Attractions across Ohio host dining events throughout the year that feature more than just food — the guests of honor include historic figures (actors, impersonators, or simply historians with a flair for the dramatic, most with Ohio ties) and make for enriching experiences that combine a dash of education with a huge helping of dinner theater.
Dinner with the Presidents
Marion County Historical Society, Marion
Every autumn, Marion County’s historical society holds a buffet dinner attended by several U.S. presidents depicted by members and volunteers who not only don period clothing (“Thomas Jefferson” wears a waistcoat) but also use appropriate props (“Franklin Roosevelt” arrives in a wheelchair). Dishes made from White House recipes highlight the dinners, and the roster of illustrious invitees ranges from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson. The society also plans to add a luncheon series this year.
Poe in Person: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe
James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Mentor
Just before Halloween, visitors get a rare opportunity to tour President Garfield’s home at night, during which they will enjoy an autumnal dessert of cookies and cider, and see actor David Keltz recite terrifying tales and poems by Edgar Allan Poe. His performances always include “The Raven” and a Poe classic such as “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Tip: Look for Garfield’s own Poe volumes in the site’s Memorial Library.
McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, Canton
Canton’s multifaceted McKinley Library & Museum offers prearranged programs for groups that include a meal and a visit to its McKinley Gallery and the world’s largest collection of William McKinley artifacts. In the gallery, education director Christopher Kenney wears McKinley’s signature red carnation while presenting his first-person interpretation of the president. Tip: The Library & Museum occasionally offers McKinley State Dinners, which also feature Kenney.
Thanksgiving Dinner with Abraham Lincoln
Hale Farm & Village, Bath
Go over the river (the Cuyahoga) and through the woods (at Cuyahoga Valley National Park) to Hale Farm & Village, where history buff Jerry Payn acts as Abraham Lincoln — who made Thanksgiving a national holiday — during the living history museum’s annual feast. “Lincoln” usually reads his Thanksgiving Proclamation or Gettysburg Address, and costumed educators from Hale Farm & Village sit at the table and discuss life during Lincoln’s time. Dinner includes turkey and pumpkin pie, and some dishes — including the green beans and leeks casserole — are made from vegetables grown at Hale Farm.
U.S. Grant Days
Historic Georgetown was the hometown of Ulysses Grant, whose 1820s Boyhood Home and Schoolhouse are now prime attractions. Every April, the village salutes Grant’s birthday with a three-day, Civil War-era observance that includes infantry drills, period foods such as cornbread, ham-and-bean soup, and skillygalee (salt pork and beans); and local folks play-acting as General Sherman, Julia Grant, and other notables. Highlighting the festivities are appearances by the eminent Grant living historian, Curt Fields, who also portrays Grant for the National Park Service.
Tea with the First Ladies
National First Ladies’ Library, Canton
White House Weddings Tea: Feb. 10
Ida McKinley’s Mother’s Day Tea: May 19
Canton’s First Ladies’ Library presents elegant teas with staff members and volunteers expertly playing the parts of the presidential wives and hostesses for a beautiful living-history lesson. This year’s White House Weddings Tea re-creates a Victorian wedding reception, and guests even get small boxes containing slices of cake. It honors Frances Folsom Cleveland, the only First Lady married in the White House. For its Mother’s Day high tea, the library serves scones and sandwiches during a three-act play about Canton’s hometown First Lady, Ida Saxton McKinley, and her mother and sister.
William McKinley’s 175th Birthday Party
McKinley Memorial Library, Niles
Out-of-towners often express surprise that Niles’s magnificent National McKinley Birthplace Memorial houses both a museum and library. “We’re a regular public library and do our best to emphasize our connection to President McKinley,” says library director Michelle Alleman. One of the Library’s favorite ways of McKinley bonding is giving him birthday parties. This year’s celebration includes Birthplace Home tours, birthday cake, and the fun of wishing “President McKinley” (a.k.a. local impersonator Mike Wilson) a happy 175th.