Rating Cincinnati’s museums

I’ve never been a big museum person. There’s something about being held hostage in a musty room and forced to read no-longer-accurate placards that has me yawning as soon as I walk in the door.  I seem unable to retain any information I absorb via exhibit. I still get reptiles and amphibians confused. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the Hope diamond, other than it is shiny. I walked through Elvis’s house twice and still have no idea why it exists.

Good thing I’m rating museums, eh?

The thing is, I want to like museums. I want to be a better person. I want to wear patches on my tweed jacket and chew on a pipe and stroke my beard and say very interesting things all the time. And I realize that the problem isn’t museums, it’s me. So I’m going museum-ing. Here’s a short list of what I’ve seen and what I thought. I hope soon to add visits to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Creation Museum, American Sign Museum and — the one I’m most excited/disturbed by — the Vent Haven Museum.

See what I mean?

The Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati

Overall impression: I live just a few blocks from this museum, housed in the historic Engine Company #45 Fire House, and I never even knew it. For $7 you get to learn about all the things that burned down in Cincinnati before they figured out how to extinguish flames with something better than a water bomb. This impressive museum gives you the history of a bunch of Cincinnati inventions, companies and families, and a ton of fire-fighting artifacts that make you realize how clever you aren’t.

Getting there: 315 West Court Street, Downtown. Lots of downtown meters and a big pay lot nearby. Or just move downtown and walk there.

Extras: You can gain entry to the museum by sliding down a pole. Don’t let anyone take your picture as you do this.

Unsolicited advice: This museum needs to be more vocal about what it is and where it is. Totally worth the $7.

Dude on the steamboat says 'sup.

Cincinnati History Museum

Overall impression: This museum sits inside one of Cincinnati’s most beautiful structures, Union Terminal. It’s huge; it just kept winding around and throwing more Cincy stuff our way. The model of the city in the early 1900s is a marvel, as is the walk-through model steamboat.

Getting there: 1301 Western Ave., Queensgate. Drive there and park in the big lot. I don’t know what else to say.

Extras: There’s a Starbucks inside and decent wraps at the food stands.

Unsolicited advice: I don’t know. This place is pretty well done. Maybe heat the wrap next time?

Contemporary Arts Center

Overall impression: The CAC is a Zaha Hadid-designed masterpiece of narrow stairways loaded with artwork I don’t always understand. I always leave this place thinking I should get an asymmetrical haircut and a better wardrobe, but I still feel cooler for having been there.

Getting there: 44 East 6th St., Downtown. Find a meter or a pay lot. Or be a good citizen and take the bus downtown.

Extras: The gift shop here is a treat, loaded with the kind of stuff you won’t find in big-box stores.

Unsolicited advice: Needs more parties! The CAC once hosted a Shepard Fairey bash in its back alleys that was among the most memorable I’ve been to in this city.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Overall impression: Gorgeous building, poignant exhibits, far lower attendance than it should have. I’ve seen displays here about Abraham Lincoln and Cincitucky’s role in slavery that actually taught me something. This museum doesn’t sugarcoat our country’s sometimes shameful history, and the exhibits rarely fail to impress.

Getting there: 50 East Freedom Way, Downtown. Park in one of the stadium lots or at a meter on 3rd Street. The walk is short.

Extras: Take the stairs for some unexpected (the distance between the 2nd and 3rd floors is somehow two floors) exercise.

Unsolicited advice: Put the North Star Cafe inside the museum! Making a person walk outside to another door to get a Coke might just make her lose interest in returning.

OK, there’s a start. I need to go watch reality TV now to wash all this real knowledge from my brain.


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