“Living History Tour.” The concept of a costumed guide at a historic site assuming the character of a person associated with that place is a clever way to engage people and give them an entirely different perspective on history. But those three words can be pretty off-putting to me.
I knocked on Clara Sproat Glenn’s door with much trepidation, dreading what would happen next. As Mrs. Glenn showed me around her home, pointing out interesting things, sharing special stories, and even shedding a tear, I started changing my tune. When it was time to leave, I was so taken with her that I wanted to stay longer to ask her a few things.
That’s the experience I had on a recent visit to the John & Annie Glenn Museum in New Concord, Ohio.
We’re all familiar with how John Glenn was a World War II Marine pilot, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, president of Royal Crown Cola, the longest-serving United States Senator from Ohio, the 1984 Democratic presidential candidate, a 1998 Discovery crew member who became the oldest person to experience space flight, and that he passed away last December at the age of 95. But how much do we know about Glenn’s New Concord roots? A visit to his boyhood home offers some interesting insights.
Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio in 1921; when he was two years old, he and his parents moved to New Concord. His father, Herschel, opened a plumbing business and built a home for his family that was big enough to double as a rooming house for students from nearby Muskingum College.
Little “Bud” enjoyed an idyllic childhood there. When he wasn’t riding around town delivering newspapers, he read books about science and aviation. He built model airplanes at his desk and hung them from the ceiling of his bedroom. During the Depression, he loaded his wagon with rhubarb his mother, Clara, grew in their backyard garden and sold it to neighbors. When he had picked and sold all the rhubarb, he turned to washing cars.
In high school, he lettered in football, basketball and tennis. He wrote skits and acted in plays. And his regular companion was Annie Castor, daughter of the local dentist. The childhood playmates became high school sweethearts and continued spending time together as Muskingum College students.
Glenn’s boyhood home was first located on Shadyside Terrace, a gravel road that sat high on an embankment overlooking the National Road, U.S. Route 40, at the western edge of New Concord. The home was moved to its present location on West Main Street and was originally interpreted as it would have appeared during the Great Depression, then during World War II. Recently, it was reinterpreted to represent how it looked in 1962. Actor-historians depicting Clara or Herschel Glenn guide visitors through the home, describing what it was like to watch their son step inside the Friendship 7 spacecraft on February 20 of that year, orbit the earth three times, and re-enter the atmosphere with a burning heat shield and no communication with NASA.
Clara meets visitors in her sewing room — her son’s former bedroom — and points out a pressed copper ship like one young John made in school. Leading the way into her son’s favorite room, the kitchen, she shares an advertisement for Swanson TV dinners and pointed out her “Melmac” melamine resin dinnerware. A good cook known for her ham loaf, corn mush, pies and cakes, Clara talks about her fondness for tomato aspic — and her recipe for it is free for the taking.
In the dining room, Clara describes how her African violets are thriving in front of a window with Fiberglass curtains. She shares her thoughts about the book she’s reading: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Her dining table is set with the “Golden Wheat” dinnerware produced by the Homer Laughlin Co. of East Liverpool, Ohio, which the local A&P gave away with every purchase of groceries.
An embroider-by-number crewel picture, a “Tipperary” reclining chair made in Zanesville, and a globe John gave to his parents with tape he applied to show his orbit route are all on view in the Glenns’ living room. While her black-and-white television with a removable color filter is her latest modern acquisition, her most prized possessions are on the mantel: a pair of figurines that John bought her with the first money he earned selling rhubarb.
Stopping in a bedroom furnished with a table John made and the rocker she used when John was a baby, with a secret compartment for her sewing supplies,
Clara calls attention to the glass doorknobs that were made in Cambridge.After parting company with Clara, visitors continue their tour in the upstairs of the house, which has been converted to a museum with galleries containing special childhood treasures like the tricycle the young Glenn rode in a July 4 parade…
Also on display are memorabilia from Glenn’s military, political and space careers, as well as the Marine dress blues and the white street-length dress that the couple wore when they were married on April 6, 1943 at the College Drive United Presbyterian Church in New Concord.
Tours of the John & Annie Glenn Museum at 72 West Main Street in New Concord are given Wednesdays through Sundays from May through October. For more on John Glenn and his New Concord home, check out John Glenn: A Memoir, by John Glenn; “John & Annie Glenn Museum,” the Ohio History Connection Album feature of the July-September 2017 issue of TIMELINE; and John Glenn’s New Concord, by Lorle Porter.
If you’d like a copy of Clara Sproat Glenn’s recipe for tomato aspic, courtesy of the John & Annie Glenn Museum, leave me a comment.
John Glenn just happens to be part of the 2017 Collective Stitch project, a cross stitch project combined with a shop-hop, treasure hunt and mystery stitch-along. Between June 1 and August 31, 25 participating needlework shops across the country will have a complimentary exclusive design on hand for participating stitchers who collect the designs and stitch an album of postcards. Emily Van chose to memorialize John Glenn when designing “A Postcard From Ohio, Home of John Glenn” for Cross My Heart, Ltd. in Columbus.