Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sandusky, Ohio

Sometime in the middle of the night I was awoken by the thud of a heavy object falling upon my tent.  I was camped under a large tree in a fruit tree orchard and assumed a limb had fallen upon me.  When I opened my tent to remove the object I discovered I was buried in snow and what had fallen upon me was the gathered snow on the rain fly,  finally collapsing.  

It was raining when I'd stopped to camp at seven p.m., but I didn't realize that it would turn to snow during the night.  All the snow was a big surprise. Six inches had already accumulated and it was still coming down when I broke camp.  The highway had been plowed, but the road was less than clear.  I kept my speed at a minimum as my rear brake was frozen.  I had already taken a leak when I made that discovery, so couldn't do what racers do in extreme conditions when their hands become too cold to function.

I was only six miles from Milan, the birth place of Thomas Edison, and its Carnegie.  If it hadn't been raining the night before I would have pushed on to make it my fourth for the day.  This was a rare occasion when I could celebrate an addition to a Carnegie, as it included a double-doored entry that I could slip my bike into and allow the brakes to thaw.  The snow concealed the red tile Spanish roof, but did not diminish its grandeur.

I took a good long break allowing my gloves and booties to dry.  It was a quiet day at the library.  The librarians said hardly any of their Saturday regulars were stopping in.  This was the biggest snow storm of the year, more than all of December and January combined.  If it had hit in October, the librarians said they would have felt crushed, fearful that it was the harbinger of a long, hard winter.  But the winter had been so mild they didn't mind this one, especially with 60 degree temperatures in the forecast for the coming week.

It was six miles south to the next Carnegie in Norwalk.  

I had actually visited it two years ago on my spring ride that began in Pittsburgh.  I was happy to renew acquaintances with its spectacular green stained glass rotunda.  It had been cleaned since my last visit and was gleaming with extra luster.

The painting on the far wall is a quite stunning portrait of an exalted-looking young man of local renown who drowned while trying to save a woman in 1910. He had been a star athlete and student, the valedictorian of the local high school in 1905, who earned a scholarship at a nearby college and returned home to teach at the high school.  He also happened to be the first person to check a book out of the library when it opened in 1906.  The artist, Charles Courtney Curran, had a local connection and went on to have a significant career with works, mostly of women in pastoral settings, in museums all over the country.

Hanging on a wall of the Carnegie in Amherst, the "Sandstone Center of the World," was a photograph of its first librarian, Maude Neiding, who served from 1906 until 1948.  Many small town libraries have similar photos.  A town's librarian was often a preeminent figure in the community. A collection of their stories would make a compelling book that no doubt would receive an endorsement from Oprah, making it an instant best seller. 

The library was of course built of sandstone.

 It was the final of my trio of Carnegies the day before the snow hit.  The first hardly counted as the only remnant from the original Lakewood Carnegie, a suburb of Cleveland, was a far wall.  None of the interiors had been preserved.  Its new front strained for gallantry without achieving what the Carnegies so effortlessly exude.  There was no acknowledgement anywhere of the library's past.

Not so with the majestic Carnegie in Lorain a pleasant twenty-five mile ride from Lakewood along the Lake Erie coastline dotted with small parks providing access to the water.  The non-Carnegie Domankas library had a premium spot right on the lake beside a put-in for boats.  Lorain was on the lake, but it's Carnegie was a mile inland sitting in a block it had all to itself. "Public Library" was chiseled into the stone just below its roof line, but it was now known as the Carnegie Center and was home to the local Historical Society.

My day in the wet, wind-blown snow not only caked me in white, but also the signs along the road.

I was semi-blinded by the driving snow that became a blizzard for a brief spell when I turned north into the wind for twelve miles up to Sandusky, back on the lake.  A couple in a pick-up slowed to offer me a ride.  Not a chance.  "Are you sure?," they asked twice after my polite decline.  I would have if my front tire slow leak had required filling more than every couple of miles.  I had hit a camouflaged pot hole ten miles from Sandusky.  I was relieved that it didn't cause an instant blow-out and that only my front tire suffered a pinch.  It would have been worthy of a scene in "Revenant" if I'd had to replace two tubes in the snow.  Fortunately it could wait until I found a motel.

Signs advertised a ferry to several islands, one of which is Canadian.  There is actually a Canadian customs office in Sandusky.  But I had made this detour for its Carnegie, one of the first in the state built in 1901 with a hefty $50,000 grant.  It was large and grand enough to last until this century before needing an addition. It incorporated the town jail, built in a similar local limestone, though the rest of the addition was all modern brick and glass.

The large amusement park Cedar Point, established in 1870 making it the second oldest in the US,  resides on the outskirts of town.  It has seventeen roller-coasters with another set to open this year.  It is the most visited amusement park in the country.  With an abundance of motels nearby and it being the off-season, I didn't take too hard of a hit to the pocketbook for a place to dry out my frozen tent and damp sleeping bag and my outerwear.  

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