Who doesn’t love the excitement and exclusiveness of a secret?
When former Columbus TV anchor/reporter turned travel writer Anietra Hamper was approached by a publisher to find 90 places that Columbus may not know about, she couldn’t resist.
Brushing up her old-school investigative journalism skills, Hamper set about to enlighten her city about its oddities with Secret Columbus: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. And when I got the chance to road trip with Hamper to visit some of those places, I couldn’t resist either.
We’re walking the Sullivant Trace Trail while Hamper describes Franklinton’s 1897 Centennial event, which took place right here. (She also casually mentions we’re on yellow alert for chiggers.)
The community built a natural amphitheater in the park, held parades, gave speeches, shot off fireworks, and had their pictures taken with a massive glacial boulder painted for the occasion.
“It’s like they were going to manufacture this massive media event…that would put Franklinton on the map,” Hamper explains. “People would hear about Franklinton because they had such a grand celebration.”
Afterwards, the boulder became a prominent landmark and a source of neighborhood pride. Fifty-one feet in circumference and partially hidden by vegetation, it’s not quite as prominent today, but still visible from the boardwalk.
Despite the warnings of parasites, I step off and start crunching through the underbrush, Hamper right behind. I feel quite rebellious until I see the graffiti and the trash; that’s when I feel an urge to start climbing.
Sh*t. There’s a man on a bicycle staring at us. We freeze. Hamper grabs her pepper spray. Fortunately for this guy, he has better things to do and leaves. And we’ve got more stuff on our list too.
See boulder at 22 seconds
Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery
Hamper drives us through the ODOT complex and turns on an access road until it dead ends.
“You ready to be creeped out?”
We’re at the gate of the State of Ohio Old Insane and Penal Cemetery, where patients of the old Columbus Mental Health Hospital now rest after their remains went unclaimed.
Hamper indicates the newest section of graves—around a hundred nondescript, functional markers: name, date of death, and perhaps an age or year of birth. Then she wanders into the open field, searching the ground.
Finally she points to something—a brick-sized, ground-level marker. F13306. Female. Patient number 13306.
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As I stand parallel to the marker, a shocking reality silently spreads across the flatness—rows and rows of markers stretching the length of the field. Hamper counted over 800 anonymous graves in one visit.
“No one knows who they are. No one will ever know who they are,” Hamper sighs. “What a sad thing.”
During the cemetery’s 54 active years, mental illness was routinely treated with controversial procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomies, and forced sterilization.
That context makes Hamper’s next stop even more horrifying.
Within the section of newer graves is a stone bearing a single word: Specimens. Which means… body parts? …biomedical waste? …experiments? Whatever lies beneath, a marker strongly suggests human remains.
But not all is macabre. There’s Mary Rickman, buried in 1958. Her stone, with a floral design etched in the corner, is clearly a replacement, displaying her full name and the word “Mother.”
My throat tightens a bit. In this field of the lost and unwanted, someone has found family again.
Olentangy Amusement Park, Zookeeper’s Office and Quarters
On the road again, Hamper tells me something that becomes the biggest mindf*ck of my day.
From 1880 to 1939, the southwest corner of Clintonville was home to the country’s largest amusement park. As we drive through the site, now the Olentangy Village apartments, Hamper describes the amphitheater, the zoo, the rides, the gardens, the high-class entertainment, and the swimming pool decorated with sand (hauled from New Jersey) and seashells to create a beach.
Picturing all that isn’t the difficulty. It’s that my hometown, which has always struggled with a bit of an inferiority complex, could optimistically pull off something so world-class, so distinctive. (It would try again in 1992 with AmeriFlora with far less successful results.)
“It was very ornate. It was a fun, family-friendly place to go, or a place that you might go on a date,” Hamper explained.
And virtually all of it—roller coasters, Japanese gardens, the fun house—has disappeared. The one remaining structure is a stone house located where North Street curves into Neil Avenue—the zookeeper’s office.
Hamper takes me there, zipping through her old neighborhood. We park in front of an unassuming two-story house with a stone exterior and sage trim. It’s now being used as rental property.
“I grew up right around the corner from here,” Hamper mused. “I’ve driven by [this house] hundreds of times growing up and you have no reason to believe that it was anything special.”
But that’s the beauty of secrets. Most don’t hide themselves. They simply wait for you to complete them.
Hamper points to the wrought-iron fencing running along the street, one of a few fingerprints left from the grand park’s earlier days.
I gaze through it and imagine a beautiful, breezy day like this 90 years ago, with bathers by the pool, canoes running the Olentangy River, screams from the arcade, and I can feel the escape, the vibrations of happiness and excitement which still seem to exist here. And that’s exactly where Hamper wants me to go.
“I guess that’s what I hope people will do with the book: find these things because it’s fun and it’s cool, and it’s something to do. But more than that, I want to feed your brain. I want you to learn something. I want you to care about the world in which you live.”
Columbus native Anietra Hamper covers destinations around the world for regional and national publications including AAA, USA TODAY, TourismOhio.com, Columbus Parent magazine, and official Visitor Guides for several counties in Ohio. She’s won numerous industry awards for travel writing and television news reporting. She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Achievement Award, Jefferson Award and Congressional Award, and is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Copies of Secret Columbus are available on Amazon.com.
Is there such a thing as “too early” for a beer? We would humbly submit that no, there isn’t.
While everyone else is waiting until noon, raise a toast to the sunrise with these breakfast-themed creations from some of Columbus’ top breweries.
Note: always drink responsibly. We don’t want any angry calls from your boss saying you showed up to work completely tossed. Check yourself before you wreck yourself!
Wolf’s Ridge |215 N 4th St
The brewmaster at Wolf’s Ridge is clearly a strong believer in popping off in the AM. “Cinnamon Toast Brunch” – a cinnamon-infused twist on the brewery’s staple cream ale, is delicious at any time of the day. Need something with a little more kick to get you moving? Wolf’s Ridge cellar reserve bottle offering, “’17 All The Breakfast,” is an imperial breakfast-style ale that clocks in at 10.8% ABV.
Homestead Beer Co. | 811 Irving Wick Dr W, Heath
Columbus Beer Week is a celebration of the many, many great beers available throughout central Ohio. If you stand any chance of sampling them all, breakfast brewskis are a must. Luckily, Homestead Beer Co. has you covered with a Beer Week concoction that will take you back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons and rainbow-colored milk. Prepare yourself for Homestead’s Cocoa Pebbles porter, “Yabba Dabba Brew.”
Hoof Hearted Brewing | 850 N 4th St
Like their neighbors Wolf’s Ridge up the street, Hoof Hearted offers a sudsy take on cinnamon toast crunch. At 10.5% ABV, “Miracle Toast” will either start your day off on a strong note, or send you back to bed until noon.
Though not explicitly marketed as a breakfast beer, Hoof Hearted’s “Fitness Freak,” an imperial stout with coffee, vanilla and maple syrup added, has all of the morning-time flavors you crave. At a whopping 14%, it’s also a surefire way to transition from brunch to nap time.
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Platform | 408 N 6th St
If you don’t think a peanut butter cream puff from Schmidt’s qualifies as a breakfast item, what are you doing with your life? Cleveland-based Platform pays homage to a Columbus institution with the release of their “Schmidt’s Peanut Butter Fudge Puff” brew. This maibock style beer boasts a respectable 7.1% ABV – just enough for some AM fun without derailing your whole day.
What’s your go-to morning brew? Let us know in the comments!
“Man, you guys suck!” The trivia host said as he came by our table table to retrieve his brightly colored buzzer. He wasn’t wrong. My friend/trivia partner and I probably should have had less to drink. We probably should have been playing closer attention to the questions, or stopped second-guessing ourselves into wrong answers. Now, the contest was over, and our chances at a $10 bar tab were utterly dashed. Of the six or so teams competing, we came in dead last.
In recent years, bar trivia has emerged as a popular pastime for bar patrons to put their knowledge to the test in a quiz show format, complete with dynamic and entertaining hosts. In these contests, teams which typically consist of a handful of friends, vye against each other for meager prizes—usually a small amount knocked off of the winning team’s bar bill. As my luckless friend and I quickly learned, it’s a form of entertainment where only the fast and the nerdy survive.
Like karaoke, bar trivia offers participants a chance do something at their local watering hole besides pound drinks. Bars are eager for something to draw customers on the slower nights of the week, and contestants get the chance to put their pop culture knowledge to work. But what kind of person goes to a bar on a weeknight to mentally dominate drunk strangers?
“In my opinion, there’s trivia people, and then there’s not,” explains John Egbert, who hosts several trivia nights each week for the company Excess Trivia (it was Egbert who chided my friend and I that evening when we completely bombed). “I have a lot of people sign up just to try it, and quickly realize it’s not for them.”
By day, Egbert is a working artist—he recently designed beer labels for Columbus’ Elevator Brewing. By night, he leads bar patrons through rounds of buzzer-style (think Jeopardy) and multiple-choice rounds of trivia in his role as host.
“When I started this I wasn’t a trivia guy. I did not have fun playing Trivial Pursuit; I didn’t watch Jeopardy,” Egbert says of his beginnings in what has become a full-time pursuit. He only fell in love with trivia after tiring of his onetime role of karaoke host.
“I felt like with karaoke, one of the downsides was dealing with really busy nights and everybody wanting to sing—and not wanting to wait to sing,” Egbert explains. “With trivia, everybody gets to play at the same time. Everybody gets to be the star.”
If public recognition is a motivator for their audience, you have to wonder what would inspire Egbert and his fellow hosts to choose this unique vocation.
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Jason “Squirrel” Davis runs his own trivia company, currently hosting three nights each week at local bars. He is perhaps best known for his first and longest running show at The Gateway Film Center. By day, he works in the accounts payable department at Capital University.
For Davis, it’s the chance to stretch his legs as an entertainer in a way not afforded to him in his day job that keeps him coming back. “As a host, it’s the performance aspect,” Davis explains. “I like to think I’m funny. My style is more of a fun game. For the teams, it’s more about fun than the challenge.”
To Mike Durst, who like Egbert is among the dozen or so hosts employed by Excess Trivia, it’s the social dimension that makes the work appealing.
“It’s pretty much my entire social life. My social circle has basically turned into people I know through trivia,” says Durst. “It’s nice, I get to go to work and know that I’ll see friends of mine and have a couple of beers and see what’s going on in their lives the past week.”
Davis’ sentiments are shared by Egbert, who also appreciates the opportunities for socialization that trivia affords to host and player alike. “I’m pretty selfish about it. I look at it like, it’s my night too, so I want to have a good time while I’m doing it,” he explains. “I always tell people, if you’re a real try-hard, overly-competitive type, my night might not be for you. I run a fun game, and it’s a reason for you and your friends to get together at a bar.”
With the prevalence of fan culture today, it’s likely that the brains of most people are overflowing with a wealth of trivial knowledge on at least one topic: sports stats, Breaking Bad, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—whatever your bag may be—bar trivia offers a small form of redemption for countless of hours spent in idle media consumption.
The next time you’re hard up for something to do on a weeknight, spare the neighborhood bar your 10,000th karaoke rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and give trivia a try. You might even make some new friends along the way. •
Clintonville is lovely this time of year, especially when you make three separate stops for brunch.
Whether the weather is gracing the charming little burgh with a healthy dose of vitamin D or giving it a couple spins around the Lazy Susan that is Ohio’s climate, a trifecta of morning food destinations is sure to keep your mood afloat.
BLunch • 2973 N High St.
Yes, we know that Columbus now is home to a Drunch AND a BLunch.
Snicker all ya want—if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the culinary scene’s welcome newcomers—a half-day cafe that carries the comforts of a First Watch, but with the sophisticated execution of Tasi or Katalina’s.
The White Family has decades of hospitality under their belt—the family owned Galena’s Mudflats until recently, and dad Jeff has been running the OSU Faculty Club for the past 20 years.
Those two were training grounds for son Jeff, once a young, eager dishwasher and now head chef for the White’s new “daylight eatery and bar.” Mom Jane, despite her own admission that in the family’s tavern-running days breakfast didn’t get served until halfway through afternoon, now relishes an intimate spot where people can maintain their own balance between booze and breakfast.
A full-bar at brunch is a rarity in the peculiar little burg, and positioned near Lineage, Old Skool, and Condado, BLunch could be the perfect starting point for a casual Clintonville crawl.
Then again, you may not have another stop after Chef Jeff gets done with ya. He and the White family have concepted a bennies-and-batter focused menu, where you’ll be sure to come back after a healthy amount of indecision. Me? I’ve been dreaming about the Bananas Foster pancakes (topped with ice cream) and the huevos rancheros over masa cake for weeks. – Travis Hoewischer
Dough Mama • 3335 N High St.
Dough Mama is the top of my list for my favorite breakfast joint. I love so much about this place.
The atmosphere is super chill, laid back, and inviting. The food is so so good. I would call it comfort food with an extra sprinkle of love and thought.
From pie to salad, it’s all good.
They use a variety of local and seasonal ingredients and support some of my favorite local delicacies with Dan the Baker bread and Thunderkiss coffee … YUM! They also have a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.
I am smitten with the Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy muffin. This place is my go to for a yummy drippy egg, roasted potatoes, salad, a sweet treat and a perfect cup of coffee.
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My husband loves Grammie’s Sammie and a piece of Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I somehow manage to splurge here and feel really really good about it.
Their menu has some great staples but they also always have specials that look and are amazing.
Right now they serve both lunch and breakfast during the day and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that they will soon be open in the evening and serving dinner. I cannot wait to see what delicious dishes they create for that menu. – Jana Rock
Baba’s • 2515 Summit St.
Baba’s is my go-to breakfast spot in Columbus. You can grab a breakfast sandwich on their homemade griddle muffins (aka little pillows of heaven), order a rack of ribs, or in the spirit of Alabama Worley, have a slice of perfect pie and a cup of Thunderkiss coffee.
Their delicious baked goods are made in house, they smoke all of their own meats and their produce and coffee are all sourced locally, though their espresso will send you to the moon.
The service is fast, their team is super-friendly and there are never any pretentious vibes in the super chill atmosphere they have created on the corner of Hudson and Summit.
They’ve made a beautiful impact in their short existence in the SoHud neighborhood, fostering local artistic connections and bringing beautiful new mural art that rotates different artist from the community throughout the year. Don’t forget to grab one of their perfect cinnamon rolls for later. — Vanessa Jean Speckman