Warther Carving Museum
The thing about the Warther Carving Museum, 327 Karl Ave., Dover (tel. 330/343-7513; www.warthers.com), is if you're not a carving enthusiast or in the market for a great kitchen knife -- a narrow demographic at best -- you might be inclined to pass by the Swiss-chalet looking spot, thick in the spring with 5,000 annuals in its lovingly tended gardens. But don't. Ernest "Mooney" Warther started whittling as a child after finding a pocket knife lost on a dirt road. It was a hobby that grew into the great passion that would eventually be acknowledged for its craft by the Smithsonian Institute and sought after for the great museum's own permanent collection (Mooney wouldn't sell any of it).
Fascinated with machinery and trains in particular, Mooney got his hands on some old railroad manuals and, with only a second-grade education, poured over them until he knew the ins and outs of train construction and proceeded to carve in ebony and ivory models of American trains with the precision of a skilled engineer. At one point in 1923, the New York Central Railroad hired Mooney to display some of his trains in Grand Central Station, and later offered him $50,000 to sell the trains; he refused and went home. His favorite (for good reason) was the model he created of the Great Northern locomotive, fashioned of 7,752 hand-carved pieces, some so tiny it's hard to imagine even holding them in your hand, let alone whittling them with a knife. The model actually works in the same manner of the real train itself.
The museum is filled with these working carvings, truly a wonder of ingenuity, craftsmanship, and patience. Also on the grounds are his wife Freida's button house, a tiny cottage that holds her collection of over 73,000 buttons that she turned into glorious works of wall-mounted art, as well as the knife shop, where the fourth generation of Warthers make one-of-a-kind, extremely high-quality kitchen knives (something Mooney became skilled at to support his carving habit). The museum is a weird and wonderful little stop along Ohio's Appalachian foothills; try to get one of Mooney's grandchildren as a tour guide for the great stories and family lore.