Included with general museum admission
Portsmouth, Ohio was once promoted as the “peerless city,” brimming with industry. Built upon the banks of the Ohio River, people came to Portsmouth for opportunity. Businesses named themselves after their location, and the city counted Peerless City Motors, Peerless City Baking Powder, and even a Peerless City Skating Rink among its economic treasures. Yet, in 1937, a flood devastated the city, and in the following years, Portsmouth saw a steep decline in its industry. In the 1960s, then-mayor, Frank Gerlach, proposed to city council that they adopt a new city slogan: “Where Southern Hospitality Begins.” The slogan seemed fitting enough since the city is the last stop in Ohio as it heads into Kentucky.
Further economic decline seized the city, though, as did the opioid epidemic. Stated as “ground zero” for the epidemic by Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, and “the pill mill capital of the world” by Chris Arnade, author of Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, Portsmouth developed a national reputation as a hardscrabble city. The population dwindled as more industry shuttered and crime rates rose. But, the people who called the city home knew it was much more than a drug crisis on a map. They insisted on bringing the city’s reputation back to its former glory. A handful of citizens started calling it “the Comeback City,” a nickname that conjures the city’s spirit and cultivates civic pride.
Co-directors Amanda Page and David Bernabo are proud to present Peerless City, a film that explores the rise and decline in Portsmouth through the lens of three city slogans over two centuries. The film is generously funded by Ohio Humanities and the Ohio Arts Council.