Columbus, OH: A Strange City Indeed

"Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

Jane Jacobs

State 8: Ohio - July 18, 2017

We woke up in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in Columbus, OH. After a quick breakfast, we were off to tour the State Capitol, the State Museum, and the city of Columbus as a whole. We decided to start our day at the Capitol Building. We are used to seeing a large rotunda atop of the building announcing our arrival. However, the Ohio capitol building had no such dome. It just had a raised area on top of the building, which gave the impression the building was either never finished or still under construction. We ended up inadvertently driving by it twice, because we could not find it. After we finally found the Capitol building and found parking, for the life of us, we could not find the visitors entrance. We walked around the capital complex at least 3 times, before we found a maintenance worker who pointed us in the right direction.

The visitors entrance was via a large building with external pillars that appeared to be a court house. We also found it very peculiar to enter a capitol building via a states Supreme Courthouse building. As it would turn out, the building used to house the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court moved out in 1970, and building was only occasionally used for committee meetings. Upon passing through security, we then entered a large open space with a curved ceiling made of brick and stone that was painted white. Usually when we enter a state's capitol building we are presented with the most picturesque view of the rotunda’s interior. The entry point of the Ohio Capitol building appeared to be the basement, and had the presentation of the catacombs of Grand Central Station in New York. On the floor was a stone inlay depicting each county in Ohio in the shape of the state which is pictured below. No other capitol thus far has done this, and we really thought it was a nice touch. The State's House Museum was located within this labyrinth of this basement level, and we decided to view it upon completion of the state house tour.

We met with the tour guide nearby, who was not only extremely knowledgeable, but clearly had a passion for her work. Her personal zest was made what was an otherwise unremarkable capitol building tour much more enjoyable. She first brought us into the central room in the capitol to view the rotunda’s interior, which was vanilla compared to others. As it turns out, there is a dome to the capital, but it is not visible from the outside. Nonetheless, architecturally the room was anticlimactic, although we found the original tile work on the floor absolutely exquisite. For what the room lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up is rich US history. It was in that exact room where Lincoln’s body lied in wake during his funeral train progression from DC back to Springfield. John Glenn's, the first American Astronaut to orbit the earth in space, funeral was also held in the rotunda as well. The rotunda of a capitol building is usually a bustling environment especially during the middle of a work week. With the exception of our tour group and the occasional security guards, the capitol building was vastly empty which we found very peculiar.

From there we were led into the House Chamber. This room was so drastically different from the plain room we had just visited. The change in architecture was so abrupt and unexpected we thought we had entered another State's Capitol building. The house chamber was extremely baroque with plaster embellishments on the wall, stained glass sky lights, and featured multiple large elaborate ornate chandeliers. It was way over the top in our personal opinion, and appeared to be an overcompensation for a lackluster rotunda. We also learned the members of the house only meet in the chamber very occasionally, since representative’s offices are not even located in the Capitol building. Their offices are located in a 33 story office building across the street connected to the Capitol building via an underground tunnel, another fact which we found very unusual. From the House, we then proceeded to the Senate Chamber, which was also extremely ornate and overdone. There was one particular feature of the senate chamber, which set it apart from others we have seen. Usually the public viewing gallery for the House and Senate are in a balcony overlooking the chamber. This was the first state senate room we have seen where the public viewing gallery was actually on the senate floor. This made the stereotypical impersonal government processes appear more even and intimate.

We were then shown the locked door to the Governor’s office, which was closed to the public. The office is only used for ceremonial photo ops for the press when the Governor is signing a bill in law. Apparently, the Governor’s office is located in the penthouse of the 33 floor office building across the street that also houses the offices of the members of the state’s House of Representatives. The Governor also does not live in the Governor’s mansion, and rarely is even in the states Capitol Building. We were beginning to notice a recurring pattern. As the government out grew one building they erected another, abandoned the latter, but connected them together with either a tunnel or an atrium. This created a debacle navigating through the capitol complex, which seemed trivial since it appeared few people used the building anyway. We were very grateful for the expertise of our tour guide or we all most certainly would have all gotten lost.

Upon completion of the tour, we headed back to the labyrinth basement of the capitol to view the States Museum, which was largely disappointing. The museum focus appeared to be an explanation on how government worked, which appeared to be targeted toward children. There were political posters from past election hung all over the walls, further cheapening the validity of the museum. I ended up leaving the museum with having gained very little knowledge about the history of Ohio. There were very few artifacts on display, but the ones that were, had great historical significance. They had the original drafts of the 1805 and 1852 Ohio constitution on display. Many states keep these documents locked up in archives, and this essential document should be on display for the citizens to view. There was a Civil War Confederate sword on display. This item is very rare since most were destroyed after the Civil War ended. They also had a dried flower that was present at Lincolns Funeral, and a piece of the cloth that draped his casket. However, they were located in a glass case directly across from the cafeteria, which is a strange and precarious location for such irreplaceable historic relics. My favorite display in the museum was the apex of the interior stain glass dome which was lost when it was taken down in to be cleaned 1945. It was found 44 years later 1989 in a men’s bathroom closet, and is now on permanent display in the State's House Museum to ensure it is never misplaced again.

As we walked back to meet with Rosie we passed an alley, and saw a few pop up tents erected. Exploring the dark and dirty back alleys of capitol cities is not usually on the agenda, but we decided to investigate further. What we discovered was every Tuesday and Thursday during the summer the city hosts a Farmers Market, and I use the term very loosely. We drove by some very beautiful parks and open spaces on our way into town that would have been wonderful places to host a farmer’s market. For the life of us, we could not fathom who had the ingenious idea to have the cities Farmers Market in a smelly, wet, and dirty network of city alleys. There was live music, and a nice mixture of local vendors selling their goods. We visited during lunch time which is usually the busiest time for such venues. There was hardly anyone there, and I can perfectly understand why. There were food trucks selling food right next to smelly restaurant dumpsters, and homeless people quivering in the few remaining shadows of the ally. It was such an overall bad experience! We decided we had seen enough, and decided it was more than time to depart Columbus, OH.

After leaving the city we headed north to the Ashland, OH where we found a Library to get in some computer time, and then found a Walmart to spend the night. Tomorrow we will continue our journey north through the Buckeye state.

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