Ohio’s museums resonate far beyond the boundaries of the Buckeye State. These signature institutions are a must for group travelers, highlighting topics from rock ’n’ roll to the Underground Railroad, the history of professional football, the U.S. Air Force and firsthand accounts from military veterans.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Cleveland is home to the only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the world, making it a much sought-after international tourist destination. The museum’s mission is to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock music. It does that using its exhibits and award-winning educational programs for students of all ages.
Every year the hall of fame honors a new class of inductees, including a museum exhibit telling their stories. Other exhibits touch upon how music has been an important voice in the civil rights, women’s rights and green movements.
Visitors who walk into The Garage exhibit feel as if they are at the beginning of their own musical journey, learning how to play a few chords on a guitar, a few riffs on a bass or some hip beats on a drum. The Jam Room is for more experienced musicians to show what they can do. Musical visitors can jam with the house band that plays in the exhibit daily.
The museum offers many fun experiences for group visitors, such as a self-guided scavenger hunt through the museum where they must attempt to answer 20 questions from the artifacts on display in 30 minutes. Voice Your Choice is an activity where audience members get to make their case for who should next be inducted into the hall of fame. Rock and Roll Jeopardy is a gameshow where contestants, drawn from the pool of visitors, get to show off their rock ’n’ roll knowledge.
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force dates to 1923, when it opened to the public in an aircraft hangar at the edge of McCook Field near downtown Dayton. The museum’s collection began with World War I airplanes and equipment from the U.S. and foreign governments but has grown to include more than 360 aerospace vehicles, missiles and thousands of aviation artifacts now on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Groups can take a self-guided tour or organize programming that focuses on certain aspects of Air Force history.
Exhibits include the Early Years Gallery, which covers the history of flight from the Wright brothers and their first attempts at building an aircraft up to the 1940s. There are also galleries dedicated to World War II, the Korean War, Southeast Asia War and Cold War. The Missile Gallery details the Air Force’s key role in strategic nuclear deterrence, while the Space Gallery features NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer, which was used to train space shuttle astronauts.
The Presidential Gallery is home to 10 historical aircraft that served U.S. presidents through the years and allows visitors to walk through four of them, including planes used by Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Truman, as well as the Air Force One plane that served eight presidents from Kennedy to Clinton. Along with more than 19 acres of indoor exhibits, the museum has a Memorial Park and an outdoor Air Park, which displays aircraft and a World War II control tower.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati doesn’t just tell the story of African American history, the Civil War or slavery. Its galleries trace the history of slavery in the U.S. from the 1600s through the end of the Civil War, discuss the founding of the United States and the creation of the Declaration of Independence, and explore the abolition movement, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.
The museum’s exhibits hold incredible artifacts that belonged to important figures in the African American fight for freedom. An immersive theater presents a film called “Brothers of the Borderland” that re-creates what it would have been like for a group of people trying to escape slavery, including the sights and sounds, which heighten the sense of danger and fear.
An exhibit called Invisible: Slavery Today explores modern slavery in the forms of human trafficking, slave labor and sex slavery around the world.
One of the most powerful exhibits is an authentic slave pen that was recovered less than 50 miles away in Kentucky. Guests can walk inside the wooden structure and see the tight quarters and the iron rings where slaves would have been shackled.
Groups can organize a docent-led tour of the museum, which is in downtown Cincinnati, right on the banks of the Ohio River.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton celebrates more than a century of professional football in the United States, beginning with the American Professional Football Association, which was founded in 1920, and extending to the National Football League of the present.
The 120,000-square-foot museum, which opened in 1963, has been renovated many times and includes numerous exhibits. The rotunda offers many artifacts, pop culture, milestones and moments from professional football. The museum doesn’t just touch on the lives of players inducted into the hall of fame but tells the stories of all professional football teams.
The Super Bowl gallery chronicles the history of the Super Bowl and displays the Vince Lombardi trophy and replica rings from every championship game. The theater showcases the most recent football season leading up to the Super Bowl. Downstairs galleries feature interactive exhibits that relay the stories of what happened to many of the sport’s most famous players after they retired from the game, including players who went on to become polititians and a Supreme Court justice.
Groups can take a self-guided tour of the museum’s exhibits or book an insiders tour led by trained docents who talk about what is on display and give them access to some behind-the-scenes areas. The museum can personalize these tours to groups; for instance, if a group loves the Indianapolis Colts, the guide will highlight artifacts and stories from the museum collections that relate to that team.
National Veterans Memorial and Museum
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum, which opened in Columbus in 2018, is different from other veterans’ museums in that it honors all veterans from all eras and service branches — from the Revolutionary War to the present.
The Journey of a Veteran exhibition takes visitors through the lives of 23 veterans, from the time they were conscripted or enlisted in the military and swore their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution through training and the different jobs each one performed as part of their military service. Multimedia presentations throughout allow visitors to hear these people’s stories in their own words.
Visitors can learn about a woman who dressed up as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War, a ploy that wasn’t discovered until she was shot. They can also find out how many U.S. presidents served in the military and discover other politicians who served and contributed to our nation’s history, including former Senator John Glenn and Senator Tammy Duckworth. The museum changes out its traveling exhibitions frequently.
Along with telling the stories of veterans, the museum hosts monthly programming to help veterans and their families. It also offers in-person programs, like exercise classes, to promote resilience and wellness. Many of the museum’s docents are veterans themselves, so they bring their own experiences to bear when speaking with groups that visit. Visitors have a chance to support veterans by shopping at the museum’s Vetrepreneur shop, which sells items made by veterans, including hats, T-shirts and soap.