In the lawless days of Prohibition, Lima was the center of a major criminal case: John Dillinger was in the jail, and his gang came to the jail pretending they were going to transfer him to another prison. When the sheriff demurred, he was murdered, which led to a major manhunt and ultimately the dismantling of the Dillinger Gang.
Like too many other Midwest small towns, Lima, Ohio, has areas of blight: Big old houses with boarded windows, vacant lots filled with weeds and Altstaetter Band display trash, too many empty stores downtown. The Ford plant has stopped making their V-8 Truck engine here, but is still in business. There are several large empty factories near the edge of town. But the people are friendly, helpful and upbeat.
Scouting about for a significant Lima experience, we learned that the Allen County Museum is the only county museum in Ohio to be recognized by the American Association of Museums. It is housed in a large brick building, just next door to the McDonnell House, a fully restored Victorian home, and just in front of the Children's garden, on a block of older, pleasant buildings near downtown Lima.
We began our tour by admiring a shining old horse-drawn hearse, buggy and carriage, then a bright red Locomobile and artifacts from the old electric railroad and interurban cars which formerly ran across northern Ohio. A broad platform held wooden scale models of perhaps two dozen homes which used to grace the Lima boulevards; most have since been torn down, but the model builder has supplied notes of their history (doctors, mayors, merchants lived there).
Other exhibits included some of the uniforms worn around 1900 by the Jacob Altstaetter family band: father, mother, their four daughters and eight sons, who entertained at social events. Next, a case displayed two strange-looking violins along with the message that both had been played by professional musicians -- the one on the left was pronounced "not satisfactory" while the other was "interesting".
As we wandered from room to room, we found something in each area to enjoy. The staff has been careful to select the unusual and significant items, with an eye to attracting adults as well as children. A summary of the Dillinger trial is included, as well as special exhibits of some of the more noteworthy past industry -- everything from making cigars to producing and selling a system for rapidly filling communion cups. The requisite medical exhibits include an array assembled by two physicians of objects removed from larynxes, esophagi, and stomachs of townsfolk large and small.
But by far our favorite exhibit was Noah's Ark. In 1892 James Grosjean moved to Lima and set up an undertaking business. By 1902 he had set up a shoe store downtown, and by 1920 he started the Lima Cord Sole and Heel Not Satisfactory and Interesting Company which he managed until his death in 1938. Grosjean's true love, however, was model-making.
He built Noah's ark to tell the Biblical story of the return to dry land of the animals after the ark landed on Mount Ararat. He put his display in his shoe store, and every child who purchased a pair of shoes was entitled to watch the performance: first a window opens and a raven "flies" across the stage on a wire, then the dove with an olive branch appears, after which the big doors open and the animals, two by two, come down the gangplank and disappear into a convenient hill. The humans disembark two by two, also, and we see Noah and his family praising God. A small window below the stage allows spectators to see part of the assembly of pulleys and chaines which operates this complex piece of machinery. The musical recording was added later by the museum staff.
In short, there's enough here to attract just about any curious soul, and while we can't recommend a lengthy visit to Lima, we certainly encourage travelers to pause for an hour or so at the museum.