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Secret Columbus: 3 weird, wonderful, obscure spots

Laura Dachenbach

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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.

Patriotic Rock

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.

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Ultimate Columbus Summer Bucket List

614now

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Hello and welcome to summertime! Today is the longest day of the year—plenty of time for you to sit down with your family and/or friends to map out your bucket list for this summer. Or…you could get a start on ours!

We’ve put together the ultimate list of summer activities in Columbus to ensure you have a summer full of fun. Just remember to wear sunscreen!

Go berry picking

Nothing tastes better than something you’ve worked for. And nothing tastes sweeter than something picked right from the dirt. Don the sun hats and sturdy shoes because we’re about to put you to work for your fruit! Here are more than 20 farms offering U-pick berry programs for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and peaches in central Ohio.

Support local growers at neighborhood farmers’ markets

Do you know where your produce is from? Odd are if you don’t purchase them straight from a farmer, you’ve got no clue. Fuel your summer with goods pulled right from central Ohio dirt at local farmers’ markets!

Score a beer mug at ComFest

Besides epic memories, the best takeaway from ComFest is always the brightly-color plastic beer mug. Just remember to drink responsibly! Click here to read about the recent drama that went down with ComFest.

Celebrate freedom at Red White & Boom

Columbus’ biggest Fourth of July celebration will be returning to downtown on July 3 for the largest fireworks display in the Buckeye State. Arrive early for the parade and stay late for the party!

Spend a day at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

This one is an absolute must. There’s nothing like a warm summer day spent taking in the amazing animals at one of the best zoos in the country. Make sure to wave at the polar bears for us!

Gaze at the stars at John Glenn Astronomy Park

The John Glenn Astronomy Park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night. Make sure to plan a trip to JGAP on a clear night to gaze at the wonderment of our universe.

Take in an outdoor movie

NightLight 614, a 21+ social outdoor film series on the banks of the Scioto featuring some of Columbus’s Best local food trucks, and craft beer & wine. Easton’s Movies by Moonlight series is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a lineup bigger and better than ever!

NightLight 614

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Spend a day at the drive-in

Since the 1950s, the South Drive-In at 3050 S. High St. has been Columbus premier destination for late night, big screen movie showings under the stars. And since the 1970s, it’s been the largest central Ohio location for…flea markets? Yes, indeed. Click here to read more!

Eat as much ice cream as humanly possible

Ice Cream is a pillar of summer. But where to begin? We think this list of the best alt ice cream shops in Columbus would be a sweet place to start.

Chow down at the Jazz & Rib Festival

If you’re not elbow-deep in BBQ sauce at least one time this summer, you’re not eating correctly. There is absolutely no better place to put your manners aside and let your carnivorous nature shine than at the Jazz & Rib Festival. Hot ribs, cool jazz.

Stay afloat at Trapper John’s

Leash up the pooch and buckle up your life jacket for an afternoon at Trapper John’s Canoe Livery! Enjoy canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the State and National Scenic Big Darby Creek.

Chill on some patios

Ditch the AC for once and take advantage of these few fleeting months when Ohio offers a tolerable climate. We’ve got dog-friendly patios, High Street patios, NW Columbus patios, seven perfect patio pairings, and, of course, the best drinking patio as voted on by you!

Grab the perfect pic at a rooftop bar

Columbus is quickly becoming a rooftop bar city. With the recent additions from Lincoln Social, Juniper, and VASO, we’ve got eight high-up drinking establishments you need to patronize this summer.

Bonus: All The Way Up: My experience at Lincoln Social rooftop

Lincoln Social

Have the perfect picnic

The grass is lush, the butterflies are flying, and the sun is shining—the perfect al fresco dining experience. We’ve put together pairings of the city’s top places to fill up your basket accompanied by the best nearby park for the picnic of your dreams!

Sing along to a free show at Columbus Commons

Each summer, the Columbus Commons is your destination for free live music. From local bands like Doc Robinson, to national acts like Boyz II Men, the outdoor amphitheater is where you need to be.

Pitch a tent

The campers, RVS, and pop-up tents will be returning to the outdoors this summer, serving as a home away from home for those looking to escape the city for a few days. It’s time to get outdoors, enjoy nature, roast some marshmallows over the fire, and get off the grid if not for a couple moments of bliss.

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Cannonball into a pool

Leave your layers and insecurities at home, because it’s time to give the pool whatever body you’ve got! Just remember to pack the good snacks, okay? Click here for 30 Columbus pools to beat the heat.

Let the kids loose at splash pads around town

Splashpads: Free and fun water spraygrounds without the worry of deep bottoms or high dives. We don’t know about you but to us, that seems like a home run, nay, grand slam. This summer, diversify your cool down routine by hanging at one of Columbus’ many exciting splashpads.

Awe at the beauty of Franklin Park Conservatory

Did you know Admission to Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is FREE to all residents of Franklin County, the first Sunday of every month, before 5 pm. And did you know FPC has a farmers’ market? Plan your trip now!

Stop and smell the roses at the Whetstone Park of Roses

The Whetstone Park of Roses is just begging for you to stop and smell. It’s the perfect place to pitch your hammock, take photos, and to enjoy the beauty of one of the largest public rose gardens in the U.S.

Sunbathe at Alum Creek Beach

It may not be the white sand beaches of Mexico, but we’ll take what we can get. This public beach can be your seaside vacation if you have an imagination and tons of salty pretzels. A beach is a beach, right?!

Take your dog for a dip

We can’t be sure what dogs dream, but we’d imagine it’s a lot of neon yellow tennis balls, frisbees, bones, and playing fetch in ice cold water. Make your pup’s dream come true this summer with these awesome places to take your dog for a dip.

Walnut Woods Metro Park

Eat 10 cent hot dogs at a Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night

Dime-a-Dog Nights are an important staple of summer, especially on the firework nights. But you can’t go into this eating excursion without a game plan! Check out our Columbus Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night Survival Guide to expertly navigate your hot dog hay day.

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Food & Drink

8 local seafood dishes to send your palate on a vacation

Kevin J. Elliott

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“You can’t get good seafood in this town…”

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. But, these eight dishes prove that Columbus is trying to buck the trend with inventive dishes that prove that theory all wet.

Make the most of no-coast Columbus with these seafood standouts.

Paella Mariscos | Barcelona, 263 E Whittier St, Columbus

The menu of Barcelona has stood the test of time and weathered Columbus’s ever-shifting palettes. If you’re craving a bounty of seafood, there’s no better refuge than the German Village mainstay. Especially considering their Paella Mariscos as the be-all, end-all feast. Their take on the Spanish rice tradition features fried soft shell crabs, lobster, shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, and plenty of spice. If you’re in search of seafood, this should have all of your bases covered.

Mussel Escabeche | Lupo on Arlington, 2124 Arlington Ave, Columbus

Lupo has quickly become a new gem in Columbus’s dining scene, and fans of seafood and Spanish-inspired tapas should take particular note. In addition to frequently having a variety of oysters on the half-shell, their menu is packed with fresh, delicate, seafood dishes. The mussel escabeche is relatively foreign to Columbus menus, but here it’s done to perfection. Served cold, the mussels are first cooked in a citrus and vinegar marinade, before being presented with saffron, white wine, and garlic. It’s a perfect summer delicacy, best enjoyed on Lupo’s scenic patio.

Grumpy’s Gumbo | Frank’s Seafood, 5249 Trabue Rd, Columbus

We’ve spotlighted this Hilliard fish market and their subsequent restaurant in the magazine before, but we wanted to highlight them once again. Beyond the fresh fish and shellfish you can order to-go, or their expert boils, Wil Mendez’s award-winning gumbo—chocked full of shrimp, crab, and andouille sausage—is a genuine crowd-pleaser and the only gumbo you should order outside of New Orleans. Frank’s has a definite seaside vibe, even within is confines among a west side industrial park.

Lobster Bisque | Lindey’s, 169 E Beck St, Columbus

Lindey’s and lobster bisque are basically synonymous. This menu mainstay is a creamy concoction of sherry chantilly, chives, and diced shrimp. It would be irresponsible to start your meal any other way. And speaking of your meal, Lindey’s is a sanctuary for seafood. Market fresh fish, crab cakes, trout, Australian sea bass, sixty south salmon and more swim through the menu daily.

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Coquilles St. Jacques | Windward Passage, 4739 Reed Rd, Columbus

For the ultimate seafood dining experience, there’s no better place to visit than the timespun Windward Passage. Eating in the windowless, scrimshaw filled Henderson Road fixture is akin to eating on the stern of a pirate ship. Among their staples is the Coquilles St. Jacques, served in a colossal shell, it’s a French-inspired recipe that bakes scallops into a decadent casserole of mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and cheese. Save room for all the oyster crackers between courses.

Read Gary F.‘s review of Windward Passage Restaurant on Yelp

Charred Octopus | Cosecha Cocina, 987 N 4th St, Columbus

Perhaps seafood’s trendiest dish, octopus has been spotted on menus all over town as of late. But the charred octopus starter at Cosecha is a simple dish accenting the texture and bubblegum-of-the-sea flavors of the centerpiece. Over a bed of tomatoes, pepitas, olives, and potatoes, the charred octopus is a must-order on your next visit to the Cocina.

Oysters | The Guild House, 624 N High St, Columbus

We know that Cameron Mitchell gets most of his oyster press from The Pearl across the street, but you’d be wise not to overlook the Guild House’s version, served with champagne mignonette, grape granita, black pepper, and shaved grapes. It’s somehow simple and decadent at once, and tastes twice as good as it looks—which is crazy, because it’s one of the best-looking dishes you’ll see.

Gouda Grits and Shrimp | Momma Can Cook

Try to track down Momma Can Cook and you’ll get hip to their most popular menu item with a couple rudimentary scans of their reviews. While the culinary crowd is lighter in the seafood sea, there are food trucks everywhere, so when people are dropping lines like “one of the best meals I’ve ever gotten from a food truck,” we’re lining up to taste that gouda, tomatoes, bacon, scallions, and of course … shrimp!

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614 Shoutout: 5 unique makers you should be following

Laura Dachenbach

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Most of our Instagram feeds are filled with photos of our aunts on vacation at the Outter Banks, former friends from college letting their hair down somewhere on Park Street, and fitness, fashion, and food influencers. But where are all the artists that make this city so creative?

Here are five local makers to pepper some awe-inspiring work into your feed.

@Rockswithsass

These crystals actually do heal! A portion of Amanda Heslinga’s crystal and jewelry sales go towards the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Heslinga started her work as a therapeutic outlet during a Crohn’s flare-up. Now these colorful, sparkly pieces serve to brighten the day of her customers and followers.

@marsder

Taking the miniature Christmas Village idea a few steps further, the miniature worlds created and photographed by Derrick Lin will make you both wonder and smile.

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@audienceof1_snackbags

Jeff Stelle, a tattoo artist, started drawing on his son’s lunch bags to reduce his anxiety at school. Now these totally creative designs from Yoda to Uncle Sam to the “snackalope” serve as encouragement for more than just elementary-school fans.

@Cheeruppress

Alaina Cherup creates wedding invitations and fine stationery like we’ve never seen. Beautiful colors, scripts, and thick, torn-edge papers are features of simply her gorgeous and unique invitations and cards. Cheer Up Press also uses sustainable paper products such as cotton and recycled cardstock whenever possible and supports the Eden tree-planting projects.

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