Historical farm presents past perfectly

As a child, I’d often watch my mother slaughter chickens. She’d select a rooster from the flock, swing it around to get it dizzy and chop off its head with an ax. After she soaked the body in warm water to loosen the feathers, she’d pluck them out one by one. She’d then cut up the chicken before cooking it.

While that method of chicken preparation might make some squeamish, it was part of my mother’s routine. It’s also a way of life to the farmers at Slate Run Living Historical Farm in the Columbus suburb of Canal Winchester.

Poultry keeps the farm family supplied with eggs and meat. Feathers are used for stuffing pillows and mattresses. Hogs are important, too. They provide meat and lard for cooking.

Many tourist destinations dress people up in period clothing in an attempt to create a simulated atmosphere. There’s also the phenomenon of the petting zoo, where small, meek animals are corralled and presented to giggling children.

Slate Run farm presents both concepts in a family-friendly, yet authentic way. It’s part working farm and part tourist attraction that offers visitors a chance to get up close and personal with farm animals. Yes, the people at Slate Run wear old farm clothing, but pardon them. They’re working.

If you want to see a farmer plowing a field with help of a draft horse, this is the place. If you want to see a sheep being sheared, or a pig butchered, this is the place. If you want to see ladies canning tomatoes, they do that here too.

Slate Run is one of 15 Columbus-area Metro Parks that offers free educational programs. In this case, it’s what life was like on an Ohio farm in the 1880s. Rustic, rugged and highly entertaining.

For more information, visit www.metroparks.net/ParksSlateRunFarm.aspx.

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Ride an old-fashioned roundabout in downtown Mansfield

To a child, the only thrill greater than seeing an old-fashioned carousel is climbing aboard one of its shiny, majestic creatures. One of the best places for children of all ages to do just that in Ohio is in Mansfield, 45 minutes north of Columbus.

The city pays homage to the amusement-park ride in its Carrousel District, located in downtown Mansfield. The district features several blocks of unique shops and restaurants in beautifully restored Victorian buildings. At the heart of the area is the Richland Carrousel Park, where guests can ride an old-fashioned roundabout for 75 cents.

The indoor carrousel at Richland Carrousel Park

Children delight in selecting the wooden animal they ride. Each is frozen in motion, wearing a colorful costume and welcoming saddle. Once the circus-style music starts, the ride begins to spin, providing a satisfying tickle in your tummy. The whirl of the bystanders and the sight of your parents or friends waving accentuate the delight of the ride.

This ridable roundabout has 52 animal figures, each carved and painted in a 1900s style by Carousel Works in Mansfield. Among the menagerie are 30 horses, several bears and ostriches, a zebra and a goat. The company also restored the rounding boards, mirrors and mural frames, which depict past and present attractions in Mansfield. The park is housed in a heated pavilion and contains the carousel and a gift shop featuring unique carousel items and musical figurines.

The Richland Carrousel Park is located at 75 N. Main St., Mansfield.

Hours are Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Labor Day through Dec. 31: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Sunday.)

Admission: $.75 per five-minute ride.

For more information, call 419-522-4223 or visit www.richlandcarrousel.com.

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Identify plants, walk labyrinth at learning gardens on OSU’s main campus

The Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens on the Ohio State University campus is a neat, little place to take the kids for quick lesson on plant identification or just to snap a cute picture in front of some colorful flowers.

The arboretum offers an ever-changing showcase of annuals, perennials and shrubs on a 60-acre patch of land in front of Howlett Hall at 2001 Fyffe Ct. in Columbus. Its mission is to provide an environment to advance the knowledge of students in their horticultural studies and to be a resource for learning about plants for the campus community and general public.

The site also contains a labyrinth for contemplative walking. It was modeled after the famous 11-circuit Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth in France that was built nearly 800 years ago. The circular design is especially good for winding down a toddler before her nap. The arboretum is free and open to the public year-round. Check the Web site for special events such as the annual fall plant sale.

For more information, visit chadwickarboretum.osu.edu.

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From a popcorn museum to a mysterious revolving ball, Marion has it all

With the annual Marion Popcorn Festival arriving in mid-September, it’s a great time to uncover a few kernels of truth about this central Ohio city. Let’s start with our bearings: Marion is about 45 miles north of Columbus. That makes it close enough for a quick day trip for curiosity seekers, which recently included my family and me.

Marion is possibly best known as the hometown and final resting place of Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States. But it was the Wyandot Popcorn Museum that piqued my interest. And, after a full day of sightseeing, we were pleased to discover that Marion has even more interesting surprises hidden up its sleeve.

Our adventure began downtown, where we enjoyed lunch at the Warehouse, 320 W. Center St. The Italian restaurant is in a brick building that once housed an electric train called the Inter Urban, which chugged from Marion to Delaware in the 1920s. The Warehouse has good food and hundreds of knickknacks and funky furnishings, many from the Marion area. Three video screens in the main dining room show the American Movie Classics channel all day long. That was pretty cool.

Near the Warehouse is the Palace Theatre, 276 W. Center St. Built in 1928, its interior resembles a Spanish courtyard with twinkling stars and moving clouds overhead. The 1,445-seat, atmospheric theater was designed by architect John Eberson and is said to be one of 18 Eberson theaters still standing in the United States. The Palace’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ still entertains crowds who come for recent movies and live entertainment, which includes swing bands and dueling piano routines.

We made our way to the popcorn museum, located inside Heritage Hall at 169 E. Church St. It contains the largest collection of popcorn wagons in the United States, and that certainly was a treat. The wagons date to the early 1900s, and most have been meticulously restored. The museum also contains a collection of Cracker Jack prizes on loan from COSI in Columbus.

The Marion County Historical Museum also is contained within Heritage Hall. It includes a basement full of Harding memorabilia and an old soda fountain from Sweeney’s Drug Store, which operated on E. Center Street from 1917-1968. My favorite curiosity was a stuffed Persian horse named Prince Imperial that lived from 1865-1890. He throws passersby a mesmerizing stare from a makeshift stall.

A short drive south to the corner of Delaware Avenue and Vernon Heights Boulevard led us to the Harding Memorial, which was constructed in 1925. The circular structure features 46 columns made of white, Georgian marble. It’s one of the largest memorials standing outside of Washington and indeed gives Marion a stately feel. Inside is a raised courtyard and hanging garden. A Japanese maple shades the granite tombstones of Harding and his wife, Florence Kling Harding.

Our last adventure was seeking out the 5,200-pound rotating orb inside Marion Cemetery, across the road from the Harding memorial. The ponderous pellet, made of black granite suspended on a pedestal, marks the grave of the Charles Merchant family. It’s better known around Marion as the “Mysterious Revolving Ball.” The enigmatic sphere has been slowly spinning two inches per year for more than 100 years, and nobody quite knows why. Ripley’s Believe It or Not has acknowledged the mystery, although I can attest that neither my husband nor I observed the thing moving even a millimeter.

For more information, visit visitmarionohio.com.

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Discover historic opera house, charming museums an hour east of Columbus

Sometimes the little towns you intend to drive through along the way to somewhere else surprise you the most with their hospitality and curiosities.

We found this to be the case with McConnelsville, located an hour and a half east of Columbus. I’m not quite sure where we were headed at the time when we stopped there last summer, but I remember well the little village on the Muskingum River. It had a friendly farmer’s market, historic opera house and several charming museums. My daughter, Rosie, especially enjoyed a strawberry sundae at the Blue Bell ’50s Diner, 2 W. Main.

The Twin City Opera House, at 15 W. Main St., is one of only a handful of opera houses still standing in Ohio and has been in operation since 1892. Built in 1890, it was later dedicated to MacDonald Birch, a successful stage magician born in Morgan County in 1902. Today, visitors can see first-run movies in the 550-seat auditorium, which has the original wood floor. On the first and third Saturdays of each month the opera house hosts the Ohio Valley Opry, a country, gospel and bluegrass music show.

The Morgan County Historical Society Museum, 168 E. Main St., features an eclectic mix of treasures including original drawings by American artist Howard Chandler Christy. Born in 1873 in Morgan County, Christy is famous for painting patriotic World War I posters and the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, which hangs in the nation’s capitol. Other museum objects include uniforms from the Civil War, early American currency and an 1865 newspaper that announces the death of Abraham Lincoln. The museum is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is $3.

The Evelyn True Button House, 142 E. Main St., is a Federal-style home built in 1836 that’s filled to the nines with Victorian furnishings. The home was once owned by Evelyn True Button (1875-1975), the great-granddaughter of Revolutionary War hero General Robert McConnel, who founded McConnelsville in 1817. Button’s father, Dr. Hiram L. True, was a Civil War surgeon, and visitors can see his library and desk. Hours: 1 to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Admission: $3 adults; and free for those 18 and younger.

The Doll House, 126 E. Main St., contains more than 2,500 dolls from the 1890s through today, including antique China dolls, Madame Alexander dolls and early Barbie dolls. One doll even survived a massive flooding of the Muskingum River in 1913. The doll is maid of celluloid, an early form of plastic, and has a chip in its heel from the ordeal. Hours are 1-3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Hours: 1 to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Admission: $3 adults; and free for those 18 and younger.

For more information, visit www.morgancounty-oh.gov.

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Property in southeastern Muskingum County pays tribute to owner’s eco-friendly lifestyle

The first thing visitors see when they arrive at Blue Rock Station in southeastern Muskingum County is a 1955 Volkswagen bus flanked by a flag bearing a peace sign.

Beyond the working barn stands a greenhouse made almost entirely of 2-liter soft-drink bottles. A grass maze invites participants to ponder what kind of footprint they will leave on Earth. Farther along the dirt path are chicken coops, a llama bar and the Earthship, a house built out of old tires, bottles, cans and mud.

No, this isn’t something from an episode of Lost. You’ve just arrived at Annie and Jay Warmke’s 38-acre playground, a tribute to the concept of environmentally friendly living.

Blue Rock Station draws 3,000 visitors annually from all around the world – sustainability believers and converts as well as curiosity-seekers.

“We want to inspire people to recycle and to just start thinking that a simpler life is a happier life,” Annie says.

Summer is a particularly good time to visit the station, which is located 10 miles south of Zanesville. The Warmkes conduct “llama treks,” leading visitors on a walk through the scenic hills of Appalachia. The Warmkes’ five llamas carry packs with snacks that can be eaten during a break under a canopy of maple and birch trees.

“These gentle and noble animals make excellent companions on a leisurely stroll through nature,” Annie says.

The llama trek begins with an introduction to the Warmkes’ many animals, including Alpine goats, rare-breed chickens and, of course, llamas. Annie gives a quick lesson on how to care for llamas and then prepares the animals for the hike.

After the hike, visitors return to the Earthship for a cup of steaming British tea, cheeses and dessert.

For more information, visit www.bluerockstation.com.

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Concoct a customized scent

I perused the names of more than 120 candle fragrances at The Candle Lab in the Columbus suburb of Worthington: “Georgia Peach,” “Snickerdoodle,” “Tomato Leaf.” My goal: to choose two perfect fragrances that represented my husband and three-month-old son, and thus create the perfect candle.

The Candle Lab, with three central Ohio locations in Worthington, Grandview Heights and Gahanna, is a specialty store where customers can buy pre-made, scented candles, or concoct their own. Fragrance selections vary by season, and customers can choose up to three scents. They combine the scents with pure soy wax, which co-owner Steve Weaver says burns long and is environmentally friendly.

The process of picking a scent, mixing it with liquid wax and allowing it to harden takes a little over an hour. A 12-ounce candle costs $12.

“The customers who are happiest with their candles are the ones who have a meaning behind the scents they’ve chosen,” said Weaver, who co-owns The Candle Lab with his fiancée, Katesha Freeman.

Weaver said a newlywed couple recently visited his store after returning from their honeymoon. They recreated an aroma they remembered from a spa they visited using the fragrances of lemongrass, rosemary and mint. Other customers, Weaver said, just want to create a personalized gift.

The Candle Lab also is a popular spot for candle-pouring parties, especially among teenage girls who enjoy prepping the candle, then spending the hour it takes for the wax to set doing something else. Some opt for a quick manicure or pedicure at the Elli Nail Spa next door. Others seek out a cone at nearby Graeter’s Ice Cream.

Weaver says The Candle Lab has hosted dozens of parties for Girl Scout troops, who also enjoy a lesson on the shop’s eco-friendly products derived from renewable resources such as essential oils and soy. Typical parties include 8-12 people. (Those who are interested in having a candle party should reserve the space two weeks in advance.)

Popular fragrance recipes among the younger crowd include mixing “Bubble Gum” and “Watermelon” to produce a scent resembling watermelon-flavored Bubblicious chewing gum. Another mixes “Campfire,” “Toasted Marshmallow” and “Dark Chocolate” scents to yield a s’mores-scented candle.

I settled on a scent called “Dad’s Den,” which smelled like cigars and spices, and one called “Baby Powder” that smelled like, well, baby powder. The Candle Lab’s fragrances are stored in amber bottles with white labels. I poured each of my selections into a bartender’s jigger, like a chemist. Then I emptied the concoction into an 8-ounce tin filled with soy wax and a wick. Voila! In an hour’s time, I had my own personalized candle that reminded me of my loved ones.

For more information, visit www.thecandlelab.com.

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Northwest Michigan city pleases with legendary sand dunes, plentiful beaches

Michigan is ideal for families looking for a quick, affordable getaway from central Ohio.

A seven-hour drive north reveals many rewarding sights and experiences that you just won’t find here. For starters, let’s talk cherries. Thanks to Peter Dougherty, a mid-19th century Presbyterian minister, there’s an abundance of the juicy fruit in orchard after orchard in northern Michigan. Dougherty started planting the trees in the mid-1850s, and today Michigan is responsible for three of every four tart cherries grown in the United States.

Traverse City, the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the World, and surrounding areas are blessed with cherry orchards. The city celebrates this claim at the National Cherry Festival, an 80-year tradition that will bring half a million people to the area in early July.

During the entire month of July, when cherries are prime for picking, merchants sell the sun-ripened fruit from roadside booths. They supply perfect picnic fare for an afternoon at the beach.

Here is a look at other fun things to do in and around Traverse City:

Go on a fossil hunt

Mitten-shaped Michigan is practically surrounded by the Great Lakes, providing no shortage of beachfront bliss. Leelanau Peninsula, positioned where the pinky finger would be and just north of Traverse City, offers plenty of isolated beaches. They include Peterson Park, perfect for finding Petoskey stones. The grayish-brown fossils, which represent Michigan’s state stone, bear the trademark pattern of sunburst hexagons. Souvenir shops sell the keepsakes polished or shaped into jewelry or paperweights. The northern edges of the Old Mission Peninsula present even more opportunities for fossil findings as well as beautiful views of Grand Traverse Bay.

Bike a pretty path

Just as hiking and biking around Ohio is easy thanks to the Rails-to-Trails program, cycling the Traverse City area is a breeze thanks to the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails, or TART. The program offers four hiking and biking trails, including a 10-mile paved path that passes ice-cream parlors and miniature golf courses. There’s also a challenging dirt track that twists and turns through wooded terrain. One of the more scenic treks is the moderately challenging Leelanau Trail. The converted railroad route extends 15 miles from Traverse City to Suttons Bay and journeys through gently rolling farmland and cherry orchards, and about 7 miles of the trail is paved.

Drive off into the sunset

Driving around the Traverse City area in the summertime is enough to satisfy your visual senses. Miles and miles of shoreline provide spectacular views of Lake Michigan and Suttons Bay. Along the way are cobblestone houses, farm markets and roadside booths where fresh cherries are sold.

No trip to northern Michigan is complete without touring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The most worthwhile drive is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This 7.4-mile self-guided auto tour offers a satisfying sampling of the 72,000-acre park, including Lake Michigan Overlook, also known as stop No. 9. Located 450 feet above Lake Michigan on a giant sand dune, the overlook provides a magnificent view of the shoreline and the frighteningly steep grade of the dune. Beware the signs warning you not to go downhill. It’s quite a ways down to the shoreline, and there’s only one way back up — the same way you came. The scenic drive is open from late April through early November, 9 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset. There is a small fee to enter, but a Lakeshore Pass for $10 entitles entry into all areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for seven days. Location: From Empire, take M-22 north for 2 miles to M-109, then left on M-109 for 2 miles.

Pull into a 50s-style drive-in

Just pulling into the driveway of the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre in Honor, Mich., sends nostalgic thrills up your spine. The crunching of pebbles under rubber tires signals you’re entering a simpler time when going out to the movies was an adventure. The theater, which has operated every summer since opening in 1953, has all the visual reminder of yesteryear. There’s the gargantuan white screen, parking meter-like posts that broadcast the movie’s soundtrack, a miniature golf course and a wooden shack of a diner that serves hand-tossed pizzas and popcorn from a 1953 popper. The Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre is located 18 miles southwest of Traverse City at 9812 Honor Hwy., Honor, Mich. Call (231) 325-3413.

For more information, visit www.traversecity.com.

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