Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Distinctive Museums 4: The Canal House

Serendipity reigned when our tour to the Canal House Museum in Middletown, Ohio, coincided with a visit by Lawrence McMonigle, who built the Canal House several years ago. What a privilege to have met Lawrence and members of his family! Sponsored by the Middletown Historical Society, the museum archives a large number of items, many of which were collected by historian George C. Crout.

Lawrence McMonigle, Who Built the Canal House in Middletown, Ohio

Ostensibly, the museum features life on the Miami and Erie Canal, which extended for nearly three hundred miles from Cincinnati to Toledo, Ohio. Built from 1825 through 1845, the canal provided transportation of freight and passengers between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. By means of a system of over a hundred locks, the canal climbed five hundred feet above the level of the Ohio River to reach the Loramie Summit near Piqua. Mules, as well as horses and the occasional ox, walked along a towpath on the bank while pulling boats on the water. Use of the canal gradually diminished through the latter part of the nineteenth century. The tremendous flood of 1913 damaged the canal so severely as to cause its abandonment. Today, small sections along its path are preserved for tourists.

The Canal House Museum

Visitors to the Canal House Museum might make the mistake I made in thinking that a channel behind the building was part of the Miami and Erie Canal. Actually, the waterway hugging the embankment on which the museum stands was part of the city’s hydraulic system, which powered the wheels of industry long ago. While not as extensive as that of Hamilton (the county seat to the south of Middletown), the hydraulic network of Middletown functioned similarly by siphoning water from the river, running it through a fast channel to spin wheels and shafts within factories, and returning it to the river.

The Middletown (Ohio) Historical Society Sign

The museum’s collection features illustrations depicting the canal across a broad span of years. The walls of the Canal House upstairs and down are filled with pictures of all sorts. I was delighted to find several works of art by Miami Valley artist Herbert Fall (1891–1974) on display. Fall studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Art Academy in Cincinnati. For many years, he served as a medical illustrator, but, arguably, he is best known for his countless illustrations of life in Butler and Warren Counties, many of which inspire daydreams of yesteryear.

Painting of Canal Boat in George Crout Collection

Anyone whose childhood was spent in Middletown will discover within the Canal House numerous items evoking nostalgic memories. It might truthfully be said that there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Art by Herbert Fall in Canal House Museum


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Distinctive Museums 3: The Voice of America

Lee Hite gives wonderful tours of River Station. (See Cincinnati Triple Steam.) When he said he had accepted a docent opportunity at Voice of America (VOA), I could hardly wait to visit.

The Voice of America, Butler County, Ohio

The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting is in Butler County, Ohio, not far from Cincinnati or Dayton. While programming originated in New York, the main transmission station stood in the midst of a flat farm near Bethany, Ohio. The video at the start of the tour features stirring testimonials from immigrants who say the VOA changed their lives, helping them envision living in a free country.

At the Entrance to the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting

The marker outside the building presents the history: “During the height of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt turned to the innovative engineers of the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation to build powerful short wave radio transmitters capable of delivering broadcasts overseas. On farm fields near Crosley’s WLW facility, six 200 kilowatt transmitters and 24 directional reentrant rhombic antennas were built and on September 23, 1944, the Voice of America Bethany Station was dedicated.” For over half a century, the VOA broadcast around the globe, so that people living in repressive regimes could have the chance to hear the truth. Adolf Hitler blasted the VOA as “Cincinnati Liars.” Whenever tyrants tried to jam the signal, VOA engineers quickly bypassed the jamming and kept the voice of truth persistent year to year to year. The marker continues, “New technology and budget cuts resulted in the silencing of the Bethany Station in 1994.” The VOA still exists; it is just no longer transmitted from the field in southwest Ohio.

Control Room at Voice of America

In the station’s heyday, over a million and a half watts were deemed necessary to boost a message of hope around the world. Within a radius of some miles, stories abounded of fluorescent lights that stayed lit after being switched off, of farmers’ fences that touched other metal in such a way as to carry the sound of the radio to the cows in the pasture, and of mercury fillings that carried audible broadcasts in people’s teeth. There were VOA employees whose job was to drive wherever there was a report of inadvertent reception and to remedy the situation.

Display Depicting the Grounds of the Voice of America

Frequently, today’s visitors to the museum include citizens originally from other countries that are making a pilgrimage to the facility that gave them the courage to risk their lives to escape oppression. The tears in their eyes are perfectly understandable.

Display Depicting Ship That Retransmitted the Voice of America

The museum is really three or four museums in one. The principal collection tells the emotionally moving story of the VOA. A second archive offers the history of wireless communication. A third area showcases the lifetime collection of Jack Gray, a longtime Bethany Station engineer. Radios in amusing shapes caught my eye. There are radios shaped like french fries, mustard bottles, kitchen products, and—yes—bathroom fixtures. What a hoot! The fourth display (one that I want to return to when I have plenty of time for study) features Cincinnati broadcasting and telecasting. The stations, the shows, and the talent are covered in dazzling detail. Many stars of TV and movies were connected to Cincinnati media: Eddie Albert, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Grandpa Jones, Durward Kirby, and Red Skelton, to name only a few of a lengthy list! My mother listened carefully to everything Ruth Lyons said, especially with regard to products that Ruth endorsed on her TV talk show. The museum’s section honoring Ruth Lyons is filled with plenty of memorabilia to bring back my boyhood memories, including an artificial flower arrangement that decorated her microphone!

Switches at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting

The West Chester Amateur Radio Association runs a station within part of the building, a new section having ample hands-on learning opportunities will open before long, and an array of gifts tempt visitors to take home more than memories alone.

The Only One of Six Transformers Remaining at the Voice of America

As I was walking to my car, I thought again about the opening video and the impassioned thanks of those for whom the VOA was literally a lifesaver.

Exhibit Dedicated to Cincinnati Broadcasting at Voice of America
Bonnie Lou, One of Many Performers Honored at Voice of America


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Distinctive Museums 2: The Museum of Spiritual Art (The Malhotra Collection)

The charming town of Franklin, Ohio, situated on the tranquil Miami River, is home to the Museum of Spiritual Art: The Malhotra Collection. (See and Benefactors Ramesh and Chris Malhotra have placed their extensive art collection on exhibit within a historic mansion facing the river.

The Museum of Spiritual Art in Franklin, Ohio

My dear friend and co-author Eleanor Y. Stewart and I were surprised to discover so many galleries of fine art, ably explicated by docent Laureen Catlin. Many three-dimensional pieces, including sculpture and furniture, accompany the extraordinary range of two-dimensional paintings and prints. Throughout the rooms on both stories of the home are items pertaining to the spiritual quest of the human being. By clicking on the links given above, readers can view many of the works, but seeing them within the context of the lovely mansion leads to a meditative state of mind that makes a visit to the museum a spiritual experience in its own right.

Buddha Painted on Cloth

From radiant Buddhas, through telescoping Tibetan horns, through singing bowls that perform as bells, through depictions of birds such as geese and storks, through paintings representing a variety of religions, to portraits of Mother Teresa (a saint in the Catholic faith), the collection is as inspirational as it is educational.

Statue of Ganesha, Son of Parvati, Who Was Shiva's Wife

I found myself lingering over certain pieces, permitting them to move me beyond my petty concerns into realms of reverie. Over the years, I have urged myself to welcome tranquility whenever possible. The Museum of Spiritual Art is a place of such serenity that inner peace can easily be reached.

Tibetan Horns That Can Telescope

Ramesh Malhotra has dedicated himself to offering the possibility of spiritual understanding to as many lives as he can touch. Exploring the links above will convey what I am expressing better than I can express the concept verbally. His outreach to people at home and abroad is remarkable.

Portrait of Ramesh Malhotra

In the Museum of Spiritual Art, many of the works—but not all—are contemporary. At first, I thought the collection would resonate more profoundly by the inclusion of additional historic pieces, but, after the tour was complete, I began to reconsider that the art may be intended to guide present-day viewers through our world that presses in upon us in so many complicated ways. Too much art from ages past might distract viewers from such a meaningful purpose.

Mother Teresa

As the museum offers classes to artists, the facility has an active role to play in the community.

Leaded Glass Window in the Museum of Spiritual Art

When we left the mansion at the end of our tour, the world outside looked lustrous. … and is that not what a fine museum should do: namely, strengthen perception?

Singing Bowl, a Type of Bell
Statue of Bodhisattva
Painting of Storks
Symmetry in Flight
Painting Depicting the Nature of God
The Tranquility of Buddha
Water Buffalo

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Distinctive Museums 1: The Daniel Gebhart Tavern and the Old Log Post Office

Judy Wuerstl, tour guide at the Daniel Gebhart Tavern Museum in Miamisburg, Ohio, has an uncanny knack of knowing when to talk about the fascinating artifacts on display and when to wait quietly while visitors discover items they want to know more about. Nestled beside the tranquil Miami River, the tavern is a large, fully restored log structure. It even has its original stairway, with deep depressions worn in the treads from many years of foot traffic.

The Daniel Gebhart Tavern in Miamisburg, Ohio

When my dear friend and co-author Eleanor Y. Stewart and I visited the tavern, Judy entertained our many questions and listened intently to our observations. Our visit took place on a perfect day with summer breezes wafting through the windows from the river. We could readily imagine the boatmen from the river and from the canal stopping at the tavern in the early 1800s.

Judy Werstl, Heritage Village Coordinator

Among the numerous displays is a coverlet with the year 1835 embroidered in the design. In that year, Mark Twain (his real name: Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born in the now-inactive town of Florida, Missouri, thirty-nine miles from Hannibal, where his family moved when Sam was four years of age. In the same year, Obed Hussey tested the first successful reaper in Springfield Township of Hamilton County, Ohio.

Interior of Daniel Gebhart Tavern with Eleanor Y. Stewart

The tavern may predate 1811, the year when its license was approved in Dayton. A scant sixteen years earlier, the Treaty of Greenville was secured, ending Indian resistance in the Northwest Territory. Members of the Miami tribe continued to live on the west side of the Miami River for some time after the treaty was signed.

Upstairs at Daniel Gebhart Tavern

The tavern stands where it was built—that is to say that it has not been moved to the location, known today as Heritage Village. On the same grounds stands the Jacob Kercher Pioneer Home, which has been moved not far from where it originally stood. The home is another log structure, but it boasted lap siding and interior walls of plaster. The first floor replicates a nineteenth-century schoolroom, and the upper story features a children’s museum.

Model Log Cabin, Upstairs in Jacob Kercher Pioneer Home

The Miamisburg Historical Society deserves tremendous credit for rescuing and restoring such significant buildings, and the community shares the credit for donations of time, displays, and monetary gifts.

General Store and Old Log Post Office in Franklin, Ohio

Just to the south of Miamisburg in the town of Franklin stands another important log structure, the Old Log Post Office, or Log Cabin Post Office, which also served as a general store that was established in 1802 by John Noble Cumming Schenck. When Eleanor and I visited the post office, we were pleased to meet Harriet E. Foley, author of several books on the history of the area. Several years ago, she graciously helped me to research my article on the 1913 flood. Volunteer guide Mary Nenninger gave Eleanor and me the background on the two-story building, which we then toured.

The Great Miami River Side of the Old Log Post Office

Fresh air wafted through the open windows as we examined the structure, which gives visitors insights into life within log cabins long ago. We recommend that readers time their visits so that both the Daniel Gebhart Tavern and the Old Log Post Office can be toured on the same day.

Dear Friend and Co-Author Eleanor Y. Stewart Seated Near Historic Post Office