Dr. Know: Birth of Cosplay, Vanishing Exits, and Vintage Venues

The good doctor examines the Cincinnati origins of cosplay, a perpetually closed exit ramp, and a lost concert venue by City Hall.
Whenever I read about the history of cosplay (I’m a fan), Cincinnati is mentioned as its birthplace, in 1908. There was a masquerade ball, and the winners were a couple dressed as Martians from a popular comic strip called “Mr. Skygack and Miss Pickles.” Details are sketchy. Is this true? If so, tell me more. —COSPLAY’S THE THING 
Some readers approve when the Doctor explodes another myth about Cincinnati; others prefer the cuddly comfort of fables. Your story has elements of fact, error, and one glaring omission. A “mask carnival” was indeed held at Music Hall on December 2, 1908. The winners, Mr. and Mrs. William Fell, greatly resembled two popular newspaper comic characters of the era. Only William, however, was from Mars: He came as Mr. Skygak, the first science-fiction character in a comic strip. Mrs. Fell was dressed as Diana Dillpickles, from a comic featuring a husband-hunting spinster. Humor was so much funnier then!
In the Doctor’s opinion, your cosplay origin story has left out the most important part: Mr. and Mrs. Fell were on roller skates. Everyone was. Music Hall had only recently opened a roller skating rink in the ballroom, which certainly must have added some lively percussion for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
By the way, did Mr. Skygak pronounce his name with a hard “g” or a soft “j?” For the answer, Google the word “gif.”

For about two years, an orange “Closed” banner has covered the green Kennedy Avenue exit sign on I-71. I have yet to see any actual work start. Did somebody forget about this? We were promised this exit a long time ago when they closed the Ridge Avenue north ramp. —ANGER RAMPING UP 
The Doctor regularly receives “fix my pothole” submissions. These are normally shuffled off to whichever local television station is currently majoring in minor heroisms. Remember, we are not here to fix the unfixable, but to know the unknowable! And when it comes to the elusive new Kennedy Avenue exit, who really knows?
The Ridge Avenue north exit ramp on I-71 permanently closed in 2021. Plans are to convert and redirect it to Kennedy Avenue, while also improving the utterly wretched ramp that goes from Kennedy back to the highway. You will be astonished to learn, however, that for the very first time in the history of American highway improvements a project is experiencing construction delays. The original start date for this was April 2022, with completion in seven months. Now work will start this November and finish after another year.
Those zombie signs that taunt you? They were erected when the whole project started two years ago. Why? Because the other signs had to change then anyway, and having the crew hang signs for everything at once resulted in—big drum roll— saving money! Just think of this epic project as Cincinnati’s “Kennedy Era.”

Your magazine has often written about Cincinnati’s lost concert venues from the 1960s and ’70s: the original Ludlow Garage, the Blue Wisp, Black Dome, etc. Wasn’t there also a place downtown for a short time right next to City Hall? And the city shut it down? —TURN THAT CRAP DOWN 
It’s already hard enough for Boomers to remember whether that memory of loud music behind a hazy cloud was an amazing live concert or their TV with that Wolfman Jack show. Trying to also recall the location could fry even more brain cells. You are correct, however, that an 800- seat venue briefly existed right across from City Hall’s Ninth Street entrance (the door with the “Not an Entrance” sign).
Cincinnati Renaissance, it was called. It opened in the summer of 1974 but was gone by summer of ’75. City Council did try to shoo the club away, disapproving of a place that specialized in chaos and pointless noise when, obviously, that was Council’s job. In the club’s short time, the owners did manage to present acts like (close your eyes, kids) Dave Mason, Pure Prairie League, Chick Corea, Taj Mahal, Weather Report, and several more. Music lives forever; small concert venues rarely do.
Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, radio personality and advertising prankster. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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