Meeting the unhappy zeitgeist of Broadway and Liberty

Or how I broke my arm

“That corner is haunted.” My son’s words came back to me as I sat crumpled on the sidewalk leaning against the building, cradling my right arm with my left. My husband crouched between me and my bike, peppering me with questions about what hurt. 

Self-portrait with bike. Elizabeth Mariner
Self-portrait with bike.

My son’s comment was prompted by a series of events that began after the city of Cincinnati’s “calming of Liberty Street” project which, among other improvements, altered a dangerous intersection and changed the flow of traffic. A curb and sidewalk cut off access to Liberty Street at the corner of Liberty Hill and Broadway.

We applauded this change; buses and other westbound vehicles on Liberty Hill were directed to a new light before they reached our building and no longer raced down the hill, flying past at breakneck speed to merge.

Then the incidents began. First, a speeding driver missed the new traffic pattern and slammed into the brick building on that corner, taking out the door and a window and leaving a pile of rubble on the sidewalk. 

Second, came the water main break – same corner. As city workers jackhammered their way up the street looking for the crack in the 100-plus-year-old cast iron pipe, they managed to break a gas line, delaying repairs. Our building and others had no water for three days. 

The next incident was the most bizarre. One day, we heard a loud explosion. The power went out. Duke Energy trucks converged on our street. I stood next to one of the drivers, staring up in disbelief at the telephone pole on the corner of Liberty Hill and Broadway. Inexplicably, on a calm afternoon, the top five feet of the pole snapped off, taking down the wires, which now rested on a lower, perpendicular set, blowing a transformer in the process. 

Liberty Hill and Broadway looking west
The corner of Liberty Hill and Broadway, looking west down Liberty Street.

It was in response to this last incident that my son, who lives a couple of blocks away, proposed the “haunted” theory. 

“The spirit of the city is angry,” he said. “They cut off its flow. It’s taking revenge.”

I’m not one to believe in the supernatural, but I liked this romantic notion that the historic neighborhoods of Over-the-Rhine and Prospect Hill had a zeitgeist, a time spirit that resisted change. 

And this was not the first time this corner had seen major disruption. Liberty Hill was originally part of Liberty Street, but when the interstate highway system was built, Liberty Street was rerouted to connect to the on-ramps. Buildings were razed, families were displaced and Broadway to the south became a dead-end with a set of steps the only access to Liberty. 

I sat contemplating this as my husband fetched the car to take me to the emergency room for what turned out to be a spiral fracture of the humerus. Although it had probably been angered decades before, I had collided with the unhappy zeitgeist of Broadway and Liberty when I caught my tire in a crack and body-slammed the foundation of the building on the corner. 

Or perhaps I simply made a bad move, distracted by the wind in my face and the sun on my cheeks as we embarked on our first ride of the season on a beautiful spring Sunday.

But, please, next time you are in Over-the-Rhine, raise a glass to those who built it, who lived here over the decades, who have preserved and restored it. Maybe leave a sip in the bottom as a peace offering to the zeitgeist. I will. Couldn’t hurt.

Elizabeth Mariner, co-publisher and creative director

Elizabeth Mariner and Shark Girl
About a month after surgery, stopping in the Contemporary Arts Center to visit with Shark Girl (by Casey Riordan Millard)

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