October 2008 Issue
New immersion tours offer travelers a hands-on approach to Columbus.
Columbus is so eager to show itself off, it’s bringing tour guides back from the dead.
That would explain why, at the Ohio Statehouse, a Gilded Age socialite named Miss Emma Jones awaits visitors, cheerily inviting them to dine at her table. Or, why abolitionist Sophia Kelton appears at the door of Kelton House Museum & Garden, draped in 19th-century attire and ready to share her story with curious guests.
Those time-traveling trips come courtesy of historical interpreters, and are among 14 group tours intended to offer an educational and entertaining glimpse of Columbus. From the culinary and garden getaways, to the arts and history tours, the activities –– created by Experience Columbus, the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau –– allow travelers to jump into themed adventures at some of the city’s signature sites: dunking cookies into rivers of chocolate at Brownie Points; blending vino at Camelot Cellars Winery; creating a personal butterfly garden at Franklin Park Conservatory; and much more.
And, of course, there are plenty of ways for history buffs to invoke spirits from the past. In “Dickens of a Mystery” at Ohio Village, tourists discover that Ebenezer Scrooge has reverted to his miserly ways; Bob Cratchit has sought solace in the brandy bottle; and there’s an empty seat at Christmas dinner —and it’s not Tiny Tim’s.
“It’s the most fun you can have with Charles Dickens,” says actor and marketing manager Mark Holbrook.
So, grab a gaggle of friends and family members and prepare for a truly interactive experience. Columbus is so full of immersion activities and interesting characters that the city is even bringing ’em back from beyond.
A Victorian Encounter
Step up to the Kelton House Museum & Garden, and it’s easy to imagine the comfortable Victorian family life going on behind that elegant facade. But as gracious “Sophia Kelton” invites you into her parlor, you soon learn that she’s hiding more secrets than most 19th-century chatelaines.
Even though you’ve just met, Sophia reveals something of her family’s life on East Town Street — provided you swear to secrecy. You’ll understand when you hear about the punishments for those caught helping slaves flee north.
Sophia and Fernando Cortez Kelton built their grand townhouse in 1852, planting a copper beech and bald cypress that stand proudly in the front yard today. The couple were staunch abolitionists, bravely opening their new home as a station on the Underground Railroad. Slaves fleeing the South hid in the Keltons’ barn, servants’ quarters and even the empty cistern.
In 1864, Sophia found two young female slaves, Martha and Pearl Hartway, hiding in her shrubs. They had fled from a Virginia plantation, but now Martha was too ill to travel. After being cared for, Pearl continued her exodus to Canada. The Keltons took in Martha, rearing her with their own children for 10 years.
Martha eventually married Thomas Lawrence, a free black man who worked for Fernando. Today, two of Martha and Thomas’ descendants serve on the Kelton House Underground Railroad Learning Station advisory board.
The cost for Sophia’s riveting session is $11.
Long to linger a bit in this glorious Victorian townhouse and take tea with the mistress of the house? It’s just $15 for a private tour with Sophia, followed by a genteel repast of tea, finger sandwiches and truffles.
Somewhere in Time
Like a Buckeye Brigadoon, the little Civil War-era town of Ohio Village comes alive for special experiences. Try sipping 19th-century-style beverages or stirring cast-iron pots on an open hearth. There’s even Dickensian sleuthing to be done.
Ohio Village, next door to the Ohio Historical Society, is a clapboard-and-boardwalk town covering all the necessities of life in the 1860s. During the $30 “Pleasure of the Cup” program on Dec. 6, guests 21 and older can wander among the buildings, sampling such Victorian drinks as the Smoking Bishop, spicy with red wine, port, cloves, sugar and oranges; and the Bosom Caresser, warming with sherry, brandy, egg yolk, powdered sugar and cayenne pepper. Designated driver? Swing by the Female Seminary for nonalcoholic wassail. Then, it’s back to the American House Hotel for desserts, coffee and Victorian holiday hits sung by the Ohio Village Singers.
Looking for a 19th-century girls’ getaway? How about “Please, Join Us for Tea,” a $25 experience that combines a historic fashion show with tea served by costumed interpreters. This is interactive, so you might be donning a bustled gown and bonnet.
In an Immersion program, it’s your chance to “Become a Cast Iron Chef” for just $45. Channel your inner Emeril or Martha at the open hearth by preparing fried chicken, vegetables and even apple pie in that 19th-century essential, the Dutch oven.
And who doesn’t love a good mystery? For $47, try to sort it out over a hearty holiday meal, interacting with a cast of historic characters. “Dickens of a Mystery” will be performed Dec. 17 and 18 at the American House Hotel in Ohio Village, where diners will be part of the play. “It’s improvisational, and no two endings are ever the same,” says Holbrook. “Audience members come up with some of the best one-liners.”
A Taste of History
Scion of a founding Columbus family, Miss Emma Jones literally watched the capital grow up around her. The Jones family home was built in 1850 across from the construction site that would become the Ohio Statehouse in 1861. Hers was the last private residence on the square when it was demolished in 1939, a year after Miss Emma’s death.
But the socialite is very much alive when she invites you to join “Miss Emma’s Table,” a hearty meal of Ohio foods served boarding-house-style in the grandly restored Ohio Statehouse.
Would you like Warren County turkey, she asks, or the General’s Favorite Fried Chicken? Miss Emma frequently entertained Ohio’s legislators and Union Army officers during the Civil War, when soldiers camped on the Statehouse lawn and slept inside, too, awaiting orders.
The main course is accompanied by celery-and-sage dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and Ohio forest cobbler or Capitol Bread Pudding with cranberry bog gelee.
After the feast ($13.95 for lunch, $18.95 for dinner), Miss Emma invites you to join a tour of the building, one of the oldest working statehouses in the country. It took 22 years to build the Greek Revival landmark, whose Senate Building staircase was patterned after the Paris Opera House.
On the Classic Tour, your costumed guide will point out highlights of architecture, art and history. The building has a surprising number of Lincoln connections, such as the steps where he stood outdoors in 1857, campaigning for the White House. “The steps are now inside, in the atrium,” Gregg Dodd, deputy director for communications and events, says of subsequent remodels.
The guide will point out the marble bust of Abraham Lincoln –– one of the few he posed for during his life –– in the Lincoln-Vicksburg Memorial, and the spot where his body lay in state April 29, 1865.
Ghostbusters may prefer the Portals of History Tour. One moment you’re admiring the intricate plasterwork, the next you’re face to face with the specter of U.S. Grant.
Prominent figures in Ohio history pop up throughout the tour, answering your questions in first person. One day, it might be Gov. Salmon P. Chase, who began using his gubernatorial Statehouse office in 1857 as crews worked around him. He went on to become Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Nathan Kelley, one of the Statehouse architects responsible for that elaborate plasterwork, may materialize to discuss his designs. Jean Rankin, an 1840s abolitionist from Ripley, may also appear, as may Florence Allen, a 1930s judge and legal scholar. And, of course, Miss Emma is ready to discuss her life as capital hostess anytime you ask.
What’s Behind the Curtain?
Have you always been intrigued by stagecraft –– that sleight of hand that has you believing cars can fly in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and that “Grease” is the word?
This is your chance to duck behind the curtain at Broadway Across America-Columbus in the legendary Ohio and Palace theaters. Scotsman Thomas Lamb designed both of these fanciful theaters, using the Palace of Versailles as inspiration for the 1926 Palace. Two years later, he unveiled the Ohio Theatre, a gilded “palace for the average man.” The flamboyant Spanish-Baroque furnishings cost $1 million –– more than the cost of the building.
With your VIP Behind the Curtain access, the stars and crew will pop back on stage after the show for a question-and-answer session.
The VIP experience, $15 to $25 depending upon the show, is in addition to the ticket price. This season’s lineup includes “Frost/Nixon,” Oct. 14–19; “Grease,” Dec. 16–21; “Spring Awakening,” Feb. 3–8; “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” March 24–29; “Annie,” April 17–19; “The Color Purple,” May 5–10; “A Chorus Line,” June 9–14; and “Mamma Mia,” July 7–12.
Go behind the flora and fauna at the Franklin Park Conservatory, either during the annual Orchid Adventure or the Blooms and Butterflies display.
Orchid lovers can get down and dirty with these majestic plants in January and February, learning secrets from the experts in a $19 session. To zero in on growing instructions and take home a blooming orchid, make it an immersion experience for $39.
In spring and summer months, the 1895 conservatory is aflutter with the “Blooms and Butterflies” exhibit; accompanying programs offer activities such as lessons in how to attract butterflies to home gardens.
Savor the Flavor
Mary and Chuck Frobose began Camelot Cellars, an on-premise winery in the Short North Arts District, to create “Camelot moments, special moments that are fun and harmonious, when everything is right in the world.”
For lots of folks, experiencing those moments is even more enjoyable when a glass of wine is in their hands.
Would-be vintners start by tasting eight wines along with cheese and crackers, learning fun facts and developing a “nose” for the work. Then, they stir up a custom batch of wine and take home a Camelot Cellars wine glass for $15. For $25, you’ll do all the tasting and blending, plus customize a label for your take-home bottle.
Long to jump into wine immersion? For $29, the experience takes you from bottling and corking to designing your own label — serious bragging rights at your next neighborhood wine tasting.
Mix It Up in the Kitchen
Chef Tami J. Cecil spices up everyday cooking with group classes at her Woodhaven Farm.
The former stockbroker re-embraced her love of cooking when she bought her 10-acre farm in Johnstown, studying at the Culinary Institute of America. She soon cooked up Cecil’s Secret Salsa, growing her own peppers and tomatoes.
The $30 Behind-the-Scenes experience helps you rustle up a meal from start to finish, under Cecil’s guidance. Then, she serves a full lunch and sends you home with the recipes. To immerse yourself in her kitchen, pick herbs from her organic garden and do all the prep, mixing and cooking, either in Cecil’s indoor or outdoor kitchen. It might be Italian chicken breast stuffed with provolone; prosciutto and basil in a fresh marinara; chile rellenos with a cilantro sauce; or a session on grilling. Brunch is $25, lunch $30 and dinner $40.
Create Delicious Delights
Messy, sticky, delicious: What’s not to like about making your own gooey treats in someone else’s kitchen?
That’s the promise of a trip to Brownie Points, where everyone channels his or her inner child to dip brownies and cookies into a chocolate fountain, and where you can taste more than 30 varieties of popcorn, before concocting your own custom flavor.
Years ago, elementary school teacher Lisa King developed Brownie Points in her small Cleveland kitchen. She later linked her company with her husband Eddie King’s family business, The Popcorn Gallery. Since then, Brownie Points goodies have been featured on the Food Network and “Rachael Ray Show” and were hailed as “the perfect brownie” on “The Today Show.”
You can horn in on the culinary spotlight with the $10 hands-on experience, dipping brownies, cookies and other treats into a chocolate fountain. Try Vanilla Surprise, Cinnamon Roll and Blue Raspberry popcorn, then strike out on your own under Eddie’s guidance. As a finale, roll your own Buckeye candies.
During the $16 Immersion experience, run your fudge brownie-on-a-stick through a river of chocolate, and let your mind run wild with toppings.