Magical History Tour

Grobe Fruit Farm: An Ohio Century Farm

October’s Magical History Tour takes us to picturesque Grobe Fruit Farm in Elyria, a half-hour drive west on I-90. Covid-19 precautions include regular sanitation of surfaces, and both employees and customers are asked to wear a mask.

To some here in northeast Ohio, fall doesn’t officially begin until October, when a fat orange pumpkin is sitting on the front porch. In my case, that pumpkin comes from Grobe Fruit Farm, where the big pile of pumpkins around the black walnut tree in front of the farmhouse have been a family tradition since I was a child. For the Grobe family and their employees, fall begins at the beginning of September, with the harvesting of apples and making cider.

Fall on the farm has come to members of the Grobe family since 1905, when the then-potato and -dairy farm was purchased by Henry Grobe due to the soil quality. While the house was present at the time of purchase, the following century saw a variety of improvements and expansions: the apple orchard was added in the '20s and expanded in the '40s; the market was built in 1950 and the apple packing house in 1969; a commercial cider mill was added in 2007; and expansions to the packing house were made in 1999 and 2010.

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Volume 12, Issue 19, Posted 9:48 AM, 10.06.2020

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

In keeping with social distancing, April’s Magical History Tour takes us on a memory-fueled journey to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. So crack open the photo album as we revisit a favorite Northeast Ohio attraction from the comfort of home.

A classic Cleveland crowd pleaser, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo began on Sept. 15, 1882, when Jeptha H. Wade donated 73 acres of land and 14 American deer to the city of Cleveland in what is now University Circle’s Wade Oval. The arrival of the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1916 necessitated the move of the zoo’s small building and tiny but growing collection of animals to its current location in Brookside Park near West 25th Street.

Most of the zoo’s early menagerie were species native to the area, though there were some rather large exceptions like Minnie, Cleveland’s first zoo elephant, who joined the collection in 1907. By 1940 the zoo had added Monkey Island, Sea Lion Pools, and a bear exhibit. November 1940 brought Asian elephant Frieda, a favorite with zoo patrons until her death on Nov. 27, 1956. Her popularity no doubt contributed to the 1955 establishment of an African safari by dedicated zoo staff and enthusiastic supporters, adding two hippopotamuses, two rhinoceros, three giraffes, a variety of smaller animals, and three additional elephants joining Frieda.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 9:04 AM, 04.21.2020

The Museum of Divine Statues

March’s Magical History Tour takes place in Lakewood’s Birdtown district, at the Museum of Divine Statues on Madison Avenue. Hours are noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10 with complimentary on-site parking available off Halstead Avenue.

Three low, wide steps end at the sidewalk, a short distance separating visitors from the wooden double doors of the Museum of Divine Statues, located in the former St. Hedwig’s church. Converted from a community hall in 1975, the church served the parish of St. Hedwig, established in 1914 to serve the needs of Lakewood’s Roman Catholic Polish residents. In 2009, amid changing demographics and lack of priests and funds, the church was part of the 50 downsized parishes in Cleveland’s eight-county diocese; it closed that November.

It didn’t remain shuttered for long.

In April 2011, St. Hedwig’s found new life as the Museum of Divine Statues. The man behind the transition seemed to have been tailor-made for the roll: makeup artist, founder of Lusso Cosmetics, amateur collector and restorer of religious statuary – Lou McClung had it all. His hobby began small, restoring one little statue salvaged from a local antique store. The collection grew from there, with his purchasing of St. Hedwig’s over a decade later finally permitting display of the pieces in a proper museum setting.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:07 AM, 03.03.2020

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Magical History Tour welcomes the start of 2020 (and the end of another disappointing Browns season) at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, conveniently located an hour’s drive south off I-77.

With a sprawling façade both unabashedly retro and decidedly modern, the Pro Football Hall of Fame begins making an impression before visitors exit Interstate 77. A mural-sized banner covering one of the brick walls proudly proclaims the “Class of 2019: Kickoff of the NFL’s 100th Season.”

Here in Canton on Sept. 17, 1920, the American Professional Football Association was created by representatives from 10 professional football teams. Two years later this association became the National Football League, or NFL. The Canton Bulldogs would become the League’s first two-time champion in 1922 and 1933.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 10:33 AM, 01.07.2020

A Christmas Story House & Museum

December’s Magical History Tour is the iconic A Christmas Story House & Museum, located less than 30 minutes east on I-90 in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. The museum’s website,, contains pertinent information regarding building layout, parking, tour times and admission fees. 

“Oh my goodness, there it is!” Those six words must be uttered by anyone at all familiar with that classic holiday flick, “A Christmas Story,” as they turn from Clark Avenue onto Tremont’s West 11th Street and behold the yellow-with-green-trim home of Ralphie Parker, his little brother Randy, his Mom, and his Old Man.

Based on Jean Shepherd’s stories about growing up in the 1940s, “A Christmas Story” was brought to life by Bob Clark in 1983. Out of some 20 Rust Belt cities scouted for filming locations, Cleveland was ultimately selected, primarily due to the cooperation of Public Square-located Higbee’s Department Store (now the Jack Casino), which included keeping its Christmas decorations up through January and allowing construction of a 30-foot-high Santa Mountain.

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Volume 11, Issue 23, Posted 10:08 AM, 12.03.2019

Spiegel Grove: Home of President Rutherford B. Hayes

November’s Magical History Tour takes us an hour and fifteen minutes west on I-90 to Fremont’s Spiegel Grove, home of 19th President Rutherford B. Hayes. Magical History Hint: Bring your walking shoes, you’ll be glad you did!

A cool, leafy oasis rests amid the city of Fremont: Spiegel Grove beckons potential visitors with the promise of winding paths and welcome surprises throughout its verdant grounds. Once home to President Rutherford B. Hayes, the 25-acre estate now houses the Rutherford B. Hayes Library & Museums, which include a presidential library; museum; 31-room Victorian mansion belonging to Hayes and his wife, Lucy; the couples’ tomb; and a mile of paved trails.

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Volume 11, Issue 22, Posted 9:32 AM, 11.19.2019

Cedar Point, a summer destination since the 1800s

As the weather starts (finally!) warming up, many of us start looking forward to the pleasures of summer, especially that old Ohio favorite, Cedar Point. This month's Magical History Tour reflects on summers past and the summer to come at Cedar Point, "America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast."  

Once called “The Queen of American Watering Places,” Cedar Point has been captivating pleasure-seekers for generations. In the 1860s the arrival of a rail line brought picnickers and bathers looking to enjoy the sandy peninsula now known as Cedar Point, officially debuting as a tourist attraction in 1870 with the construction of a bathhouse, beer garden and other public amenities. In 1892, the park’s inaugural roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, opened. Towering an impressive 25 feet high, the Switchback took riders on the gravity-powered journey of their lives, reaching the astonishing speed of 10 miles an hour. 

While the Switchback was retired over a century ago in 1907, there are many pieces of Cedar Point’s storied history still to be found located throughout the park, if you know where to look. Those entering through the main gate won’t have to look far.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 10:36 AM, 05.21.2019

National First Ladies' Library

This November, Magical History Tour marks its first anniversary with another Northeast Ohio president and first lady, William McKinley and his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley. So down to Canton we go, about an hour and 15 minute drive on I-77 S, to the National First Ladies’ Library and Saxton-McKinley House. All tours of the house are guided, and advance reservations are highly recommended. Free on-site parking is available. 

In charming downtown Canton sits the “Grand Lady of Market Avenue,” a three-story brick house that is quintessentially Victorian: a wrap-around porch, arched windows, and architectural details and chimneys galore. Originally built in 1841 by George DeWalt, the house was expanded around 1865 by his son-in-law James Saxton, a prominent Canton banker and father of three children, of whom Ida was the eldest.

In regards to his daughters, James Saxton was unusually progressive for the era. He provided Ida and Mary with quality educations, sent them on a Grand Tour of Europe, and hired Ida at his bank, where she quickly rose to the rank of cashier and, in his absence, manager. A portrait of Ida hanging over the mantel in the parlor shows her as a very elegant and fashionably dressed (and coiffed) young woman. Instead of looking out at the viewer, she glances past the photographer and out of the frame, her eyes bright with an expressive thought.

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Volume 10, Issue 23, Posted 10:25 AM, 12.04.2018

B. A. Sweetie Candy Company

October’s Magical History Tour will get you all set for trick-or-treating, at North America’s largest candy store: B.A. Sweetie’s on Brookpark Road in Cleveland, conveniently located right off of I-480 East.

If you’ve ever used I-480, odds are you’ve passed B.A. Sweetie’s on more than one occasion, with its large, rainbow-swirl lollipop loudly proclaiming to all far and wide that there is candy to be had within these walls.

Is there ever. Walking into the warehouse calls to mind the (paraphrased) words of Willy Wonka: “Don’t lose your head! Don’t get overexcited!” This is quite a tall order, as the 40,000-square-foot candy store is stuffed to the brim with every kind of candy imaginable. Meandering through the soaring rows of sweets, one is greeted with stacks of chocolates, Pez, lollipops, bubble gum, pretzels, candy sticks and jelly beans.

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Volume 10, Issue 20, Posted 10:01 AM, 10.16.2018

Historic Wellington

August’s Magical History Tour takes us to the bucolic village of Wellington, located about 40 minutes away on OH-58 South. Visitor information can be found, and local restaurants and amusements are available.

This year, amid the tidy fields of corn and big red barns of southwest Lorain County, the village of Wellington is celebrating its 200th birthday. In 1818, four men from Massachusetts began the 600-mile journey to present-day Wellington, being joined along the way by William T. Welling from New York. Welling had the honor of naming the town, though whether he named it after himself or after the Duke of Wellington is still a matter of contention.

Incorporated on Aug. 6, 1855, the village of Wellington consisted of about 12,000 acres of the central area of the township. The impressive town hall, also built in 1855 for a cool $40,000, boasts an uncommon combination of architectural styles – Byzantine, Greek, Gothic and Spanish. At the time, it hosted the largest opera house between Cleveland and Columbus; today the majority of the town hall is occupied by administrative offices.

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Volume 10, Issue 15, Posted 9:39 AM, 08.07.2018

Marblehead Lighthouse

This month's Magical History Tour takes us on a pleasant drive west via I-90/OH 2 to Marblehead Lighthouse, located at Marblehead State Park not too far from Kelley's Island, Put-In-Bay and Cedar Point. Hours are noon to 4 p.m., seven days a week, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, though the park grounds are open year-round. Entry to the museums are free; for those aged 5 and older wishing to climb the lighthouse tower there is a $3 (cash only) tour charge.  

On the edge of rocky Marblehead peninsula, jutting out into the gray waters of Lake Erie, a white lighthouse capped in red stands tall, the sunlight glinting off of its windows. Come nightfall, a brilliant green LED light will shine across the water, signaling vessels up to 11 nautical miles away, the same as every other night since its beginnings in 1822, though its methods of doing so have certainly changed. 

The oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, construction of Marblehead Lighthouse was set in motion by the fifteenth United States Congress in 1819, who appropriated $5,000 for its construction. Built by William Kelly out of native limestone, the resulting lighthouse was 50 feet high, its base 25 feet in diameter with five-foot thick walls, narrowing to 12 feet at the top with walls two feet thick. 

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Volume 10, Issue 13, Posted 9:25 AM, 07.03.2018

Lake View Cemetery

This month's Magical History Tour takes place at Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland's "Outdoor Museum," located about a half-hour drive east, bordering Cleveland's University Circle and Little Italy. Entrances are at Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, and at Mayfield and Kenilworth Roads in Cleveland Heights. Admittance is free, and complimentary on-site parking is available. See for visitation guidelines.      

From the hard lines and polished surfaces of Cleveland's East Side rises a rural oasis of gentle hills and swaying greenery, a place of peace and repose, a sanctum from the roar of the city streets below. While the inadvertent visitor might be taken by surprise, Lake View Cemetery has been this way since its founding in 1869, being designed after the grand garden cemeteries of France and Victorian England.

Originally developed five miles from the city in bucolic arboreal surroundings, today the cemetery's 285 acres encompasses tracts of Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights. The expansive grounds host two small lakes, wildlife and a variety of exceptional horticulture: over 750 labeled trees, four of which are Moses Cleaveland trees – trees that were growing when Cleaveland first surveyed the area in 1796. 

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 9:33 AM, 05.15.2018

Dittrick Medical History Center

This month's Magical History Tour is the Dittrick Medical History Center, located in the Allen Memorial Library in Cleveland's University Circle, and is about a 30-minute drive using I-90 East. The information in this article was sourced from the web pages of both the Library and the Dittrick. Admission is free, and public parking is available in the University Hospitals visitors garage a short drive east of the Library. Hours vary by day and season, so it is advisable to check the website,, when planning your visit.

The junction of Euclid Avenue and Adelbert Road teems with a steady stream of cars criss-crossing the intersection, only pausing at the change of the traffic lights when clumps of students from Case Western Reserve University shuffle across the street at the sharp chirp of the traffic officer's whistle. Nurses and doctors, patients and visitors are seen hurrying up and down the sidewalk, all coming to and from the University Hospitals campus, the sharp outlines of its impressive glass-and-steel treatment center piercing the skyline behind a small yet striking three-story sandstone building crouching on the corner. 

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Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 9:33 AM, 04.03.2018

Fashion on display at Kent State University Museum

This month's Magic History Tour is the Kent State University Museum, located on the Kent State campus about an hour's drive via I-480 East. The information used in the article was sourced from "A Fine Endeavor: 25 Years of Fashionable Collecting," and the "Fringe Elements" exhibit brochure. Both are available at the Kent State Museum. The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday to the public, and free parking is available to museum visitors. 

On the Kent State University campus, at the bottom of a steep hill, sits Rockwell Hall. Built in the late 1920s as the first university library, Rockwell Hall was later converted into administrative use for the executive offices. Today the quintessential collegiate building hosts a "jewel in the crown" of the university: the Kent State University Museum. 

The Kent State University Museum began life as a collection of 4,000 dresses, over 1,000 antique furnishings, and 5,000 books belonging to two men – business partners Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman, whose line of women's ready-to-wear was highly popular throughout the 1960s and '70s. Both men were very fond of antiques and avidly collected for their homes. The resulting assortment of first-rate objects was eventually gifted to Kent State, as Jerry thought it should be accessible to students, and Dr. Brage Golding, president of the university, proposed creating a museum and adding a curriculum in fashion design and merchandising should they choose to locate the collection there. They did, and the Kent State University Museum officially opened in 1985.

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Volume 10, Issue 5, Posted 9:25 AM, 03.06.2018

Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

This month’s Magical History Tour is the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, an easy 30-minute drive on I-480 East to Beachwood. The information in this article was sourced from the museum's guidebook, available for purchase in the giftshop, and the exhibits themselves. 

Nestled at the base of a small hill sloping down from Richmond Road is the Maltz Museum of Jewish History, the single-story structure of glistening glass and golden Jerusalem limestone complementing the graceful domes of Temple-Tifereth Israel rising up from behind. Once inside, the understated lobby offers access to three brilliant exhibits: The Jewish Experience in Northeast Ohio – An American Story; The Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery; and Jews and Medicine in America.  

Opened in October 2005, the museum tells the story of the Jewish immigrants who settled in Cleveland. What began as a tiny, marginalized community grew into a large, thriving one, whose impact was felt across the United States and around the world. Interestingly, while telling this story the museum discovered the stories of every group of immigrants, and so alongside that of the Jewish community, "the Museum relates another story as well – one of diversity, of understanding and of mutual respect for all the peoples and cultures that comprise the myriad threads of the American tapestry." As part of this understanding, the museum proudly sponsors an annual "Stop the Hate" campaign, empowering students to speak out and make a difference in the world. 

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Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 9:54 AM, 02.06.2018

Cleveland Grays Armory Museum

This month’s Magical History Tour is at Cleveland Grays Armory Museum, located approximately 15 miles from the Westlake/Bay Village area in downtown Cleveland. The information in this article was sourced from a tour given by Bernie Browski, as well as the museum’s website and brochure.

On Bolivar Road, the Cleveland Grays Armory stands a silent sentry amid the bright lights and thunderous applause of Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Playhouse Square, an imposing reminder of times gone by. Chartered in 1837, the Cleveland Grays were an independent militia whose members served in volunteer units during the Civil War, Spanish-American War, Mexican Border Campaign and World War I.

Although the early 1900s saw federal legislation moving the country away from state-run militias through the establishment of the National Guard, the Grays declined joining the Guard and became instead a private militia. Since then, members of the Grays have volunteered in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the Grays take pride in their past and present service as America’s oldest independent armory, offering public tours of the Armory on the first Wednesday of each month between noon and 4 p.m. at $8 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and military.

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Volume 10, Issue 1, Posted 9:31 AM, 01.09.2018

Holiday at Finwood Estate

This month’s Magical History Tour is at Finwood Estate, located less than 15 miles from the Westlake/Bay Village area, next to Lorain County Community College in Elyria. Information in this article was sourced from the city of Elyria’s web page on Finwood Estate and from Annette Solet, recreation supervisor for the City of Elyria.

From the tangled black mass of skeletal trees lining Abbe Road blazes a multitude of Christmas lights, beginning near the street and stretching back into the surrounding woods. A drive cuts through the trees, snaking its way to the brightly-lit house twinkling merrily through the branches: It's Christmas time once more at Finwood Estate.

Originally built in 1929 as the private residence of common pleas Judge Guy B. Findley and his wife, Finwood Estate is now owned by the city of Elyria and operated by the Elyria Parks Department throughout the year for private rentals. During the Christmas season, however, Finwood's doors are flung open to the public as the property is transformed into a veritable winter wonderland known as Holiday at Finwood. This tradition is in its 32nd year, according to Annette Solet, recreation supervisor for the City of Elyria and prime mover behind the event.

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Volume 9, Issue 24, Posted 9:59 AM, 12.19.2017

Exploring Lawnfield, home of President James A. Garfield

The Observer is pleased to introduce our newest columnist, Rachel Polaniec. Rachel grew up in Elyria and has lived in Westlake for the past 5 years. She has a passion for historic sites, studying living history museums as a student at Case Western Reserve University and participating in historic reenactments with her family. Her column will explore Northeast Ohio's rich history, touring sites that aren't too far from the Westlake/Bay Village area. Perhaps you'll be inspired to let the Magical History Tour take you away on a trip of your own.

When driving along U.S. Route 20 in Mentor, it is difficult to imagine the area without its usual bustle – the store fronts, the eateries, the people milling about; a veritable concrete jungle. But continuing along this road brings a reminder of a different time: Close to the street behind a white picket fence sits a tidy gray house with a burgundy roof and inviting front porch. This is Lawnfield, named such in 1880 by reporters who came to hear the Republican presidential candidate James A. Garfield campaign from his front porch.

Garfield’s successful front porch campaign was the first of its kind, and he was sworn into office March 4, 1881. His term was tragically cut short – after being shot by an assassin on July 2, Garfield died on Sept. 19, 1881, just 200 days after his inauguration.

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Volume 9, Issue 22, Posted 10:00 AM, 11.21.2017