Weekend Wanderlust: Best odds and ends from our 2021 travels
A monthly guide to day trips around Ohio and beyond
Despite the continued pandemic and general lag in travel, I still spent much of 2021 crisscrossing Ohio in search of off-the-beaten-path landmarks and locations. Along the way, in visiting places such as Asheville’s Small Town Museum or the blight of Iron Soup in Youngstown, I made countless stops at places that didn’t necessarily necessitate a full-fledged feature in this column. So, as a way to wrap the year, here are a handful of odds and ends that are worth your time to search out.
Best roadside attraction: The Futuro House (Carlisle, Ohio)
I’m not exactly sure where I was headed when I came upon the Futuro House in Carlisle, which only added to the wonder of discovery. If you don’t look directly right on I-123 when passing through rural Warren County, you’ll completely miss our state’s most unusual architectural wonder, which sits among fields of soybeans and intermittent farmsteads.
The Futuro House was designed in 1965 by Finnish architect Matti Surronen as a portable and ecologically friendly ski chalet. There were approximately around 100 created and only 20 now remain in the world. Dale and Ali Martz own two of those marvels, which resemble chrome UFOs, and have connected them both on their vast property. The first arrived in the early 1980s, infamously transported from the Dayton International Airport by helicopter. The second came recently from New York and has since been refurbished — there was significant work being done to the interiors the day I passed. While this is a private residence, the Martz family allowed me to park and take pictures and promised a tour once the repairs were complete. Needless to say, the extra-terrestrial sight of two Futuro Houses merely adds to the region’s alien aviation mythologies.
Best local festival: Woeber’s Mustard Fest (Springfield, Ohio)
As a connoisseur of great mustard, it was a huge surprise to learn that one of my absolute favorites, Mister Mustard (an extra hot, stone ground, brown varietal), has been manufactured in Springfield for more than 70 years by the Woeber family. Though the Woeber factory has been a mainstay in the town for four generations now, the company’s annual Mustard Festival is only in its second year.
This year’s fest, which takes advantage of a revitalized downtown, took place on an abnormally scorching September Saturday. Woeber’s starts the day with the festival highlight: the Champion City Weiner Dog Races. I can’t stress enough how delightful and unusual it was to cheer on a large group of competitive doxies, even if the event was basically mocking mustard’s best companion, the hot dog.
After the races, the crowd moves to Mother Stewart’s modest (yet high quality) brewery for a massive tasting of all sorts of mustards and horseradish sauces (too many to mention here) and beers. Complimentary pretzels and dogs are provided, as well as music from an octogenarian German oompah band. Woeber’s minimalism and basic tenet — to enjoy the world’s best condiment — was enough to have me counting down the days to next year’s fest.
Best grave visited: The Cushman Family Memorial (Woodstock, Ohio)
There isn’t much to the unincorporated village of Woodstock, located in rural Champaign County, save a historical marker commemorating an unscheduled stop on Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 funeral train. Rumors abound as to why the train chose to stop, but there to greet the president were more than 500 mourners and a cornet band led by Woodstock’s most famous resident, Warren Cushman. Cushman was a bit of a renaissance man. He was the first a bugler in the Civil War, and then made a career in the arts as a painter and sculptor, eventually dabbling in photography. One of his works even showed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
But Cushman’s legacy is on full display in the center of the Woodstock Cemetery. Cast in cement, Cushman created a massive memorial dedicated to his family and other acquaintances from Woodstock. Included in the relief of the monument are life-sized sculptures of Cushman’s sister and his two brothers (who also fought and died in the Civil War), as well as other relatives honored in Cushman’s inscription. Perhaps the oddest feature here is that the memorial is beneath a large metal and glass canopy — something I’ve never seen in a graveyard — to protect the fragile cement from the elements. While some regard Cushman’s skills as amateur, I liken it to an earnest piece of outsider art, one that requires a little journeying to find and appreciate.
Best museum surprise: Greene County Historical Society Museum (Xenia, Ohio)
With the recent tragedy in Western Kentucky, remembrances of the Super Outbreak weather phenomena of 1974, which included the F5 tornado that all but destroyed Xenia, have been prevalent.
Xenia was hit hardest by the storm, which leveled more than 1,400 structures, hospitalized 1,300 and killed 33. Forty-plus years later, Xenia is still a symbol of a middle America wrecked by Mother Nature that never fully recovered. Even the infamous film Gummo set its craven characters in the city. I’ve long been fascinated with Xenia and had never found anywhere commemorating or documenting those events. There is a historical marker describing the events of the tornado, so on one of my summer afternoon jaunts I made it a minor stop. But I was determined and decided to take a look in the Greene County Historical Society Museum to start asking some questions.
The museum is not exactly the greatest; it’s mostly filled with model trains and the requisite dusty trinkets of the past. But far along a back wall I came upon a display that hadn’t been tended to in years, which was filled with relics from that deadly day in April. There were hundreds of pictures from residents and rescue missions, meteorological maps showing the immense range and path of the outbreak, canned water manufactured by Anhauser Busch in Columbus, vintage signage declaring Xenia’s resilience and a large clock from downtown that was destroyed and recovered a mile away from its original location.
It was a bit of a revelation to find, and it opened my eyes to the reality that the town is dotted with a number of mid-century modernist (and some brutalist) architecture — evidence it had been rebuilding this whole time and could even return to thriving life one day.