Dr. Know: Milford’s Seagulls, Phantom Lane Closures, and Covedale’s Missing Grapevines

The good doctor has answers to your pressing Cincinnati questions, like why are there seagulls in Milford, how does Google know my exit ramp is closed, and what happened to the 50,000 grapevines supposedly removed for Covedale development?

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

I have fond winter memories of my dad taking me to the old Delco Plaza parking lot in Milford. We’d bring stale bread for the seagulls, who were always circling above. Last winter I drove by, and the seagulls are still there! Why are seagulls in Cincinnati at all, and what’s with this “tradition?” —WHAT THE FLOCK

Some readers undoubtedly know of the famous Swallows of Capistrano, who migrate thousands of miles each spring to gather at California’s Mission San Juan Capistrano. Their annual pilgrimage has inspired romantic legends and songs. The Doctor wishes that your treasured childhood memory in Milford could be similarly based on a gauzy Hallmark tradition, but prepare for a little disappointment.

Seven species of seagulls are known to live in Ohio. They mostly hang around Lake Erie and the Ohio River, but also make their way to inland bodies of water and are frequently found in the parking lots of shopping centers during the winter. It’s not the Christmas sales that attract them—it’s the garbage left in large bins. Humanity’s tradition of throwing away untold quantities of edible food brings the seagulls to Milford just as reliably as the swallows return to Capistrano or the pigeons to Fountain Square. Feel free to cherish your childhood memory. The heart wants what it wants. But so does the stomach.

How does Google Maps get its information about Cincinnati lane closures? For days it’s been showing the ramp from I-71 to the Norwood Lateral as closed, with a specific re-opening date. But the ramp is not closed at all, and it screwed up my commute. How does something like that happen? —NONE DIRECTION

As the saying goes: Google works in mysterious ways, its wonders to sell to advertisers. Google Maps vacuums its data from many sources. Its green/orange/red traffic congestion lines come from millions of users’ phones as they move (or don’t), and its official construction notices come from various local and state highway departments. In other words, the error you noted about the not-really-closed Norwood Lateral ramp was generated by a software glitch, an incompetent human, or Russian disinformation—take your pick. The important thing is that nobody can be held accountable.

If it’s any consolation, your query was directly responsible for the retraction of this scurrilous fake news. After the Doctor contacted the Ohio Department of Transportation about your travails, Press Secretary Matt Bruning sprang into action, working the bureaucratic levers at Google Maps, and the image of the red-lined ramp promptly disappeared down the memory hole. Thank you, Citizen None Direction. We need more like you, committed to truth and accuracy. Next, see if you can get Google Maps to teach their friendly GPS voice how far away a quarter-mile actually is.

My veterinarian in Covedale has a framed Cincinnati Times-Star page from 1930, welcoming Covedale’s annexation into the city of Cincinnati. It says 50,000 grapevines were torn out to make way for new homes. What? Was Covedale something like the Napa Valley of the Midwest, minus the spas? —MAKE COVEDALE GRAPE AGAIN

Raise a glass of Covedale Catawba to the memory of The Times-Star, a long-gone local paper. The page about Covedale does not seem to exemplify journalistic objectivity, though: “Behold Covedale! Bright and sparkling like a freshly cut diamond!” The entire page is like that. One section gushes over a “pioneer farmer” named Henry Ludwig, “hoeing in his neatly-kept garden, ruddy-faced and hearty at 76,” written by a journalist suspiciously named Charles Ludwig. Hmm. On that day’s front page, the banner headline is about a Norwood Kroger holdup man who was quickly apprehended with his toy gun. Not exactly Pulitzer Prize material.

Oh, that’s right, you asked about grapevines. The Covedale puff piece mentions that during the previous five years “more than 50,000 grapevines were torn out by the roots” to make way for about 400 new homes. By 1930 the fresh homes were all mortgage-ready, just in time for the Great Depression. But the Doctor, perusing other documents of the time, finds no mention of a grapevine massacre—no Napa, no nada. Perhaps this tale came from yet another Ludwig.

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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