Pro Football Hall of Fame
Built in 1963, the original complex of the Pro Football Hall of Fame echoes the modernist church architecture of the period, especially in its gleaming, football-shaped spire. This may not be a coincidence: Football is the nation’s No. 1 spectator sport, and its most ardent fans approach professional games with the same fervor they bring to that other sacred Sunday ritual.
The Hall of Fame is their cathedral, featuring relics from pro football’s first century and, in the sanctum sanctorum, some 300 inductees immortalized in busts and displays. Even those who don’t profess the football faith will recognize such figures as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who was a household name in the 1980s (and the only player to win three Super Bowl MVP awards), or New York Giants halfback Frank Gifford from three decades earlier. A 7-foot bronze statue of Jim Thorpe occupies a central position at the entrance to the hall.
Grandson of the famed warrior Chief Black Hawk, Thorpe grew up in Indian Territory in Oklahoma and was both a collegiate and pro football star—one of several sports he triumphed at as one of the most versatile athletes of all time. Inside the vast complex of galleries, fans can explore the history not just of the game, but also of the Super Bowl (first played in 1967), the NFL’s 32 teams, and the various other leagues—especially the 1960s’ American Football League—that have challenged the NFL’s dominance over the years. Interactive displays invite visitors to test their trivia knowledge and their play-calling acumen, and three theaters—including the stateof-the-art Cinemascope-equipped Gameday Stadium—offer gridiron excitement in film and video.
Once a year, Canton becomes the epicenter of the pro football world when nearly 700,000 visitors gather for the Hall of Fame Festival, a ten-day pigskin extravaganza of parades, races, ribs, music, a hot-air balloon competition, a fashion show—and football, lots of football. The festival culminates in “Football’s Greatest Weekend” in early August, when a new group of five or so greats is formally enshrined, and two teams selected by the league play the AFC-NFC Hall of Fame Game, the first preseason exhibition at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium (across the street from the hall), where a crowd of screaming, cheering, hooting fans vocalize the nation’s passion for its most beloved sport.
Don’t mention this in Texas, but Cincinnati is widely regarded as the chili capital of the nation. Who knew? To the uninitiated, the city’s version of the dish is one of the more peculiar gastronomic specialties to come out of the American melting pot: It’s made of finely ground beef cooked with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, served over spaghetti with onions, kidney beans, Wisconsin cheese, and sometimes oyster crackers. Credit for the improbable dish goes to Athanas “Tom” Kiradjieff, a Macedonian Greek immigrant who arrived in Cincinnati in 1922 after a couple of years selling hot dogs in New York. With his brother John, he opened up a stand that sold “Coney Islands” or coneys—a nod to the dogs’ New York origins—with a beef sauce seasoned Balkan-style.
Likely taking a cue from pastitsio, the Greek pasta casserole, the Kiradjieffs began serving the sauce on spaghetti as well, and a food fad was born. Today chili is ubiquitous around Cincinnati, and its devotees order it two-way (chili and spaghetti), three-way (add grated cheese), four-way (add onions), or five-way, aka “the works” (add kidney beans). Most of the chili parlors that dot the landscape of Greater Cincinnati are chain restaurants—the top two are Skyline and Gold Star— but legions of gastronomes swear by the standalone Camp Washington Chili. The funky, much-loved original restaurant was torn down in 2000, but a ’50s-retro-styled new one sprang up just yards away, and patrons flocked back without missing a beat. Johnny Johnson, the Greek immigrant who started working at Camp Washington Chili in 1951 and bought it in the ’70s, still runs the place with his wife, Antigone, making 60 gallons of Cincinnati’s signature sauce and serving it over spaghetti and coneys 24 hours a day for those with 4 a.m. cravings.
Ethnicity and food have long played a role in the city’s mosaic of history and culture. Cincinnati celebrates one of the main ingredients of its own vibrant melting pot—a rich German heritage—every September at Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, the largest Oktoberfest in the U.S. Modeled after Munich’s famous fair, Cincinnati’s version also features lots of music, lederhosen, and copious beer and food. Half a million visitors consume over 80,000 bratwurst, 3,600 pounds of sauerkraut, and 700 pounds of Limburger cheese, to give just a small sampling of the menu; then they burn off the calories dancing to “The Chicken Dance,” a popular German heritage tune from the 1970s. When 48,000 people participated in 1994, Guinness World Records anointed it the World’s Largest Chicken Dance