From a popcorn museum to a mysterious revolving ball, Marion has it all

With the annual Marion Popcorn Festival arriving in mid-September, it’s a great time to uncover a few kernels of truth about this central Ohio city. Let’s start with our bearings: Marion is about 45 miles north of Columbus. That makes it close enough for a quick day trip for curiosity seekers, which recently included my family and me.

Marion is possibly best known as the hometown and final resting place of Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States. But it was the Wyandot Popcorn Museum that piqued my interest. And, after a full day of sightseeing, we were pleased to discover that Marion has even more interesting surprises hidden up its sleeve.

Our adventure began downtown, where we enjoyed lunch at the Warehouse, 320 W. Center St. The Italian restaurant is in a brick building that once housed an electric train called the Inter Urban, which chugged from Marion to Delaware in the 1920s. The Warehouse has good food and hundreds of knickknacks and funky furnishings, many from the Marion area. Three video screens in the main dining room show the American Movie Classics channel all day long. That was pretty cool.

Near the Warehouse is the Palace Theatre, 276 W. Center St. Built in 1928, its interior resembles a Spanish courtyard with twinkling stars and moving clouds overhead. The 1,445-seat, atmospheric theater was designed by architect John Eberson and is said to be one of 18 Eberson theaters still standing in the United States. The Palace’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ still entertains crowds who come for recent movies and live entertainment, which includes swing bands and dueling piano routines.

We made our way to the popcorn museum, located inside Heritage Hall at 169 E. Church St. It contains the largest collection of popcorn wagons in the United States, and that certainly was a treat. The wagons date to the early 1900s, and most have been meticulously restored. The museum also contains a collection of Cracker Jack prizes on loan from COSI in Columbus.

The Marion County Historical Museum also is contained within Heritage Hall. It includes a basement full of Harding memorabilia and an old soda fountain from Sweeney’s Drug Store, which operated on E. Center Street from 1917-1968. My favorite curiosity was a stuffed Persian horse named Prince Imperial that lived from 1865-1890. He throws passersby a mesmerizing stare from a makeshift stall.

A short drive south to the corner of Delaware Avenue and Vernon Heights Boulevard led us to the Harding Memorial, which was constructed in 1925. The circular structure features 46 columns made of white, Georgian marble. It’s one of the largest memorials standing outside of Washington and indeed gives Marion a stately feel. Inside is a raised courtyard and hanging garden. A Japanese maple shades the granite tombstones of Harding and his wife, Florence Kling Harding.

Our last adventure was seeking out the 5,200-pound rotating orb inside Marion Cemetery, across the road from the Harding memorial. The ponderous pellet, made of black granite suspended on a pedestal, marks the grave of the Charles Merchant family. It’s better known around Marion as the “Mysterious Revolving Ball.” The enigmatic sphere has been slowly spinning two inches per year for more than 100 years, and nobody quite knows why. Ripley’s Believe It or Not has acknowledged the mystery, although I can attest that neither my husband nor I observed the thing moving even a millimeter.

For more information, visit visitmarionohio.com.