, the Chicago White Sox, later were believed to have “thrown” the series. But the Big Red Machine, which won World Series championships in the 1970s, is not forgotten, and neither is the Reds’ most recent 1990 championship.
Franchise history includes the first Opening Day Parade, which originated in 1891 and is traditionally held before the Reds’ first home game of the season. Up until 1990, when mass media orchestrated it otherwise, Cincinnati’s Opening Day was also the nation’s opening day, as the Reds were honored by being allowed to host the first game of the season.
Reds players are given great homage in the Hall of Fame, located on the second floor of the museum. Do you recall Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan? Likenesses of the inductees can be seen on plaques describing their achievements. Also on this floor are interactive places where kids and adults alike can try their hand at the game. Push a button in reaction to a fastball, and learn immediately whether you would have made contact with the ball, had you swung a bat. It’s much more difficult than it looks!
One exhibit takes you back to the 1930s when the only way to experience a Reds’ ball game “” aside from being there “” was to listen to legendary broadcaster Red Barber deliver the play-by-play. Today one of the most beloved radio announcers in town is a former Cincinnati Reds pitcher who, at age 15, became the youngest player to ever appear in a major league baseball game “” Joe Nuxhall. The words he uses to end each post-game radio broadcast, “Rounding third and heading for home,” are emblazoned on the exterior walls of Great American Ballpark.
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum is open during baseball season Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5:00 p.m. On the days a game is being played at home, it’s open only to fans with same-day game tickets. For evening games, museum admittance requires a game ticket once the ballpark gates open. During the off-season, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $5 if you have a same-day game ticket; otherwise, it’s $8 for adults, $6 for seniors (55 and over), and $5 for children ages 3 to 12. Kids 2 and younger are admitted free. For more information, call (513) 765-7000 or visit www.cincinnatireds.com and click on “Ballpark.”
Steamboats are a-comin’!
As a river port, Cincinnati saw its share of commerce in the days of the steamboat. Even the Reds’ new stadium reflects that history, with the likenesses of steamboat stacks behind the center field wall. (They expel “steam” after an opposing team’s batter strikes out.) And ever since the city’s 1988 bicentennial, Cincinnati has hosted the Tall Stacks Music, Arts and Heritage Festival. The years 1992, 1995, 1999, and 2003 have all brought out the steamboats, but the 2003 event was the biggest yet, as it attracted approximately 900,000 to the riverfront. It’s hard to resist the chance to see just about every riverboat in the United States today, both original and replica, all in one location.
This year 17 riverboats from 11 different cities will be on hand for the festivities as Tall Stacks takes place October 4 through 8. Music acts will include the legendary Al Green, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Buddy Guy, Wilco, Dr. John, Ricky Skaggs, and many more favorites who perform bluegrass, country, rock, and traditional music. Fine local blues, roots, jazz, and bluegrass bands will join in as well.
A new attraction for the 2006 event will be located across the river in Newport, Kentucky, called Steamboat City. It’s a history-based educational spot that will include a look at life during the Civil War. Re-enactors will be camped at the Newport Barracks during the Tall Stacks festival, demonstrating cannon firings, marching drills, and more. Sawyertown, on the Cincinnati side of the river, will feature an old-fashioned steamboat town, showing what life was like in the steamboat era.
In addition to all there is to see, do, and eat (plenty of food is available), visitors can take boat cruises. Some cruises include meals; others are simply for sight-seeing. At press time, more than 350 cruises were scheduled. The cruises do cost extra, and tickets must be purchased in advance.
A five-day general admission ticket to Tall Stacks is $20 if purchased at local Kroger grocery stores, or $22 if purchased online, over the phone, or at the box office. For more information about the boat cruises and to purchase general admission tickets, visit www.tallstacks.com or call (866) 578-2257.
Zinzinnati’s Oktoberfest “” and more
If you arrive prior to Tall Stacks, you’ll want to note another piece of heritage in Cincinnati “” German. Each September “Zinzinnati” hosts the United States’ largest Oktoberfest celebration. Authentic down to the bratwurst, this event will be in its 26th year as it is held September 16 and 17, 2006.
You can learn more about Oktoberfest, as well as the area’s fine zoo, aquarium, art museums, 1930s Art Deco-style train terminal (which now houses museums), and more by calling (800) 344-3445 or visiting www.cincinnatiusa.com. Come see the town with a proud history.
The following is not a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or the Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Lake Cozy-Dale Campground
10621 Cozaddale-Murdoch Road
Goshen, OH 45122
Located northeast of downtown Cincinnati. Offers more than 80 sites, a dump station, a shower house, a pavilion, and three stocked fishing lakes, as well as a bait shop.
East Fork State Park
3294 Elklick Road
Bethel, OH 45106
(866) 644-6727 Camping reservations
This Ohio State Park campground at East Fork Lake is approximately 30 minutes east of downtown Cincinnati and offers 399 sites with electric hookups, as well as showers, drinking water, a camper’s beach, a playground, and a boat ramp.
3590 Round Bottom Road
Cincinnati, OH 45244
(800) 543-3622, ext. 308
FMCA members (only) who have the “goose egg” membership emblem on their coaches are permitted to stay free for two nights per month, availability permitting. The campground has 50- and 30-amp electric, as well as water and sewer hookups. Call prior to your visit between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time for more information.
Hamilton County Park District
10245 Winton Road
Cincinnati, OH 45231
Hamilton County, which includes the city of Cincinnati, offers two parks that have campgrounds with single-night rates: Miami Whitewater Forest, (513-367-9632), and Winton Woods (513-851-2267). Miami Whitewater has electric hookups, showers, a playground, and a dump station. Winton Woods has electric hookups, showers, a dump station, a laundry, and a camp store. Steamboat Bend (513-851-2267), the newest campground, offers weekly and monthly rates only. Call or go online for more information.
Indian Springs Campground, C10758
3306 State Line Road
North Bend, OH 45052
Located west of Cincinnati near the Indiana state line. Offers 73 sites, 13 pull-throughs, electric and water hookups, two dump stations, a fishing lake, a playground, a game room, and a bathhouse.
Oak Creek Campground, C8660
P.O. Box 161
State Route 16
Walton, KY 41094
Located approximately 18 miles south of downtown Cincinnati off Interstate 75. Offers 99 sites; six are pull-throughs. Water and electrical hookups, cable TV, and wireless Internet are available.
Stonelick State Park
2895 Lake Drive
Pleasant Plain, OH 45162
(866) 644-6727 Camping reservations
Situated northeast of Cincinnati along Stonelick Lake. Offers 108 sites with electric hookups, as well as showers, a dump station, a camp store, and laundry facilities.
Travelodge RV Park, C5909
1717 Glendale-Milford Road
Sharonville, OH 45215
Located near a hotel; offers 11 full hookup sites and is convenient to Interstate 75 and the Cincinnati downtown area.