Bellows, a cheap fez and a fake elixir
Civil War items from Camp Chase.
Believe it or not, fast food and baseball hand signals have something in common. And it’s what also connects kindergarten, ATMs, the bar code, NFL football, Xerox copies, commercial airliners and curbside trash pickup. Every one of these originated, in some way or another, in Columbus, according to Jeff LaFever, executive director of the Columbus Historical Society (CHS). In addition, the home of the Buckeyes also is the home of the first mobile cement mixer, and where women could vote locally years before they won the right to cast a ballot nationally.
All of this is part of the history collected, preserved, shared and celebrated by CHS. The nonprofit, founded by enthusiasts in 1990, is run by volunteers and two part-time paid employees (LaFever and his associate director). Long located in a small space on Jefferson Avenue, CHS has a new headquarters. On Feb. 14, as part of the city’s 200th birthday celebration, Mayor Mike Coleman cut the inaugural red ribbon on the society’s new home at COSI.
For CHS, the new space means more than triple the exhibition area and increased visibility. Previously averaging 1,000 annual visitors, it now has the potential to reach the 500,000 or so that walk through the doors of COSI every year. To top things off, on that opening day, the Columbus Foundation surprised members with a one-time, unsolicited Bicentennial Leadership Award—and a check for $100,000.
The society’s inaugural exhibit covers Columbus’s first 100 years (1812-1912). It features artifacts, images and text, as well as an interactive quiz and a wall-sized moving montage. While the society does maintain a collection, most artifacts come by loan. They range from a $10,000 Adena pot, care of the Ohio Historical Society, to a turn of the century fez that, to CHS member Doug Motz, is “priceless,” though he did pick it up for $7.50 at a recent antique sale.
Motz, the society’s president, says his favorite Columbus story involves Fidel Castro, shopping, a death threat and a brazen desk clerk with a penchant for salty language. The story unfolds at a Columbus hotel, one built, unfortunately, in 1917—five years beyond the purview of the current exhibit. Be sure to look for it in the next one. Opening after Labor Day, the second bicentennial exhibit will tell the story of Columbus from 1912 to 2012. Meanwhile, here’s a bit of what’s on the walls right now.
With a new space in COSI, the Columbus Historical Society has a few more stories to tell. Here is a bit of what's on the walls right now.