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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.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

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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Winans Chocolates + Coffees is your source for the perfect gift this holiday season

614now Staff

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Finding the perfect gift for all of the important people in your life can be a challenge. From a secret Santa at the office to the loved one who has everything, the stress of holiday shopping can be overwhelming. If only there was a surefire hit that is just right for all occasions...

For four generations, Winans Chocolates + Coffee has been the go-to for premium, handmade chocolates, freshly roasted coffees from around the globe, and gifts to delight everyone. This holiday season, Winans "12 Gifts of Christmas" has you covered with the perfect thing for those hard-to-please gift recipients in your life.

With a lineup of gift collections designed for personal gifting, corporate occasions, and even stocking stuffers, Winans has taken the guess work out of choosing the perfect gift. Winans also offers multiple size and price options in each category, providing a tailor-fit solution for any gifting scenario you might encounter.

With four locations to serve you in Central Ohio, including German Village, Downtown Columbus, Grandview Yard, and historic Dublin, Winans is the perfect place to score thoughtful, well-crafted (and delicious) gifts throughout the year. To learn more, visit winanscandies.com.

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Cabin Fever: 3 Scarlet Oak Retreats for the perfect winter getaway

Macon Overcast

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Scarlet Oak Retreats marginate some of the most beautiful scenery in Hocking Hills. A business birthed early this decade, all three cabins–La Vigne Ridge, Water’s Edge, and Meant to Bee–of this privately-owned business are within a short distance of pure forested bliss. Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, and short, less populated trails can give anyone craving outdoor rejuvenation an escape, right near their lodging as well. What’s even more special: the attention to detail considered by Jason Tate and Amy Brettel Tate amongst their properties. Their passion for hospitality feels like gravity. Our conversation will help you understand why I just might be paying them a visit soon.

(614): While some of the hikes in Hocking Hills are popularly known, beauty isn’t spared anywhere in the park. What are some property features that visitors should know about?

JT: La Vigne Ridge sits in the middle of 10 private acres and is landscaped to resemble an English Garden. Water’s Edge sits in the middle of 15 acres and has a stocked pond. The front and back porch of both cabins have not only gorgeous views, but many woodland creatures (deer, turkey, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.) that call both properties home. Meant to Bee is located in an upscale wooded area with other rental cabins. Although it sits on almost two completely wooded acres, it too has an abundance of wildlife.

(614): How does the story of Jason, Amy, and Scarlet Oak Retreats begin?

AT: Jason and I met while both teaching for Columbus City Schools. He taught special education and I taught (and still teach) gifted math. After a whirlwind romance, in 10 months we were married on Black Friday in 2003. We honeymooned in Hocking Hills and spent our honeymoon in a rustic cabin near Old Man’s Cave. We hiked and went horseback riding— despite the cold temperature. At some point during our honeymoon we talked and dreamed about our future. A seed had been planted... We were going to buy a cabin, rent it out, and eventually retire there.

(614): When in your life did all three coalesce to allow for you to start your business?

AT: As life would have it, we became very busy after our honeymoon. Although we always continued to talk about our dream, we put starting a family ahead of pursuing it. Due to infertility issues, we had a difficult time conceiving until 2007 when I became pregnant with twin girls. Our girls, Elizabeth and Victoria were born 24 weeks premature. Elizabeth weighed 1 pound and 11 ounces. Victoria weighed 1 pound 8 ounces and was with us for only 3 days.

The next several years were spent focusing on Elizabeth—who ended up spending 89 days in the NICU. After leaving the hospital, Elizabeth underwent multiple surgeries and therapies. Because we wanted her to have the best possible care, I took a two year leave of absence from CCS. Needless to say, money was tight. I didn’t return to work full time until the 2010-2011 school year. Although we always looked at properties and visited Hocking Hills, it wasn’t until 2013 that our dream “talks” became a “plan.”

(614): It is obvious—family comes first for you. It is ingrained in your history, inside the business and out. Even now, after being successful and established, how do you stay connected with your guests?

JT: La Vigne Ridge was not a rental cabin when we bought it in 2014. I spent what was left of my summer vacation getting it rental safe. Because we were teaching and living in Columbus, Amy worked on decorating the cabin and hiring a property manager. The night before school started in 2014, I handed over the keys to a property manager. Immediately, I regretted it. I knew I should have managed the property myself.

For two years we used more than one PM company to rent out La Vigne Ridge. With both companies we experienced calls going unanswered. We also noticed that as the management companies grew, the attention to detail and cleanliness fell off. In 2017 we decided to take on full management of La Vigne Ridge. Amy and I knew we wanted to put communication, customer service and cleanliness as top priorities. We want this to show to our guests. Now—we manage the property and answer our clients’ calls. We want to let them know that we are always going to be there for them.

For more information on Scarlet Oak Retreats, or to schedule your getaway, visit scarletoakretreats.com.

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‘Burb Breakdown: Experience a winter wonderland in Westerville

614now Staff

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Covering many vibrant communities across central Ohio, the 614 is so much more than just Columbus. Welcome to the ‘Burb Breakdown, an ongoing series highlighting the unique character of neighborhoods from across this sprawling metro area we call home. Today, we take a look at everything there is to enjoy in Westerville this winter.

With winter weather officially in full swing, there's no better time to showcase all of the fun to be found in Westerville for the holiday season. Check out these highlights from around town to warm your heart as temperatures drop!

Tree lighting and Santa spying | Westerville City Hall, 21 S State St. | Friday, Dec 6 beginning at 5 PM

Gather at Westerville City Hall for this beloved holiday event! This year, the familiar holiday tree lighting is joined by plenty of new features, including a pony carousel, petting zoo, and even ice skating: ($5 per half hour, skates provided, reservations suggested). Stick around for FREE hot cocoa and cookies with Santa, and enjoy a holiday character meet and greet featuring Elsa, Anna, Olaf from the hit movie Frozen!

Prohibition turns 100! Find out where it all started

The City of Westerville, Ohio was once known as the The “Dry Capital of the World,” when the Anti-Saloon League formed its headquarters where the Westerville Public Library now stands. Their efforts led to the 18th Amendment, which went into effect nationwide in January 1920, and forbade the “manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors.”

Prohibition was repealed in December 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, but left a lasting effect on the Westerville community. You can learn more about what an “alcohol-free America” looked like at The Westerville History Center & Museum's newest exhibit: Prohibition! Expectation vs. Reality. Travel back in time to the Prohibition era (1920-1933) and learn about unintended consequences and unexpected outcomes.

Visitors may also experience what life was like 100 years ago with interactive displays of historic objects, audio clips, photo-ops, and more. Learn more: https://www.westervillelibrary.org/exhibitions

Check out the decor at Uptown Deli & Brew
Temperance Row Brewing is located within the popular Uptown eatery. They are “the first legal brewery in Westerville since Purley and Howard (Anti-Saloon League Founders) came to town.

Order a brew like Corbin’s Revenge (a nod to the saloon owner who had his establishment blown up by dynamite…twice!) or Forty Ton Porter (a reference to the amount of mail leaving Westerville to promote Prohibition) and learn more from restaurant decor featuring pictures from the characters of the day.

Save-the-date for 2020’s Uptown Untapped
You just missed the third-annual version of the event in October, but it’s not too early to make plans to attend next year. Check host organization Uptown Westerville Inc.’s website (uptownwestervilleinc.com) for the date. Uptown Untapped features local craft breweries, musicians and bands.

Uptown is your holiday hot-spot
Get ready for the holidays by visiting Uptown Westerville, a historic downtown that has successfully transitioned to new-generation dining, shopping and entertainment. Experience the charm of more than 40 shops and boutiques, nine dining establishments and more.

Shop small for the holidays! Our family-owned boutiques and shops are the best destination in the Columbus region to celebrate Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday on November 30.

Give thanks to veterans and first responders

Stroll through Uptown the month of November and you'll notice more than 70 banners celebrating the men and women who have served in U.S. Armed Forces from WWII to current-day conflicts to protect our freedoms. Have a Westerville connection? Visit www.westerville.org/militarybanners to learn how you can honor your veteran with a banner in the 2020 program.

Dedicated to ALL first responders, the expanded and renovated First Responders Park is now open. This is the perfect place to honor those who protect us with their lives. The names of Westerville Division of Police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering, (killed in the line of duty on February 10, 2018) as well as fallen firefighter, David Theisen, are inscribed on a memorial wall where you can reflect and remember.

Piece “C-40,” originally from the north tower of the World Trade Center, stands as centerpiece to the park. Visit the park at nightfall to experience how light has been incorporated into the experience, and come back in the spring to see the memorial wall fountain.

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