Weekend Wanderlust: Pack in one more adventure before summer’s end

The summer days are dwindling, but there’s still time to hit up nearby attractions that include a family friendly farm, a museum of pest death and a collection of vintage music machines.
Poisons at the Trap History Museum
Poisons at the Trap History MuseumKevin J. Elliott

Meteorologically speaking, the official last day of the season is Sept. 23 – but with the Ohio State Fair done and shuttered, consumers inundated with back to school sales and another Labor Day weekend rapidly approaching (Hello Zucchinifest!), the twilight of summer is intensified. As an educator, that existential dread every August is mortifying. Pure terror, really. It’s not that I don’t miss teaching or welcoming a brand-new roster of eager and engaged students. It’s just the rapid planning and chaos that ensues after consecutive weeks of leisure is entirely daunting. 

With these End of Days looming, weeklong vacations out of state or country might be void. But a few random jaunts, one-tank trips, and wholly improvised respites can still be accomplished. In my past Weekend Wanderlust columns for Columbus Alive (RIP), I thought I had exhausted pretty much all that Ohio had to offer. But I keep finding some unknown oddity, museum, landmark or experience that I can share with readers. In good conscience, I can’t recommend making the trip to the National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame in Marion or to a far-flung field in Blooming Grove where President Warren G. Harding was born in rural poverty as a way to maximize the last minutes of summer. Instead, I’ve opted for three excursions within an hour from Columbus that will (at least temporarily) satiate the desire to get out of the house before the leaves change and the gloom of another Ohio winter approaches.

Trap History Museum
Trap History MuseumKevin J. Elliott

Trap History Museum

6106 Bausch Rd. 

Galloway, Ohio

In my survey of Ohio oddities, I feel like Tom Parr, the owner, operator, and your eventual tour guide of Galloway’s secluded Trap History Museum gets a bad rap. He will lead you into a basement of torture, sure. Traps are simple machines that mobilized man vs. nature long before we understood animal rights. Parr is not the doctor of death, as his massive collections of traps would imply. He’s just a collector. The very relic of his relics, no matter how cruel, is exactly the history we want to preserve. 

You have to approach Parr’s intensely curated assemblage of more than 4,000 “traps” with an open mind. Parr, one of the kindest and knowledgeable obsessives I’ve ever encountered, wouldn’t hurt a fly. That said, there’s an entire corner devoted to machines and potions that would rid your place of the common housefly, as well as an entire room of mousetraps, and even some primitive coal mine canary cages. 

Throughout the museum, you’ll find an intricate history and evolution of the trap and the once-booming fur trade. Most intriguing is a section dedicated to Oneida traps. Yes, the infamous New York sex cult, best known for its silverware, were the most prominent manufacturer of metal animal traps starting in the 1840s. The Oneidas did so well in the trap business that it helped their communal way of life thrive for decades. 

His children, who will no doubt inherit his collection, have told Parr to stop with his collecting, as there is no longer room on the property to store them. But as Parr explains, he can’t stop his legion of fans from sending him a trap or instrument of varmint death that he’s never seen before. Be sure to call ahead for an appointment, but I found if you knock on the door and show interest, Parr is more than happy to give you a tour.

Music Machine Trail
Music Machine TrailCourtesy Union County Tourism

Music Machine Trail 

Various locations

Marysville, Ohio

Arguably, my favorite roadside attraction, and most recommended pilgrimage is The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wis. There are several reasons to visit this surreal labyrinth of wonder, but what will always stand out to me is proprietor Alex Jordan’s collection of music machines. Predating radio with production in the early 1920s, nickelodeons, much like player pianos, are fed rolls of songs that trigger a junk drawer of instruments to play them. The House on the Rock has them hiding in wall fixtures and devotes an entire theater to music machines playing “Dance Macabre” in unison

While downtown Marysville may not be rural Wisconsin, it is now home to another reputable collection of music machines. Since the 1950s, Dave Ramey Sr. has been a craftsman in the art of “automatic musical instrument restoration.” And in 1978 he founded the D.C. Ramey Piano Company in Marysville to not only restore these machines for collections around the world, but also to build his own. Though Ramey passed away in 2006, his legacy lives on through this collection, which was donated and has now been spread through the shops and cultural landmarks of downtown. 

The trail starts at Union Station 1820, where you can pick up a map and witness Ramey’s own invention, the award-winning Banjo-Orchestra, in action. From there, you’ll walk to the Avalon Theater to see a 1924 Link 2E, which showcases a piano and xylophone, and to Rustic Reflections, which houses a 1923 Seeburg K2 that adds violin pipes and percussion. At each of the seven stops, grab a signature, and then turn in your map for a souvenir at the end. And don’t worry, these machines still play on nickels, and each location will provide you with some.

The Big House at Malabar Farm State Park
The Big House at Malabar Farm State ParkKevin J. Elliott

Malabar Farm State Park

4050 Bromfield Rd.

Lucas, Ohio

Malabar Farms contains multitudes. The first being its visionary founder: author, journalist and Mansfield native Louis Bromfield. By the early 1940s, Bromfield was a globe-hopping, best-selling Pulitzer Prize winner. Many of his most celebrated works, including Early Autumn and The Rains Came, were turned into blockbuster Hollywood movies. But it was his desire to pursue a simpler, agrarian life that defined his legacy and much of his later literature. Living in Paris during the advent of World War II, he decided to move his family back to Ohio and reimagine the then-unprofitable family farm.  

Touring Bromfield’s home, the Big House, will be a highlight of your visit. All of the original furniture and interior design is intact, displaying a bricolage of Gilded Age decadence and spartan charm that is such an anomaly in middle-of-nowhere Ohio. The Big House is most famous for the company it kept. There’s a particularly cool solarium and an ancient chess set where Bromfield would play with his best friend, Humphrey Bogart. The grand staircase in the home was also the site of Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s wedding day.  

Malabar, though, is still a working farm. Kids can sit on giant tractors and feed the goats and chickens. There’s an informative hayride to survey the sprawling grounds, where the guides will explain why Malabar continues to thrive. Bromfield worked diligently to make sure Malabar was the epicenter of agricultural progress in our region. He adopted techniques in sustainability, crop rotation, soil and water conservation, and experimental elements that have now become standards in eco-friendly farming. On your way out, you can usually grab some fresh produce from a vintage water-cooled vegetable stand where it’s said James Cagney worked on his frequent visits to the farm. Then take a quick hike up Mount Jeez, which provides a great vantage of the land. 

Per usual, do your research before you travel. Visit the links provided here for hours of operation and additional information. What I’ve found in post-pandemic travel is that it’s always a good idea to call ahead.

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