Weird Ohio

Read Time: 6 minute(s)

Like most people, the husband and I generally tackle touristy stuff when we take trips. However, we also try to venture out onto the road less traveled. For example, during a 2008 trip to Oklahoma City, we meandered down the old Route 66 where we came across one of the country’s only round barns and a huge soda bottle statue, the latter of which “dances” at night for passers-by as its LED lights flicker on and off.

More recently, a quick trip to New York City led us to The Museum of Sex, where “The Sex Lives of Animals” and “Sex and the Moving Image” were the featured exhibits. Incidentally, the animal exhibit = fascinating (I’ve written more about it here). The image to the right depicts male-on-male dolphin blowhole sex and is one of many sculptures at the museum made from paper, tape, and magic marker.

As well, back in 2006, the husband and I visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C. In there, we saw some of the most bizarre museum memorabilia I’ve ever come across. For instance, here are some of the fragments of Abraham Lincoln’s skull removed during the autopsy after his assassination as well as a lock of hair taken from the site of the wound, the bullet that took the President’s life, the probe used to locate the bullet, and a cuff stained with Lincoln’s blood (from the shirt of a man who helped with the autopsy).

Around the corner from Abe Lincoln’s blood and skull are two examples of elephantiasis (yes, as featured in The Elephant Man). Here’s elephantiasis of the scrotum and the leg:

Finally, adjacent to the oversized body parts is a huge hairball, which was removed from the stomach of a 12-year-old girl who compulsively ate her hair for 6 years. The caption below tells museum patrons that the hair ultimately took the shape of the girl’s stomach.

This Memorial Day weekend, the husband and I took to the road once more, this time in search of oddities in Northwest Ohio (we currently live in Toledo). To guide our way, we relied on the book Weird Ohio, which devotes chapters to Ohio Ghosts, Roadside Oddities, Cemeteries, and Abandoned Places. (So far, I’ve come across Weird USA, Weird Kentucky, Weird Michigan, Weird Florida, and Weird Pennsylvania. Check; I bet your state is “weird” too!) Overall, the book did not disappoint; it directed us to some bizarre items. Without further ado, here’s a taste of what Wood, Hancock, and Allen Counties have to offer.

Fingers and Clark Gable’s Pheasant

Our first stop was the Wood County Historical Center in Bowling Green, OH (Wood County), about 30 miles south of Toledo. The authors of Weird Ohio told us to be on the lookout for three fingers in a jar. Found ’em!

These three human fingers belong to Mary Bach, whose husband, Carl, took a corn knife to her in 1883, chopping her to bits. A few days later, Carl confessed to the murder and told police to search his barn where they would find Mary’s dismembered body. Her fingers were all that was necessary for evidence in Carl’s trial and ultimate death sentence.

We also learned that Carl Bach’s was the last public hanging in Wood County. The event took place on the last day of the Wood County Fair in 1883 in front of a large crowd of ticket holders. A spectator’s ticket along with a picture of good ol’ Carl, the noose, and famed corn knife may be seen below.

Here are some more weird — and random — pieces of pop culture found in the Wood County Historical Center; the building was once a poor house and “lunatic asylum,” by the way:

  • a pheasant shot by Hollywood superstar Clark Gable (apparently, he hunted frequently in Bowling Green, OH);
  • some Victorian hair-art, a common tradition of weaving human hair into a memorial piece of artwork;
  • a permanent wave machine from 1927 (you’ve gotta really, really want some curls to hook yourself up to that); and
  • original school charts from 1880.

Presidential Weirdness

Our next stop was Fremont, OH, about 25 miles east of Bowling Green, where Rutherford B. Hayes (19th president of these United States) resided after his time in the White House came to an end. While no photos were allowed in Hayes’s home, we were encouraged to take pictures in the adjacent Hayes museum/library. First, here’s what we learned during our tour:

  • The Hayes library was the first presidential library.
  • R. B. Hayes was the first president to take the oath of office in the White House.
  • He was the first president to have a telephone and typewriter in the White House.
  • He began the “Easter Egg Roll” for children on the White House Lawn (1878).
  • Lucy Webb Hayes was the first wife of a president to graduate from college.
  • She was also the first wife of a president to be called “First Lady.”

And now for the weird items: ice-skates belonging to Hayes’s 10-year-old brother who died while playing on an Ohio lake, a lock of George Washington’s hair, and the house slippers Abe Lincoln wore the night he died.

Later in Lima

Our final stop over Memorial Day weekend was Lima, OH. Yes, that’s right: home of the fictional “Lima losers” represented in Fox’s Glee. Here, the husband and I learned about and tasted a Kewpee burger.

Founded in 1923, Kewpee Hamburgers is the second-known chain of hamburger fast-food restaurants. There are only five stores left, three of which stand in Lima (about 80m south of Toledo). According to legend, Dave Thomas wanted to buy Kewpee Hamburgs, which boasts square patties and frosted malt drinks, but the owner wasn’t selling. At that point, Thomas reportedly created Wendy’s, which, as you know, also makes square patties and “the frosty.”

Kewpie dolls like this one above the cash register are supposedly based on comic strip-like illustrations that appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1909. The burger wrappers have (the creepy-looking) Kewpie dolls on them as well.

Finally, we ventured into the Allen County Museum in Lima where we came upon an exhibit called Objects Removed from Esophagus, Bronchial Trees (Lungs), and Larynx of Patients of Drs. Etsey Yingling and Walter Yingling. Buttons, nails, screws, wishbones, safety pins, dentures: you name it, it’s there. We also encountered here one of the country’s first life-support machines, the jail registry that indicates bank-robber John Dillinger was caught and imprisoned in Lima, and the world’s largest collection of (stuffed) albino animals.

The husband and I had also planned to see the bathtub of the U.S.S. Maine — of “Remember the Maine!” fame — in Findlay, OH’s Hancock Historical Museum. But when we arrived, the joint was closed for Memorial Day weekend (thanks for updating your website!). Oh well, we can add that to our list. Up next (maybe): the World’s Largest Basket, the World’s Oldest Traffic Light, the Shortest Street in America, and the World’s Largest Rubber Stamp. That’s right, folks; all of this may be found in Ohio! Pack a snack and drive on over.

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PhD. Film, Shakespeare, TV. Child of pop culture. Advocate of social media. Gene Kelly junkie. Co-editor of Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century. DePaul University.
  • Carolina Hernandez

    This is wonderful. I love checking out bizarre things and tourist traps when I go on roadtrips. I'm actually heading out on one this Friday, from Virginia to Texas, and I'm planning on checking out stuff like Hank William's death car and Forbidden Gardens (a small replica of historical Chinese sites). In case you're not familiar with it already, the site has been particularly helpful for me in finding weird places to stop.

    The Weird series is great, too. It originally started in NJ as an awesome newsletter (that you could get in local bookstores). Thanks to Weird NJ, I found out about plenty of bizarre things in NJ when I lived there, like the random elevated grave in the parking lot of a nearby movie theater.

    • Kelli

      Yes, I have seen I think the last few links on my post are from there!

      And yeah, I read that the "Weird series" started as a NJ pamphlet. Wow — it has definitely morphed into something MUCH, much bigger, hasn't it?! Thanks for reading and commenting, btw!

  • Meagan

    I love all these photos! Thanks for sharing.

    If you're ever in New Hampshire, get thee to Dover (near Portsmouth) where you'll find the Woodman institute. Among many other things, they have a 4-legged baby chick. It's very weird.

    • Kelli

      Thanks for reading/commenting. I'll definitely check out the oddities in New Hampshire if I'm ever in the area!

  • Gabrielle Malcolm

    I am intrigued by the fact that Abraham Lincoln wore slippers (and they look very classy) to the theatre! What a very laid back guy he was!

    And if you are ever in Amsterdam you could check out their sex museum

    you reckon you know stuff before you go in – but you realise that you don't!

    • Kelli

      I'm guessing the slippers belonged to someone who lived across the street from Ford's Theatre, who "loaned" Lincoln et al his boarding house after the assassination. But I'm not sure.

      And yes, next time I'm in Amsterdam, I'll check it out! Thanks for the heads up!

  • Nick

    The round barn kind of reminds me of the Logan Roundhouse in southeast Ohio:

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  • erika

    Joseph Merrick (Elephant man) did not have elephantiasis caused my parasitic nematodes. His condition was a bone deformity.