A Ghost Story (of sorts)

Looking for somewhere to spend a getaway weekend, we made reservations at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio. The hotel was opened in 1803 and moved into its current building about 10 years later. It’s generally recognized to be the oldest continually operating business in Ohio.

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It’s so old, they have actual keys.

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The hotel has been a popular stop for famous people, including several Presidents. The rooms are named for those who have spent a night there.

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We chose the Harriet Beecher Stowe room because it seemed the nicest of the few we could afford. A week before our visit, I saw on the Internet that that particular room is haunted. Yea, whatever.

There is no elevator. As we were schlepping our luggage up to the fourth floor, we passed a woman who worked there. She greeted us, and then said, “Watch out for ghosts.”

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Our room was located right at the top of the stairs.

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As we entered, I noticed a picture hanging crookedly on the far wall. I walked over and straightened it. Sally thought I hadn’t gotten it quite right, so she made another slight adjustment.

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It was early in the afternoon, so we spent a couple hours visiting the shops of downtown Lebanon.

When we got back, we noticed the room across from ours. It was labeled Sarah’s Room and was set up like a museum. We wandered over and were reading the sign when a woman walked past and said, in a mysterious voice, “They have no idea how the fingerprints got on the inside of the window.” I was about to tell her, but she walked off and disappeared into a room down the hall.

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A plaque beneath the window told the story of Sarah Stubbs. Her grandfather owned the Golden Lamb, and Sarah moved here when she was five and lived in the room now called the Harriet Beecher Stowe room — the room we were staying in. At some point, she was moved to the smaller room across the hall, and she didn’t like it. The chair and nightstand in the room were hers.

Sarah lived in the hotel for many years, then got married and moved away. She died at the age of 79 in 1957. But some people believe that she returns to the hotel as a ghost and expresses her displeasure at having to switch rooms by tilting pictures and leaving fingerprints on the window.

Let’s pretend, for the moment, that the story is true. Sarah lived 59 more years but, when she died, was so upset that she had to move into a smaller room as a child, that she returns to the scene and haunts it. It sounded to us like she was a spoiled brat who needed to be spanked, and if she had shown up in her ghostly form, I would have told her so.

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There were display cases filled with lamb figurines in several places around the hotel.

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And this cool box in the lobby.

We headed down to The Blackhorse Tavern, one of the dining rooms on site. Our package included a meal with appetizer, two entrees and two desserts. Sally had salmon, with sorbet. I had prime rib, with cheesecake. It was very tasty. It was also the second most expensive meal I’ve ever paid for.

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After we ate, we wandered out onto the veranda and watched a huge swarm of Chimney Swifts spiraling into a nearby chimney.

It was late on an overcast evening, but you can get an idea of the swifts in this video.

 

I went back out and took these photos the next morning.

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We went to bed with no thoughts of ghosts and had a reasonably comfortable night in a bed that was narrower and harder than we’re used to.

We ate breakfast in the front room of The Blackhorse Tavern, part of the original building built in 1815. I had pancakes that were incredible — by far the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

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The window visible on the top floor was our bathroom. The window on the back wall was our bedroom.

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Oh yea, about the ghost. Remember how we straightened the tilted picture when we’d first entered the room? When we got up the next morning, it was still straight.

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Meadow Vole

I spotted this guy running in tiny circles in the grass along a road. I suspect there was something wrong with him. At best, he was lost and desperate to find his hole. As I approached with my iPhone, he froze and I was able to put my phone inches from his head and take this shot. You can see my phone and arm reflected in his eye.

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Wildflower Woods

In 1913, Gene Stratton-Porter moved from the cabin in Geneva, Indiana to the shores of Sylvan Lake near Rome City. She designed another cabin, similar to the Limberlost cabin, but larger. She only lived here for five years. She was becoming more famous — every day, people would wander about the grounds and look in the windows — and she wanted more privacy. She also wanted to produce movies based on some of her books, so she moved to California. Again, her husband Charles stayed behind but visited when he could.

We arrived shortly after 1:00 to find the visitor center locked and nobody around. A sign said tours were given on the hour, so we stuck around. We found a bench near the house on the shore of Sylvan Lake and relaxed.

When it got close to 2:00, we wandered back to the visitor center and met another couple and our guide. The tour gave us a lot of the same information we’d gotten in the morning. The house looked similar to the Limberlost cabin in many ways, which makes sense since Gene designed them both herself. She added a lot of clever designs that made living there more practical — a doorway from a bedroom closet into a bathroom so a person wouldn’t have to walk through four rooms to get to the facilities, an ice box with inside and outside doors so the ice man wouldn’t have to walk through the kitchen.

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The stones in the fireplace supposedly make pictures — a butterfly in the center and a Revolutionary War soldier on the right.

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Our guide, on the right

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Gene’s dark room

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When Gene moved to California, she lived in a house on Catalina Island (top) and then had the house in the lower photo built (which gives an indication of just how successful she’d become). But she never lived in that house. Just a week before she was planning on moving, her chauffeur pulled out in front of a street car, and Gene was killed.

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Fairly recently, in the 1990s, I think, the Gene and her daughter Jennette were re-interred in a grave along the path leading to the house. The statue, with part of the right arm missing, was donated after it was broken and replaced on another grave.

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We liked this house better because of the setting, the size and the paneling (cherry), but the Gene lived in the first one longer and it probably gives a better insight into her as a person. Either one is interesting. I probably wouldn’t recommend visiting both unless you’re a bit fan.

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Cindy’s Diner

This tiny, 15-seat diner in Fort Wayne was built in 1952. It has changed names and locations several times since then, but has remained an operating restaurant throughout. We arrived during the lunch hour and were fortunate to find stools next to each other. There were two local lawyers on one side of us, talking about personal injury lawsuits, and a steady string of construction workers on the other side, over from the site across the street. We were packed in pretty tightly. The food was good, not exceptional. Sally wasn’t crazy about the close quarters, but I enjoyed it because it gave me a very authentic look at the lunch counter experience of 60 years ago.

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Limberlost

I’ve read two of Gene Stratton-Porter’s novels, A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles. The setting for both was the Limberlost Swamp in east-central Indiana.

Gene was a novelist, naturalist, photographer and artist. She married George Porter, a businessman who lived in Geneva, Indiana. Gene designed their home, which was completed in 1895. The couple lived here until 1913 when the swamp was drained for farming. At that point, Gene moved about 75 miles north to Rome City and built a house on Sylvan Lake. George stayed in Geneva, near his businesses, but visited Gene and their daughter Jeannette on weekends. The house was loaned out to local schoolteachers for several years before being made into a museum.

The house was featured in a couple of the novels, as was Gene herself, as the “Bird Woman.” We had a private tour by a guy whose chief occupation is naturalist in the restored swamp area.

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There was a tree service cutting down dead ash trees on the day of our visit. Some of the trees were there when the Porters owned the house.

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The carriage house

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The library, where Gene wrote. Most of the furnishings were period pieces but there were some original pieces in the house.

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Our guide and a photo of the fireplace he’s standing in front of. The mounted Golden Eagle in the photo is the one in the case.

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The music room. The painting in the corner is an original by Gene.

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The guest bedroom. the moths and butterflies are original. The drawing on the wall is Jennette, as drawn by Gene.

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The downstairs bathroom, which Gene used as a darkroom

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The dining room. The paneling is oak.

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The atrium, which was mentioned on one of the novels.

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We also saw the upstairs rooms, but they aren’t restored or furnished. We visited, not because we’re huge fans of Stratton-Porter — Sally hasn’t read any of her books — but because we like seeing how people lived in the past. Because her novels have gone out of vogue, Stratton-Porter isn’t well known these days. But for 20 years or so at the beginning of the 20th century, she was very popular and famous. J.K. Rowling, author the Harry Potter series, lists her as one of her favorite writers. But apart from all that, this was just a comfortable, practical, attractive house.

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Fort Recovery

In 1791, a confederacy of Indian tribes, encouraged and supported by the British, was attacking settlements in the Northwest Territories. Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair let a poorly-trained and poorly-equipped army of militia from Fort Washington (now Cincinnati). On November 4, St. Clair’s army was camped where the town of Fort Recovery not stands. The Indians, under Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, attacked and soundly defeated the army, killing and wounding more than 800 Americans, about 97% of the army. St. Clair wasn’t a good general, but he fought bravely, receiving several bullet holes in his clothing and losing a lock of hair. The remains of his army fled in a rout, and he was soon forced to resign his commission.

In 1794, Mad Anthony Wayne led another force into the region and built intentionally-named Fort Recovery on the site of the earlier battle. The Indians and British attacked the fort in June but were repulsed. The Indians and Americans sign the Treaty of Greenville, which opened the lands east and south of the fort to settlement.

In 1912, a monument was built over the grave of those who died in the battles. It stands 101 feet tall.

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A partial reconstruction of the fort — one wall and two blockhouses — has been built a couple blocks from the memorial. There’s also a museum, but it was closed by the time we arrived. Which is just as well. If it was open, I would have gone in. But it cost $5, isn’t very large and is filled with mannequins dressed in period costumes.

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This carved sculpture, called “Red Headed Nance” stands next to the fort. The plaque underneath reads “Strong, tall, Red Headed Nance clung [sic] her baby tight, and ferociously wielding her frying pan, held off the brutal Indian attackers. St. Clair battle, 1791.”

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Back Roads — Part Two

For lunch on Monday, we stopped at Skyline Chili. Cincinnati chili is one of those things (like Monty Python and the Holy Grail) about which nobody is ambivalent. People either love it or hate it. We love it.

For dessert, we drove to Henry’s Diner in West Jefferson, Ohio. I found out about this place on roadfood.com, which said the pie was amazing. It also said the outside looked like a dive. So I was prepared for an unassuming setting.

I wasn’t adequately prepared. This place didn’t just look like a dive. It looked abandoned. It looked derelict. It looked like a place where weird murders were likely to occur.

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I’m not sure I would have had the courage to visit after dark. The reviews said it looked better on the inside, and I supposed that is accurate. “Better” was the only direction available. but that’s not to say it looked nice.

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A scrawny woman with black and crooked teeth but a very pleasant personality came by to take our order. I asked about the pie and she informed us that the five people who were leaving as we entered had ordered two pieces each, so the remaining options were somewhat limited. I ordered the final piece of lemon meringue and Sally ordered blackberry. I also asked about the cherry juice. The waitress shook her head and said, “I wouldn’t drink it.”

While waiting for our pie, we had a chance to look around. It wasn’t particularly clean or kept up. The area behind the counter looked neglected, the case under the register was cluttered with junk and the edges were dusty. The pie wasn’t bad, but the ambiance was so hard to ignore that we couldn’t really enjoy it. Given the opportunity to return, we would skip it.

The bathrooms were the final straw. They were filthy and malfunctioning. I forget all Sally said about the women’s. The sopping wet newspaper under the urinal in the men’s was unpleasant.

We escaped and headed northwest across rural Ohio.

On our way through the small town of Mutual, I spotted an interesting rock stack along the road.

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I read about this on the Internet but didn’t think it worth a special trip. But since we were right there, I made a quick U-Turn, parked in a nearby cemetery and walked over for a photo. Whoever created this changes it from time to time. It’s been the Iwo Jima monument and a nativity scene in the past.

Our trip took us through Fort Recovery, Ohio and into Portland, Indiana. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. I was surprised to find a hotel that nice in a town that small, and when we got there, I was even more surprised to discover how nice it was. It was still fairly early in the evening. We stopped by Arby’s to buy Sally a salad, but I’d had my fill of small town food for the moment. I made a dash into Wal-Mart and bought some fruit, a slice of cheese and some almonds. We ate back in the room.

I did some searching for a place to eat breakfast. (Most of the time, we skip motel breakfasts, even when they’re complimentary. They’re never good.) A local place in downtown Portland got fairly good reviews. It was called the Koffee Kup Diner.

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The table in the back was filled with a group of older local men who probably have eaten there every morning for years. We sat in the front and had the rest of the place to ourselves except for a single guy with gray Elvis sideburns who came in shortly before we left.

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The food was tasty. The decor was pleasant. Unfortunately, it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. It was even worse than Henry’s Diner. The night before, I’d found a review from a year or so ago that mentioned the grubby state of the display case under the register. Nothing had changed. Nothing.

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After breakfast, we drove north through Indiana, stopping at some spots I’ll cover in future posts. In Berne, a town proud of its Swiss heritage, there was a clock tower modeled after one in Bern, Switzerland.

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The nearby McDonald’s, where we stopped for drinks, had a parking area for buggies near the drive through.

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John Rankin House

Our guide to Grant’s house in Georgetown lived in Ripley. She spoke so highly of the John Rankin House, and particularly of the view of the Ohio River that we decided to drive the 13 miles south to see it.

My GPS got us to Ripley and took us through town and up a narrow lane that inclined steeply up the bluff. We turned onto another, even narrower strip that led to the driveways of two houses perched precariously on the slope. A small sign pointed to a path that was overgrown and barely visible and announced it as the “path and stairs to the John Rankin House.” There was no place to park, and no evidence that anybody had gone up the path in a very long time. We quickly decided that if a climb up that hill on that path was the only way to get to the house, we weren’t going.

But then we were faced with the challenge of getting out of there. I pulled forward into a tiny driveway, then backed steeply uphill into another one and managed to extricate the car. When we got back to the bottom of the hill, I spotted a guy on a motorcycle backing out of his driveway. I pulled over and told him we were looking for the Rankin house. I told him my GPS had directed me to the path on the hill. He laughed and said, “You don’t want to go up there.” I said, “That’s why I’m down here talking to you.” He directed us through town to a road that led up the hill.

We climbed steeply and finally found the house. It sat in a clearing on the bluff and afforded tremendous views up and down the river.

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Built in 1825, the Rankin House was home to abolitionist and Presbyterian minister John Rankin, his wife Jean, and their thirteen children. Rankin said that 2,000 slaves stayed at his house. Slavery was illegal in Ohio, but runaway slaves could still be apprehended due to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. In order to avoid danger, slaves had to leave the United States, so after meeting their immediate needs, the escapees would be escorted to a church about five miles away, the next link in the Underground Railroad.

The staircase visible in these photos was used by slaves who crossed the river here to get to the sanctuary of Rankin’s house. It’s the top portion of the path we were directed to down in the town. The wooden portion is new, of course, but the stone steps at the top are original.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe knew the Rankins. From John she heard the story of a slave woman who crossed the river on the ice with a child in her arms. She had to leave two children behind. Years later, when she’d earned enough money to buy them out of slavery, she could only find one of them. The woman fell through the ice twice on her way across, and then ran into a slave catcher who was patrolling the Ohio shore hoping to cash in on the bounty for recovered slaves. After watching her trip across the river, he was struck with a burst of mercy and allowed her to continue. She spent some time in Rankins’ parlor before being escorted further inland. Stowe later wrote a fictionalized version of the account into her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

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There were also two bedrooms and a dining room on the first floor of the house and two bedrooms upstairs. With 15 people living in the house, there would have to be a lot of beds and bed-sharing.

Our guide was earnest and informed and made the tour enjoyable. We shared it with another couple. When we first walked up, the guy was saying something sarcastic to the guide. His wife said, “Pay no attention to him. He’s a jerk.” The guy spent the tour subtly proving her correct.

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There were a lot of abolitionists in and around Ripley, but there were also many were pro-slavery and didn’t care for the Rankins. The house and family were attacked at least once. Shots were fired on both sides but nobody was killed.

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Here’s the house as seen from the banks of the Ohio River in Ripley. That’s the hill we would have had to have climbed if we listened to our GPS.

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We drove over to see the church where the Rankins escorted the slaves.

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The church cemetery is also the final resting place of Aunt Jemima, of syrup fame.

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U.S. Grant Boyhood Home and Schoolhouse

According to the Internet, and according to the sign on the door, Grant’s boyhood home on a backstreet in Georgetown, Ohio was supposed to be open at noon. It was 12:30, and the place felt decidedly empty. The doors were locked and nobody responded to my knocks. The web page said that tours could be arranged by calling the bed & breakfast down the street, so I walked up to the door and knocked and rang the bell. Nothing.

It irritates me when places aren’t open when their web pages say they should be, and this was looking very much like another example. We climbed back into the car and headed for the schoolhouse, about two blocks away. As I pulled away, I spotted another sign with a phone number to call if nobody was there. I called and got a message. I explained that we were there from Chicago and were only in town for the day and very much wanted to see the house.

Unlike the house, the schoolhouse had an “open” sign in the window and the door was unlocked. We were met by a nice guy who forgot to charge us our admission fee until we reminded him. He had just started talking when my phone rang. It was a woman responding to my call. The volunteer who was supposed to be at the house hadn’t showed up. It wasn’t the woman’s day to give tours, but she agreed to meet us there in half an hour.

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The tour of the school was very interesting — not so much because of the building itself but because our guide was well-informed and interested in the history himself. He showed us pictures of several of Grant’s schoolmates and told us their stories. A surprising number of students of that school became generals and admirals during the Civil War.

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This bench is the only original piece of furniture.

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The school was built in 1829 and served as a school well into the 20th century. The building had two rooms. The other one contained displays and the gift shop. Our guide didn’t know for sure but he thought perhaps it was intended as the dwelling of the teacher. They had three of Grant’s original drawings on the wall.

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We were nearing the end of our tour when the woman from the house called back. She had a group coming for tour and wanted us to come over so she could take us through the house at the same time. We headed over right away, but there was nobody there but her. She gave us our tour and when we left 45 minutes later, still nobody had showed.

Ulysses’ father, Jesse built the house in 1823 and enlarged it twice before he sold it in 1840. There are a few pieces of Grant family furniture in the house.

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The small brick section in the middle is the original house.

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We were ushered into a small room where an animatronic model of a teenage Grant told us some anecdotes about his youth. The basic gist was that Grant didn’t like working in his father’s tannery across the street.

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The horsehair couch in the front room has been reupholstered, but it was owned by the Grant’s.

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Grant’s bedroom

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The chair in the foreground with the rope was built by Jesse Grant.

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Our guide is showing us Grant’s baby bed.

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The tannery across the street. It has been donated to the park but not yet restored.

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Our guide was not nearly as knowledgeable as the guy at the school, but we appreciated that she came in on a day when she wasn’t scheduled to give us our tour. For example, she didn’t like the loud wallpaper throughout the house and stated repeatedly that she didn’t believe that the Grant’s would have decorated that way because she wouldn’t have. I told her that we’d toured a lot of houses from that era and almost all of them were decorated like that, but I don’t think I convinced her.

She was most proud of a large slab of stone outside the backdoor of the house. When Grant was 14, he managed to dig it out of a nearby creek with the help of a team of horses and deliver it by himself to a rich neighbor.

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Just up the street from the house was a building that served as the schoolhouse before the one we toured was built. Grant attended here also.

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Back Roads

I made reservations at the Best Western in Mt. Orab, Ohio for Saturday night after the Reds game. It’s always a little scary showing up at a motel late at night in a town you’ve never been to before.

A scrawny guy in his sixties was talking to the young woman behind the counter. He was upset because his room was on the second floor and he had specifically requested a room on the first floor. For some reason, the motel had no elevator, and he had no idea how he was going to get all their stuff up to the room. As he complained, he mentioned at least three times that the woman he was with was a lot younger than he was. We saw her later. She was a heavy, overly-made-up woman around forty. She was standing outside their second-floor room surrounded by about a dozen small bags and boxes and a six-pack of beer — with no luggage, it’s no wonder they didn’t want to climb stairs.

The scrawny guy was followed by two older Black women who were paying with cash. They couldn’t understand why the motel wanted a security deposit and insisted on a long conversation on the subject before finally agreeing to pay.

Then it was my turn. We were on the second floor. I noticed on the way up that the carpet hadn’t been vacuumed in a while. The room, which we finally reached around 11:30, was OK. Shortly after we arrived, Sally realized she’d forgotten to pack her toothbrush. I went back to the lobby to ask if they had any to give us. It was like I’d slipped back 20 minutes in time. The scrawny guy was complaining to the young woman behind the counter about having a room on the second floor. The two Black women were standing behind him with their luggage, waiting to talk to her next. I gave up and told Sally she’d have to survive without a toothbrush for a night.

In the morning, we ate breakfast at the motel. It was apparent that the other motel guests had gotten together just before we got down there and agreed to annoy the next people by standing directly in their way and stare at them blankly. To their credit, all of them bought into the gag and kept it up the entire time we were down there. Seriously, it was weird. Every time we approached the counter to get something, somebody would step in front of us and just look at us like the couldn’t figure out what we were doing there.

We had nowhere to be until the historic site we were visiting opened at noon, but there was no way we were sticking around there any longer. We stopped at Wal-Mart for a toothbrush and some other incidentals, then drove down to Georgetown, about ten miles away. We took a somewhat circuitous route that cut through the corner of a county I hadn’t been in before.

Georgetown is an old community that hasn’t cashed in much on the tourist trade. Ulysses S. Grant’s boyhood home and schoolhouse is there (next post), but otherwise it was a tired, sleepy place. We meandered up and down pretty much every street in town. The old courthouse and the storefronts on the square around it were obviously early- to mid-19th century.

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We still had two-and-a-half hours to kill, so we headed to the McDonald’s on the outskirts, bought a couple drinks and watched TV episodes on our iPads. At eleven, we headed to the Country Inn restaurant. It had higher reviews on Yelp than any other place in town, but we weren’t too excited. It looked and felt like a Denny’s. To our surprise, Sally’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes and my ham and cheese sandwich were both good. Not great, but considering our expectations, enjoyable. Most of the other diners were on their way home from one of the tiny churches in town. Our waitress had a very loud, screechy voice that was hard to listen to. We heard it often as she knew everybody else in the place.

After we left Grant’s house, we drove 13 miles south to Ripley, on the Ohio River. This town was every bit as old as Georgetown, but unlike its neighbor to the north, it was cashing in on the tourist dollars. It was right on the Ohio River and the stores that fronted the water were busy with shoppers.

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I saw a place called Rockin’ Robin’s Soda Shoppe and decided on a whim to stop in. A gang of motorcyclists had the same idea and took up most of the tables and booths. We found seats at the counter. The air conditioning wasn’t on, for one reason or another, and it was warm. The four or five young women working the place were unmotivated and we sat for about six minutes while they worked and stood around just a foot or so away totally ignoring us. A harried-looking woman came out of the back and yelled at one of the girls to wait on us. We ordered chocolate milkshakes to go and, to her credit, they were very good.

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Our final destination for the day was Columbus. I picked a route that didn’t depart too much from the most-direct path but sliced through four new counties. We didn’t stop anywhere before supper at Panera — we like to explore but it’s nice to get back to our comfort zone once in a while.

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