More rain. That’s the forecast for today. I don’t mind. I’ve got some cool destinations today, and several of them are indoors. The temperature is scheduled to be moderate, in the low 80s, and though the rain will be constant, it should be light. No problem.
Breakfast for the BEST WESTERN PLUS Caldwell Inn is over at Lori’s Family Restaurant, which is fine by me. I wolf down a portion of sausage and eggs, washed down with a few cups of hot coffee and I’m fueled up for the ride. I check out of the hotel, load up the Blue Glide, and ride out into the misty rain.
I’m riding a little bit to the west today in order to explore Ohio’s Amish Country. The Amish have been more in the news lately than ever, as the clash of their traditional culture with modern society plays out through their young people, and is exploited on reality television. Putting judgment aside, Amish society is remarkable and complex, neither ignoring nor embracing the outside world, but keeping comfortable boundaries that allow it to coexist. The Amish recognize that they can flourish by sharing certain parts of their lives with tourists and interested parties, and have opened restaurants, crafts stores, cheese shops, quilting parlors, bakeries, farm tours and museums designed to show off their unique properties.
The Amish are descended from the Anabaptist movement of Europe in the late 17th century, and are closely related to the Mennonites, who also sprung from the Anabaptists. Both the Amish and Mennonites arrived in America in the 1700s, seeking religious freedom. The Amish strive to maintain the lifestyle of their European ancestors, foreswearing electricity, telephones and motorized vehicles, among other modern conveniences. Amish men frequently sport long beards without mustaches, wear wide-brimmed straw hats and simple clothing in solid colors. Amish women wear distinctive bonnets and simple, formless dresses. Amish communities are renowned for their woodworking, cabinetry, carpentry and blacksmithing, maintaining a tradition of old fashioned hand craftsmanship with simple ornamentation.
OH-39 goes right through Holmes County and the town of Berlin, reported to have the largest population of Amish in the country. It’s also a tourist center, with numerous restaurants, shops and other establishments designed to attract people and their money. I feel a little like a voyeur, but there’s a unique thrill to seeing an Amish family clip-clopping down the road in their handmade buggy, their only concession to modernity a reflective triangle on the rear of the carriage to keep the fast-moving world from crashing into them from behind — literally. Amish women ride bicycles through town, cutting elegant figures in their rejection of technology, toting baskets of fresh eggs in their bicycle panniers. It’s all very quaint and confusing at the same time. I decide not to hang around too long, as the skies are darkening again. I reverse course on OH-39.
As I ride out of town on 39, I get sidetracked by an interesting, low-roofed modern building. It’s the headquarters for David Warther Carvings, and it’s a private museum dedicated to the carver’s continuing work. David Warther specializes in maritime miniatures. His life’s work has been to create a “History of the Ship” from Ancient Egypt to the present day, all depicted as scrimshaw ivory scale model carvings. The museum houses hundreds of ebony and ivory ship models, carefully and chronologically displayed in glass cases, and elegantly lit with halogen spotlights. After paying the $10 admission, I join a small tour group as a docent guides us through time, pointing out not only the maritime history on display but the remarkable craftsmanship. The incredibly intricate models include ivory rigging — delicate ropes the width of a human hair, which Warther creates from special grains of ivory. Magnifying glasses are set up near some particularly complex ship models, and Warther’s work withstands the most careful scrutiny. The highlight of the tour comes in the main gallery, where we discover the artist himself, hard at work in a glass-walled workshop. We peek over his shoulder as he engraves a ship’s side, and then he comes out to answer questions from our group. Warther’s not much of a talker — he lets his work speak for itself. But he is a remarkable craftsman. Anyone who has ever considered building a model or doing any kind of craftwork should visit David Warther Carvings for inspiration.
I continue along OH-39, until I get sidetracked once again by a road sign that directs me to Sugarcreek – The Little Switzerland of Ohio. Huh? I turn down County Road 140, and in a few miles, I discover the Village of Sugarcreek, a tiny Swiss Village right in the middle of Ohio. All of the buildings have been decorated in the style of Swiss chalets, with half-timbering and gingerbread trim. Multiple murals celebrate the Alps and feature prosaic Swiss scenes with mountain goats and cheese. The town’s central square is dominated by a building-sized cuckoo clock. I park the Blue Glide and wait around for the top of the hour to watch the clock’s action, as a small oompah band and two mechanical lederhosen-wearing dancers perform for a few minutes, a kitschy delight. When juxtaposed with the actual clash of cultures of the Amish happening just up the road, Sugarcreek is a curious roadside attraction — just the kind of wacky place that keeps America great.
I have to run. The rain has set in now, and I decide to get onto the Interstate to zip up to Canton as quickly as possible. My next stop is a bucket list location for me: The Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Canton is a city of 72,000 people. The city was founded in 1805, and grew with the industrial revolution, fueled by the arrival of the railroad lines. In the 20th century, as heavy manufacturing receded, Canton converted to a center for service, retain, education, finance and healthcare. But what makes Canton famous and what keeps Canton famous is the fact that the first pro football league was formed here, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame is in the city of Canton.
I ride directly to the Hall of Fame from Sugarcreek. The building has undergone recent renovations, but when I approach it, I instantly recognize the football and stadium-shaped wing from a lifetime of fandom. Immediately adjacent to the Hall of Fame is Fawcett Stadium, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame game is played every year on enshrinement day. It’s the first preseason game of the season, and this year features the Miami Dolphins (my team) versus the hated Dallas Cowboys (America’s Team). Enshrinement is next week, as the Class of 2013 will receive their gold jackets and have their busts mounted in the Hall. This year’s class consists of Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcels, Dave Robinson and Warren Sapp — quite a crew.
Admission to the Hall of Fame is $22 for adults, $18 for seniors, $16 for children 6-12 and free for kids under six. The Hall is open every day but Christmas from 9 am to 5 pm, with summer hours extending to 8 pm.
The Hall of Fame is a fun, interactive museum, having benefitted from a recent renovation and rethinking that blew the cobwebs off of the serious displays and injected some energy and life into the building. Any football fan will enjoy finding a display that features their favorite team or player from history somewhere. I spend extra time exploring the kiosk devoted to Miami’s perfect season (1972), and wander away pretty satisfied (though I would have devoted an entire wing to the topic). The life-size bronze statue of Jim Thorpe that is featured in the football-shaped rotunda is the best kind of hagiography. But the best room of all is the actual Hall of Fame display.
Each year, a class of players, coaches and executives is enshrined into the Hall of Fame. A 46-person Selection Committee, consisting of one media representative from each pro football city (and two from New York) along with thirteen at-large representatives and a representative from the Pro Football Writers of America, choose from 17 nominees. Anyone can nominate a candidate for the Hall. Candidates must have been inactive for at least five seasons before they are eligible for selection. Between four and seven people are selected for the Hall each year.
The Hall of Fame display is a thrillingly somber room. Each inductee is represented by a life-size bronze bust, displayed on a clear acrylic shelf set against a black velvet wall, elegantly up lit and grouped by class year. Traveling through the hall is strangely meditative and inspiring. It’s not quite like a mausoleum — many of the players in the Hall are very much alive. But it is a little morbid, a monument to careers past, to peak feats never to be repeated — to the fleeting nature of athletic accomplishment. It’s not creepy or strange, just a little more subdued than you might expect. In a good way. It’s also fun to look for the busts of players you remember well. Hey, that doesn’t look like O.J. Oh, that’s a good Marino! Wow, Merlin Olsen sure had a big head!
After a few hours of football nirvana (and a visit to the gigantic Hall of Fame gift store on the ground floor), I’m ready to roll. My next stop is also in Canton, part of my continuing effort to collect as many presidential libraries as possible. Just a mile or so from the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum and the McKinley Memorial.
William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was a native of Ohio, having been born in Niles in 1843. He lived in Canton after serving in the Civil War, and Canton claims him as its own. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, just six months into his second term as President, and was succeeded by his Vice President Teddy Roosevelt. McKinley and his family are buried in the McKinley Memorial, a beautiful domed building on top of a hill above the Library.
As Presidential museums go, the McKinley is a little old fashioned, but quite well maintained. It stirs a lot of dim memories from history class, as the tale of a president who took his country from the Victorian era into the dawn of the 20th century unfolds, capped by the tragic assassination at the hands of the radical Leon Czolgosz. Like all Presidential museums in my experience, this visit has inspired me to learn more about McKinley, his life and his accomplishments.
As I leave the library, storm sirens sound in the city. I ask a local taxi driver for information, and he tells me that it’s a severe storm warning, and that it would be wise to take cover. I hop on the Blue Glide, and ride across town to the BEST WESTERN PLUS North Canton Inn and Suites, just ahead of the storm.
I unload the bike just as the heavens open, thunder and lightning crash, and winds blow. As I’m checking in, the front desk clerk lets me know that the hotel runs a free shuttle service to local restaurants, so I won’t have to worry about getting soaked on the way to getting a meal tonight. I arrange for a ride, go to my room and change out of my riding gear and go out for a pleasant meal at Rockne’s, a local football-themed chain restaurant. Appropriate for the day. After my meal, I call the hotel, and the shuttle arrives promptly to bring me home.
I collapse in my hotel room for my last night on the road. As always, I’m eager to get home, sad to be almost finished with my trip.
Visions of Hall of Fame enshrinement dance in my head as I drift off to sleep.
Miles ridden: 147.7
Next: Hall of Fame Ride Through Ohio, Day Six: Canton to Cleveland and Home Again