Knox County Is Place to Be, Public Spaces Exhibit Says
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
In 1863, Clement Vallandigham led a famous rally for the anti-Civil War Copperhead party in Mount Vernon’s public square. Ten thousand people attended.
Today, the square hosts a popular farmers’ market every Saturday from May through October.
“When people think of Mount Vernon, they maybe think of it as irrelevant or out of touch with the rest of America. It’s so strongly rooted in history and culture,” Kelly McPharlin ’12 said. “[Mount Vernon] is the heartland, and that’s what people say about Ohio. But, Mount Vernon is in the center of Ohio.”
The U.S. Department of State selected Mount Vernon as an emblematic American town and used footage from Mount Vernon in propaganda films during the Cold War. The U.S. distributed the films in Communist countries to promote capitalism.
A year-long sociology fieldwork class taught by Professor of Sociology and Director of Kenyon’s Rural Life Center Howard Sacks will present an exhibition on public spaces in Knox County, like the Mount Vernon square, on May 4 and 5. The exhibition, called The Place to Be, will be presented at the Buckeye Candy Company building in Mount Vernon. The Place to Be will explore the current and historical significance of 14 Knox County public spaces, including taverns, post offices and a 100-year-old restaurant known as the Alcove.
“Public spaces are increasingly under siege in our society,” Sacks said.
The Place to Be, which will feature live music and local food, will facilitate interaction between community members and will thereby become a public space itself.
“The idea is that … people will come to the exhibit and think, gee, this is wonderful. I never [otherwise] get out of my house,” Sacks said.
The exhibit presents 30 panels and dozens of photographs. Students conducted hundreds of interviews in the process of creating it.
McPharlin researched Mount Vernon’s historic square.
“For the past 200 years, the public square has been the center of everything in Mount Vernon,” McPharlin said.
In addition to outdoor spaces like the square, the exhibit also features historic buildings such as Woodward Opera House.
“The Woodward Opera House [drew] the most important acts,” Leslie Lasiter ’12 said. “It could be pretty rowdy sometimes. People, if they didn’t like the show, would throw tomatoes at the stage.”
Daniel Decatur Emmett, who was born in Mount Vernon in 1815, wrote “I Wish I Was in Dixie” — one of the most famous songs in American history — which became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy. Emmett’s final performance took place at the Woodward Opera House.
The Woodward will reopen as an entertainment venue once its restoration, which began in 2000, is completed.
The Place to Be aims to ensure that public spaces continue to flourish, and despite some decline, new public spaces have emerged in Knox County. The Kokosing Gap Trail reclaimed an unused rail line and now provides space for community members to interact.
“Public spaces are also important in urban communities, but rural communities have a different dynamic to them,” Sacks said. “Farming, particularly today, is very much a solitary effort. It’s important to be able to get off the farm and to not go stir crazy.”
Lasiter urged students to attend The Place to Be as a way to break out of the Kenyon bubble. “Don’t come just because Kenyon students helped create it,” she said. “Come to interact with the broader community.”
“Something all of us [worried] about, going into the project, was, what are they going to think when they see a Kenyon student going ... and trying to learn about their community? I don’t think that was the case for anyone we talked to,” McPharlin said. “They viewed it as our community, too.”
The exhibit runs Friday, May 5 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 6 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Free shuttles will leave from the Bookstore every hour on Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 1:00 to 10:00 p.m.