The Off Season: Checking an item off our bucket list

Mike Lunsford photoTumbling waters: Bear Run waters run beneath Frank Lloyd Wrights ‘Fallingwater’ home.

Joanie and I are inveterate homebodies, but every once in a while we pack a few bags, load our wagon, and take off for an adventure.

Together, we have seen the sun rise on a Maine mountainside, and watched it go down on a Montana hilltop.

We have been in crowded symphony halls, toured the homes of great writers and poets, and have stood together on a lonely beach to hear the gentle lapping waters of a Great Lake.

Still following the leads of a decidedly low-tech road atlas, we drive narrow state highways as often as we do the faster-paced interstates and eat in mom and pop places as regularly as the big chain restaurants.

Risking choices that may appear bland to some, we are fans of both the National Park Service and any state historic site. And, as those who follow my car too closely can attest, we have been known to peel off the road at a second’s notice when any historical marker appears.

My mail suggests that readers tend to like stories that come as a result of our travels, and so, in anticipation of at least two photo features that will appear in upcoming months, this column condenses where we went and what we saw on another short trip we took a few weeks ago.

In what ended as a great triangle of a drive, we first navigated our way through considerable road construction to northern Ohio, then after just two days there, dropped down nearly to a point where there was little of southern Pennsylvania left to see. We made the final leg toward home with hardly a stop, but not before we had traveled about 1,300 miles and had checked one key item off our collective bucket list: to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnificent “Fallingwater,” called by architect Philip Johnson, “the greatest home of the 20th Century.” It will be the topic of one of those features.

Before we ever saw the waters of Bear Run tumble beneath that house, we visited the beautiful northern Ohio homes of two presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes’ “Spiegel Grove” in Fremont, and James Garfield’s “Lawnfield” in Mentor. The life and death of the latter, and his house — dotingly expanded by his grieving wife — and his impressive tomb in Cleveland, will be the subject of the second feature.

In between all that, I am happy to report that we traveled, slept, and ate well. We saw rock quarries, met a very friendly squirrel, helped a stranded pair with a flat tire, went well off our intended route by mistake but were rewarded with an isolated graveyard that held an American legend, thought I-90 through Cleveland at 5 p.m. surely rivaled any Grand Prix racecourse, and became convinced that Indiana’s roads were the worst, Ohio’s fields the wettest, and Pennsylvania’s rocky hillsides and roaring creeks the prettiest.

Leaving home later than we had planned, we soon discovered that whatever could delay us on our first day on the road, did. I didn’t regret spending time to help change the flat at an Indianapolis gas station (the lug nuts had been tightened by Thor), for we weren’t going anywhere quickly anyway; I-465 just then was jammed with hot, creeping construction-delayed traffic. So, instead of the typical interstates, we crawled off the capital’s northeast side and rode a surprisingly smooth and scenic Highway 36 well into Ohio, stopping only to move a wayward painted turtle whose precarious choice to cross the road near Palestine forced me to risk life and limb as I dodged cars coming from two directions.

We missed a turn as we approached Greenville, Ohio, and by chance headed north on Ohio 127, which led us through green countryside, past the incredible St. Aloysious Catholic Church near Carthogena, and a trip up a side road to Brock Cemetery, the beautiful and isolated graveyard that holds American legend Annie Oakley and her sharp-shooting husband, Frank Butler. Literally just a few feet off County Road 98, the graveyard had many more stories to tell than just Oakley’s.

Born Phoebe Ann Mosey in 1860 a few miles north of where she is buried, Oakley learned to shoot a rifle to help feed her family, eventually defeated the then-legendary Butler in a match, and then married him in 1882. After years of travel with Buffalo Bill and his “Wild West Show,” she returned to Ohio in 1901 and spent the rest of her days performing for and donating to local charities.

But Brock Cemetery proved to be typical of the stops we make on our trips, both for its beautiful statuary and intriguing stories — like that of PVC Douglas Eugene Dickey, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam, and that of the three Rue Brothers who are buried to the west of Oakley and Butler. Two of them died in battle in World War II, while a third survived wounds to come home.

Joanie and I wandered about the cemetery, which recorded its first grave in 1803, knowing we were burning time that could have been spent getting farther up the road, but the place held us there. By the time we made it to Fremont, we felt as though we had driven farther than we actually had. Three inches of rain during that first night in northern Ohio inundated already soaked field and ditches, and we saw a number of homes sitting in water that had risen nearly to their first-floor windows.

By the time we were back, we had seen a 200-year-old covered bridge; had found the spot where British General Edward Braddock had been killed in battle and secretly buried by his men during the French and Indian War; had seen two original Diego Rivera paintings; had been near the site of the terrible Darr Mine Disaster of 1907; had spoken with a 90-year-old photographer who had resisted visiting Wright’s house for years, but later told me it was one of his last great adventures; and, had driven stretches of the gorgeous Laurel Highlands Scenic Highway.

We had passed under Twilight Hollow Road, cruised through the towns of Lover and Reagantown, glided past Glyde, and by-passed a burg called Eighty-Four. We drove through the chimney of West Virginia in a driving rainstorm, found a newly-born fawn as we walked a wooded trail, and explored the fireproof chamber that held a wreath Queen Victoria sent for President Garfield’s casket.

We found exactly what we were looking for, but, as usual, got to see so much more.

You can contact Mike at; his website is at He will be speaking and signing his books at the Bloomfield-Greene County Library this Thursday at 6 p.m.