Dr. Know: A Mammoth Mystery, Broken Clocks, and Old License Plates

The good doctor ponders puzzling queries, like why that OTR clocktower is stuck at 10:06, how to get rid of your old license plates, and where the wooly mammoths went (at least, the ones that used to stand outside the old Natural History Museum).
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I live in Denver now, but as a Cincinnati kid I often visited the Natural History Museum by the Elsinore Tower on Gilbert Avenue. Outside were enormous sculptures of wooly mammoths. I loved them more than the exhibits inside. Why didn’t they move with the Museum to Union Terminal? Please tell me they survive somewhere. — MAMMOTH MEMORY

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

DEAR MEMORY:

The Doctor is pleased to tell you that they survive somewhere. Despite decades of, um, mammoth popularity standing guard outside the old Natural History Museum, your cherished pachyderms were unable to configure with the institution’s move to the Cincinnati Museum Center in 1990. While many elements were successfully installed in the new location, some had to sadly be left behind. The magnificent Planetarium especially was a major loss; Pink Floyd laser shows just haven’t been the same since.

But even with the extinction of real-life wooly mammoths—thank you for not calling them elephants; it’s a sore point—the Natural History Museum committed to giving their mammoths a new home. The family of four now happily roams outside the entrance of the Cincinnati Museum Center’s sister location at West Fifth and Gest Streets.

It’s all for the best, really, because back in the old neighborhood, the new Cincinnati Ballet Center has just opened on Gilbert Avenue. If the mammoths were still hanging around across the street, it would make everyone think of that scene in Fantasia.


At the corner of Reading Road and Liberty Street is the beautiful clock tower that welcomes people to Pendleton/Over-the-Rhine. But the clock (two clocks, really) stopped working about two years ago. It’s been 10:06 in my beloved neighborhood for too long. Are there plans to fix it? — IT’S ABOUT TIME

DEAR ABOUT:

Because the Doctor is a history nerd, he shall begin by bringing up a much older clock tower. On September 24, 1848, Cincinnati’s riverfront was the subject of the world’s first panoramic city photograph. Not until 2015, though, during a painstaking digital restoration of the Daguerreotype plates, did we discern a downtown clock tower showing that the time was exactly 1:55. Everyone was impressed, but come on, was the clock even working that day? We all know how finicky those contraptions are.

The clock(s) at Reading and Liberty continue(s) this finicky tradition. Time stopped at 10:06 right around the time that everything stopped: when the pandemic hit in early 2020. Abbey Tissot, president of the Pendleton Neighborhood Council, says that attempts to fix it have been hampered by all the things that have hampered everything since then. The city and the Verdin Bell Company (which first installed the clock and its companion bells) are on the case. What day and time will Pendleton resume ticking? Place your bets now at the Hard Rock Casino down the street.


I recently got a new car and am waiting for new Ohio plates. Can my old plates go in the recycling bin? Rumpke’s website says no chains, buckets, pots and pans, or scrap metal. Are license plates scrap metal? I want to do the right thing, but I can’t wait forever on hold for an answer. Can you? — SPINNING PLATES

DEAR PLATES:

How very impressive, your certainty that the Doctor’s time is less valuable than your own. How very tragic, those lost moments on hold before abandoning the telephone. Had you taken a few more seconds perusing the Rumpke website, you would have noticed that a question such as this is easily submitted via their contact form. The Doctor tried it and received a reply within the hour.

First, the friendly folks at Rumpke send their congratulations on your new car. Unfortunately, they can’t help with your problem—license plates are not recyclable at their facility. Sorry, they did not suggest other options.

Here’s an idea: Back in the days when everyone got fresh plates every year, it was common to hang expired ones chronologically on a garage wall. Maybe you could rekindle this tradition. Then again, Ohio vehicles now get only one plate instead of two, and it also gets renewed with just a tiny sticker. Never mind; hide your old plates under the bed.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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