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Cincinnati & The Civil Rights Baseball Game Weekend
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor

Cincinnati Map
New York, NY - My initial thought was to make clear reference to Cincinnati in the title of the feature but when I landed (after a 90-minute flight from New York) we were across the river in Kentucky, at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, one of Delta Airline's largest hubs. For my three day visit we crossed and re-crossed the Ohio River (actually "owned" by Kentucky).

The city itself has a population of over 360,000 making it the third largest city in Ohio, behind Cleveland and Columbus, but the metropolitan area has a population surpassing 2.15 million. Coming from the airport I stopped in Covington, Kentucky to view the exceptionally large collection of 19th century German architecture. The Over-the-Rhine area, in Cincinnati, is one of the largest historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Cincinnati has a German population second only to Milwaukee. Of course, I recalled visiting Covington, Kentucky 40 years ago when its popularity was due to its "gangsta" days.

Cincinnati had the first public outdoor drinking water fountains, the first pumper fire truck and the first paid fire department. The Guiding Light was the original soap opera and was broadcast live from 700WLW Radio Studios, sponsored by Ivory Soap (hence the name soap opera). I knew of the Seven Hills of Rome but who knew of the Seven Hills of Cincinnati?

The name Cincinnati is derived from the Society of the Cincinnati that honored General George Washington. The city is home to a large number of descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers who were granted land after the war ended. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, "Catawba Wine," and referred to the city as the "Queen City." It is also often called "Porkopolis" because of its pork producing industry in the late 1800's. During the Civil War Cincinnati was part of the Union with Kentucky on the confederate side. This made the Ohio River the finish line to freedom for the slaves using the Underground Railroad system.

If history is not at the top of your interest list we move on to sports...

Great American Ball Park
The Great American Ball Park opened in 2003 for the Reds.
In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (today's Reds) became the first professional baseball team in the country. The revitalization of the downtown waterfront area includes Paul Brown Stadium, opened in 2000 for the football Bengals, and the Great American Ball Park, opened in 2003 for the Reds. The area between the two stadiums is "The Banks" and, when finished, it will be a 24-hour urban neighborhood of residences, offices, restaurants, clubs, shops and parks with great views of the Ohio River.

I stayed at the downtown Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel that is part of the Carew Tower complex, one of the finest examples of French Art Deco construction in the world. Both were designed by the same architect and were developed to follow the Rockefeller Center mandate of a "city within a city." The hotel opened in 1931 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring 561 guest rooms. One has to go to the 49th floor Observation Deck of the Carew Tower (at the moment the tallest structure in town) for a breathtaking view of the city, and I did just that, as should you. The Art Deco-style Union Terminal still serves as an Amtrak stop but much of the building has been converted into the Museum Center, which includes the Omnimax Theater, the Children's Museum, Natural History & Science, Museum, Cincinnati History, Cincinnati Historical Society Museums and multiple mega-size touring exhibits. The 180-foot-diameter half-dome structure is the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

Cincinnati is home to ten Fortune 500 Companies including: Proctor & Gamble, The Kroger Company, Macy's Inc, Chiquita Brands International and my favorite- The Fifth Third Bank (were the other numbers taken?) and hosts the longest running Culinary Arts Festival, the P&G Taste of Cincinnati, as well as the largest Oktoberfest in the United States - Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.

Once past the history and culture, it was time to have lunch at the one and only, Skyline Chili. You have to try the Chili Cheese Coney, a hot dog topped with Skyline Chili, mustard, onions, and cheese, and a 3-way spaghetti topped with Skyline Chili and cheese Needless to say, having a direct line to your doctor will be important, as well as some extra Tums in your pocket. I loved the cheese dog so much I had it again at the Reds Ball Park during the Civil Rights Game the next day.

Reds History
In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (today's Reds) became the first professional baseball team in the country.
Happily I was able to walk from my hotel to Fountain Square, one of the cultural cornerstones of the city, to see the Youth Baseball Summit Rally, which included baseball fast pitch and batting cages, live music and a parade to celebrate youth baseball. I took Oprah's advice and tried Graeter's Ice Cream, which she promoted as the best in the world at a store just off the square. It is made in a French pot process where each batch of ice cream is only about two gallons and is, thus, very labor intensive. The resulting ice cream is so thick that it must be hand-packed into pints (very yummy and fattening!). I also tried the "to die for" waffles at Findlay's Market, Ohio's oldest continuously operating public market since 1852.

One would think that I am now writing this from the gym, while having been on a treadmill for days or from the offices of my doctor who is checking my cholesterol count. True and guilty to both.

Lest you think all I ate was "on the run" food my dinner at the Hilton's Orchids at the Palm Court restaurant (named the town's number one restaurant by Cincinnati Magazine) was amazing. Executive Chef Todd Kelly prepared a 7-course meal and captain/sommelier Charles Redmond matched it with 7 wines. All that for only $100 per person. That meal would be double or triple the cost in New York. I even figured I could fly to Cincinnati (part of the jet set generation), eat at the Orchid, spend the night at the Hilton, fly home to New York and still save money on a 4 star dining experience.

For More information

  • www.cincinnatiusa.com
  • www.nkycvb.com
  • www.cvgairport.com
  • www.cincinnatihilton.com
  • www.orchidsatpalmcourt.com
  • www.cincymuseum.org
  • www.myfountainsquare.com
  • www.freedomcenter.org
  • www.reds.com
  • www.reds.com/hof
  • www.newportaquarium.com
  • www.therookwood.com
  • www.bengals.com
  • www.newportonthelevee.com
  • www.findlaymarket.org
  • www.graeters.com
  • www.skylinechili.com
  • www.riverspansculpture.org
  • Before leaving I also had the opportunity for brunch at The Rookwood Restaurant (the Rookwood pottery making equipment is still there amongst the tables) overlooking the city on Mt. Adams (one of the Seven Hills and named after former President John Quincy Adams). The restaurant features the Findlay Market waffles and out-of the world omelets. Mt. Adams' landmarks include the Cincinnati Art Museum, Krohn Conservatory, Playhouse in the Park, Holy Cross Monastery and the Immaculata Church. Today, Mount Adams is popular among the 21+ age group for its assortment of bars and restaurants. I spent almost two hours at the yearly RiverSpan Sculpture Exhibition and Sale event on the Purple People Bridge (a walking only purple bridge spanning the Ohio River) with over 800 different works of art by 80 sculptures, and it worth the time.

    It was also worth taking the time to enter the span from the Newport, Kentucky side adjacent to the Newport Aquarium and Newport on the Levee, a shopping, dining and entertainment area. We drove over the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, opened in 1866, that was the prototype for the Roebling designed Brooklyn Bridge.

    I must add that the underlying purpose for my visit was the Civil Rights baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. It pays tribute to efforts toward racial equality and diversity in baseball and society. This had marked the first time that the game has been a regular season game and played at a major league ballpark (it is back in Cincinnati in 2010). There were several events leading up to the game including a round table discussion on Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement held at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Opened in 2004, the center features exhibits dealing with the "Underground Railroads" and the fight for freedom worldwide. After the round table I had a chance to talk to Tony Perez, Baseball Hall of Famer and former Red player and manager as well as Oscar Robertson, the Big O, former Cincinnati Royal and Basketball Hall of Famer.

    Bud Selig and Hank Aaron
    Major League Beacon Awards Luncheon honored Hank Aaron, whose Beacon of Life Award was presented by baseball commissioner Bud Selig (left).
    The Major League Beacon Awards Luncheon held at the Duke Energy Convention Center, a few blocks from my hotel, was an all-star event. Soledad O'Brien, CNN Special Correspondent and host of Black in America Part 1 & 2, was the Mistress of Ceremonies. The Keynote Speaker was William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States. His 45-minute speech was a mixture of scripted and off the cuff remarks and a lot of baseball references. The honorees included Hank Aaron, whose Beacon of Life Award was presented by baseball commissioner Allan H. Selig. Until someone called him Bud most of the audience wondered who Allan Selig was. I felt so sad watching Muhammad Ali seemingly unable to even raise his arm as he received the Beacon of Change Award. Sugar Ray Leonard introduced him and Ali's wife gave an eloquent acceptance speech. Bill Cosby, recipient of the Beacon of Hope Award, was his irascible self. Serious when he spoke of the responsibilities of African Americans males and a comedian when talking about his presenter Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. This was the first time Cosby returned to Cincinnati since he boycotted the city after the 2001 riots. Before the game we toured the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Featured exhibits included the history of Negro League Baseball in the Queen City and a remembrance of the old Reds park- Crosley Field. I was told that few teams have a hall of fame but Hank Aaron mentioned to me that aside from Cincinnati, Atlanta was one of them. Do you hear that New York Yankees!! As you plan I want to add that two days is simply not enough time to see all that Cincinnati USA has to offer. Go for the week!!!




    For more information on Ron Kapon, please go to www.RonKapon.com or email him at VinoRon@yahoo.com.