The fingers of poor, murdered Mary Bach, used as evidence in the trial of her husband, Carl, reside in a jar in the old Wood County Infirmary. You can see them there.
Mary and Carl, who was the last man hanged in Wood County, are long gone, but their sad saga (and Mary's digits), is one of the intriguing tales that lurks in the 30 rooms and outbuildings at the Wood County Historical Museum. (The knife Carl used on Mary and the noose the county used on Carl are also displayed).
Scores of interesting and fun places for families to explore are sprinkled throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, ranging from museums to amusement parks.
Small-town historical museums can make for relaxed and inexpensive half-day trips usually involving a drive to a different community, some walking, and a conversation with a history buff or reenactor. Start or finish your excursion with a picnic at a nearby park or playground (the museum staff can point you to one).
The Ohio Historical Society will send you an excellent, free package with maps and descriptions of sites, including African-American, Native American, pioneer, Shaker, and military locales. (Tel.: 1-888-909-OHIO). For information about places to visit in Michigan, call 1-888-78-GREAT.
On 50 park-like acres, the Wood County Historical Museum, just southeast of Bowling Green (east of I-75's Exit 179), includes the infirmary, the lunatic house (for violent patients), a pest house (to isolate people suffering from contagious diseases), and a slaughterhouse (for animals, not patients). There are wooded walking trails, a beautiful herb garden, a playground, picnic tables, and two ponds built for harvesting ice.
The 1868-vintage main building has 30 rooms of exhibits, including a Victorian parlor, an arts and crafts-period room, and a high school memorabilia room. Some of it, including a reconstructed oil derrick, reflects the area's oil and gas boom (about 1880-1917).
The grounds are open year-round as part of the Wood County park system. But the buildings, some of which are unheated, are open from April to about Halloween, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and with guided tours on Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m., said Stacey Hann-Ruff, interim director.
In Findlay, the Hancock Historical Museum has two locations. Downtown, there's a Victorian home, log cabin, and exhibit area. Its current exhibit features early sound recordings and runs through March. Music boxes and phonographs circa 1870-1930 are displayed. In April and May, there's an antique quilt show. That's at 422 W. Sandusky Street. Open Wednesday-Friday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. and by appointment.
At its rural location, the Hancock Historical Museum's passenger train starts chugging and the little red schoolhouse opens up in April. That's at Country Rd. 236 just north of State. Rt. 568.
In Monroe, the museum has just completed a 2 1/2-year renovation. Located in an old downtown post office, the Monroe County Historical Museum at 126 South Monroe St., is open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until summer, when it's open every day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Always popular is the exhibit featuring Monroe's most infamous son, Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
Also in Monroe is the River Raisin Battlefield, the site of the January, 1813, battle and massacre of 250 men, mostly Kentuckians, by Indians. A good picnic spot is at the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post west of town on the banks of the River Raisin. It's the oldest wooden structure in Michigan, dating to 1789. The bullet holes in its wooden walls are from that 1813 battle.
On the edge of downtown Monroe is the Sawyer Homestead, a restored brick Victorian home.
Farther north is the growing Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum complex in Dearborn, Mich. The immediate area has three new attractions, each with separate admissions but packaged tickets are available (call 1-888-MICH-PKG).
A new IMAX theater with a large screen and surround-sound opened in November at the Henry Ford Museum. It's showing Fantasia/2000, a 75-minute updated version of the Disney classic, through April 30. Shows start at 10 a.m. and run through the day.
Beginning May 1, the IMAX will show The Magic of Flight, which creates the sensation of being in a cockpit while exploring the progression of flight (1-800-747-IMAX). Cost for Fantasia/2000 is $8-10. Tickets for Magic Flight will be $6.50-7.50.
Across the street is the Spirit of Ford, a 50,000-square-foot center which shows how cars are designed and built and displays concept cars. The Turbo Tour is a motion-simulator movie which takes the viewer on a car's-eye ride of an assembly line, including flying sparks as parts are "welded" onto the vehicle's frame. In the Pit Stop Challenge, four-person teams from the audience race the clock as they try to change a tire, refuel a high-performance stock car, and get it back out on the track. Tickets are $6-$9.
Across a parking lot is the two-year-old Automotive Hall of Fame,which aims to draw connections between the skills of inventors who developed the car, and the skills of the visitors. It has interactive exhibits, including car and hot rod design on computer, using a punch press to create a souvenir, and a short video. It takes about 90 minutes to explore, said Linda Busse, director of communications. Winter hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Beginning Memorial day, it's open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Cost: $3-6.
The Henry Ford Museum showcases the development of 20th-century technology, and Greenfield Village is an outdoor 18th-century town and farm.
The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak opens a new amphibian exhibit (jungle frogs and tropical salamanders) in its immersion gallery this year. Walk through a forest with simulated thunder, lightning, and mist.
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in downtown Detroit focuses on heritage and culture. Open Tuesday-Sunday at 315 E. Warren Ave.
The Brooklyn, Mich.-Irish Hills area is full of kitchy things that kids love to do, including a prehistoric forest (with its Crazy Maze and Jungle Rapids ride), Stagecoach Stop USA, Mystery Hill, and Ted Nugent Bowhunters World (rock and roll memorabilia, big-game animals, and a shooting range). The Walker Tavern Historic Complex in Brooklyn, an 1830s stagecoach stop, includes an 1840s barn and visitors center.
Sauder Farm and Craft Village in Archbold is a restored 19th-century village with skilled craftsmen and costumed guides.
Fort Meigs Historical Site in Perrysburg is open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The Wolcott House Museum on River Road in Maumee is open April-December, Wednesday-Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Costumed docents will show you the log cabin, country church, farm house, train depot, and caboose, as well as the Wolcott House, all constructed between 1826-1900. A new exhibit is the Lucas County Loft: Collections and Reflections.
The S.S. Willis B. Boyer maritime museum, a Great Lakes freighter launched in 1911, is open year-round. Moored on the east side of the Maumee River near International Park, the tour includes the massive engine room, officer's dining room, and the stainless-steel galley. Get your photo snapped behind the big steering wheel.
A hands-on Native American program is the Seven Eagles Historical Educational Center, which includes a reproduced longhouse and a real 1800-vintage log cabin. It's south of Grand Rapids on Wapakoneta Road; open Friday 6-9 p.m., and Saturday 1-5 p.m. Group tours by appointment. Free.
Across the river from Grand Rapids, a mule-drawn canal boat ride is offered along a 1 1/4-mile stretch of the old towpath at Providence Metropark. (There is a charge.) Nearby is a working sawmill and gristmill. Open May-October.
In Belleville, Mich., near Ypsilanti, the Yankee Air Museum is a collection of vintage aircraft housed in a World War II hangar at Willow Run Airport-East. Various periods of aviation history are displayed, including a section on female aviatrix, with an emphasis on the military. All the people who run the museum, including pilots, mechanics, and guides, are volunteers who love planes, said Stan Wiec, a tour guide.
The B-24 Liberator, a long-range bomber, was built there during World War II. Hours are Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 12-4 p.m. Cost: $3-5. A gift shop sells aviation-related items. (734-483-4030).
Sandusky offers the delightful Merry-Go-Round Museum, where wood carvers restore neglected pieces. And in the warm months, there's nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park and Soak City.
Planetariums and local astronomers explain the skies at the University of Toledo, Lourdes College, and Bowling Green State University. They have family-friendly shows and sometimes offer peeks through a giant telescope.
The Toledo Botanical Garden's 57 acres of inspired landscaping are free and open year-round, dawn to dusk.
Another lovely garden, 20 minutes southeast of Toledo in Elmore, is the Schedel Arboretum and Gardens. Japanese-style gardens with pools, lanterns, bridges, a pagoda and waterfall, Schedel Arboretum is open from mid-April through October.
The Toledo Farmers' Market just south of downtown in the Warehouse District is a fun place to meander on Saturdays, April-November. The adjacent Erie Street Market, open year-round, offers interesting food, treats, and gifts.
When the ice melts, Toledo's Community Boating Education Center teaches sailing and canoeing for modest fees at the docks just north of Walbridge Park.