I grew up in a rural area of Ohio, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to really appreciate all of the beauty that surrounds the village I grew up in. Small storybook villages rise up from fields of corn and soybeans, and picturesque silos and red barns separate one field from another. Forests, lakes, and canals are also scattered through the quiet countryside.
A few weeks ago, I needed to renew my driver’s license and found myself driving through the bright green fields into the city of Wapakoneta. Though it is the county seat and only a half-hour drive from where I used to live, I had never bothered to spend any time here—it was bigger than my village, but not by much, with a population of less than 10,000. Determined to find something different to do while I was in the area, I decided that Josh and I would spend our day exploring Wapak and seeing if we could dig up anything new.
And so after emerging from the BMV with a shiny new license, we walked around the picturesque little downtown. Though the public space only spanned across a few blocks, there was no shortage of things to see: a stately courthouse, grand churches, a colorful movie theater, and rows of historic buildings that had been turned into thrift shops, antique stores, offices, and even a used bookshop.
Our next stop took us to the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum, because who doesn’t love outer space? Wapak takes great pride in being the hometown of the first person on the moon, and this museum shows that devotion by carefully documenting Neil Armstrong’s famous journey of July 1969.
We learned about the life of an astronaut during a space mission, tried (and failed) to use tools while wearing astronaut gloves, read old news clippings about the moon landing, and watched a movie about the Apollo 11 mission.
There was even a chance to pose with some of the other great space explorers.
It took a lot of self-control, but we refrained from buying all of the astronaut ice cream they had in stock before leaving the museum and checking out the Solar System-themed garden on our way back to the car.
While in the museum, we had found a pamphlet about a place called the Temple of Tolerance, which was a few blocks away. By the sound of it, a man had turned his backyard into a spiritual rock garden, and it sounded just interesting enough that we thought we should check it out.
We found his house easily enough and, not wanting to just walk through his driveway and into his backyard, hesitantly made our way to Jim Bowsher’s front door. He was standing on the porch, saying goodbye to a guest, when he saw that we were unsure of what to do. He spoke to us for a little bit, summarizing what we were about to see, and then declaring, “But you really have to see it to believe it, so go ahead and walk around back.” And with that invitation, we walked along the driveway and passed through a gate that led us to an unimaginable world.
We followed paths through overgrown bushes, passing through ivy-covered fences and clearings with mysterious rock formations and statues from unknown religions and cultures.
Colorful critters and antique ornamental decorations alike hide among the lush greenery.
Finally, we passed through a wrought-iron gate into a large open clearing, where we saw even larger mounds of rocks than we had encountered along the paths.
Teenagers gathered at the top of the tallest mound, a group of women sat at a table constructed out of stone slabs, and children climbed and ran around the mountains of boulders.
The Temple of Tolerance was many things. It was a park where children could play. It was a spot where adults could gather. It was a sanctuary where the spiritually-inclined could come to meditate. Most importantly, it was a place where all of these people could co-exist in the same place.
We later found out that Jim had acquired about two dozen other backyards, which explains how the Temple of Tolerance feels less like somebody’s back garden and more like an unending mystical forest. Jim also cataloged all of the rocks that he collected for his project; he chose them carefully and knows about each and every one of the thousands of rocks that makes up the Temple of Tolerance.
An hour later, we were merging onto the highway to take us home, still in awe of how we were able to spend so much time discovering a city of only six square miles. Wapak is a great place to discover other worlds, whether it’s a past world 100 years ago, a world of space exploration light-years away, or a mystical world for those who wish to look within themselves.
And so for those who find themselves searching for something to do in the endless cornfields of Auglaize County, here’s my advice: look no further than Wapakoneta.
*All photos in this post were taken by the oh-so-talented Josh.