Please feel free to add your comments and share your stories about Piatt Castles. Whether you visited when you were a child, gave tours when you were in high school, were married on the grounds, or had any other experience here we'd love to hear how Piatt Castles has played a role in your life. All of your stories together make up our story.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The party's over, but the fun is just beginning.

I rope my friends into moving a model of Mac-A-Cheek onto the
lawn where it will decorate a mini golf hole.
I think we all had a great time celebrating a century of stories last weekend at Mac-A-Cheek.  I brought a few friends with me from Pittsburgh and convinced them to help set up in exchange for cake.  The day threatened rain, but despite (or perhaps because of) Mom's elaborate rain contingency planning we didn't get a single drop.  Once the tents were all up and the mini golf hole was in place the guests started pouring in.  It was hard to get an accurate count, as visitors milled about the grounds all afternoon, but I would estimate that we had at least 200 people join us for our celebration.

Mom and I cut the official birthday cake. 
On display were samples of many of the programs offered at Piatt Castles including activities from our summer day camps, a traveling exhibit about corn (it's a 6 foot tall quilted ear of corn - amazing) called Corny Facts and Kernels of Knowledge, exhibits about the civil war, information about our oral history program, games for children of all ages, and much more.  We took 2 commemorative photographs of all in attendance that will be published in a souvenir book that Mom and I are writing to commemorate this anniversary.  And of course, the cake was one of the most popular attractions with a line that stretched through the building.

Representatives from the fourth estate were present to capture the celebration, and the party was featured in both the Bellefontaine Examiner and the Columbus Dispatch.

I pose with the winner of our birthday cake baking competition.
Now that the tents have been put away and the cake has been eaten we're working to complete our anniversary year and prepare for the future.  First on the docket is the souvenir book.  The first souvenir book about Mac-A-Cheek was printed in 1915, and our book will include an annotated copy of the original book plus a history of tourism at Mac-A-Cheek told through the material culture of the museum (brochures, ads, tickets, post cards, etc.).  We are learning so much about the museum by looking at the way it was promoted through the years.  As much fun as I had planning Sunday's party, I'm a little glad that it's over so that I'll have more time to get going on the book!
The staff at Piatt Castles

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One Week Until Cake!

I can't believe that our 100th Birthday Party is only a week away.  This summer has gone by outrageously quickly.  I've been so busy with my internship in New York, with moving back and forth to New Jersey, and now with getting ready for school to start again tomorrow that I haven't had a chance to visit the Mac-A-Cheek during it's centennial season yet.  I'm so looking forward to driving over next weekend, and best of all I'm bringing several friends with me who have never seen the Castles before.  It will be a wonderful chance for me to reconnect with my family, and at the same time I'll have the pleasure of introducing the museum to new people who can view the work we've been doing with fresh eyes and hopefully provide some great feedback.

Newly designed exhibit panel
about me and my role at Piatt Castles
By far the strangest thing for me about the Castle (and this has been true for pretty much my entire life) is the exhibit panel about me.  Somehow the panel that discusses the lives and work of my grandparents seems perfectly reasonable, but the panel that discusses who I am and what I do has always seemed so funny.  It's just so weird to see pictures of myself on display.  This week it got even weirder.  As I've taken over more and more of the graphic design work at the Castles I've started doing a lot of the exhibit layouts.  The tricky thing about exhibits about live people (like myself) is that they require constant updates.  We realized that the exhibit about me was woefully out of date, so I found myself designing an exhibit panel about myself.  I tried to remove myself from it a little and work as though it were a panel about any other Piatt, and I think it turned out pretty well.  I will say that the best part about creating this panel was that fact checking was a breeze!  The new panel has gone to the printer and will be on display in Mac-A-Cheek in time for our party next weekend.  I've included a little preview of it here.

I hope you can make it out to Mac-A-Cheek to celebrate with us next Sunday afternoon (details here).  I look forward to seeing you all in real life.  If you can't make it, I'll have a blog post up about it as soon as I can.  In the mean time, have a great week!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


We've spent the last couple of days hammering out the details for our Centennial Celebration Birthday Party on September 2.  My absolute favorite part of what we have planned is a birthday cake contest open to amateur bakers of all ages.  If I were 8, and not a Piatt, I would go crazy for this.  As a kid I loved contests.  If I had grown up in an area with county fairs I surely would have devoted lots of time to fair competitions.

Ceiling Fresco, Drawing Room, Mac-A-Cheek
This has nothing to do with cake, but I thought it might inspire
you as you decorate your cake contest entry.
Anyhow, back to the matter at hand, I hope you'll be as excited about this birthday cake competition as I am.  If you'd like to enter, or know someone who makes a mean b'day cake, you can get more information here.  If you can't tell a pastry bag from a profiterole, not to worry!  We'll also be giving away professionally baked cake, cupcakes, and ice cream donated by local business as well as recipe cards featuring a cake recipe (or "receipt" as it was called then) that my great grandmother (also named Kate) and her sister-in-law Bertie wrote in a book they called their Chicken Diary (it discussed the tails and successes of raising chickens as well as the various ways in which the chickens' eggs were used).

Whether you come for the cake, the competition or the celebration - I look forward to seeing you in September!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Eat and Learn Adventure

Today I want on what I call an Eat and Learn Adventure.  These are variations on what my father and I called eating our way across town that consist of alternating between museums and other cultural institutions and, well, eating.  They are an excellent way to get to know a new place.

Today's adventure took place in lower Manhattan, and on the train ride home I realized I had inadvertently curated a thematic adventure focusing on immigration.  I began at the 9/11 Memorial, headed to the lower east side for lunch at Katz's Deli and a tour at the Tenement Museum, walked through Little Italy where I ate ravioli and an amazing cannoli, and ended up drinking coffee in Battery Park looking out over the Statue of Liberty.  It was a fascinating, and delicious, trip through several historical periods that correlated to the immigration of different ethnic groups into the US through New York, and it made me think about the relationship between immigration and the family unit as well as the role of immigration in shaping the history of the US.

The story of the Piatt family in the US actually begins before the US.  There is some confusion owing to common names and inaccurate records, but we do know that the first Piatt came from France before the Revolutionary War.  Like with many immigrant families, this created two distinct branches of the family - one in the new world and one in the home country.  Over the generations, several Piatt men married Irish women who came from families who had entered the US much later.  In my case, the answer to the question "when did your family come to America?" cannot be answered simply, and with every passing generation the stories of all American families become more complicated.

My takeaway from today's adventure is that we can find strength and community by seeking out those of similar experience (or ethnicity), but what makes us stronger (as individuals and as a society) is the combination and cooperation of those with varied backgrounds and experiences.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ice Cream

I'm going to take a break from heavy topics like politics and education and discuss something truly important:  ice cream.
Margaret Piatt, age 5.
She certainly would have liked some ice cream to go with that birthday cake.

Aside from being the ideal accompaniment to birthday cake and one of the best things about summer, ice cream also has an interesting history.  It's a bit hard to imagine ice cream before the advent of modern refrigeration.  While flavored ices had already been popular for some time the first printed recipes for ice cream appeared in the early 1700s, and ice cream was referenced in the Oxford English Dictionary as early as 1744.

Before the processed was industrialized in the 20th Century, ice cream production was reserved for very special occasions.  It was a time-consuming, expensive and labor-intensive process that involved freezing cream in pots that were submerged in crushed ice mixed with salt.  Before refrigeration ice was harvested during the winter, stored either under ground or in sheds insulated with hay and then crushed by hand in order to make ice cream (or, of course, used for other purposes).  The salt is added to the ice because it lowers the freezing point of water thus making the ice colder.  The cream is agitated during the freezing process in order to add air to the mixture and prevent the cream from freezing into a solid block.  There have been many modern modifications to the ice cream production process, but the science of freezing air into cream remains unchanged (except in regards to very low cost ice cream that is essentially a mixture of chemicals that bears no resemblance to cream).

Both the ice cream cone and the ice cream sundae were reputed to have been invented by numerous clever culinary artists over several years, but both were well established by the early 1900s (the 1904 Worlds Fair saw the first mass introduction of the ice cream cone into American culture).  Today, the versatility and variety of ice cream is astounding.  Last week I was at a farmer's market where a vendor was making ice cream on demand using liquid nitrogen.  Innovation never ceases, but who can complain about such delicious novelty?

Now, I honestly don't know whether there will be ice cream at our 100th Birthday Party, but I do know that there is a truly wonderful ice cream parlor just down the street in West Liberty.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why do we learn?

Library at Mac-A-Cheek
For some of us, education is a means to an end.  We need to gain a set of skills in order to perform a job, or we need to collect data in order to make a decision.  For others, education is an end unto itself.  I suppose that most people seek knowledge for different reasons in different situations.  For me, the acquisition of knowledge is often more rewarding than its implementation.  I love the thrill of grasping a previously evasive concept or making a connection between two seemingly unrelated fields.  I see the world around me as a laboratory and a library - a place to explore and to learn.  In this world I am a perpetual scholar.

This love of learning is one of the many traits that has, through nature and/or nurture, been passed down to me by generations of Piatts.  Abram (my great-great-great-grandfater, builder of Mac-A-Cheek) was a farmer and a writer - a beautiful combination that allows for exploration of the physical world and the intellectual world.  The establishment and perpetuation of Mac-A-Cheek and Mac-O-Chee as historic house museums speaks to the Piatts' love of learning.  Running a history museum in a small Ohio community isn't easy, and it isn't particularly profitable, but it does afford us the joy of bringing new knowledge to visitors young and old.  It also creates an environment in which learning is the highest priority.  100 years after Mac-A-Cheek was first opened for tours, we are still doing research about this history of the land, the building, the family and the community.  We have interrupted family dinners because someone posed a historical question that was so compelling that we couldn't finish eating until we'd discovered the answer.  Living and working in a museum is a brilliant way for a family obsessed with learning to spend its time.  There is so much to explore, and so much to share.  I hope you'll join us this summer to celebrate 100 years of exploration.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Personally, I have never found war to be terribly interesting.  As a concept it make so little sense to me. However, so much of history is illustrated by war.  This week we celebrate the anniversary of the end of the war that created the United States of America - the first in a series of American wars.

Newly renovated exhibit on the military history
of the Piatt family, Mac-A-Cheek Castle
Just as the history of a nation can be told (at least in part) through its wars, the history of a family can be told through its participation in those wars.  Jacob Piatt (paternal grandfather to brothers Abram and Donn) served in the Revolutionary War.  For his service he was paid in part with a lot of land just south of the Ohio River near Cincinnati.  This precipitated his son Benjamin's life in Cincinnati and eventual move to present-day West Liberty.  Benjamin served as a Quarter Master in the War of 1812.

By the Civil War, Benjamin's family was established in West Liberty.  Abram Piatt made the rank of Brigadier General, and his brother Donn made a name for himself by waiting for his commanding officer to take leave and creating an unapproved regiment of freed slaves.  Decades later, Abram's great-grandsons William and James served in World War II and the Korean War respectively.

What I find interesting about the family's story told through the wars is not the conflicts themselves, but the way in which it relates the Piatt story to the stories of other families across the country.  It pulls historical figures out of abstraction and relates them to a known event.  Just was we use paragraphs to break up blocks of text, wars make excellent delineations and reference points in history.  Someone with a relative who served in WWII has an immediate, real connection with the time period and the story being told when he or she learns about my grandfather, William.

This rather esoteric benefit of military history is vastly inconsequential when compared to the actual horror of war.  As we look back we celebrate not the atrocities or the bloodshed but the outcome.  We manage to overlook the means and enjoy the ends.  This is the spirit of the Fourth of July.  We light things on fire and celebrate our nationhood.  My grandfather shot off the cannon that sits in front of Mac-A-Cheek on the 4th, but only on years when there was a democrat in the White House.  My great-great-great grandfather's brother Donn explained so simply that, "the Fourth of July is a day set apart by the citizens of this blessed country on which to glorify themselves and mutilate their offspring."

Have a safe and happy 4th!