Heritage Hall – Marion County

In my last post about Warren G. Harding sites in Marion, I talked about some Harding artifacts kept in a room of the basement of Heritage Hall. This time, I thought we would look at the rest of the building.

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Heritage Hall was built in 1910 and served for many years at the post office for Marion. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. As you enter the building, some aspects of that history remain intact.

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On the main floor of Heritage Hall are two museums: the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, and the Marion County History Museum. Even though we didn’t arrive until after 1 PM, we were still the first visitors of the day. As we paid our admission fee ($4 for the whole building, despite it being listed separately online), our friendly tour guide got busy turning on the lights and ambient music.

Wyandot Popcorn Museum

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We started back in the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, often said to be the only dedicated popcorn museum in the world (although there is another small popcorn museum in Holland, OH, it’s not dedicated solely to popcorn). The Wyandot Snack Company has been operating in Marion since the 1930s, and is still an important name in snack foods.

The first thing to know about this museum is that, yes, they have actually constructed a carnival tent inside the building.

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Around the outside wall of the museum is a veritable cornucopia of hot air popcorn popping machines and vehicles. Some of them date back to the very early 1900s. I also gathered that many of them were still in working condition. Our tour guide turned on a couple of the more unique machines to let us watch how they worked (sadly, the video I tried to record is lost to time…and my lack of ability to use a phone correctly).

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SIDETRACK: OLD COSI REVISTED: PART 1

For those that read the blog that may not know, COSI is the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio. It has been an institution in town for over 50 years. In late 1999 it moved from a rather iconic building on East Broad Street…

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Picture from oldcosi.com

to a spectacularly strange, but wonderful, building on West Broad Street.

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(Right now, just imagine a giant dirt pit where the parking lot is…change is a’coming to COSI)

Anyway, many people to this day, 17+ years later, still bemoan the loss some of the things that weren’t brought over from the old museum. As chance has it, I stumbled across something in Marion that once resided at the old COSI… part of the original Cracker Jack exhibit! Most of the rest is still on display today at COSI, but a few pieces found their way to the Popcorn Museum in Marion! This was a small, but wonderful little nostalgia trip.

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The Wyandot Popcorn Museum is more of a look at the artistry of the machines that have made and delivered popcorn than it is of the snack itself. If taken on it’s own, it’s probably no more than a fun 20 minute stop. However, there’s still more to go!

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Marion County History Museum

The rest of the first floor is dedicated to the history of Marion County. There is one piece of the collection that is highlighted in almost every offbeat travel website or book you read. Most sources call it “Napoleon’s Horse” or “The Horse With the World’s Longest Mane.” The first claim isn’t true, and the second is tough to verify. Still it’s definitely the pride and joy of the museum.

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The horse, named Prince Imperial, actually belonged to Napoleon’s nephew Napoleon III. Napoleon III’s son’s title was also Prince Imperial…fun fact for all you nobility fans out there. A livestock breeder from Marion went to France and bought the horse for $3000, and toured it around the country to recoup his money. After the horse’s death, the livestock breeder had it stuffed, and continued touring him around. After the livestock breeder died, his family kept the sideshow alive for a couple generations (thankfully, they didn’t stuff the father). Eventually, the horse was donated to the Marion Historical Society, where it lives today.

Most of the rest of the museum is dedicated to the usual cases full of stuff that only locals would really care about. I had heard that Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame was from Marion, and that there were some artifacts at the museum, but I never saw them. There was quite a bit of local railroad history. Which makes sense considering how big a role the railroads played in President Harding’s election.

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The barber chair of the first African-American barber in Marion
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Large World War II quilt

Overall, there was some neat old stuff, and our guide had some good stories to enrich what we were seeing. Beyond the random horse with an overly long mane, there wasn’t anything terribly unique about this part of the museum. This changed once we went downstairs.

The Basement

The basement to Heritage Hall is largely made up of the Harding room that I talked about in my last post. There were a couple other very unique displays that pushed this museum to a new level of awesome. First up was just a random bedroom. No context given.

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Then the General Store and Post Office…

img_0122The General Store and Post Office is a decently-sized room that on one side was set up as a typical market. The other side was a kind of a catch-all of various pottery, jars, cans and other assorted what-nots pulled from attics around town. There were also some archival pictures of various stores and markets that used to populate downtown Marion. You could even buy a couple pieces of candy from the honor counter.

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The weirdest part of this section was that behind the counter was a model of an elderly lady just kind of standing there. Our guide said it was actually an audio-animatronic, but he didn’t dare turn it on because he didn’t want it to scare us.

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She looks so sweet…

Around the corner from the general store was a tool cage display with another figure, this one didn’t move…but had a high creepy factor. Our guide said this was modeled after a longtime volunteer for the Historical Society.

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The final room of the basement was  unfinished. There were a few partially full cases of arrowheads, signs, a couple pictures on the wall highlighting the crawler NASA has used for years to move spacecraft to the launchpad (built in Marion), and a table with stacks of old reel to reel tapes on it.

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I looked at one reel, and realized these were tapes of old local radio broadcasts. At first the subject matter wasn’t thrilling…a local choir performing The Messiah in 1961…ooh ah.

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Then we dug a little further…

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Actual radio news broadcasts of the Apollo 11 flight
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President Johnson speaking at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral

there were also tapes from Robert Kennedy’s funeral, and literally dozens more that weren’t as well labeled. Also, just sitting loose along the floor (!!!) were acetate disc recordings that possibly dated back to the 1920s. Our guide mentioned that it was his job to try and get these tapes and acetates archived and placed online. I certainly hope he is able to do that soon, I’d love to find out what else was there. This was just an unbelievably cool thing to stumble across in the basement of an old post office.

Heritage Hall is a wonderful stop if you’re ever in Marion either for Harding tourism, or for the annual Popcorn Festival. The folks working there are friendly, there’s a lot of fun stuff to see, and you even get a free box of popcorn on the way out!

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If you’d like to see a ton more pictures (and some of the same from slightly different angles) check out my flickr set… Heritage Hall

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