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A Day at the Museum

A Day at the Museum 
The American Sign Museum and the Vent Haven Museum are unique to Cincinnati, and both can be explored with a rainy day fund.   
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The American Sign Museum in Walnut Hills is the only one of it’s kind in North America (Photo courtesy of the Sign Museum)

My rainy day fund, for this month anyway, is a grand 15 dollars. I was please to discover there are at least two amazing things I could do with my extra cash.

First Discovery

The American Sign Museum in Walnut Hills is the only one of it’s kind in North America, and for $10 I get a personal tour. I called ahead, as the website recommends, to schedule my tour with curator and founder Tod Swormstedt.

 

Swormstedt was in the sign business for 27 years prior to opening the American Sign Museum in 2005. There was no doubt in my mind that this tour was going to be dynamic.

 

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Each sign in the museum, and there are 550 of them, once had a place in the consumer market. “A walk through the history of signs is like a mini history of design trends,” says Swormstedt.

 

While walking through the museum the illuminated Huduphol Beer sign reminds me of our city’s brewing history. A vibrant neon green sign boldly announces Kelly Tires of Springfield and causes me to think of whitewall tires on a 1950’s Ford truck. A gold-leafed sign adverting ‘Candy’ hangs among other gold-leafed signs from the late 1800’s.

 

Over the years Swormstedt has collected 4,000 pieces of the past all representing our American cultural journey. The pristine display of signs makes me think: what a great place to hold a cocktail party! Evidently others have had the same idea because once I shared my epiphany with Swormstedt he kindly concurred that parties and work events are booked often.

 

Second Discovery

 

While laughing at one of my favored comedians, Jeff Dunham along with his sidekick Peanut, I remembered another reason I love Greater Cincinnati in the Spring.

 

We are the home of the Vent Haven Museum. It’s the only museum in America dedicated to displaying ventriloquist puppets. With that fact, I deducted there was a strong possibility Peanut and/or Walter were hanging out at this museum.040411social2.jpg

 

I made a call to Jennifer Dawson, the Vent Haven Museum’s curator, to book a tour. Dawson and I chatted for a long time because it turns out the 778 puppets will not be entertaining guests until May. She did confirm that Peanut and Walter are indeed two of the puppets at the museum, but not to worry because Jeff Dunham has exact replicas on each comedy tour. Dawson continued to say it’s very common for professional ventriloquists to own multiply puppets of the same character.

 

When a puppet gets tired of the road it often takes haven at the museum.

 

“Hundreds and hundreds of vents have sent their figures here,” says Dawson. A few of the famous puppets Dawson watches over are: Farfel the Dog from the 1950’s Nestly Quik commercials; Jimmy Mahony, who Paul Winchell made famous during the ‘40s; Charlie McCarthy’s replica, which hung on the arm of Edgar Bergen during the vaudeville scene in the ‘30s. Dawson did say during a tour you’ll be able to try out a ventriloquist’s puppet, learn how ventriloquist talk without moving their lips, and of course meet the puppets. For a donation of five dollars, who would say no? Once May 1st arrives, you better believe that I’ll be taking a few friends to visit the Vent Museum.

Teresa Duffy -

Teresa Duffy is a contributing writer for Cincy Chic. Send her an e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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