Monday, July 7, 2003

Locked exhibit leaves Peace Bell tourists glum


Newport: 'Open by appointment'

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Tourists dread these words: "Hey! It's closed."

There was a whole lot of dreading going on recently in the huge shadow cast by Newport's 33-ton World Peace Bell.

Six tourists from across the country crossed paths with the Summer Tour on a sunny Monday afternoon at the west Newport site. Only to find the bell's exhibit center closed.

Four members of the Sinnard family arrived first. John and Marjean Sinnard live in San Antonio. Their son, Dan, and his wife, Deborah Lee, reside in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

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Members of the Sinnard family stand under the Peace Bell in Newport, KY. They are (left to right) John and Marjean Sinnard from San Antonio, TX, and their son Dan and his wife Deborah Sinnard from Sierra Vista, AZ.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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They were followed by two New Yorkers, Mike Keller and Bernard Oshin, in the middle of a Midwest summer odyssey.

John Sinnard bounded from his rental car. He couldn't wait to show off the bell. He had been telling everyone how "neat" it was.

The Sinnards were in town for a family reunion. And a chance to reminisce. John grew up in Price Hill, Marjean in Ludlow, Ky.

As John talked about the bell, Dan yanked on the center's door. It was locked.

He tried the other door. That was locked, too.

Then he read the door's sign out loud: "Open by appointment."

"Hey!" he exclaimed, "It's closed."

Disappointment clouded John's face. He glanced at the banners flapping on signposts near the bell. He read their message aloud: "Open Daily."

He groaned.

"This isn't a tourist attraction," he griped. "This is a tourist trap. Doesn't anyone have any pride around here? They've got all of this stuff, this bell and this building and they're not even open."

John was just warming up, literally and figuratively. The summer sun beat down on his face. Upset reddened his cheeks.

"They don't treat (tourists) that way down in San Antonio. No sir. There's a lot to do down there. There's the Riverwalk and eight Spanish missions, including the Alamo. And they're all open. And not by appointment."

Marjean fanned herself and nodded in agreement.

Dan and Deborah observed that Arizona's tourist attractions are also open for business.

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"We came here because it's the World Peace Bell," John said. "It's in all the guide books. They don't say anything about it being open only by appointment."

He has a point. World peace is a big deal. The bell's exhibit center should be open so tourists can come in, browse around and buy souvenir T-shirts and refrigerator magnets - as well see the big bell up close and hope that it only rings in peace.

Right now, the world's largest swinging bell only rings at noon. The Sinnards missed that moment by hours.

Marjean recalled that the bell's center and viewing stand were open the first time they stopped by. "I think it was back in 2001," she said.

John, a retired Army and Air Force veteran, and his family were in Newport because they were spending the day visiting old haunts. Earlier, they had driven to the house on Price Hill's Hawthorne Avenue, where he grew up with six brothers and sisters. They also paid a culinary homage to a local landmark restaurant, Price Hill Chili.

"Had to have some of that chili, mmmmmm," John said. He rubbed his stomach.

Deborah wrinkled her nose. And made a thumbs-down gesture. It was her first taste of Cincinnati chili. And, she hopes, her last.

"For good chili, come to Arizona," she said.

They also drove by Fountain Square and marveled at the restored Tyler Davidson Fountain.

"Looks brand new," Marjean declared.

John had other stops on his itinerary. But he had trouble getting his bearings. Too many buildings have been torn down. Too many streets rerouted.

"I've lost my perspective of my city," he said. "I don't know where I am anymore."

He did remember how to get to Newport. And why he went there as a teen-ager.

"I worked as a delivery boy for Red Arrow Express. Rode a bike from downtown Cincinnati all over Newport. We'd deliver fresh packs of dice to the casinos along these streets."

He pointed to buildings and empty lots, recalling the names of long-gone gambling joints.

It was about this time that Mike Keller and Bernard Oshin walked up. They had just tried the locked doors.

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The sign on the door of the World Peace Bell Exhibit Center in Newport says that the Exhibit Center is only open by appointment.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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"Are you the tour guide?" Keller asked John Sinnard. "How come this place is closed? Can we get up to see the bell?"

Keller's used to asking questions. He's a retired teacher. Oshin's retired from his job as a department store vice president.

They're touring the Midwest. Flew to Chicago. Rented a car. Saw the Windy City, South Bend and Cleveland. Went south to Cincinnati to check out the sights.

"We read about the World Peace Bell in the guidebook," Oshin said. "So we crossed the river into Kentucky. The bell's supposed to be a big deal. Doesn't look like too many people think so."

He noticed weeds growing in the flower beds and between the paving bricks. White splotches of droppings and a dead bird sat on the pavers beneath the bell.

"We just came from the art museum in Cincinnati," Oshin added. "Wanted to see the new Cincinnati Wing. But it was closed."

Keller had another question.

"How come everything around here is closed?"

Five facts about Newport

Origin of name: Newport honors Christopher Newport. He captained the English ship that put the first settlers ashore at Jamestown, Va.

World Peace Bell: At 66,000 pounds (33 tons) of bronze, it is the world's largest swinging bell. (Three stationary bells are bigger - the Kremlin's 222-ton King of Bells, a 97-ton behemoth in Mandalay, Burma, and the 72-ton bell in the Kremlin's Tower of St. Ivan carillon.) Struck by a 7,000-pound clapper, the Peace Bell swings and rings daily at noon on the southeast corner of 4th and York, in the neighborhood known as West Newport or Two Rivers I.

Population (Two Rivers I neighborhood): 1,130.

Newport's first resident: Jacob Fowler built the first permanent cabin at the juncture of the Ohio and Licking rivers in 1789.

Southgate House: Nightclub at 24 East Third St. originally built as the residence of politician Richard Southgate by British prisoners from the War of 1812. Remodeled extensively in the 19th and 20th centuries. Southgate's great-grandson, John Thompson, invented the Thompson submachine gun or Tommy Gun.

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What defines summer in your neighborhood? Kids setting up a lemonade stand? Reds fans sitting on a porch and listening to Marty and Joe?

Cliff Radel wants to put them on the itinerary of his summer tour. Every Monday, a neighborhood will be selected.

Send suggestions to: Cliff Radel's Summer Tour, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; fax (513) 768-8340; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.

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Next week: The West End

Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown. E-mail cradel@enquirer.com.




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Radel: Locked exhibit leaves Peace Bell tourists glum

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