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From Tall Stacks to 'Rain Man,' 1988 was big year for Greater Cincinnati, not just the Bengals

cincinnati bengals celebrate after defeating the Tennessee titans
Mark Humphrey
Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (2) celebrates his game-winning field goal against the Tennessee Titans with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) after an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. The Cincinnati Bengals won 19-16.

We keep hearing how this Sunday will be the Bengals first AFC Championship game appearance since 1988. It was also the year — and the last time in more than 30 years — the Bengals went to the Super Bowl. But there was more going on in the Queen City in '88 than the Bengals...

The city celebrated its 200 birthday

Cincinnati marked 200 years with a series of citywide events, including the first Tall Stacks (more on that in a bit); numerous hometown celebrity appearances (our own Howard Wilkinson got to meet his childhood hero); and a ribbon-cutting for Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point.

The site of a former scrap yard, the $14 million park covers 22 acres and included two stages, P&G Pavilion and Schott Amphitheater, in addition to eight tennis courts, a skating rink, two volleyball courts, a fishing pier and the Cincinnatus statue. Speaking of statues...

The city's Flying Pig mascot was born

flying pig statue
Courtesy of Weston Art Gallery

Artist Andrew Leicester was asked to design some sculptures that would be at the entrance to the park. He decided to focus on Cincinnati's roots in pork production — much to the chagrin of some — and designed bronze pigs with wings to sit atop 30-foot tall riverboat smokestacks.

“When the idea of the flying pig statues became public, there were people who thought that was not very complementary to our city,” David Mann, former city council member and then the city's mayor, told WCPO in 2018. “We had a public hearing, and I arranged for the Cincinnati Zoo to have an Asian pig at the meeting, to indicate my support.”

As we all know, the pig made the cut.

A snow-free January

During January 1988, the Queen City did not see one inch of snow. Mother Nature made up for it a month later by dropping nearly 3 inches in the city.

Woodward Bulldogs became first CPS school to win a state basketball title


In March 1988, the Woodward High School men's basketball team faced Columbus Linden McKinley in the state's Division 1 boys basketball game, ultimately leaving the opposing team "standing in its tracks" with a score of 107-70, according the Enquirer.

The paper asked the Panthers then-coach Steve Dickerson if Woodward's two star players, D.J. Boston and Chip Jones, were the best he'd ever seen. Dickerson replied, "Maybe (Larry) Bird and (Kevin) McHale."

27 die in Carrollton bus crash

On May 14, 1988, 27 people — mostly teens — were killed in what is still known as the deadliest drunken driving incident in the nation.

A church youth group was on its way home on I-71 in Carroll County, Ky., from a visit to Kings Island when the group's bus was struck by a drunk driver traveling on the wrong side of the interstate. Larry Mahoney was sentenced to 16 years in prison and released in 1999 after serving nine and half years.

Following the crash, then-Kentucky Governor Wallace Wilkinson made changes to the state's drunk driving laws and bus safety regulations.

Riverfront Stadium hosted the All Star game

The Bengals weren't the only professional Cincinnati sports team earning accolades that year. The Reds boasted a 87-74-0 record, finishing second in the National League, and their then-home base of Riverfront Stadium served as the grounds for the July 1988 All Star game, where then-Vice President George H.W. Bush threw out the first pitch. Other notable names like Darryl Strawberry, Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr. were also in attendance.

Tall Stacks took place for the first time


Borne out of the city's year-long bicentennial observances, Tall Stacks was a festival celebrating all things riverboats and Midwestern river city life. It went on for two decades after its debut in October 1988, attracting hundreds of thousands each year. Tall Stacks "hearkened back to a gilded age when puffing steamboat transport assured Cincinnati’s role as one of the largest urban centers in the country, aplomb with the lifestyle’s inherent romance and gorgeous garnishes," says this CityBeat remembrance of the event.

So why did it go away?

A combination of factors, but notably, "most of the authentic boats were grounded by federal safety regulations, and the excursion boats that replaced them had difficulty adjusting their busy schedules to the event," former Enquirer cultural critic Owen Findsen told CityBeat.

FBI's Cincinnati bureau arrests a Top 10 fugitive

John Edward Stevens may not be a household name, but his November 1988 arrest at a Cincinnati motel made headlines at the time. That's when the former New York cab driver's three-year, multi-state bank robbing spree — where authorities say he made off with $1.5 million — came to end. At least for a time, as outlined in this article.

'Rain Main' jump starts Cincinnati's Hollywood career

On Dec. 16, 1988, the movie starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman hit theaters and went on to become the highest-grossing film of that year. It earned eight Academy Award nominations, winning four: Best Picture, Best Director (Barry Levinson), Best Actor (Hoffman) and Best Original Screenplay.

While filming traveled all over the U.S., the shoot was based in Cincinnati and effectively put the city on the map for future movie shoots. "All I had to say was, 'You know, where Rain Man filmed!' and all of a sudden I got appointments," Lori Holladay, who scouted locations for the movie, told USA Today on Rain Man's 25th anniversary.

Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU.