Friday, May 15, 2015
Growing Up in Cincinnati
We moved to Cincinnati in 1966, and our son J was born here in 1969. Because we’d only lived as a married couple in Yellow Springs and Ann Arbor, we worried about big city living with kids, but Cincinnati turned out to be an excellent place for family life and raising children. Not so large as to be overwhelming, but large enough to have plenty of cultural, sports, and urban attractions. Here are some vintage postcard images that highlight locations and activities that were important for our family during J’s growing up years. Nearly all are still here and remain rewarding parts of our lives.
J was born at Christ Hospital in 1969. Katja was less than enthusiastic about the birthing process. After her labor had gone on for about a day, she started yelling at the nursing staff, “It’s my turn! It’s my turn!” Back then mothers and infants stayed in the hospital for a week to ten days. Then our son and mother came home to our rental townhouse in the suburbs.
A Clifton residence
In 1973, when J was 4, we moved to Clifton, the center city neighborhood adjacent to the university. Clifton had originally been a hilltop suburb of Cincinnati, settled by wealthy families with large estates. We rented the first floor of an old mansion on Clifton Avenue, and, with its Rookwood fireplaces and Italian murals, it was the fanciest place that we lived before and after.
The Presbyterian Church
The Presbyterian Church, just two doors down Clifton Ave. from our apartment, operated a daycare center, and J and his friend Jessica G. were pupils there for two years. J’s favorite teachers were Ann and Judy. Katja bought a motorcycle from Ann, but, when it proved too large and unwieldy for her, I took it over and frequently went on forays on the city’s west side.
Burnet Woods is a city park that extends about a half mile from the Ludlow Avenue Clifton business district to the university. I frequently walked to and from work through Burnet Woods and still do. As J grew older, he and I spent a lot of time hiking on the Burnet Woods trails. One time we let our dog Winston off the leash, and J had to chase him a quarter-mile through the park to get him back.
J and his friend Jessica started kindergarten at Clifton School in 1974. The school had an excellent reputation, dating back over 70 years. In the early 1970’s it introduced multi-age classrooms, so that the first through third graders were in the same rooms together, as were the fourth to sixth graders. Along with the 3 R’s, J perfected skills in skateboarding and hacky-sack. His favorite teacher was Miss Williams.
The Cincinnati Zoo
Katja set aside Saturday mornings to do her errands about town, and J and I nearly always went out on expeditions around the city. The zoo was our favorite destination, just a short car ride from our house. The Cincinnati Zoo has long been one of the top ten in the nation, and it’s also one of the oldest in the country. Despite our many visits, there were always amazing new things to see.
The Natural History Museum
When the weather was rainy or snowy, we’d spend indoor time at the Natural History Museum on Gilbert Avenue (since then relocated to the Union Terminal Museum Center). They had a few hundred thousand artifacts – fossils, gems, animal skeletons, seashells, etc. There was an artificial nature trail where you’d see stuffed deer, foxes, porcupines, and other wildlife. Practically all the wonders of the world.
Mt. Airy Forest
On Sunday mornings we’d frequently go as a family for a hike at Mt. Airy Forest, bringing along our poodle Jacques. We’d park at the Arboretum and follow a trail through the forest for about half a mile till it came to an end at a road, a creek, and a field containing a couple of horses. The horses were curious about intruders and usually came over to see us and vice versa.
Eden Park was another of our favorite family outing places. We’d go to the Overlook, check out the ducks and geese, and play at the playground. J was always interested in the Romulus and Rhemus statue that Mussolini gifted to the city of Cincinnati in the 1930’s.
The Cincinnati Art Museum
My parents used to take us as little kids to the Chicago Art Institute, and we continued the same tradition in our Cincinnati family. Art museums aren’t as exciting as zoos for kids, but J liked the Henry Farny paintings of Indians in the Old West, Greek statues of people and cows, and the medieval armor exhibition.
The Taft Museum
Another Museum treasure in Cincinnati is the Taft Museum, originally the home of the Taft family. We’d go there regularly for their Victorian Christmas exhibits.
Katja is a classical music lover, and we’d go as a family to Music Hall to the Cincinnati Symphony, Opera, or the May Festival. We’d also have season tickets to musical theater at the College Conservatory of Music at the university.
The Public Library
Cincinnati has one of the best public library systems in the nation. The main downtown branch has the second largest circulation of any library branch in the U.S. J and I would go there to check out books, videos, and CDs, and also take in the current art exhibition.
Union Terminal is one of Cincinnati’s historic treasures, though it’s been many years since it operated as a train station. It’s said to be the inspiration for the comic book Hall of Justice, headquarters for Superman and friends. For several years Union Terminal housed a shopping mall, and we’d go there on weekends to browse. Nowadays we take our grandchildren, V and L, there for the wonderful Children’s Museum, the Imax, the History and Science Museums, and other exhibitions.
Along with its amusement park rides, Coney Island has a gigantic swimming pool. J used to go there during his grade school years with his friend Jessica and her mom Susan. One summer he got such a bad sunburn that the doctor said he could never take his shirt off in the sun again.
Good Samaritan Hospital
J jammed his hand in a door at preschool, and they rushed him to the emergency room at Good Sam. Although J had never touched a violin, Katja said, “There goes his violin career,” and they discharged the resident assigned to the case and brought in the chief hand surgeon. J never even had a scar.
Kings Island opened up in 1972, and we’d usually go there at least once a season during J’s childhood. It’s one of the biggest amusement parks in the Midwest. They had a kiddie ride area that we all liked better than the gigantic rollercoasters.
When we smelled something burning on the second floor of our house, we called the fire house, and a hook-and-ladder truck arrived in minutes. The firemen found some burnt matches in the upstairs hallway, and, despite J’s initial denials, it turned out that he’d been setting the matches on fire. His parents were perplexed by their perfect child’s behavior.
The Krohn Conservatory
The Krohn Conservatory has wonderful, jungle-like trails to explore, as well as a desert cactus area and an orchid room. We took in their seasonal shows a couple of times a year.
J was in preschool and grade school when the Big Red Machine, with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Chris Sabo, George Foster, et al., was at its peak, and he soon became a kid fan. Crosley Field was replaced by Riverfront Stadium in 1970, and we’d occasionally go to ball games at Riverfront.
My tennis partner Irv G. and I started playing with J was he was 8 or 9, and by the time that he was 12 neither of us could beat him. J joined the Cincinnati Tennis Club in East Walnut Hills, and he spent nearly every day in the summer there. He soon developed into one of the best tennis players in his age group in Cincinnati. We were insane tennis parents.
Lunken Airport Playfield
The main Cincinnati junior tennis tournaments were held at Lunken Playfield, adjacent to Lunken Airport. We spent many exciting hours there in the early to mid-80’s.
Walnut Hills High School
Walnut Hill is Cincinnati’s college preparatory high school and one of the top academic high schools in the nation. J passed the test to get in and enjoyed his six years at Walnut, writing for the school newspaper, playing on the varsity tennis team, being a student in the Honors Program, and taking the required two years of Latin. Then he was off to Columbia in NYC.
These were some of the best years of our lives. We still hang around at many of these excellent places.