Dr. Know: The Pit, The Blew Mind, and Electrical Substations

The Doctor gives clarity on mysterious rectangular structures, and smoke shops of the past.


Illustration by Lars Leetaru

In Newport along Waterworks Road, there’s a wide and tall concrete rectangle in the middle of a field. It’s open on top. On the hillside below it is an open concrete chute. Together they resemble an oversized two-level miniature golf challenge. I’m sure it all has a purpose, but what? —OUTSIDE THE BOX


You have opened a box of worms. Much, much stranger than the concrete structure itself is its portrayal online. The Doctor urges readers to search Google Maps for “The Pit, Newport, KY.” It not only features photographs of the box described above but also has several glowing reviews. Yes, rave reviews of a hollow concrete rectangle in a field surrounded by absolutely nothing. It’s as if the thing were an upscale restaurant or hotel. “A must-see!” “Totally life-changing!” It’s been in the family for generations!” One detects a hint of sarcasm.

Although The Pit looks much like an architecture student’s Brutalism capstone project, it is actually a stormwater control structure designed to collect overflow from Newport’s Woodlawn Creek underneath. Chris Cole, director of enterprise communications at Sanitation District 1, does not recommend it as a tourist attraction. He does credit it with slowing down buildups and overflows from the creek during heavy storms. Without The Pit, severe spring rains would indeed be “totally life-changing” for many Newport residents. We strongly discourage planning any vacations there.


Your recent answer about The Cupboard made me remember another local head shop from the hippie era. It was called The Blew Mind, and it lasted only a brief time on Short Vine. Or maybe it was on McMillan. I don’t remember much about it (ha ha). What’s the story of that place? —COMFORTABLY DUMB


Oh, wow. This is an extremely tiny blip of Cincinnati history within the extremely large purple haze of collective memory. It’s like trying to find a needle in a, y’know, like, a big box of needles. Oh, wow.

The Doctor has dug up only a few seeds about The Blew Mind at East McMillan and Vine streets (not The Blown Mind, which was in Mt. Adams). A police bust happened there in 1969, but no charges were filed. The proprietor guessed he’d been arrested as an act of revenge, because the cop suspected him of dropping sugar into his parked car’s gas tank the previous night (a sugar cube?). The Blew Mind also appears in a 1970 newspaper notice of delinquent taxes and its owner in arrears on alimony in 1973.

Brevity, busted, and bankrupt: All the boxes have been checked to qualify as a Cincinnati head shop. The Cupboard’s longevity was the exception, unlike The Open Occult, Shaker Plane, On-U, Positively 4th Street, All-Together, Trivets, Straight A-Head, Jo-Ro-Gen, The Eye Opener, and their brethren. Oh, wow. I buried Paul.


At the Court Street Plaza across from the downtown Kroger, right behind the large mural, there’s a huge fenced-in box. It’s obviously electrical but looks like a series of gym lockers. You’d assume it’s for powering stuff at the plaza, but it was there long before the plaza happened. What’s it for? —DON’T FENCE ME OUT


Yet another question about a large, mysterious rectangular structure. You can almost hear the theme from 2001, A Space Odyssey. This box, unlike Newport’s remotely isolated Pit described above, has comfortable seating at Court Street Plaza and the Kroger next door, so one would think this would be the box getting rave reviews on Google Maps. Life is mysterious.

The Court Street Plaza Gym Lockers are not gym lockers, nor do they have anything to do with Court Street Plaza. You are looking at an electrical substation for the Cincinnati Connector—our fleet of streetcars. The miles of overhead cables that provide power to the streetcars get their electricity from this array of high-voltage closets, and those Danger, High Voltage signs are not kidding around. Keep your distance.

Court Street Plaza’s facility is one of five substations throughout the downtown area; there are no prizes for pointing out the others. Together, they allow Cincinnati’s free streetcars to reliably and smoothly block your next left turn.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, radio personality and advertising prankster. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities here.

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