Saturday, October 6, 2018

Exploring Ohio: Americana, hauntings and Yetis

It’s just past sunrise in Marietta. I am on a rooftop witnessing traffic hum across the bridge to West. Va. and through this oddly Midwestern-Eastern-Southern rivertown. It’s a gentle morning after rain. Early October and only a glint of color. I am at the level of birds in trees. A ghostly grey cloud whisps across the river. Light emerges, but no burst of sun. Craving a cup of coffee, Ia sit to write before I rewalk the labyrinthine passage back to the lobby four floors below. I could rest here. Write here. Breathe here. The glassy Ohio and Muskinghum rivers reminders of depth and Spirit’s pace.

The moment breaks and I head to the local coffee shop, Jerimiah’s, to work. I order a decaf and am greeted with five bean options. They’ll actually brew me a cup. I ask for the richest, Costa Rican, and sit down to wait. I sip and write til 9, when I meet my husband for the complimentary hotel breakfast, the most substantial ever. I order poached eggs, ham and hash browns. Coffee, juice and toast or an English muffin are included. Reminds me of the most meager breakfast ever: I was pregnant, staying atop a hill on Catalina Island, isolated from the rest of the town. Their idea of sustenance was mealy apples and bagged bread to toast yourself. Back then I wasn’t gluten free, so wolfed down – eating for two – multiple bags of bread. This breakfast, however, was a delight.

Filled, we take a walk down Front Street, veering off toward the banks of the bucolic Muskinghum River and across a foot bridge, nestled against railroad tracks to a very old village, Harmar, apparently the original Marietta settlement.  Apparently the Paris lovers’ locks have hit here, but town mothers and fathers have ingeniously kept their bridge from buckling to the extra weight by chaining iron planters to the railroad bridge on which locks can be hooked. Several older men on bikes stride by; this is the perfect place for cycling. We jaunt past the Harmar Tavern, lively and authentic, and through a downtown closed up for the season. Harmar is a peek into Americana with tree-lined streets and clapboard houses.

I stop at a corner shop and learn from its owner, a member of Main Street Marietta, the city struggles since the loss of two attractions: the closing of Fenton Art Glass and the Becky Thatcher show boat. She’s helping plan a Who-ville themed Christmas to attract visitors and energy to the city. She also confirms the hauntedness of the area. “My sister lives on a hillside built on a mound and her house is extremely haunted. When people cut into an Indian mound, there was a lot of activity.” Her information is confirmed by the Hidden Ohio map I picked up before our trip. It lists sacred, Native-American, natural and haunted sites as well as places people have reported Big Foot and aliens. It’s a beautifully printed, fantastic tour guide. Later in the evening, I’ll flip on a Discovery Channel show tracking the Yeti (as Big Foot is known is Asia) in the Himalays. Serendipity?

History draws us to the Marietta Antique Mall. As new empty-nesters, I’m not really looking for anything, but this is the real deal. I peruse fascinating relics, including a movable gout stool and a print of dogs playing pool. I easily pass on those, but ponder a wooden case full of rubber letters for printing. I think long and hard about using this with my art students, but don’t want to drag it home. Rooting through the implements, pottery and chests, I feel a connection to the past and wonder if that is lost on a generation that only wants new. It pains me to see old, family photographs orphaned in sale bins, like the in a well-curated collectible/gift shop on Front Street, Green Acres. Vintage images were touted as “fabulous.” My husband was charmed by a case of dream cameras, of which, unfortunately, the owners knew the true value.

Walking and piddling into the afternoon, we ventured by car to see Marietta College and grab a picnic lunch, which we spread out on our hotel rooftop with an Indian summer – sans the hard frost ­­– sun beating down. Perhaps the best place on the planet in that moment.

I spend the late afternoon soaking up the warmth, then we drive to another side of town and up some hills for a grand view of the river valley below. We end at a cemetery surrounding Conus Mound, holding the remains of native Chieftains encased by Revolutionary War soldiers and Marietta residents. The juxtaposition is odd, but not as much as the steps up to the top of the mound. Holding the iron railing on the way down, I ask my husband if he thinks anyone ever died on these treacherous steps. “This would be a convenient place,” he says, repeating my thoughts precisely.

We head toward the hotel, park and walk into Gater’s, a locals’ bar we scoped out the night before when it was closed. There’s a big guy at the bar who offers to push a seat over so we can sit together, there, at the bar, HIS bar. He’s Gater, nicknamed as a member of a motorcycle gang because he stood back and observed like a gater. He’s grateful when we tell him we chose his place over the local microbrewery because we wanted a “real” bar.  He was re-roofing the building that housed several businesses, including a rough bar, when the owner asked if he could do something with it. Now into his sixth season, Gater remodeled everything, knocking out walls, creating a music venue and adopting a pirate theme.

We have two beers, then head back to snack on lunch leftovers in our room since we see of sign of food at Gater’s – it’s purely a bar. A good one.

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