Life-Learning – Gettin’ My 52 On in East Walnut Hills

* This is the seventeenth in my series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to discover what makes each community relevant to me.

My walk through East Walnut Hills started at the sign just north of Eden Park. I love when I find signs – I’m a sign kind of person – so I can absorb the exact boundaries of a neighborhood. As I careened around the corner, the first building to come into my view was the Victory Lane building. My sister lived in that building and I often couch-surfed there despite only living a mile away. Pat Barry, the weatherman, lived above her. In those days, he had a little more weight on his frame, such that when he moved around in his apartment, we heard every creak in the floor.

The apartment’s proximity to Eden Park is what drew us out on weekends with our magazines and LaRosa’s antipasti salad – it was the closest we could come to anything Italian in the neighborhood – and the full sun and rap music of the neighbors grilling out amongst the panoramas and ducks.

Just past that building was UC’s Victory Parkway campus of OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, where many of my peers (yes, I may be of this age) took classes or taught classes, to keep their minds sharp.

Multiple conversations over family dinners have taken place regarding the Maronite Catholic Church versus the Marianists. Marianists priests look to Mary as a model for their spiritual teachings and run the local Moeller High school. The Maronite Catholic Church was named after St. Maron and was the only Eastern church, originating around Lebanon and Syria, to have closely followed the pope’s teachings since time began. The church hosts a mean Lebanese festival in the fall.

Sometimes, I am struck by individuals who look open for a chat. In this case, a set of colorful sticks tilted up against an oak tree caught my eye. My eyes then landed on a shorter, African-American man who was leaning on another stick of the same ilk.

My father-in-law used to make walking sticks, I called to him on the hill of his apartment complex.

Oh, yeah. What kind of wood he use?

Mostly Oregon wood, some myrtlewood, whatever else he found in the forest, I suppose.

Yeah, he do all that carving and colors? 

Not quite as bright as yours, I shared as I joined him on the hill.

I’m Corneil, he said, once again, another stranger hitting me up first for the handshake. They call me Shorty.

Same, I quipped. We both laughed. Actually, its Annette.

What you doing out today, you live around here?

No, just walking all the neighborhoods of the city?

He tipped his head, perplexed.

It’s a long story, I divulged and changed the topic. Where else you do sell these?

Oh sometimes I get out downtown and just walk around and see if someone is interested.

Nice, I summed up and had to take my leave. I had encountered Shorty too early in my walk and couldn’t stay for fear of getting distracted.

I crossed Madison Road, turned up Lincoln Avenue, past a dear friend’s home with amazing irises in her backyard. I had once thought an East Walnut Hills or Walnut Hills walk would take me to Walnut Hills High School, but according to Google maps, the school was situated in Evanston.

I curved around the backside on DeSales Lane, passing Gilligan Funeral Home, which blended in with all the mansions I later hit upon as I wove in and out of the streets near the Cincinnati Tennis Club. Ironically, later that weekend, I would meet someone who lived in another of these intriguing homes.

On the north side of Madison Road, several small parks dotted the landscape. Annwood Park was donated with the condition it never to be turned into a playground or sold. It is strictly for walking or sitting and contains a waterfall grotto. Owls Nest Park is a Cincinnati Park. The sixteen brick columns, part of the estate of the original owner, are now in Eden Park. The columns and wrought iron fence features were originally copied from those near the Charles River Bridge at Harvard University.

East Walnut Hills stopped just before entering the O’Bryonville Business District, but one can traverse down Torrence Parkway, meet up with Taft Road and trek up, or as I did, circle back around past two specific mansions.

When my sister and I were in twenties (we sure did a lot together back then), we fantasized about these two structures. We would buy one and make it into a restaurant and called it Sorellas (Italian for sisters), or we would make a pact, and if we both hit it lucky, buy the homes and live side by side. Note: We also had this pact about two homes in Wellington, near where we were raised, that we had to pass on Route 58 each time we drove home from Cincinnati.

Neither of us hit it lucky. I stayed rooted to the view for a while, mourning a piece of my past. I am always burying moments like this here in this city.

Soon, alarmed by the sheer speed of cars passing by, I crossed the road and circled through Keys Crescent where a former co-worker of mine now lived, hiked up and behind Seven Hills School, and found my way down Taft and back up McMillan.

Then, I came upon a stretch of homes with a spectacular view of the river and the Manhattan Harbor (the one in Dayton, KY).

About then, my stomach ached. I was hungry. I texted my husband who had been off of work that day.

We met for lunch at Kitchen 452, one of my favorite local establishments because it felt local. There was nothing about 452 that says I want crowds, including their hours. Many of the businesses were like that in E. Walnut Hills during the day. But at night, they got quite the traffic from Woodburn Brewery, Myrtles, Hi-Bred, etc.

Do you want a ride back to your car? My husband asked after I coveted his lunch and not mine.

FullSizeRender-92.jpgNo, I’m not done yet. But you’ve got to see some of this. I directed him around some of the streets I had just walked, and he dropped me close to his original parking spot.

Walnut Hills housed some of our wealthiest population, and always had, as well as some of our most creative business districts. They have an innovative development corporation and active council, but like other neighborhoods, the community butts up against those that are struggling with recovery and crime.

I darted in and out of a few more dead end streets, walking past St. Ursula Academy and the New Thought Unity Church. The hanging banners (signs, again) were a fitting end to my walk that day, to be in peace with my place in the world.

Ironically, one of my learnings has been to pay attention to bus times, or walk times up into these neighborhoods. For instance, when we’re with our kids in NOLA or Boston, we often walked thirty minutes or more to get to a destination. It’s that easy to get around, if you have the wherewithal to do so. In thirty minutes, I could have walked the three miles to EWH, or ridden the bus, which is problem in and of itself that I hope is sorted out during the city’s elections.

Here in Cincinnati, this is where my disappointment with the founding fathers of the city appears, as they situated the towns at the base of so many hills. We citizens were forever disconnected to one another in the physical sense.

I am resolving, through these walks, to be more intentional about traversing the city and the neighborhoods, and traversing the terrain of personal connection.

 

 

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A Fit Inheritance – Eden Park’s Author’s Grove

(And – Cincinnati Parks has a librarian!)

My latest forays into Eden Park yielded the discovery of the Author’s Grove. When I first encountered the grove, articulated on a plaque near the park’s water tower, I was ecstatic, photo copy 5and could hardly wait to find the actual monument.

But upon further investigation, I found the Author’s Grove was no longer. It now existed as half of a curved brick wall with a concrete statuette of an open book placed atop the caved in portion of the wall.  The book looked out of place. Author names were missing.

photo copy 6“Of course,” I said to my husband, Mark, at the time. “Of course they would let this fall down.”

They being caretakers of the park, citizens of Cincinnati, any writer who once cared, including myself. All were either oblivious to the Author’s Grove and / or its current condition. Or were not in a position to undertake the upkeep.

My mind immediately jumped to the phrase above the Symmes Township library door, where once upon a time, I took a few wee ones. Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. – Henry David Thoreau

Fit inheritance. That phrase always stayed with me, as I taught my son to read. As my mother had taught me, and how she still held a book in her hands, feeble mind, and could still parse sentences into meaningful words. Books, literacy should have been codified in the Constitution as a right. A right to read, a right to be literate. A clear right, spelled out in no uncertain terms, would have ensured today, we would not still be spending millions of dollars on literacy alone.

A second run back weeks later through Eden Park jogged my memory about the Author’s Grove. What was it really? I couldn’t complain about a monument that had disintegrated, if I knew nothing about it.

I returned home to research. Luckily, I now live five blocks from a very large library that contains the collected works of local writers and I hope, long after my death, will still retain a copy of mine. I discovered Thoughts and Experiences In and Out of School by John B. Peaslee, a former superintendent, one of the youngest, of Cincinnati Public Schools. He arrived in Cincinnati in October of 1864. Prior to that, he had given a commencement oration, whereby he was congratulated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He initiated many reforms within public education, in particular, the “devotion of fifteen minutes a day to the systemic teaching of Gems of Literature…and prepared a course of study for lower grades of entire pieces, and of such as are calculated to develop their emotional nature (..), and to give them correct rules of action; those for the higher grades containing grander and enobling thoughts, clothed in beautiful language, calculated to inspire them with higher aspirations in life, to lead them into pure fields of English Literature and to teach them to revere great and good authors.”

Thus, he introduced children to a love books and introduced great and good books to children. His “Peaslee Gems,” selections of prose and verse, not only provided stimulation but became an innovative means by which to celebrate authors and the written word.

His schools went on to celebrate the likes of Whittier, Emerson, Longfellow. In 1882, an “Author’s Grove” was planted on six acres in Eden Park, as part of a larger movement to enlighten the citizenry about the forestry movement. A vast number of trees were planted, each dedicated to some distinguished writer. Afterwards, granite tablets, with the names of authors, were placed near the trees.

A year later, the event blossomed into what become known as Arbor-day, where pupils were led to the park and recited various compositions they wrote about forestry, which had been part of the superintendent’s plan to educate and inspire. They read or reread letters from living local authors, or those who had passed away. Each pupil took turns tossing soil into trees planted in the honor of the author, dedicating a tree by reciting the full name of the person being honored.

The collection of trees became the first memorial tree grove ever planted in America by “loving hands and appropriate ceremonies,” and basis for modern-day Arbor Day celebrations.

In 1882, those whose lives and works had been celebrated by the planting of a tree were given their due, their trees and names marked by granite, with the name of the author and the school planting the tree. The markers were eight inches square and stood about four inches above ground. One such example was:

Emerson

died the very day these trees were

planted in his honor

Hughes High School.

Fifty names were honored, including Whittier, Horace Mann, Prescott, and F. S. Key. Mrs. Emma Hardacre described the first ceremony as “a dense mass of gayly-dressed children in active motion over the surface of about six acres, and whose voices wafted across the deep hollow to the western ridge, sounded like the chattering from a grove full of happy birds.”

photo copy 4In 1883, 12 names were added, including Alcott, Fuller, William W. Fosdick, (recognized as the City Laureate), and General Lytle, a Cincinnati poet. Presumably twelve autographed manuscripts from the same authors were gifted from Mrs. Annie Fields of Boston to the schools.

The celebrations and the list of those who were honored continued for several years. – Hale, Mrs Sarah J., “ is known all over the land for her efforts to promote the intellectual elevation of her sex.” Underwood, Francis H. Underwood, author of a work of English and one on American biographies, Mrs. Sarah C. Coolidge, another favorite author for little folks, as Superintendent Peaslee had noted during the first year too many authors were identifiable only by adults and not children. All works at the time were made available through the public library.

In 1884, Mr. Peaslee’s book listed seventy names, most authors dedicated to the craft of the written word for the younger grades.  He also equally recognized male and female authors.

In a presentation Mr. Peaslee later gave, he declared, “Let there be an author’s grove in which school children shall honor, by living monuments, the great men and women in literature so that while they learn a love of trees, they will become interested in the writings.”

By 1885, the celebration was relegated to the schoolroom once more.

I could find no more information on when the celebrations stopped or when or how the memorial fell in disrepair. I placed a few phone calls and emails to our Cincinnati Parks Department, and learned this from Jim Burkhardt, Superintendent of Operations:

Several years ago the majority of the Author’s Grove monument was removed at the request of the people living around Eden Park and, as part of a renovation of the area.  A small section of the monument was left as a representation of the original monument. Because of the design of the original monument, it became a haven for undesirable/criminal activity. 

Many of the plaques had been damaged over time.  We saved what plaques that we could.   

UnknownI was also pleased to learn, the department has their own librarian/historian, Vicky Newell. She wrote back:

According to one document I found, there were thirty-five (thirty-six according to another document) authors honored in the 1882 planting.  I found a map from 1895 that shows the locations of the markers that were placed in that first go-round.  It looks like by that time, some markers had been added.   

“According to Park Director Fred Payne’s remarks made at the 1980 rededication of the Authors Memorial Grove, forty-five of the original stones were found and placed in the memorial wall created at that time.

 

I found a 1939 letter to Park Superintendent J.W. Tait requesting that a tree be planted in honor of Mrs. Frances Willard.  His response was favorable so it’s likely that was carried out, but I find no other information, so far, about how long the practice was continued or if it was ever officially stopped. 

Part of the mystery had been solved.

But I returned to the concept of fit inheritance over and again. How many more authors we could have honored today, with a diversity of thought and culture? How many more trees would have been gifted to Eden Park? How many more children would have been literate, their parents too?

It was right and fitting that my mother’s first task, after feeding, changing and napping, was to ensure my ability to read, to retain, to ensure that what I read was relevant or inspiring.

Take a trek up to Eden Park again. Seek out the Author’s Grove. Ask yourself, who was your favorite author. Memorize a piece of their work, go seek it at the library, or stalk them via the Internet to let them know.

Perhaps, a more heroic course of action would be to become a tutor, volunteer at the public library or donate to organizations such as the Literacy Network.

Finally, according to Mr. Burkhardt, there are no plans to revive the actual monument. Write to the Parks Department and ask them to reconstruct or reimagine the memorial. It is Cincinnati’s fit inheritance.

 

Thoughts and Experiences In and Out of School, by John B. Peaslee, 1900, pp 115-125.