Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Cincinnati Union Terminal

Some places on planet earth have the ability to transport the living back through time as they envelope us in waves of sensory memory. With a look, a touch, a reflection of light off of a surface, we physically sense time. Not just seconds or minutes on a clock, but the emotions and heavy presence of life that came before us. The lives that built our present still resonate in the structural echos.

When the Museum Center asked "why" we love this museum, my mind immediately passed over dozens of scenes from more than one lifetime. With the building's construction in 1928-33, I saw my great grandfather, Clyde Daniels. Family tradition has always proudly remembered him as not only a railroad employee, but one that was employed and on-site when the building opened. 

His son Charles followed in his footsteps, working at the terminal, monitoring and maintaining train cars for over 25 years. When the flood waters of 1937 rose steadily, it was Charles that was in the lower levels that night (Black Sunday), witnessing the flood waters come up through the sewer system as the lights began to fail in this part of the city. His call to authorities began mobilization in his area.

"I was a young man of twenty five years of age and was employed by the Cincinnati Union Terminal Company and a First Sergeant of Company C 147th Infantry Ohio National Guard....On Friday night, the water started to back up onto Freeman Avenue near the ball park and around the Union Terminal. All activity stopped at the Mail Building at the Terminal and I was left there to watch the property. I was in the basement of the office and just outside of the door the lid blew off the sewer and water started to bubble up into the street. I called the Master Mechanic and suggested he get some people to start moving the material up stairs. He laughed at me and said I was just being excited. Soon the water got so deep I went upstairs on the first floor. I went to the water fountain for a drink and there was no water. I tried to use the telephone and it was dead. Then the rising water in the basement hit the generators and the lights went out. I then started down the platform toward the Coach Yard. When I reached the end of the platform I could see that the water was several feet deep. So I turned around and went toward the passenger station. I was able to get to the station and stayed there until my time to quit at 7AM. The water by this time had backed up in front of the Terminal and it was necessary for a high bed truck to take us out. I was told not to report to work that night." Charles C. Daniels, Sr. 1985

I saw the many travelers, especially in wartime. My grandfather and his brother would have been among the many men who had to say goodbye to their families as they were called to serve their country. I saw the women in the USO, providing comforts of home to weary soldiers. I saw tearful partings and reunions. It was under these colorful arches of the semi-dome that many said final goodbyes. 

I saw my father Charles Jr. as a boy, following his father around the terminal, getting glimpses of the nooks and crannies rarely seen by the regular visitor. Years later, he applied his profession of photography to the back tracks with his father as the subject, chronicling his retirement. I saw generation after generation of parents teaching their children to talk in the far corner of the front entry as they were given a magical lesson in acoustics.

I saw the fast paced buzz of train travel in the 20th century, and the busy cabbies driving through the circular underbelly to transport new arrivals or drop of the departing passenger. 

Fast forward to the lean years of indecision and trepidation. I saw shoppers and a whole room of suits as my parents took their time, shopping and savoring the palpable remnants of the past. 

I saw rebirth. A new generation of visitors. Some train passengers, the rest time passengers as they were transported through Cincinnati's history. Children exploring and learning at every turn. My brother and I screaming and laughing in the sink hole cave exhibit. Dad taking a picture with a flash, and blinding us all. The train of twinkling lights stretching across the iconic clock each Christmas as a bright and joyful treat coming down the expressway.

I remember ice cream in the soda shop and marveling at the Rookwood tiles inside. I remember weddings, theatre, and flying over the Grand Canyon. I remember walking the plaster statues of WWII, having a bowl of Skyline in the rotunda, and being transfixed with wonder every time I see the massive murals of colorful glass that tell a story all their own: Seriously, EVERY SINGLE TIME. 
Today, we talk about uniqueness, aesthetics, and sense of place as necessary building blocks of a happy and satisfied community. How do we draw them in and make them want to live here or stay here? Give them a unique experience unlike any other, so they say. There is no more unique place in this city than the Museum Center at Union Terminal. Where else can you get a healthy dose of art, culture, history, and architectural wonder? It has no equal in the entire country, let alone in this Queen City. Union Terminal is not just a building, an Art Deco echo, filled with exhibits and theatre, it IS Cincinnati. This temple of time, this holy place, tells OUR story as no other could.

For more information, including how you can help support this American treasure in trouble, visit the Museum Center website. or @CincyMuseum on Twitter


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