I saw a UFO once. I mean that literally, as in an “unidentified flying object.” It was back when I was a kid and my family was getting up very early in the morning to go on some long trip. I went outside, to put something in the car or get something from my father’s truck, and somehow I noticed something extremely tiny and odd up in the sky—it is rather amazing I noticed it at all, so small and far away it was. It looked like the tiniest of circles hovering in the stratosphere. I went and got my dad, who came out and looked at it, and then went back inside and got his spotting scope—the closest thing we had to a telescope. Even through the spotting scope, we could make out very little, just a few appurtenances or gewgaws coming out of the thing. Eventually we decided that it had to be some sort of weather balloon, high up in the atmosphere. Sorry if you were expecting tentacles.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image. Also, the EXIF data for each image contains GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the exact place where the photograph was taken.]
Anyway, the lesson of my story, I suppose, is look up every once in a while because you never know what the sky is going to divulge—or disgorge. That was a lesson I re-learned in September 2015, on a driving excursion through north-central Ohio and points east.
We can begin this portion of the excursion with a shot of a tiny little house, almost a glorified cabin, left abandoned (but well-manicured) just outside the microscopic hamlet of Fitchville, Ohio (population about that of a bridge club, salute!), half-way between Mansfield and Lake Erie. It was a beautiful late summer day.
A couple of miles to the northeast, I found a much larger, much more weathered, old home. This was one property where no one was tending the lawn, unlike many in lawn-crazy Ohio, so it had a much wilder look.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out to once have been fairly distinctive looking—but that was a long time ago.
I don’t know why some paint jobs seem to persist practically forever, while others weather away to nothing. Perhaps it is something in the chemical composition of different types of paint. This is one gray house.
Because it was so gray already, I thought the scene might also serve as a half-way decent black and white shot, and it seems to do so tolerably well.
At a nearby crossroads is a tiny but well-kept church, named Barrett’s Chapel. Dating back to 1875, it used to have a steeple (and there used to be a one room schoolhouse across the street). In 1999, it self-reportedly turned fundamentalist: “In light of all the apostate churches in the world, the folks determined that it was necessary to take a stand for sound doctrine. At this point, the church was an Independent, Fundamental, King James Bible preaching Church.” Barrett’s Chapel, striking its tiny blow against apostates everywhere.
A few miles to the north and east of the Chapel is the village of Wellington, Ohio, home to the above glorious Cheese building. Wellington (population 4,802) was in the 1850s the site of a celebrated forcible rescue of a captured fugitive slave from Kentucky in the custody of a U.S. Marshal. This little village was also the home of Archibald Willard, who painted the famous painting The Spirit of ‘76. Unlike many Ohio towns, Wellington has not suffered from demographic decline and has had decent growth for quite some time. It is also reasonably well off—a probably not unrelated fact. Tiny Wellington allegedly has nearly 200 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
I presumed that the Cheese on the building above referred to the slightly odd name of the person who erected the building, which is normally the case. However, I notice that Wellington bills itself as the “Cheese Capital of the World” and has an annual “Cheese festival.” A little research disclosed that this building—built in 1870, nearly 150 years ago—was originally the offices of the Horr-Warner Cheese Company.
Here’s the other side of the Cheese building and its block and you can immediately see how nice—and active—the village center is, full of people and actual businesses, unlike the centers of many Ohio villages and towns. It is also well-kept, too.
Among the many distinctive buildings in Wellington is its town hall, far larger than those of most villages and about the size of a typical county courthouse. It was extensively remodeled and is very attractive. In another sign that this is an active and thriving town, there was a craft show going on when I arrived. This would not be the only evidence I would see that this was a day for getting out and doing things.
Another view of the craft show, with the Wellington First United Methodist Church in the background. Though there were earlier structures, this particular building was completed in 1867.
Here is one of the many amazingly picturesque old houses in Wellington—I have no doubt that this home, located on Courtland Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here is another such structure, on the very same street. I thought Wellington was well worth the visit and I plan to go back and poke around some more.
It was, however, just a bit outside Wellington, in the nearby countryside, that I had my biggest pleasant surprise of the day. I turned a corner and discovered that my progress ahead was blocked by, of all things, a tow glider that was in the middle of the road! Evidently people were spending a day gliding, as one does, and the glider had landed on the road or a nearby field. I pulled over and snapped this photograph through the front windshield of my SUV (so apologies for the quality; it is amazing there is not a big bug splat in the middle of it). Here we see a crew of people trying to manhandle the glider off the roadway.
As a military historian, I’m very familiar with tow gliders (prominent in World War II—and featured in the movie A Bridge Too Far, for those who want to see some large (Horsa) gliders in action. I knew there were civilian hobby tow gliders but I never thought I would ever actually see one—and yet here it was, right in front of me.
The aircraft registration number on the glider let me do a little research. It turns out this is a Czechoslovakian 1993 LET L-23 Super Blanik 2-seater glider owned by Fun Country Soaring, which apparently takes people on gliding jaunts for a fee.
Eventually the glider guys got the glider off the road and I was able to continue down it. But my trip was not done with its little surprises.
I continued my travels, eventually nearing the village of Rittman, about 11 miles southwest of Akron. By the side of the road I happened to notice a sign advertising skydiving (I was apparently near an airport that allowed all of these aviation-related activities). I did not give it any thought, but a few minutes later, almost as if planned, I realized that parachutists were coming out of the sky around me!
I was totally unprepared for this—and camera novice that I am, was not in a position easily to remember and apply the best settings to capture something like this, nor did I have the best lens with me for the job, either. So I tried to take as many shots as possible, in the hopes that some would turn out with a minimal amount of motion blur.
There is something singularly helpless and out of control with someone plummeting to earth, despite certain rudimentary ways to provide a tiny amount of influence on the movement. Imagine how it must have felt to be doing this while people were shooting up at you.
I have friends who have sky-dived and a couple who do so regularly or semi-regularly. As for me, with my fear of falling, this is pretty much high on the list of “things you will never fucking get me to do.” Pardon my French.
I read somewhere that landing in a parachute is roughly equivalent to jumping out of a two-story house. I have no idea if that is true or not, but it is enough to dissuade me.
After watching these (and other, unphotographed) skydivers land, I finally caught a glimpse of the plane that had deposited, itself landing—on what turns out to be a tiny set of airstrips called Hilty Field, home of the Aerohio Skydiving Center.
By this point I had no idea what was going to tumble out of the sky in my presence. However, things calmed down and as I continued to head more or less straight south, I began to encounter some Amish settlements again, as this prosperous farmstead illustrates.
Along the way, I noticed a little tree sculpture of some sort of bird.
This area of Ohio is full of rolling hills and farmland. The terrain is not yet rugged enough to inhibit farming, so pastureland and farmland often exist in happy proximity to each other. Here some cattle graze contentedly in a hillside pasture in the late afternoon.
Agricultural Ohio is full of barns, of course, many of them rather impressive—as was this large specimen. By now I was in Holmes County, the heart of Amish settlement in Ohio, though I don’t think this was an Amish barn.
Amish or not, lots of nice farmhouses dot the landscape around here.
As do more disheveled farmhouses, from time to time—case in point, above. The Confederate flag is also extremely visible.
With that final photo, I decided to git while the gitting was good and head for home, thus ending the journey. Be well.