Cincinnati is a large Midwestern city lying on the northern banks of the Ohio River in the southwestern corner of the state of Ohio. Unlike a number of cities in the north part of the state, Cincinnati has avoided many of the economic and social hardships resulting from the declining manufacturing industries of the 'Rust Belt'. Its population is largely middle-class and fairly conservative. The city would never be described as 'cutting edge', but that's just fine for those looking for a stable and safe place to live and work. Excitement? Who needs it! There are more sedate pleasures to be found in one of life's slower lanes.
According to the 2000 Census, approximately 331,000 people live within the city's boundaries, with another 514,000 living in the surrounding Hamilton County. The 'Greater Cincinnati area' also includes parts of northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana, and numbers close to two million residents. The city's geographical location gives it a temperate climate, which in this part of the world means hot summers, cold winters, long autumns (known to the locals as 'Indian summer') and short springs. The temperature ranges from an average low temperature of 31°F/-1°C to an average high temperature of 76°F/24°C. (Actual temperatures can vary considerably from the average. This Researcher has personally experienced a low of -25° F/-31°C and a high of 108°F/42°C.) Annual precipitation measures 40 inches per year, falling in the form of rain, snow, sleet, ice, and the dreaded 'wintry mix' (all of the previous combined, with the occasional bolt of lightning and clap of thunder thrown in). Cincinnati gets a measly 81 sunny days per year, primarily in the summer as winters tend to be overcast and gloomy. The terrain is hilly, thanks to the miscellaneous rock and sediment piled up by the glaciers during the last ice age.
If you don't like the weather here, just wait five minutes.
— local saying
A Little History
Founded in 1778, the city was originally named Losantiville, an invented name meaning 'town opposite the mouth' of the Licking River. In 1790, city officials thought better of it and discarded this less-than-mellifluous name, choosing instead to honour the Society of Cincinnati, an organisation of Revolutionary War Officers. By 1835, Cincinnati was the fastest-growing city in the United States and by 1850, it was the country's sixth largest. Its location on the Ohio River and at the end of the Miami and Erie Canal made it a prime site for manufacturing and transportation industries, and its thriving economy attracted immigrants, particularly Irish and Germans, whose heritage is still reflected in the city's architecture and cuisine. The positioning also made it an active hub on the Underground Railroad, a pre-Civil War network of safe houses that provided shelter and assistance for runaway slaves making their way to the free states of the northern US and to Canada.
Cincinnati is known to many as the Queen City, a name given to it by its early residents and by American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who referred to it as the 'Queen of the West' in his poem 'Catawba Wine'. It also was nicknamed 'Porkopolis' around 1835, when Cincinnati was the country's chief pig packing centre and herds of swine roamed the streets. British author Charles Dickens had some nice things to say about the city, as did writer Anthony Trollope. Others were not so impressed by what they saw. Fanny Trollope, mother of Anthony, spent four unhappy years living in the city and wrote of her experiences in The Domestic Manners of the Americans, giving her frank opinion of her neighbours: 'I do not like them ..... their principles ..... their manners ..... opinions'. Writer Oscar Wilde also visited while touring the United States in 1882, but sadly the experience does not appear to have inspired any bons mots or aphorisms.
In addition to being the major pork packer of the US between 1850 and 1900, Cincinnati was the machine tool capital of the world. In 1837, William Proctor and James Gamble founded a business to sell candles and soap. The business grew into today's multi-national corporation Proctor & Gamble, which is still headquarted in downtown Cincinnati. Similarly, a small food store that opened in 1883 grew into The Kroger Company, one of the nation's largest grocery retailers, still with its headquarters in downtown Cincinnati.
Cincinnati offers visitors and residents big city amenities along with a small town pace and atmosphere. Something that can puzzle newcomers is the informal division of the city into 'the east side' and 'the west side'. The east side is often viewed as middle and upper-class, while the west side is viewed more as working class. As with all generalisations, there exists a grain of truth within. But there are enough exceptions that one shouldn't make assumptions. That said, natives born on one side of the city or other often see no reason to cross to the other side for shopping or entertainment, preferring to stay close to home. This 'great divide' can be the subject of much good-natured joking and teasing. Occasionally, charity fund drives will sponsor an 'east vs west' contest to see which side of the city can raise the most money for the cause.
In many ways, Cincinnati has one foot in the 21st Century and one in the 19th. Despite some adventurous architecture downtown, such as the Contemporary Arts Center which was designed by famed architect Zaha Hadid, the city retains much of its 19th-Century atmosphere. Some small towns nearby appear to dwell peacefully in the mid-1950s. For the most part, residents embrace their past and their present, proudly celebrating their 'Porkopolis' heritage by adopting the flying pig1 as the city's symbol.
When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always 20 years behind the times.
— attributed, probably inaccurately, to American writer and humourist Mark Twain
Things to See and Do
It's impossible to cover everything that's available in the city so we'll hit the highlights:
- University of Cincinnati
- Cincinnati State Technical College
- Xavier University
- College of Mount St Joseph
- Hebrew Union College
- Union Institute & University
- Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
- Cincinnati Ballet Company
- Cincinnati Opera
- Cincinnati Art Museum
- Taft Museum
- Contemporary Arts Center
- Underground Railroad Freedom Center
- Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
This isn't the Ohio State School of Journalism, this is the big time.
— Les Nessman, character in the 1978 television show WKRP in Cincinnati
The residents of Cincinnati generally don't take themselves too seriously. Witness their embracing the flying pig as the city's symbol. In 2000, the community hosted a public art event known as the Big Pig Gig, during which fibreglass winged pigs were decorated and displayed around the city. At the end of the year, the pigs were sold at auction and the funds donated to a variety of non-profit organisations. To this day, you can occasionally come across one of the pigs on display in front of the home or business that purchased it. And each spring the city hosts the Flying Pig Marathon.
Many cities are located on rivers, as is Cincinnati. Many cities have developed their riverfronts into shopping and entertainment areas, as has Cincinnati. But how many cities have their very own Purple People Bridge? Originally named the L&N Railroad Bridge, it is one of nine bridges linking Cincinnati with northern Kentucky. Renovation on the structure began in 2001, finishing two years later. Then, somebody decided to paint it purple. Designated for pedestrian traffic only, it is now the longest footbridge3 linking two states in the US. It was dubbed the Purple People Bridge as a nod to the 1958 novelty hit song titled 'Purple People Eater'. The bridge is fitted out with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras and call boxes for emergencies, and it connects the riverfronts of Ohio and Kentucky in a seamless collection of entertainment, dining, nightlife, and other attractions.
Abandoned tunnels under a city sound like the setting for a ghost story, but Cincinnati does in fact have such a tunnel. It lies under Central Parkway in what was the bed of the old Miami and Erie Canal and is all that remains of a planned subway system that was never completed. Construction began in 1920, but funds ran out and work on the system stopped in 1925. Periodically, city officials come up with plans to use the tunnel, but so far residents have shown little interest. Nonetheless, the tunnel is still maintained by the city, although the entrances to it are gated and barred. Despite essentially being a large hole in the ground, the tunnel attracts a fair few curious looks from passers-by.
A city's cuisine is a reflected in its residents. Cincinnati's German immigrants brought with them a variety of sausages and other pork dishes. One unique food is something called goetta, which is made by simmering pork with pinhead oats and seasonings and congealing it in a pan. Now a popular dish, goetta festivals are held each year in Cincinnati and across the river in northern Kentucky. As the Roman general Cincinnatus may have said, de gustibus non disputandum est4.
Another unique dish is Cincinnati chili. Now chili is very popular in the US, particularly in the southwest, and is made of ground beef, hot peppers (or chilies), tomatoes and onions. But Cincinnati chili is different. Rumour has it that it contains a bit of chocolate and cinnamon. As if that weren't enough, rather than serving it in bowls, Cincinnatians put theirs over spaghetti (known as a 'two-way'), sometimes adding shredded cheese ('three-way') and chopped onions ('four-way') and kidney beans ('five-way').
To put out the fire afterwards, one can stop for a dish of Graeter's ice cream. Founded in 1870, the company still produces its ice cream by hand. There are several Graeter's shops throughout the city, and a visit is a must for ice cream aficionados.
Yes, the residents love to eat, and a number of annual events revolve around food. A Taste of Cincinnati, which bills itself as the nation's longest running culinary arts festival, is held every Memorial Day weekend (late May) in downtown Cincinnati. Local restaurants set up booths in a four-block area and offer their wares to visitors. Taste also features local and national recording stars performing on stages throughout the area, and it is the unofficial kick-off of the summer season. A number of similar but smaller Taste of... events have sprung up in various suburbs around the city. The other big food-related event is Oktoberfest Zinzinnati which, despite its name, actually takes place in September. This event also features several blocks' worth of food vendors, entertainment venues, and the annual attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the World's Largest Chicken Dance5. And like the Munich Oktoberfest (also held in September!) that is its inspiration, Cincinnati's Oktoberfest features plenty of bratwurst and beer. Finally, every four years or so, the city celebrates its riverboat history with a festival called Tall Stacks. Restored steamboats travel up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and dock at Cincinnati. In addition to boat tours, the festival offers concerts, art exhibits and, yes, food.
Cincinnati is also known for its love of classical music. In May, the city hosts the aptly-named May Festival, the oldest continuous choral music festival in the Western Hemisphere. For lovers of popular music, Riverbend Amphitheatre offers a summer season of musical acts ranging from the Cincinnati Pops 'light classics' to heavy metal, from country and western to perennial favourite Jimmy Buffet6. The annual summer Jammin' on Main event provides a smaller venue for everything from hard rock to punk, alternative, ska, and mellow pop.
When is a good time to visit? Just about any time, although travel in winter can get a little dicey if Mother Nature serves up some of that famous 'wintry mix'. There is always plenty going on, and for those who like less-structured activities, the city's parks offer plenty of space for wandering and contemplating. Late September through to mid-October is prime season for the 'leaf peepers', who like to view the season's spectacularly-colourful foliage.
Cincinnati boasts a large, international airport which, strangely, is not in Cincinnati or even Ohio but instead is located across the river just west of Erlanger, Kentucky (hence the name 'Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport'). In addition to flights to and from all major cities in the US, there are direct flights to a number of foreign cities. Two smaller regional airports are also located in Blue Ash (a northern suburb) and in Anderson Township (just east of the city) and serve many of Cincinnati's corporations. Interstate highways I-71, I-74 and I-75 connect Cincinnati with other cities.
For getting around the city you're best off in a car. There is a good bus system serving the Greater Cincinnati area, but the routes generally radiate out from the downtown area. To cross the city from east to west by bus, the traveler would first have to go downtown and then change buses and head west, which is time-consuming and inconvenient.
Visitors can check the Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site for more information.
More from the Edited Guide
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- Bucyrus, Ohio, USA - Bratwurst Festival
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