Skyline Chili & abandoned subways: Cincinnati oddball trivia

Skyline Chili Cincinnati

With a view like this, it’s fairly obvious how Skyline Chili got its name. (photo: Will Velarde/The Cincinnati Enquirer

DealChicken loves rooting out the best daily deals in and around Cincinnati, and along the way, he’s managed to unearth some things that might surprise you. How did Skyline Chili get its start? Who was Tillie the Elephant? Go ahead and test your knowledge against everyone’s favorite yellow-bellied bird to see how your local history know-how stacks up.

Cincinnati’s rich history of trailblazing and trendsetting reached new heights when the very first bag of mail was delivered via hot air balloon in 1835. The balloon lifted off and traveled from Cincinnati to Toledo to make the nation’s first airmail delivery. Perhaps not so ironic, then, is the fact that the Lunken Airport, which was established in 1925, was home to the Embry-Riddle Company (later known as American Airlines), which landed one of America’s first airmail contracts.

Born-and-bred Cincinnatians know that few cravings are as strong as a Skyline Chili craving. When Skyline founder and Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides first introduced his family’s secret chili recipe to America back in 1949, it was a hard sell. But that hard sell has since grown into a national phenomenon as Skyline devotees pursue it 3-, 4- and 5-ways or via Coneys. With franchises in multiple states and a frozen-food line to boot, Lambrinides’s Skyline Chili's rise to fame epitomizes the American dream.

Cincinnati is home to the country’s largest abandoned subway tunnel. Built between 1920 and 1925, the project was deserted in that final year with only seven of the proposed 16 miles having been built. No tracks were ever laid, no subway cars were ordered, and the line lay inactive during the Great Depression and World War II. Why? After WWII, federal money was offered to build expressways, so Cincinnati's transportation efforts shifted from subway cars to automobiles. Today, two miles are all that remain beneath Central Parkway.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, John Robinson’s Circus was one of the nation’s largest touring shows. During the winter months, the animals retired with the Robinsons to Terrace Park. While frequent animal escapes frightened the locals, one animal was held in high regard: Tillie the Elephant, who was known for her heroic acts and near humanlike escapades. Her off-season career highlights include stopping runaway railroad cars, preventing a mud-stuck wagon from toppling over and even hunting down an escaped elephant who had killed his trainer and went on the lam. Tillie caught up to the bad apple and sat on top of him until help arrived. Upon her death, Tillie enjoyed a regal funeral complete with a gravestone, which is still located at the former Robinson home. Ironically, she was not actually buried there. The location of her remains is still a mystery.

Ted and Matula Gregory’s is a spicy tale, which started heating up when they purchased what is now called the Montgomery Inn in 1951. With Ted working long hours at the inn, Matula frequently made dinner and brought it to him, where he would share her home cooking with patrons. One night, she made ribs with barbecue sauce, and all who tried the meal agreed it was the best they’d had. The rave reviews landed her ribs and sauce on the inn restaurant’s menu and bolstered the popularity of its eatery. After opening Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse in 1989, the ravenous demand for her secret sauce led them to start selling it in local grocery stores. Today, Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce is available online, by phone, in groceries and, of course, at any of the four Montgomery Inn locations in Ohio and Kentucky.

When Cincinnati’s “Old Main” public library was completed in 1874, it was considered the “most magnificent public library in the country.” But magnificence takes time and patience, as the building of the library did. It was constructed in three separate sections: a four-story lobby, a three-story vestibule and a four-story atrium. The immense number of books and archives outnumbered the shelf space, and a new, much larger building was completed just up the street at 800 Vine St. in 1955. Not so surprisingly, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, with 41 branches, now has a reputation as having the largest, busiest public library system in the world.

The grass is greener at Eden Park, but it wasn’t always that way. One of Cincinnati’s most popular parks, Eden Park, is known as the site of such well-kept and beloved landmarks as the Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati Art Museum and Twin Lakes. But the beautiful Twin Lakes area, which features two lakes (go figure!), a footbridge, a playground regularly crawling with kids, and great footpaths, was once the site of an old quarry that supplied limestone to the city.

The next time you see an ambulance whiz by, give your Cincinnati pride a little boost with this interesting tidbit: Cincinnati launched the first ambulance service for civilians way back in 1865, a mode of transportation that, until then, had been reserved for military personnel. In these early days, horse-drawn carriages were the ambulances, and they transported sick or injured patients, along with hospital interns who rode along to administer care. It was a bumpy way to get well.

This is no April Fools’ joke: On April 1, 1853, the Cincinnati Fire Department was established as the nation’s first company of paid, or career, firefighters. The department’s reputation heated up even more as it continued to pioneer the fire-fighting field by being the first to use steam power for engine pump operation and the first to have horse-drawn engines. Clearly, Cincinnati is hot in more ways than you even knew!

Kings Island is an annual thrill-seeker’s hotspot, with more than 80 rides and attractions. Among Kings Island's portfolio is the legendary ride known simply as “The Beast.” In 2004, this wooden roller coaster was the recipient of the Coaster Landmark Award given by the American Coaster Enthusiasts. During the ride, which clocks in at a wee bit more than four minutes, roller coaster enthusiasts (and those who accepted a dare) reach speeds of up to 65 mph. But it’s The Beast's last hoorah—a 540-degree helix tunnel—the takes riders' breath (and stomachs) away every time!

Did you already know these facts about everything from Skyline Chili to The Beast? Then test your knowledge of Cleveland history.