Dr. Know: Bizarro Music Hall Acts, Pizza Physics, And The Mystery Of Birney/Burney Lane


Music Hall’s grand re-opening will, I’m sure, include the usual laundry list of celebrated performers. I’m curious, though, about the weird and bizarre stuff. What has happened at Music Hall that doesn’t quite fit the white-tie image? —WELL I NEVER

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Never:

Please welcome: Hadji, the Educated Horse! Hadji’s brainpower headlined Music Hall’s Poultry, Pigeon, Pony, and Pet Stock Show in 1909. Please welcome: ski jumping and log rolling! The Cincinnati Sportsmans Show of 1938 had plenty. Please welcome: professional wrestling, boxing, basketball, barn dances, and more—because until our town had venues like the Cincinnati Gardens and a convention center, Music Hall did double and triple duty.

And wait, there’s more! Jimmy Hoffa, prior to sleeping with the fishes, gave a passionate speech at Music Hall in 1961. Herman’s Hermits performed several hit songs in 1967, right after their little-known opening act: The Who. Janis Joplin doubled as a TV host in 1968, pausing her concert to wheel out a television so that everyone could watch the Beatles perform on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Long ago, Music Hall hosted minstrel shows. Such things were acceptable back then. That audience certainly would have winced, however, at Sam Kinison’s comedy a century later. Duran Duran at Music Hall—does that somehow seem incongruous? And Jimmy Buffett, alone on that giant stage, reciting excerpts from his novel…. Sorry, that’s just wrong. Welcome back, Music Hall, and stay classy.

I love Cincinnati’s hometown pizza places, and regularly visit them all. One local pizza, though, makes me curious. At Krimmer’s Italianette in North College Hill, the bottom of the pizza crust has a series of little dark bumps. Each is about the width of an aspirin. Is that some secret part of the recipe? —PONDERING PIZZA

Dear Pondering:

Questions involving pizza normally are about toppings. This could be the first that addresses bottomings. The Doctor’s initial theory seemed obvious: fresh pizza dough is sticky, and adding these small protrusions helps keep it from getting stuck to the oven’s surface as the middle-aged overweight mustachioed guy wearing a tall chef hat lunges at the pizza with a 10-foot long spatula while singing Figaro.

This mental image turned out to be embarrassingly inaccurate on multiple levels. Any three-dimensional sculpting on the bottom of soft pizza dough would instantly disappear on contact with a flat heated surface. The bottom bumps are actually a result of holes in the pans, which allow the oven heat to distribute evenly throughout the pizza. The soft dough at each hole gently rises downward and darkens during this process.

Steve Krimmer, senior manager of the family-owned Italianette, diplomatically explained these common laws of physics to the Doctor. About the stereotyped image of a typical pizzeria employee: We did not go there.

You’ve probably already been asked about Birney Lane. It starts at Five Mile Road in Anderson, but after it crosses Salem Road in Mt. Washington, it’s spelled Burney. Which one is right, and why do they disagree? —BIRNING CONTROVERSY

Dear Birning:

Yes, the Doctor has a thick dossier for this one, filed under “evergreens,” questions that are submitted regularly, such as Why is the first Oktoberfest in August and How does Cincinnati get away with calling that stuff chili?

The more one looks into the Birney/Burney mystery, the more one becomes annoyed. Early Cincinnati abolitionist James Birney—that’s how he spelled it—deserves better. Almost every inch of this two-mile winding street has, at one time or another, mangled his name. Correct spellings today are mostly in Anderson Township, with offending “Burney” signs commencing near the city line. But go back about 100 years, and you’ll see maps showing the exact reverse of this. Nobody knows why.

Checking historical records makes one’s head explode: A 1925 newspaper article notes a business sold at “Birney Lane and Beechmont Avenue, Mt. Washington.” But literally one inch below this, a legal notice lists the very same transaction at “Burney Lane and Beechmont Avenue, Anderson Township.” The seller’s name is spelled differently in the two items, just for spite. Also the buyer’s name.

With this item, the Doctor must now declare a moratorium on any further spelling/grammar submissions. It is a losing battle nationwide, and this column’s mission is for addressing local concerns only. Someone has to stay focused on why Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest starts in August.

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