Cincinnati– or Where Everything Closes on Monday (and Sometimes Tuesday)

Typically vacation planning includes printing out a list of interesting tourist or historical sites for the destination, writing down the cost/hours/location of each, and then narrowing down my top few sites to see. Several days of my list trip were planned in such fashion, but we decided to wing it in Cincinnati. Why Cincinnati? Well, Frontier had a deal on flights out of Atlanta and it’s a pretty good jumping off point for a road trip back south. I hadn’t been to Cincinnati since freshman year of college and it was a cheaper and warmer alternative to our other destination picks.

Most of my trips are taken with a good friend from Birmingham who also likes to cram as much site-seeing into as short amount of time as possible. On our first trip (to DC), we saw the Capitol, Library of Congress, Supreme Court, Union Station, National Archives, National Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and the Museum of American History all on our first full day in the Capital before staggering back to the Metro and crashing at the Hotel. I don’t know if that was how she planned to travel, but we’ve been going full speed ever since. So this year we thought a road trip might be a welcome change of pace, but we didn’t want to waste trip making the same trek in both directions and decided to take a chance on a Frontier flight to Cincinnati and work our way southward.

Frontier is billed as a “no-frills” or ultra low cost airline which means you pay separately for checked-baggage AND carry-on bags, the privilege of choosing a (mostly) non-reclining seat, and any snacks or drinks while in the air. We found that even with the added cost of carry-on luggage, Frontier was still much cheaper than other airlines. We winged the seats and were assigned adjacent ones at checkin (which we did by computer the night before), and ate at the airport prior to boarding with our own water bottles. (As a side note, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport has water bottle filling stations so you can bring a regular empty water bottle and fill it after you clear security. Super convenient and healthy.) Our flight was on time, and the whole flight was very pleasant.

When you fly into Cincinnati, you are really flying into Northern Kentucky and you have to drive (or ride–there is public transit available) about 13 miles northeast into Ohio and its third-largest city. You can also drive to Louisville, KY in about an hour and a half. We flew in on a Monday, rented a car, and drove in to Cincinnati.

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The city was founded in the late 18th century following the American Revolution as part of the Northwest Territory opened to settlement under the Ordinance of 1787. The Governor (Arthur St. Clair) of the Northwest Territory named the city Cincinnati on January 4, 1790. Several famous people called Cincinnati home including the founder of Kroger supermarkets, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney (both actresses in White Christmas with Bing Crosby), and two United States presidents–Rutherford B. Hayes and William Howard Taft.

The National Park Service operates the William Howard Taft National Historic Site at the boyhood home of President Taft on Auburn Avenue. There is free parking available next door at the Visitors Center which also includes an introductory video on President Taft, a small shop, and some displays on Taft and his son, Charles.

If you don’t know much about our 27th president, don’t worry. We did not know much either. My vague history major recollection was that he was a robust man who may have gotten stuck in a bathtub (he didn’t) and was friends with Teddy Roosevelt (and then political rivals). According to the ranger, most people study and remember presidents who served in times of war or in times of scandal. Not knowing much about Taft, in that case, can be considered a good thing.

Alphonso Taft purchased the home in 1851 in hopes that moving the family to a higher ground would help his wife Fanny’s health problems. Unfortunately, she passed away the following year. He remarried in 1853 to a school teacher named Louise. This union gave birth to four children who survived to adulthood including the future president William Howard in 1857. Alphonso, a lawyer by trade, took an active role in politics–first serving on the City Council and then as a Superior Court judge for Cincinnati before becoming Secretary of War and Attorney General under President Grant. William Howard Taft seems to have inherited his father’s interest in law and politics. He lived in the home under 1874 when he left to earn his law degree at Yale University (as did his brothers) where he graduated second in his class. Taft married a socialite named Helen “Nellie” Herron–famous for her literary salons in 1886.

After a varied career that included a private law practice, Ohio Superior Court Judge, US Court of Appeals Judge, Dean of the University of Cincinnati Law School, and Secretary of War; William Howard Taft followed his good friend Theodore Roosevelt as the 27th president of the United States. Taft became known for his trust-busting polices utilizing the Sherman Act and brought down a number of high-profile corporate trusts such as the Standard Oil Company and the American Tobacco Company. This angered Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive wing of the Republican Party. Roosevelt ran as candidate for the “Bull Moose” Party the following election cycle and split the Republican vote, giving Woodrow Wilson the presidency. Undeterred from Politics, Taft continued to serve in the Judicial system and was later appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1901. He remains the only person to serve in the highest offices of both the Executive and Judicial branches of government.

The house itself fell into disrepair after the Tafts moved out and Alphonso passed away, and was later converted into apartments. The National Park service purchased the house in the 1960s and began restoring it to his former appearance when William Howard would have been a young boy. The exhibits in the house include both furnishings owned by the family as well as period pieces. The upstairs contains information on both Alphonso and William’s political and civil careers, souvenirs from trips abroad, William Howard Taft campaign memorabilia and information, and the chair from his service as Secretary of War under President Roosevelt. All in all, not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

Most of the other tourist options are closed on a Monday (see below), so we ended our day with Skyline Chili, wonderful ice cream at Hello Honey, and the setting sun on the Cincinnati horizon.

Cincinnati has a lot of attractions, but they were mostly closed while we were there. Should we make a second visit, these are a few of the ones we’d consider:

  1. American Sign Museum – [Closed Mondays and Tuesdays] – neon and other advertisement signs through history plus an exhibit on how they are manufactured
  2. Heritage Village Museum – [Closed Mondays and Tuesday] – recreated 1800s village
  3. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – [Closed Sundays and Mondays] – museum on the Underground Railroad and exhibits on freedom today
  4. Ulysses S. Grant Boyhood Home – [Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, except by appointment] – boyhood home of the 18th president and commander of the Union Army at the end of the Civil War

And, lest I seem too harsh on the city, here are a few links to other notable tourist attractions not on our list but open on Mondays:

  1. Cincinnati Aquarium
  2. Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society & Museum
  3. Cincinnati Zoo
  4. King’s Island Amusement Park

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