The first thing you see when you walk through the heavy steel and glass doors of the Cincinnati Museum Center is its beautiful art deco interior, with a bright, colorful domed ceiling overhead. The half-dome construction – largest in the Western Hemisphere - sports an expansive and open rotunda with large, brightly colored, and detailed mosaic murals depicting Cincinnati’s industrial history above. The lobby is uncrowded - even on the busiest of days - and inviting, a perfect place for people-watching or just relaxing and reading a book.
In 1933 Union Terminal opened and served as the city’s point of contact for passenger rail traffic. One of the finest train stations in existence, its 94 miles of tracks served several thousands of people and hundreds of trains daily until it closed in late 1972. After several unsuccessful attempts to develop retail and entertainment businesses, the massive space was renovated and reopened in 1990 and five years later, the museums and exhibits housed there merged to form the Cincinnati Museum Center. The current Cincinnati Museum Center is a collection of four museums, gift shops and concessions, research facilities, Cincinnati History Library Archives, and the five-story Robert D. Lindner Family OmniMax theater. It also sponsors a large traveling or rotating exhibit every few months. Tucked in a corner near the theater is also an Amtrak train station, serving their Cardinal Line.
Growing up, I visited this museum weekly when it was located in its own building near Eden Park on the east side of the city. There, a massive Allosaurus greeted visitors just inside the front door; the current collection, which houses some of the world’s most important specimens, is guarded by a 60-foot Galeamopus, the most complete of its specimen in the world. The Galeamopus shares its space with a number of other dinosaurs, including a 35-foot-long Torvasaurus, the only one of its kind in the world.
Dinosaur Hall is just one of the impressive exhibits here; this museum is also home to a preserved Sumatran rhino, a reproduction of a limestone cave that everyone can navigate and explore, a big brown bat colony, an area for children to experiment and learn, the 2000-year-old mummy of a young child, gallery devoted to space exploration, and a DNA genetics laboratory.
If I had a favorite museum here, this would likely be it. Although I’m not much of a history buff, the depiction of the downtown area in Cincinnati in Motion is highly detailed and the craftsmanship is some of the best I have seen. Dedicated to the history and development of the “Queen City,” it displays the city in a room-size diorama. A life-size replica of the cobblestone-lined public landing, paddle wheel boat and all, is displayed in a separate area below the diorama.
This amazing space is packed-full of activities for kids of all ages that are designed to both entertain and educate. The Energy Center teaches children about the role energy plays in our daily lives and a small grocery store, a repair shop, and a garden and farm play space for infants and toddlers are full of activities to keep the little ones busy. My favorite exhibits here, though, are The Woods, a wilderness for climbing and exploring, and Inside the Grin, with exhibits and activities to teach children about oral health, including teeth that fill half the room and a dentist’s chair.
This five-story theater has a viewing screen with a 180-degree curve and steep stadium seats. A visit to the CMC is incomplete without time set aside for an OmniMax film. SuperDogs and Apollo 11: First Steps Edition are the current offerings; the theater has boasted a wide array of beautiful films over the years.
This organization, which opened its doors in 2000 and relocated to the CMC in 2019, is a small museum that is designed to provide a look into the lives of both survivors and victims of the Holocaust. In addition to a film and collection of personal items and remembrances, the HHC is involved in educating the public – through various events, including a speakers’ series - and ensuring we apply the lessons we learn about history to our navigation in the world today.
Membership is, by far, the best deal financially if you go to the museum more than a couple of times a year or, even, if you visit any of the museums on their reciprocal list.
Membership packages range from $45-$140 annually, all of which include free admission and parking, discounts at the food and gift shops as well as for rotating exhibits, early entry to the museums, and members-only events.
Extras that require an additional fee include the OmniMax Theater films, the Holocaust and Humanity Center, and special exhibits.
For one-time or infrequent visitors, admission breaks down as follows (as of February, 2020):
Adults, ages 13-59 $14.50
Children, ages 3-12 $10.50
Toddlers, ages 1-2 $5.50
Seniors, ages 60+ $13.50
* * *
Diane E. Baumer is a proofreader and writer, with an MA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Midwest in Yellow Springs, OH. Her work has appeared in The Albatross (Romania), This is Shibun (Japan), Streetlight Magazine, The Manifest-Station, Haiku International, Open Minds Quarterly (Canada), and several others. When she is not writing, Diane can be found caring for and playing with her two beautiful kitties.