Ghosts of High School Past

Some curious news for those of us who graduated from Upper Arlington High School has been reported recently:  the existing school where we went to classes years ago is built on the grounds of a former family cemetery.  (As if going to high school weren’t scary enough already, just on its own!)

pioneer-green-flakeThe back story is really pretty interesting stuff.  In the years before and during the Civil War — long before Upper Arlington became the hoity-toity, McMansion-filled suburb it is now — the land was owned by a former slave named Pleasant Litchford.  He was an leading member of the Perry Township community, a master blacksmith, a founding member of a church, a large property owner, . . . and, notably, a participant in the Underground Railroad that moved escaped slaves from the slaveholding south, through the free states, and north to Canada and freedom.  Mr. Litchford established a school for African-American children on his property — and also a cemetery for his family and descendants.  Mr. Litchford died in 1867, just after the Civil War ended.

Years later, Upper Arlington was founded, and later still, in 1955, the school board was looking for a place to build the new high school.  They bought the Litchford property and discovered that it included the cemetery.  Rather than leave the cemetery be, they exhumed the buried bodies and moved them to Union Cemetery for reinterment, where most of them are listed as “unnamed adults.”  The school then was built on the property and, with the kind of collective amnesia that is all-too-common in American history, people in Upper Arlington promptly forgot about Pleasant Litchford and his family cemetery.  When I started to go to UAHS in the early ’70s, no one told me or my fellow students that we were walking over the ground of a former cemetery.

I don’t think I ever saw a ghost lurking in the halls of UAHS, and the only creepy feeling I got was around the flea-bitten remains of a gigantic standing stuffed bear that was kept in a glass cage near the entrance of the building.  Now the old building is going to be torn down and a new building erected, and the construction crews are going to be mindful, as they dig and build, to keep an eye out for remains that might have been missed in 1955.

And while they’re building a new school, here’s an idea for the school board to consider:  rather than renaming the new building Upper Arlington High School, which is pretty boring, how about celebrating a man whose life epitomized a strong, personal commitment to freedom, family, hard work, and education, and naming the new school Pleasant Litchford High School instead?

The Timeless Chef-O-Nette

If you’ve lived in Upper Arlington, Ohio at any time since 1955, you’ve probably been to the Chef-O-Nette.  It’s one of those ageless, unchanging places that make you hope that maybe you haven’t changed much, either.

IMG_3776I first went to the Chef-O-Nette in the early ’70s, right after our family first moved to Upper Arlington.  It looked pretty much the same as it does now, with the ’50s lighting fixtures and the bolted down, rotating stools and the sunburst clock.  I’m guessing that the look of the place in the early ’70s was pretty much the same as it looked when it first opened in 1955, and established itself as the anchor at one end of the Tremont Shopping Center.  It hasn’t changed, and no one really wants it to change.

The menu hasn’t changed much, either, in the 40 years since I first visited the Chef-O-Nette.  That’s a good thing, too.  There are still the same burgers and diner food and milkshakes and french fries and hangover sandwich.  For all I know, it also may have the same ageless waitresses who first served me when I was a student at Upper Arlington High School, 40 years ago.

The Chef-O-Nette is one of those places that make a suburb into a community.  You see the same people there, and that’s a comfortable feeling.  It’s a good place to meet a friend for a cup of coffee or to have some hot chocolate after sledding at the OSU golf course.  When Richard and Kish and I went there for lunch yesterday, it was like slipping on an old slipper that fits like a glove.

Neck And Neck In The Buckeye State Battleground

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was in town on Saturday.  He did some campaigning before he went to the first quarter of the Ohio State-Miami RedHawks game — Miami being his alma mater — and then he jetted off to some other battleground state.  Ryan’s been in Ohio multiple times already, as have President Obama, Mitt Romney, and Vice President Biden. The New York Times reports that Ryan even carries a lucky Buckeye in his pocket.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of them all in the days ahead.

The campaigns are treating Ohio as a toss-up right now, and according to polling data, it is.  The most recent look at Ohio, a pre-Republican convention poll by the Columbus Dispatch, had the presidential race tied, 45-45, and also had the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel tied, 44-44.  What better definition of a battleground state than one where contests are not just within the margin of error, but literally tied?  The airwaves are full of ads for and against various candidates, and the campaigns seem to be scientifically targeting certain areas — even certain suburbs — as they look for votes.

It feels like a close race here, too.  In 2008, there was a remarkable outpouring of support in Ohio for President Obama.  You saw it in unlikely places like Upper Arlington, a Columbus suburb that traditionally has been a Republican stronghold.  The President won Ohio by nearly 5 percentage points.

This year I haven’t seen that same level of buzz for the President.  Activists and the professional pols are trying hard to drum up excitement, but many people seem to have backed away from politics a bit, perhaps because they believe the President hasn’t delivered the change he promised in 2008.  Whether they re-engage with the political process now that Labor Day has passed, the Republican ticket is set, and the traditional campaign season has arrived will tell us a lot about which way Ohio, the quintessential swing state, will swing this time around.

Closing The Loop

New Albany is a good place to live in that is getting better all the time.  However, it does have one drawback — it’s new, and that means there is still a lot of vacant land on which to create subdivisions, plot out new lots, and build new houses.

This fact poses issues for the owners of existing homes who want to sell their properties.  In the current bad economy, the market for real estate is soft everywhere.  When new homes are constantly coming on line, it just makes the market for selling existing homes that much more challenging.  In that respect, New Albany is different from Upper Arlington and Bexley, both of which are established Columbus suburbs where every inch of available ground has long since been the location of a house.  In those communities, if you want to build a new home, you have to buy an existing home and tear it down to do so.

So, for current New Albany homeowners, the familiar sight of yellow construction equipment, pallets of bricks, and building supplies is a double-edged sword.  We know that adding more new homes is going to affect the market for our homes, but we also know that the ultimate goal has to be to build New Albany out so that the market becomes more fixed.  If you’re like us, and don’t have a house on the market right now, you want developers to close the loop and get the new builds done before you put that “For Sale” sign in your yard.

Saturday “Night” At The Windward Passage

Yesterday various members of the Webner clan — Mom, Kish, Richard, UJ, Cath, Al, and I — had dinner at the Windward Passage restaurant in Upper Arlington.  At least, I think you would call it dinner.  We got there at 4:30 p.m. to beat the rush.  Maybe “linner” is a better word for a meal that we consumed about two hours before we normally have our evening repast.

The bar at the Windward Passage

The Windward Passage, located in a shopping center at the intersection of Henderson and Reed Roads, is one of those throwback places.  It has been around since 1973, and most of its patrons have been frequenting the restaurant for decades.  I would wager that 99 percent of the patrons proudly carry their “Golden Buckeye” cards, and the average age of the drinkers and diners looks to be about 75.  During our visit last night, the emergency squad paid a visit to tend to one of the diners who collapsed, which probably is not that rare an occurrence. I would not be surprised if every Windward waitress had to take CPR training to qualify for the job.

Given their age, it should not come as a surprise that the Windward’s patrons are early birds.  Even arriving at the ungodly hour of 4:30, we barely got a table in the bar.  The place quickly became packed.  Thirsty seniors filled every seat at the bar, guzzling highballs and creating a serious din.  In the meantime, crowds of elderly citizens lurked by the bar and hovered near the tables.  Nothing like a white-haired guy with a walker and his elaborately coiffed wife glaring at you expectantly to spur quick consumption of your meal!  At one point, when the people at the table next to us left, competing groups of hoverers scrambled for the seats — well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say they with as much determination and speed as their artificial hips would allow — and for a few minutes we thought we might have to break up a cane duel between two of the more boisterous seniors.

Last night's Lake Erie perch dinner

Columbus seniors love the Windward because the food is cheap, plentiful, and well-prepared.  I can’t speak to the quality of the menu, generally, because I always get the same entree whenever I go there — fried Lake Erie perch with french fries.  The perch are excellent — lightly battered, moist and flavorful, and not greasy, and the french fries are crisp.  And if you are a senior looking to fill your belly and stretch your budget, you appreciate the fact that the meal comes with broccoli, cottage cheese and a basket of bread.

When we left at around 6 the bar area was jammed and there was a crush of starving seniors hanging out in the Windward’s waiting area — no doubt regularly checking with the maitre d’ to see where they stood on the waiting list and looking in the dining room hoping to stare down a few diners and intimidate them into leaving early.  When Kish and I got home we decided to join AARP.