Every time Franciscan University shows up in the news for doing something awful, I see the byline “Steubenville, Ohio.”
And I feel like I have to put in a defensive word for Ohio.
People come from all over the world to Steubenville, and they say things to me, such as “why are there no tornado sirens in Ohio?” or “Why are people in Ohio so cruel to their children?” or “why are Ohio roads in such bad condition?” or “what’s the deal with Ohio churches?” and I try to tell them it’s nothing to do with Ohio.
I’ve lived my whole life in different parts of Ohio.
Steubenville is NOT actually Ohio. At least not culturally.
Columbus, now, that’s Ohio. The world-famous Columbus zoo, afternoon walks in Schiller Park, running through the sprinklers on summer mornings in the Park of Roses, Bahama Mamas from Smith’s Deli, trying to remember not to wear blue on game days– that’s Ohio. Not knowing that the big metal sculpture outside Whetstone branch library is supposed to be a giant book, is Ohio. Not knowing what those giant cast iron spheres suspended from the ceiling in the main library downtown are supposed to be at all, and wondering if they ever fall on anybody, is Ohio. Admiring the life-sized topiary replica of La Grande Jatte and wondering how anybody came up with this idea is Ohio. Growing up thinking that Polaris is a shopping mall and not a star– that’s Ohio. Having strong opinions about the delicate chocolate shards instead of regular chocolate chips in Graeter’s ice cream is Ohio (and the raspberry chocolate chip variety is my favorite, for the record).
Speaking of ice cream, going on a guided tour of the ice cream factory at Ye Olde Mill and nobody knowing that “ye” was historically pronounced “the” is Ohio.
Brilliant literary minds like James Thurbur and Louis Bromfield are Ohio. Did you know that Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart got married at Louis Bromfield’s farm, which is now a state park?
Old Man’s Cave is Ohio. You would love Old Man’s Cave. It’s a gorgeous park for hiking and getting lost; it’s like something out of Myst. I love the waterfalls particularly.
Marblehead and Sandusky are Ohio. Saying you’re going to “the beach” and meaning Lake Erie, exploring those stark white cliffs, touring the lighthouse, squinting across the water at Canada, eating walleye pike sandwiches, complaining about the gate prices at Lakeside, swatting mayflies– that’s a wholesome Ohio summer for you, and it’s wonderful.
Steubenville is not Ohio.
Steubenville is more of a magic portal to Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, only without the mild winters. Everyone knows everybody else and that’s not a good thing. Everyone has a grudge against everybody else but you’re not sure why. Random buildings alternately smell of carrion and rat poison.
Steubenville is eerily similar to the brilliant J-Horror film Kiaro, not to be confused with its dreadful American remake, Pulse. The grim factories, the blocked-off buildings, the existential dread, the occasional low-flying airplanes, the ghosts.
Steubenville is what would happen if Jonathan Swift’s flying city of Laputa crash-landed in the middle of Balnibarbi, but the Laputans maintained their unique culture by moving into mansions on a cliff overlooking downtown and passing ordinances to run the Balnibarians out of the neighborhood.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Friendship Room. I love the Nutcracker Village. I like the libraries and Union Cemetery. I love Bookmarx bookstore, which is exactly like something you’d find in Columbus or near Lake Erie. But the rest of it? It’s not Ohio.
Ohio should stop taking responsibility for Steubenville.
(image via Pixabay)