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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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Getaways

Want to get away? Southwest making it cheap

614Now

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Southwest Airlines is hoping that enough of you are close to feeling safe to leave the house for more than a trip to the grocery store. In a bid to jumpstart their flagging business, Southwest has announced some pretty steep ticket discounts - as low as $49 each way to a host of cities departing from Columbus.

Flights must be booked at least 14 days in advance and travel must happen between May 26 and August 31. Most expect Ohio's 14-day travel quarantine rule to expire by August but be sure to take that into account if you decide to hop on a plane.

Some of the cities and deals we have imagined for you include:

A long weekend in Atlanta: $118 per person roundtrip from Friday, Aug 14 - Sunday the 16th. Keep in mind, it's about 100 degrees in ATL this time of year so be sure to have access to a body of water if you go.

A patriotic, weekend protest in Washington DC: $98 per person roundtrip, 4th of July weekend. See the sights (if they're open to the public) and stand somewhere with a sign with whatever outrage you have in mind.

A long 4th of July beach weekend in Ft. Lauderdale: $198 per person roundtrip from July 3-6 and you can stay at this cute Airbnb apartment that's just one block from the beach for $88/night.

Vegas baby! You're going to have to forget the weekends if you want the great flight deal. But we found August 5-7 available for $198 a person. Plus you can get into the Bellagio for $139 /night right now as an added bonus. Two nights of debauchery, a little gambling and some of the best restaurants in America. What could go wrong?

Of course, traveling may be risky business for some people and this all assumes the respective cities and attractions re-open and are relatively safe. But if you just need to get away, it's probably never been cheaper.

See other flight options here.

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Food & Drink

¡Ándale, check out these 12 Cinco de Mayo fiestas!

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It's hard to imagine a Cinco de Mayo without the traditional tequila-induced hangover. Even though you may not be able to sip those margaritas on a sunny patio or at the bar, local restaurants have figured out a way to help you celebrate at home - margaritas included. Here's the not-so-skinny on living out your tequila and enchilada-fueled dreams.

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In order to bring a bit of normalcy back, we've teamed up with @hornitostequila and @daiquiri_daze_popup to open our doors back up for the day and serve a limited offering of some of the faves for Cinco de Mayo. Offerings include but are not limited to our basic-cable famous salsas and Columbus' most missed margs. A party pack for four will include a Spotify playlist and that good Cosecha pebble ice that MIGHT JUST help to make you feel like you're celebrating on our patio. Online pre-orders will start sometime tomorrow at www.toasttab.com/cosecha-cocina/v3 and go to the day of. Walk-in’s are also welcome! Stay safe Columbus. We miss you dearly. Thank you so, so much for your continued support and we'll see you on the other side. Offerings: • Margaritas - Single (Comes with Salt, Lime, and Pebble Ice) - Traditional - Hornitos Reposado, Dry Curacao, Fresh Lime, Agave $8 - Next Episode - Hornitos SIlver, Dry Curacao, Hibiscus, Habanero, Lime $8 • Chips and Salsas $4 Koki's Chips, Roasted Tomato and Mint and Tomatillo-Avocado salsas Single/Extra Salsa $2 • Sage Margarita Jell-O Shot $2 • Cinco De Mayo Pack for 4 $40 (4) Margaritas of your choice, (2) Orders Chips and Salsas, (4) Jello-O Shots, Spotify Playlist, Ice, Limes, Salt, Super Cool Cactus Decanter • Chicken Tinga Taco Kit for 2 $20 (Pre-Order Only) Chicken Braised in Mild Red Chillies, Corn Tortillas, Avocado Salsa, Pickled Red Onion

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Are you ready to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? This year our Fiesta is at your house with our 5 de Mayo Fiesta Combo 🇲🇽 You can get a combo for 2 or 4 Amigos! Each Amigo gets: • One Queso or Guacamole with fresh chips and Salsa 🧀 🥑 • Three Tacos of your choice (Shredded chicken, ground beef, or Al Pastor)🌮 • Two Lime or Flavored Margaritas We will be also dropping some 5 de Mayo T-Shirts inside some orders as a gift! But you can support our team by purchasing one for $10! *Promo available on 5/5/20 all day. Pick up only • • #eat614 #columbusfoodie #columbusfoodscene #topcolumbusrestaurants #614magazine #614eats #buckeyes #happyhour #mexicanfood #margarita #girlsnightout #tacos #guac #collegegirls #collegelife #restaurant #margarita #asseenincolumbus #college #campus #columbusfoodscene #columbusohio #osugrad #ohiostate #socialdistancing #quarantine #quarantinelife #cincodemayo #togetherasbuckeyes #osugrad

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Things To Do

Flanagan’s has your Saturday night covered with unique drive-in concert

Mike Thomas

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With the usual slate of summer festivals and events cancelled due to the pandemic, we're going to have to get creative if we want to have any fun at all in the weeks to come. In that spirit, the team at Flanagan's Pub in Blacklick is hosting a special drive-in concert this Saturday, May 2, that offers a good time from the relative safety of your own vehicle.

Described as "Sonic, meets drive in movie, meets live concert" on the Flanagan's Facebook page, this special event running from 6PM-9PM on Flanagan's north lawn will feature live music from artist Brad Moore, with full service carry-out food from the pub also available.

Upon arrival, drivers will directed to the field north of Flanagan's parking lot. Attendants will be on hand aid with parking, and to ensure that a proper space is left between vehicles to promote social distancing. From there, servers wearing gloves and masks will deliver a single use menus to each vehicle and handle all carryout orders. Then, it's just a matter of kicking back to enjoy the show (but please take note: Flanagan's requests that all guests at this event remain in their vehicle at all times).

To aid in parking when you arrive, Flanagan's has produced this handy map:

Flanagan's is located at 3001 Reynoldsburg-New Albany Rd in Blacklick. For more information, visit Flanagan's on Facebook, or reach them by phone at (614) 855-7472.

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