Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Cleveland Police Historical Society Inc. and Museum

There are many big museums in Cleveland but one that is not as well known is the Cleveland Police Historical Society Inc. and Museum, which is located on 1300 Ontario St, on the first floor of the Justice Center.

Founded in 1983, it came to be as a result of the efforts of a group of Cleveland policemen and area citizens. The idea was hatched as a result of a visit to Scotland Yard’s Black Museum in London, England by Cleveland Police Detective Robert Bolton, who then convinced Chief William Hanton that Cleveland should have its own police museum. Over a period of 7 months, members of the department and private citizens worked together to create a nonprofit historical society. At first, the museum was only was allotted 1200 sq. ft. of space on the first floor of the Justice Center, and 4 years after its founding, the museum was one of only 12 of its kind in the United States. It received visitors not only from local areas but also from around the world. It features exhibits documenting the history of the Cleveland Division of Police from its inception in 1866, and differentiates itself from other museums of its kind as it is funded completely by private citizens and is not controlled or funded by the Cleveland Police Department or state or federal tax dollars.

The museum now has a larger area than when it began, currently with over 4,000 square feet of space. It continues to work to preserve the history of the police department, in addition to fostering a better understanding of the role of law enforcement within the community. My husband’s grandfather was a police officer in Cleveland from the late 1920s to the early 1940s, so the family has a great appreciation for the police officers that are on the front lines of keeping Clevelanders and the city's visitors safe. It’s nice to know that their efforts are being recorded and maintained for future generations to appreciate.

If you would like more information on the Cleveland Police Historical Society Inc. and Museum, you can visit their web site, here.




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Friday, December 12, 2008

Cleveland's Nela Park



Mention Nela Park to anyone in the Cleveland area, and the thought of Christmas lights immediately leaps to mind. That’s because for years, Nela Park has put up some beautiful lighting displays for Christmas. It is also nationally known for its contribution to the creation of lighting for National Christmas Tree in Washington DC. It is, after all, the General Electric Lighting and Electrical Institute. NELA stands for one of the facility’s original names - National Electric Lamp Association - before GE acquired it in 1911.

The institute was first organized by entrepreneurs Franklin Terry and Burton Tremaine, originally called the National Electric Lamp Company. General Electric invested in Nela, despite the fact that it was a competitor, to further the goal of standardizing the screw base that was invented by GE.

It is frequently referred to as the first industrial park in the world. Its campus resembles a university setting, with the buildings modeled in the Georgian Revival architectural style. All but four of the 20 buildings were built before 1921, and these were all designed by the New York architectural firm of Wallis and Goodwillie. Nela Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.


The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History provides some details on its origin:

Nela Park, at Noble and Terrace roads in East Cleveland, is one of the earliest (if not the first) planned industrial research parks in the nation. It was conceived in 1910 by Franklin Terry and Burton Tremaine, officers of the Natl. Electric Lamp Co., which soon became the lamp division of General Electric Co... .The site was selected in 1910, a small plateau 234' above Lake Erie, with some dense woods and a picturesque ravine. The building program began in 1911 and was entrusted to one architect in order to achieve a consistent scheme…The complex was very advanced in its handling of mechanical systems, with underground tunnels for all utilities. The main conception of the campuslike park is a perfect representation of the early 20th-century academic ideal. The office and laboratory complex includes 20 major buildings and several smaller structures located in a landscaped park of approximately 90 acres.


Nela Park was also the first facility of its type in the world that devoted itself solely to the teaching of lighting, a purpose it still serves today. The Lighting & Electrical Institute continues to receives thousands of customers and lighting professionals each year for conferences and training programs.

There is quite a bit of information available on Nela Park, and here are some of the more interesting links for further reading:

GE’s History of Nela Park

GE’s Nela Park: Modern Product Showroom in 18th-Century Garb

A Brief Early History - Terry Management Style and Incandescent Lamp Advances

Photo tour

Nela Park fun facts



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Friday, December 5, 2008

The Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion of 1944





All photos from The Cleveland Press Collection
The Cleveland Memory Project


With all the focus on fuel prices these days, we probably spend more time thinking about the price of gas for our cars than we do about the natural gas costs to heat our homes. Maybe, once a month when the gas bill comes, we moan about it but we also want to be warm in the winter. Sometimes we are reminded of the explosive power of natural gas when we hear a report of a house that has exploded from a gas leak.

Clevelanders were made very aware of the power of a natural gas when, on a Friday afternoon on October 20, 1944, a massive natural gas explosion virtually leveled an entire neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, killing 131 people and obliterating one square mile of the surrounding area. This event is on record as being the worst disaster in the city’s history. (Let’s hope it stays that way.) Time Magazine listed the event as one of the “major catastrophes of the modern industrial era”. It is also regarded as the largest liquid natural gas explosion in the 20th century, and to date. The death toll could have been much worse, as the explosion occurred while children were still in school, and many adults were at work.

The disaster took place at an East Ohio Gas (now known as Dominion East Ohio) tank farm in eastern Cleveland. The huge tanks of gas didn’t just contain “normal” natural gas. They contained liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is natural gas converted to liquid form by removing certain components, such as dust, helium, water, and heavy hydrocarbons. This greatly reduces its volume for easier storage and transport. LNG was still relatively new during the time of the blast, and little was known about the dangers of LNG at the time. When East Ohio Gas first set up this location in 1941, it was only the second installation of its kind in the country.

In 1944, a much larger LNG tank was added as demand for natural gas increased in the Cleveland area. As World War II was still going on, steel was not available to build the tank, so another alloy was used. Unfortunately, this alloy was unable to withstand the cold temperature required to contain the LNG, and a leak in the tank developed. The gas began to escape, appearing as a fog in the area, which even seeped into the sewer system. As not much was known about the dangers of LNG, city officials and those living in the area were oblivious to the extreme danger that this fog posed. All that was needed was one spark to set off an explosion. It's been speculated that the spark came from someone trying to repair the tank, but no one knows for sure, since the area and the people directly in the area were obliterated with the blast. But, as the gas fog had spread through the surrounding area, it’s anyone’s guess where that spark really came from.

Here is what happened that day, according to Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:

The East Ohio Gas Co. explosion and fire took place on Friday, 20 Oct. 1944, when a tank containing liquid natural gas equivalent to 90 million cubic feet exploded, setting off the most disastrous fire in Cleveland's history. Homes and businesses were engulfed by a tidal wave of fire in more than 1 sq. mi. of Cleveland's east side, bounded by St. Clair Ave. NE, E. 55th St., E. 67th St., and the Memorial Shoreway. At approx. 2:30 P.M., white vapor began leaking out of Storage Tank No. 4, which had been built by the East Ohio Gas Co. in 1942 to provide additional reserve gas for local war industries. The gas in the tank, located at the northern end of E. 61st St., became combustible when mixed with air and exploded at 2:40 P.M., followed by the explosion of a second tank about 20 minutes later. The fire spread through 20 blocks, engulfing rows of houses while missing others. The vaporizing gas also flowed along the curbs and gutters and into catch basins, through which it entered the underground sewers, exploding from time to time, ripping up pavement, damaging underground utility installations, and blowing out manhole covers.

The entry in Wikipedia adds to this account:

At first it was thought that the disaster was contained, and spectators returned home thinking that the matter was being taken care of by the fire department. At 3:00 p.m., a second above-ground tank exploded, leveling the tank farm.

However, the explosions and fires continued to occur, trapping many who had returned to what they thought was the safety of their own homes. Housewives who were at home suddenly found their homes engulfed in flame as the explosion traveled through the sewers and up through drains. The following day, Associated Press wire stories contained quotes from survivors, many of whom were at home cleaning in preparation for the coming Sabbath. Survivors said that within a split second after the explosion, their homes and clothes were on fire…The toll could have been significantly higher had the event occurred after local schools had let out and working parents returned to their homes for the evening. In all over 600 people were left homeless, and seventy homes, two factories, numerous cars and miles of underground infrastructure destroyed.


Ohio History Central said, about the survivors:

For the people who survived, most lost everything. The flames destroyed several blocks of homes. Many of these people also had withdrawn their savings from banks during the Great Depression, as numerous banks had failed. The flames destroyed these people's life savings. As a result of the explosions, the East Ohio Gas Co. began to store its natural gas underground. The company also helped rebuild the community by paying more than three million dollars to neighborhood residents and an additional one-half million dollars to the families of the fifty-five company workers who lost their lives.


A historical marker is located at the site near Grdina Park at East 61st and Grdina, and it says:

At 2:30 p.m. on Friday, October 20, 1944, an above ground storage tank that held liquefied natural gas in the East Ohio Gas Company's tank farm began to emit vapor from a seam on the side of the tank that dropped into nearby sewer lines. It mixed with air and sewer gas and ignited, resulting in explosions and fires that brought damage to nearly one square mile of Cleveland neighborhoods. With 79 homes and two factories destroyed, nearly 700 people were left homeless, 131 killed, and 225 injured. The East Ohio Gas Company took responsibility for this tragedy to aid those in need through direct financial assistance and by rebuilding the community. The disaster also led to a movement by public utilities and communities across America to store natural gas below ground without tanks.


The use of Liquid Natural Gas is much more prevalent these days, and handled with extreme care. According to the Center for Liquid Natural Gas:

FROM COAST TO COAST
LNG is shipped on secure and specially designed ships from countries that export natural gas to countries that import natural gas. Carriers have traveled more than 100 million miles without a major incident in LNG’s 45-plus year shipping history. LNG carriers are double-hulled, with more than six feet of space between the outer hull and inner hulls. This design makes LNG ships extremely strong, minimizing the likelihood of leaks or ruptures in the unlikely event of an accident.

Upon reaching U.S. waters, the Coast Guard oversees the movement of LNG ships through ports. It also has the authority to review background checks of crews, order internal ship searches and require the use of Sea Marshals (specially trained and armed Coast Guard personnel.)

FROM SHIP TO PIPELINE
Upon arrival at its destination, LNG is generally transferred to specially designed and secured storage tanks and then warmed to its gaseous state – a process called regasification. It is transported via pipelines to consumers, industries and power generators who rely on natural gas.




It’s somewhat comforting to know that great improvements have been made in the transport, storage, and handling of LNG since that tragic explosion. And now you also know that learning those lessons cost many Clevelanders’ lives.


Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Cleveland Meteorologists’ Holiday Snow Dance

Admit it, you’ve noticed that the Cleveland television meteorologists seem to be ecstatic at the prospect of a nice big lake effect snowstorm, or even a “synoptic” snow storm that could dump tons of snow on whole the area. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d think that they are actually doing a snow dance behind those big green screens on their weather set. (By the way, a synoptic snow is just “weather speak” for a big snowstorm that covers such a large area that even Cleveland west siders will be shaking in their boots just hearing about it.)

Well, your suspicions are now proven true. Caught on camera (below), for the first time ever, are some of the Cleveland TV weather personalities doing their famous holiday “snow” dances (see below). And yes, they are really elves…even Jeff Tanchak. So if you see a big snow coming your way, you can be sure the Cleveland Meteorologists are dancing…again.

All kidding aside, Cleveland has some of the best on-air weather people in the country.


The Cleveland Meteorologists Holiday Snow Dance



By the way, if you view the video directly on YouTube, be sure to set it for "high quality", otherwise it will be blurry.




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here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cleveland’s Sidaway Bridge

Image from Google Street View

Image from the Historic American
Engineering Record (HAER)
With all the talk about the Cleveland’s Innerbelt Bridge, I thought it was a good time to talk about a bridge in Cleveland that most don’t know about or have never seen. It’s the Sidaway Bridge , Cleveland’s only suspension-style bridge, built in 1931, at 680 feet long. The bridge was designed by Wilbur J. Watson and Associates, Consulting Engineers. It is a pedestrian footbridge, spanning a ravine known as Kingsbury Run, connecting Sidaway Avenue to Kinsman Road, near East 65th Street. (On a side note, Kingsbury Run was also the scene of the area’s infamous, gruesome, and unsolved ”Torso” murders from the 1930s, but I’ll think I’ll pass on that topic. )

The neighborhoods the bridge connected were Slavic Village and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Garden Valley estates. During the mid-sixties, at a time when racial tensions were running very high in the Cleveland area, someone set fire to the wooden deck, and some planks from the southern end of the bridge were removed.

As the wooden deck is missing, the bridge is no longer used. It is a graceful looking structure, and maybe it can stand long enough for someone to restore it and put it to good use.

Photo HAER



Here is a short video – a little shaky – that someone took of the bridge in December of 2007.





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here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cleveland Metroparks: The Emerald Necklace

Tinker's Creek Gorge, Bedford Reservation

The Cleveland Metroparks public park system is a true jewel of the Cleveland Metropolitan area. It is a series of parks, hiking trails, biking trails, horse trails, nature preserves, scenic wonders, and public golf courses that circle the city of Cleveland. They are nicknamed “The Emerald Necklace” because collectively from above, they look like a necklace of green around the city. They also seem to follow many of the main rivers, creeks, and streams that flow through the area. As a result, these parks also can be great places to fish, bird watch, and see other wildlife. In the winter, they are sometimes filled with cross country skiers, sleds, and toboggans. Of course, they can be the perfect place to have a picnic. It also includes the ever popular Cleveland Zoo . And, if you’re so inclined, you can even do some geocaching . While most of the park areas are in Cuyahoga County, the North Chagrin Reservation is in adjacent Lake County, and the Hinckley Reservation is in Medina County. (Residents of Lake County also have the added benefit of the Lake Metroparks , which are easily accessible to Clevelanders and offer many, if not all of the same benefits.)


According to The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:

The Park Dist. was the brainchild of Wm.A. Stinchcomb (1878-1959). Stinchcomb's efforts secured passage of state legislation permitting the establishment of park districts and the creation of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Dist. as a separate subdivision of the State of Ohio. The district was created on 23 July 1917, and the first park property was acquired 2 years later. Stinchcomb was appointed director of the district in 1921 and served in that position until 1957. In its early years, the district concentrated its efforts on acquiring land before advancing values and private development placed it beyond reach. During the Depression, federal work projects contributed in a substantial way to the further development of the parks. The district's activities are directed by a Board of Park Commissioners consisting of 3 citizens appointed by the administrative judge of the Probate Court of Cuyahoga County. The district is financed by a tax levy on all real estate in the district and by miscellaneous receipts from district operations, such as golf-course greens fees. The district has acquired more than 18,500 acres of parkland since its inception. The policy of the Board of Park Commissioners has been to maintain the parklands in a natural state, limiting development to that consistent with conservation.

Clevelanders should be ever grateful to Mr. Stinchcomb, who seemed to have the vision to insure area residents would continue to enjoy some of the most beautiful green spaces in the state, if not in the region, for years to come.
Squire's Castle, North Chagrin Reservation
Currently, there are sixteen reservations in the Metroparks district (plus the Zoo), and they are as follows:

Bedford
Big Creek
Bradley Woods
Brecksville
Brookside
Euclid Creek
Garfield Park
Hinckley
Huntington
Mill Stream Run
North Chagrin
Ohio & Erie Canal
Rocky River
South Chagrin
Washington
West Creek

There are also seven golf courses:

Big Met Golf Course, Rocky River Reservation, in Fairview Park
Little Met Golf Course, Rocky River Reservation, in Cleveland
Manakiki Golf Course, North Chagrin Reservation, in Willoughby Hills (Lake County)
Mastick Woods Golf Course, Rocky River Reservation, in Cleveland
Shawnee Hills Golf Course, Bedford Reservation, in Bedford
Sleepy Hollow Golf Course, Brecksville Reservation, in Brecksville
Washington Golf Learning Center, Washington Reservation, in Newburgh Heights


While we tend to think of our green spaces as places to visit only when they are green, the parks are open year round and can provide some beautiful sights in the fall and even in the winter months. One of the most anticipated events that occurs every March 15 in the Hinckley Reservation is the annual return of the buzzards. This is when the turkey vultures - also known as buzzards – return to Hinckley on the same day each year. It’s a little like the return of the swallows of Capistrano, with much, much bigger birds. (And thankfully, less of them than the swallows.)

Of course, there is also the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which also can be visited year round. The Rain Forest is always toasty warm (and humid) . The last time I was there it took a week to de-frizz my hair.

The Cleveland Metroparks system is a natural wonder of the Cleveland area. If you live in the Cleveland area, make a point to visit them all. If you’re just coming for a visit to the area, try to stop by and see some of the sights or maybe just drive through. It may just bring you that moment of inner calm that you’re looking for.


Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Greenberg Slams Cleveland in the Must Miss Book “Don’t Go There”

I chuckled when I first read the title of the Peter Greenberg book, “Don't Go There!: The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World.” I laughed because in the late 1950s, when I was very little and living on West 50th Street, my dad used to tell a story about something scary at the end of the street at West 50th and Denison, always ending the story with a spooky voice, saying, “ Donnnn’t…. Gooooo There!” It was his way of telling us not to wander off too far. It made me so scared that I don’t think I ever walked out of the yard without a parent with me. But he made his point, we never did wander away from the house.

So when I read the title of Greenberg’s book, I subconsciously heard my father and his dire warnings to stay away. It must mean something, I thought; maybe an inner voice telling me to avoid the book. Imagine my dismay when I heard that in his book, Greenberg put Cleveland on his hit list of cities to avoid.

Regular readers of my blog know how I feel about this city. There are many great things to be found here, great things to do here, and great ways to be entertained here. We know we aren’t perfect, and we know we’re not New York City. But plenty of visitors who come here every year for business or pleasure have plenty of nice things to say about the city and the area. Sure, some don’t have perfect experiences, but they also don’t have perfect experiences in New York City, either. I am sure that there are select areas of New York City that if you singled them out, you wouldn’t want to go there either. For example, in an article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer about the book, Greenberg said:

"I love Jacobs Field [now known as Progressive Field] and I've been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so many times. I'm just saying, guys, know what you're getting into before you go," said Greenberg, who names the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood from East 70th to East 123rd streets and Kinsman Road from East 55th to East 130th streets - hardly top tourist areas - as places to avoid.

It's a shame that people who don't live in the city or spend a lot of time here can get away with bashing the city and then make money off of it. Many use their own contrived criteria to justify their opinions, rarely (if ever) seeking advice or input from the people who actually live here or work in the area. I suppose that Peter Greenberg should have read my blog – which is free by the way - before he wrote his book. One thing is for sure, I won’t be buying his book. And neither should any self-respecting Clevelander. Why put money in his pocket when his commentary may take money out of the pockets of the city and its business owners by reduced tourism?

By the way, I’ll be happy to take suggestions on where we think Greenberg should go.


Further Reading: Article, Cleveland Plain Dealer: Travel writer Peter Greenberg calls Cleveland a 'must-miss' destination


Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Geology of Cleveland

The earth underneath the Cleveland metropolitan area isn’t something that people think about very often, if at all. Of course, if you live in one of the areas surrounding the city that has been hit with mild tremors over the last few years, maybe it has crossed your mind once or twice.

I’ve always been interested in geology. Not seriously, though.  As a kid I liked to pick up all kinds of rocks, much to my mother’s dismay. When I was in my first few years at grade school in Brooklyn, Ohio, we lived right across from the steep cliffs of Big Creek. In fact, we used to play in the creek all the time and picked up quite a few small fossils in the shale there. Unfortunately for us,  in 1964 when the State of Ohio decided that they were going to put I-71 right through our living room, our family had to quickly relocate. But it seems that our misfortune meant a boon for paleontologists, who also found lots of fossils in the area as the area was reconstructed for the freeway. From I-71 near Ridge Road, one can still see the remainder of the street, and the shale filled cliff of the area where Big Creek travels.

When the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently did an article about paleontologists hunting for fossils again in the Cleveland area by Big Creek, it made me want to “dig” a little more into the overall geology of the area.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History has a very comprehensive summary of what lies underneath the Cleveland area. An excerpt:

The major event shaping the modern local drainage systems began when ice melted northward from the Akron region, leaving a boundary ridge of drift called the Wabash End Moraine ca. 16,000 years ago, which stood for 10,000 years as a drainage divide between the southward-flowing upper Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. An ancient Lake Cuyahoga was ponded between the Wabash Moraine and retreating Hiram-age ice. During a subsequent readvance of the Hiram ice ca. 14,800 years ago, the Defiance Moraine was deposited just north of Peninsula. When this ice began retreating ca. 14,300 years ago, short-lived Lake Independence was formed. The major fill of the Cuyahoga Valley between Cleveland and Akron consists of deposits from these two lakes. Even after the northward retreat of the ice, minor climatic fluctuations resulted in changing water levels of the Great Lakes, resulting alternately in erosion or deposition in the river valleys.

From ca. 14,000-12,500 years ago, the Lake Erie basin was occupied by a gradually falling series of large lakes, all higher than modern Lake Erie. Erosion and deposition along their southern shores formed wave-cut terraces and beach ridges which generally parallel the modern lakeshore. Lakes Maumee I-III (14,500-14,100 years ago), were from 780' to 764' above sea level; Lakes Whittlesey I and II (ca. 13,800), between 740' and 730' above sea level; Lakes Arkona I-III (13,600-13,300 years ago), 711' to 690' above sea level; and Lakes Warren I-III (13,000-12,900 years ago), 686' to 670' above sea level. Between 12,900-12,600 years ago, the opening of the Niagara Falls outlet resulted in a rapidly lowering series of lakes (Wayne, Grasmere, and Lundy). By 12,200 years ago, the inflow of water from the upper Great Lakes had been diverted northeast, and the level of early Lake Erie fell 40 meters below its modern level of 571' above sea level. There was a slow rise to 565' between ca. 4,500-2,500 B.C., when erosion to the lowered lake levels downcut the old southern divide, enabling the upper Cuyahoga to join the flow northward into Lake Erie, the last major geological event to affect this area. Beyond shaping the topography, these geological events were responsible for the materials of economic significance to Cleveland's future development.


(The entire article is quite lengthy and detailed; it can be found here if you wish to read it in its entirety.)

The video below from the Cleveland Plain Dealer speaks to how the geology of the area has made it ideal for the formation of fossils. The article that accompanied the video, which speaks a bit of the geology in the area is also interesting; it can be found here.

Some other web sites that my be of interest:

The Natural History Museum Cleveland Geological Society

Friends of Big Creek

The Ohio Geological Survey GeoFacts

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological Survey

Ohio Seismic Network


Plain Dealer Video Hunt for Cleveland Area Fossils


Fossil hunt














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Friday, October 24, 2008

Cleveland’s Favorite “Haunts”

Franklin Castle
With Halloween coming up, it makes me think of all the places in Cleveland that are reported to be haunted.

I’ve already written here before about what is probably Cleveland’s most famous haunted house, Franklin Castle, located on Franklin Boulevard at the intersection of West 44th Street. The Gothic-style house was built in 1865 for grocer and banking executive, Hannes Tiedemann and his wife Luise.

But, there are plenty of other places in Cleveland where “ghosts” supposedly reside, such as the Steamship William G. Mather, the USS COD, Grays Armory, Playhouse Square, Whiskey Island, Cleveland Police Museum, Lakeview Cemetery, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The Mather
Lakeview Cemetery seems like an obvious place for haunting, since it is, after all, a cemetery. At Grays Armory, there are reports of hearing footsteps when no one else was present, and seeing Civil War era apparitions. Franklin Castle has a history of mysterious deaths, reported murders, and strange noises and happenings. On Whiskey Island, there are reports of some ghosts at the Sunset Grille.

For me, since I live in a 1950’s home outside of Cleveland (in Lake County) where we’ve had quite a few unexplained happenings over the years (some rather scary to say the least), I have no desire to walk into any other haunted places. I may write out the story of my own home on one of my other blogs one of these days, but sometimes it rattles me just thinking about it. Thankfully, our house has been quiet and apparition free for several years…and I want to keep it that way!

If you are interested in seeing some of these places and hearing the full story behind the hauntings, a company called Haunted Cleveland provides tours, some private, for some of these locations.


Here’s a link to a short video from WKYC Channel 3 about “Haunted Cleveland”:
Haunted Cleveland

Whiskey Island Clip & Haunted Cleveland (Link), also from WKYC:
Whiskey Island Hauntings




Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Cleveland Browns

Cleveland’s NFL football team, The Cleveland Browns , incites all kinds of passion in people, some of it the good kind, some of it bad. Long time Clevelanders have a love-hate relationship with the team. It comes from many years of having fans’ hopes raised when teams reached the playoffs, only to have fans’ hopes dashed when the team just can’t quite reach the top rung. Of course, just this past Monday (October 13), the team temporarily redeemed itself with a 35-14 crushing of Superbowl champions New York Giants, handing them their first loss of the season.

The team and fans have garnered some interesting nicknames over the years. For example, they called the 1980 team the “Kardiac Kids” because of many heart-stopping games that were won or lost in the last few minutes or seconds of the game. The area near the goal line near the bleacher section is now called the “Dawg Pound” because of the dog costumes and dog paraphernalia the fans bring to the game. The moniker was reportedly first conceived by Hanford Dixon (cornerback) who initially gave his defensive teammates the name "Dawgs" to inspire them before the 1985 season. The defense would bark upon certain successful plays, behavior that was soon parroted by the fans. (Thankfully, they didn’t call them the Parrot Pound.)

Despite fans having to endure some crushing defeats – like the one at the hands of the infamous “Red Right 88” play – they still remain loyal to the team. However, an almost fatal blow to the team came when Art Modell announced in late 1995 that he would be moving the team to Baltimore. Fans were outraged, and it clearly had an effect on the team, who finished that season 5-11. Luckily, a legal settlement allowed the Browns name to stay with the city. With a new stadium completed, the Browns had a new team for Cleveland in 1999.

Rather than recap the extensive history of the team here, there are already many places where a complete history of the team can be found. Details going as far back as the team’s founding in 1946 can be found on Wikipedia. There is also current and historical information on the team’s official web site, clevelandbrowns.com , which also includes a great multimedia section . If you’d like a quick video history of the Browns in pictures, take a look at the video below.


Cleveland Browns History


Of course, let’s not forget the old 1950’s-60’s Cleveland Brown’s Fight Song .






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Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Tour of Cleveland in Vintage Postcards

Here is a short video tour of the city of Cleveland, using vintage postcards from the 1930s-1950s. There are quite a few places of interest represented: the Terminal Tower, Public Square, Euclid Avenue, University Circle, some beautiful public parks, and a few of the city’s most notable bridges, monuments, and structures such as Public Auditorium and the Cuyahoga County Courthouse. It’s easy to see why the city attracted so many people to come live and work here.

A Tour of Cleveland in Vintage Postcards


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here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cleveland’s Innerbelt Bridge: In Trouble?


Last December, I wrote here about Cleveland’s many bridges (“Cleveland:City of Bridges”). One of the bridges mentioned was the I-90 Innerbelt Bridge, and at the time, there was much concern over the deterioration of the span.

Months later, things haven’t improved. The West 14th Street ramp in Tremont was closed several months ago due to concerns about the bridge structure in that area. This week, commuters were surprised with multiple lane closures and more ramp closures on the I-90 Innerbelt Bridge as the bridge is undergoing extensive inspections. You can read about the current state of the bridge in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s article, “How serious are the Inner Belt Bridge's problems? Span's future in question”.

While the traffic problems that the inspection is causing is an aggravation, the inspection is a necessity to make sure the bridge is safe - or to determine that it's not. As this bridge is a main artery for those coming into, and passing through the city of Cleveland, it will create major problems if the safety of the bridge forces its closure.

Here’s a short video of the Innerbelt Bridge, taken from the Tremont area of Cleveland, in June of 2007, which gives a good idea of the size, and length of the span.








Also, if you’d rather see the bridge from bridge level, check out this video that shows the drive through the Innerbelt and over the bridge, but the video is sped up so the drive lasts less than a minute. Maybe that’s the best way to go over it right now… very fast!








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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cleveland’s Bygone Millionaire’s Row

There is a stretch of Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue (US Route 20) that was once known as the most beautiful street in America. It was also known as “Millionaire’s Row”, because in the late 1800s to the early 1900s the street contained the homes of some of the richest and influential people in the city and the county. Some of the names of the families who lived on "Millionaire's Row" included those of industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller; banker and industrial distributor George Worthington; arc light inventor Charles F. Brush; mining magnate Samuel Mather; industrialist and politician Marcus Hanna; John Hay, personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State under William McKinley; and Jeptha Wade, founder of Western Union Telegraph.
Samuel Andrews Mansion

The homes were representative of the then booming Cleveland economy and its growth and prominence in industry. Sadly, only a small number of these houses remain today, the others being overtaken by either the industrialization that brought the money here, to neglect, disrepair, and a growing urbanization of the area. Both Charles F. Brush and John D. Rockefeller had ordered their houses be razed after their deaths, as it was reported they preferred the destruction of their homes to inevitable deterioration.

A list of the locations of the homes that remain, either all or in part, is below, from the Ohio Traveler web site. (The list, however, is undated.)

Luther Allen House (7609 Euclid Avenue)
Morris Bradley Carriage House (7217 Euclid Avenue)
John Henry Devereaux (3226 Euclid Avenue)
Francis Drury House (8625 Euclid Avenue)
Hall-Sullivan House (7218 Euclid Avenue)
Howe Residence (2248 Euclid Avenue)
Samuel Mather Residence (2605 Euclid Avenue)
Stager-Beckwith House (3813 Euclid Avenue)
Lyman Treadway House (8917 Euclid Avenue)
H.W. White Residence (8937 Euclid Avenue)


Stager-Beckwith
Some of these homes are viewable by car, but for those that don't want to drive through the area, some can be best viewed using Google Maps Street View. Or, if you’d like to take a tour of the bygone era from your chair, here are links to some pictures of some of the homes (many no longer standing) in their golden years:

Samuel Mather mansion

Mather home sunken gardens

Charles Brush mansion

Francis Drury mansion, rumored to be haunted.

Sylvester Everett mansion

Tom L. Johnson mansion

Stager-Beckwith mansion, restored

Samuel Andrews mansion

View of the Bingham, Devereaux, Mather, and Hanna mansions

Daniel P. Eels mansion


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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Integrity and Security

Money and the economy are on everyone’s mind lately. So, I thought this would be a good time to cover the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Cleveland serves as headquarters for the Fourth Federal Reserve District, an area which comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia. It is located on East 6th Street and Superior Avenue, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

Established in 1914, it is one of twelve regional reserve banks that comprise the Federal Reserve System. As we are all painfully aware of right now, the task of The Federal Reserve as a whole is to ensure the stability of the American financial system by the regulation and oversight of the country’s banking institutions.

According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:


In 1914, a well-organized campaign by a group of Cleveland businessmen, financiers, and politicians was instrumental in the decision to locate the Fourth District headquarters in Cleveland. The bank, headed by Elvadore R. Fancher, opened on November 16, 1914 in the Williamson Building with twenty-three employees…. in August 1923, the bank's Cleveland headquarters moved into the $8 million Federal Reserve Bank Building, designed by the architectural firm of Walker and Weeks, at the corner of Superior Avenue and East 6th Street.

The 12-story building was constructed in the Italian Renaissance style, the design said to convey the bank’s strength and its power. It was part of the City Beautiful movement and the Group Plan of 1903; the purpose being to form a harmonized group of structures with similar design features (such as masonry, scale, architectural style), and eliminate unstructured, unplanned industrial growth.

There is an excellent article by Builders Exchange Magazine published in 2003 that covers just about everything there is to know about The Cleveland Federal Reserve, and you can find it here. This is just an excerpt, about the bank vault:

“The most important feature of any bank is its vault-and the two-story, 12,000-ton, 3,560-sf Cleveland Fed main vault is second to none in the world. The door alone weighs 300 tons. The 100-ton swinging section is precision balanced to allow a single person to close it. When closed, the door is held by 16 steel bolts, each 6 inches in diameter and weighing 246 lbs. The 47-ton hinge casting is almost 19 feet long and reported to be the largest hinge ever manufactured. The vault actually occupies a "building within a building" constructed before, and separately from, the remainder of the facility. The concrete walls of the vault "building" are 6.5 feet thick and reinforced with interlaced fabricated steel. It would take an ambitious safecracker indeed to take on this formidable opponent.”

Energy in Repose
(Now, don’t get any ideas, you won’t be able to break in, despite the fact that movies and TV shows make breaking into bank vaults look so easy.)

The sculptures, titled ”Integrity” and”Security” at the 1455 East 6th St entrance are by sculptor Henry Hering. Hering also did the sculpture “Energy in Repose” on the Superior Avenue side of the building.

There are tours available to the public;information is available on the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s web site.


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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Severance Hall, Home of the Cleveland Orchestra

Photos from clevelandorch.com


Severance Hall, in the University Circle area, is the beautiful home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. The Cleveland Orchestra was formed in 1918, and it was decided in 1928 that a permanent home for them was in order. Severance Hall construction took place from December 1929 through early 1931. It was a gift from John L. Severance, in memory of his wife, Elizabeth DeWitt Severance. Her father had been treasurer of Rockefeller's Standard Oil and he was also the current president of the Orchestra's board of trustees

Severance Hall was designed by the firm Walker and Weeks , who also designed several other notable Cleveland structures such as the Public Auditorium, the Cleveland Public Library, and the original Cleveland Stadium.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History says that when first constructed, the hall

“contained a concert hall seating 1,844, a chamber-music hall on the ground floor seating 400, and a radio-broadcasting studio. On either side of the auditorium were triangular wings that contained circulation areas, a green room, a lounge, offices, and a library. Onstage were an elevator for the orchestra, a cyclorama, and a skydome for operatic productions, as well as a large E. M. Skinner pipe organ. The hall had a unique system of colored spotlights operated by a clavilux or "color organ" for constantly changing lighting effects. In 1958, the stage was completely rebuilt, with a new acoustical shell to improve the projection of the orchestra's sound.

The architecture of Severance Hall was transitional between the Georgian/Neo-Classical style represented by the Cleveland Museum of Art across the Wade Park Lagoon and the Art Deco or Art Moderne style that had developed in the late 1920s. The main entrance is a Renaissance portico. The interior, however, is an eclectic mix of styles. The elliptical 2-story grand foyer is transitional in function with a Neo-Egyptian design, while the auditorium is both modern and traditional in its stylized ornament and color, featuring classical and Art Deco touches. The Reinberger Chamber is 18th century in design. An unusual feature of the building was an internal automobile driveway, beneath the entrance, which was closed in 1970 and converted into a restaurant in 1971.



A major renovation project, designed by David M. Schwarz Architectural Services of Washington D.C, took place between 1998-2000 (reopening in January of 2000). It restored the hall to its original grandeur, upgraded its acoustics, and also expanded and improved on the services and amenities. The changes also included restoring and relocating the E.M. Skinner pipe organ. Overall, the renovation provided The Cleveland Orchestra with the best home possible, worthy of its global status.

A very detailed history of Severance Hall can be found on the web site for the Cleveland Orchestra (here), along with a fantastic group of photographs.



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here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cleveland’s Hanna Theatre Re-Opens

Images from GLTF
Back in January, I wrote about the history and renovation of the Hanna Theatre in Playhouse Square (“Imagine a Re-Imagined Hanna Theatre”).

The Hanna renovation is now complete, and The Great Lakes Theatre Festival will be calling the Hanna their new home. The theater will have a grand re-opening with the GLTF annual benefit this Saturday, September 20.

Here are the details from The Great Lakes Theatre Festival on their new home and on their new season:

Great Lakes Theater Festival Announces Ambitious 2008-09 Season in New Home at the Hanna Theatre

The Festival’s 47th season features a dynamic line-up of theater offerings, an expanded performance calendar and A Christmas Carol’s twentieth anniversary.

CLEVELAND, OH – Charles Fee, Producing Artistic Director of Great Lakes Theater Festival (GLTF), announced plans for the classic theater company's forty-seventh season today. The Festival's four regular season offerings in 2008-09 will take place in GLTF's new home at Playhouse Square 's Hanna Theatre while A Christmas Carol will remain in its traditional Ohio Theatre setting .

“The design of our new home is truly remarkable,” said Fee. “The creative opportunities that the ‘re-imagined' Hanna Theatre will afford our artists, our audiences and our community are absolutely extraordinary. What is particularly exciting for us as a company is that the design of our new home is really a metaphor for the kind of work that we do on stage each season… re-imagining classics. We can't wait to share this new experience with our audience. Working together with our amazing resident company of artists, our loyal and adventurous audience, our region's educators and students and with our great community partners like Playhouse Square, we look forward with optimism to the future. And this bright future begins today with the announcement of our forty-seventh season of classic theater - one that exemplifies the bold, ambitious artistic vision and dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit that has made this company great.”

Great Lakes Theater Festival's new 550-seat home at the Hanna Theatre will feature a flexible thrust stage and afford its audiences an exciting and uniquely intimate theater experience. The Hanna's new “Great Room” inspired design concept will create a single unified environment that integrates the artist and audience experience into one realm and dissolve the formal separation between the social experience of the lobby and the artistic experience of the stage. The new Hanna will offer patrons a variety of seating options including traditional theater seats , club chairs , banquettes , private boxes and lounge / bar seating . This variety of options will enable each visitor to self-define their experience at the theater.

Great Lakes Theater Festival's 2008-09 season will run from September through May and will feature a Fall Repertory, the Festival's annual holiday classic A Christmas Carol and a Spring Repertory. In the fall (September 24-November 8, 2008) , GLTF will present William Shakespeare's towering tragedy Macbeth , directed by GLTF Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee , in rotating repertory with Stephen Sondheim's enchanting musical, Into the Woods , directed by Victoria Bussert . GLTF's annual production of Charles Dickens' holiday classic, A Christmas Carol (November 28-December 23, 2008) , adapted and directed by Gerald Freedman, will mark the midpoint of the Festival's forty-seventh year. GLTF will continue its 2008-09 season with a Spring Repertory (March 25-May 3, 2009) pairing William Shakespeare's fantastic farce The Comedy of Errors with Anton Chekhov's soaring classic, The Seagull. The directors of The Comedy of Errors, The Seagull and A Christmas Carol will be announced at a later date.

The season sponsor of Great Lakes Theater Festival's inaugural year at the Hanna Theatre is National City . The season will be presented with additional generous support from The Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the Ohio Arts Council and SCK Design.

The Festival will expand its Fall and Spring Repertory performance calendars in 2008-09 to satisfy increased audience demand for public performances and to accommodate GLTF's significant student matinee audience. The company's Fall Repertory will expand its run from five weeks in 2007 to seven weeks in 2008. Similarly, the Festival's Spring Repertory run will expand from five weeks in 2008 to six weeks in 2009. The performance calendar for A Christmas Carol will remain consistent with past seasons.

Great Lakes Theater Festival's unique rotating repertory format has played a key role in the theater company's success with audiences over the past several seasons. The Festival returned to a rotating repertory format in 2003 with alternating productions of Hamlet and Tartuffe.

“Presenting a pair of classic plays in rotating repertory is a great challenge for artists and great fun for audiences,” said Charles Fee. "The opportunity to see a single resident company of actors perform two plays on the same stage, alternating shows every few nights, makes the Great Lakes Theater Festival experience unique in northern Ohio . Producing plays in repertory enables audience members to ‘get to know' the actors in our company on a much deeper level while simultaneously allowing us the opportunity to showcase the company members' considerable talents. It is amazing to witness the actors' transformation each night as they take the stage.”

Great Lakes Theater Festival's annual production of A Christmas Carol will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2008. Originally adapted and directed by former GLTF Artistic Director Gerald Freedman in 1989, A Christmas Carol has entertained over 450,000 adults and students over the course of its history. The production will remain in its traditional home at the Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square.

Great Lakes Theater Festival's expanded 2008-09 performance calendar includes two new features: 1) a pair of additional Preview performances and 2) a new Friday evening Press/Media Opening performance for each of the company's regular season offerings. The remainder of the 2008-09 season schedule remains consistent with historic Festival offerings. Opening Night performances of Macbeth, Into the Woods, The Comedy of Errors and The Seagull have been scheduled for Saturday evenings, while A Christmas Carol 's Opening Night is slated for a Friday night. Curtain times for all evening performances will remain at 7:30 p.m., with a 1:30 p.m. curtain time for Saturday matinees and a 3:00 p.m. curtain time for Sunday matinees. All five productions in the Festival's forty-seventh season will continue to offer sign interpreted and audio described performances as well as the popular Director's Night and Playnotes pre-show discussion series.

Subscriptions to Great Lakes Theater Festival's 2008-09 season will go on sale to the general public beginning April 1, 2008 and subscription renewals for 2007-08 season subscribers will begin on February 11, 2008. An adult subscription to Great Lakes Theater Festival starts as low as $93. Student subscriptions begin at $36. For more information about becoming a Festival subscriber, patrons should contact the Great Lakes Theater Festival subscription office at (216) 664-6064 or online.

Single tickets will be available beginning in July. Regular priced adult single tickets will range from $15 - $69. Regular priced student/youth tickets for the Hanna Theatre are $13 ($28 for A Christmas Carol in the Ohio Theatre) and will be available for all performances. Additional handling fees may apply and may vary depending on point of purchase. Further details and pricing specifics will be announced in July. Single tickets will be available by calling (216) 241-6000, by ordering online and by visiting the Playhouse Square Ticket office. Groups of ten or more receive discounts as do educators.

The first resident company of Playhouse Square , Great Lakes Theater Festival will celebrate twenty-five years in the Theatre District this season. Since 1962, the Festival has brought the pleasure, power and relevance of classic theater to the widest possible audience in northern Ohio.


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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The (Animated) Cleveland Brown

No, this isn’t about that certain Cleveland NFL football team that Clevelanders either love, or love to hate. (Sometimes both.)

This is about the fictional, animated character Cleveland Brown, from the Fox series “The Family Guy.” He is a recurring character on the show, playing one of Peter Griffin's neighbors and friends. He also owns a delicatessen, named fittingly, "Cleveland's Deli". He is voiced by the real life Mike Henry.

Cleveland Brown will get center stage when his own series premiers on Fox in March of 2009, called ‘The Cleveland Show.” But alas, the Cleveland show won’t be centered in Cleveland; that would make too much sense. The show will have Cleveland (the character, not the city) move from Rhode Island to a new home in Virginia. Here’s the back story from the Fox Broadcasting web site:



Image from Fox


Many years ago, CLEVELAND BROWN (voiced by Mike Henry) was a high school student madly in love with a beautiful girl named DONNA. Much to his dismay, his love went unrequited, and Donna wound up marrying another man. Cleveland once told Donna he would always love her, and if this man ever done her wrong, he’d be there when she called.

Well, this man done her wrong.

Donna’s husband skipped town with another woman, leaving Donna with a daughter and a baby. Now she’s come to Cleveland and offered him another chance at love. Unattached after the Loretta-Quagmire debacle and true to his word, Cleveland joyously accepts and he and CLEVELAND JR. move to Stoolbend, VA, to join their new family.


Once in Stoolbend, Cleveland has a few surprises in store for him, including a flirtatious new stepdaughter, a 5-year-old stepson who loves the ladies, as well as a collection of neighbors that includes a loudmouth redneck couple, a British family seemingly stuck in the Victorian era and a family of bears living at the end of the block.



OK, I don't get the bears living at the end of the block, but that's just me. I suppose anything can happen in an animated universe.

So, if watching the football team “The Cleveland Browns” is getting you a little down lately, maybe these clips of the proposed "Cleveland Show" will cheer you up.










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Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens


Stretching from I-90, which runs by the shore of Lake Erie, to the University Circle area, are the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. It is a collection of gardens with statuary, decorative ironwork, and fountains,  serving as a living monument representing the diversity of the varying ethnic groups of the Greater Cleveland area. It is an approximately 50 acres section of the much larger 254-acre Rockefeller Park that was created in 1896 on land donated to the city by industrialist John D. Rockefeller. It follows the paths of both East and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History provides some background:

The CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDEN FEDERATION oversees the Cultural Gardens, landscaped gardens with statuary honoring various ethnic groups in Cleveland situated along East Blvd. and Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd.

The CCGF was founded in 1925 as the Civic Progress League by Leo Weidenthal, who, during the dedication of the Shakespeare Garden in Rockefeller Park in 1916, felt that similar sites should be prepared for each of the city's nationality communities. In 1926 the organization became the Cultural Garden League, and a Hebrew garden was established. On 9 May 1927 the city set aside areas of Rockefeller Park for future gardens. The Italian, German, Lithuanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian gardens were established in 1930; the Polish, Hungarian, Czech, and Yugoslav gardens in 1934; and the American, Rusin, Irish, Greek, and Syrian gardens in 1938. Romanian, Estonian, Afro-American, Chinese, Finnish, and Indian gardens have since been created. Planning and fundraising for each garden was undertaken within the various ethnic communities, while the Cleveland Cultural Garden Fed. (the name adopted in 1952) oversaw overall planning and coordinated various joint programs, including the 2nd UNESCO Conference (1949) and the annual One World Day (begun in 1945). During the 1960s and 1970s, many gardens suffered vandalism and statuary was removed for safekeeping. In 1985-86 a major restructuring of the area was undertaken and plans discussed for rehabilitating the gardens by the federation, including 40 members from the affiliated nationalities.

The gardens had faced some periods of neglect, theft of some of the greenery,  and vandalism of some of the stone and metal works. Frankly, the last time I drove through the area (only a few months ago) I found myself somewhat saddened to see no one walking though the park. While it doesn’t look neglected, it is clear that the city has not capitalized as much as it should on what can be a stunning green space. It certainly makes for a nice drive through, but is not welcoming to just stopping your car to admire the area. Parking is impossible along MLK Blvd., so if you plan to visit, you may have to park at the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse at the north end of the park and walk, or, in other locations in the neighborhood on East Blvd. near Sam Miller Park. There may be other parking locations that are available of which I am not aware.

The park really is one of the gems of the city, one that may need a little clean and polish to get is back to its original, intended state, and to make it more welcoming to Greater Cleveland residents and visitors to the city.

Admission to the Gardens is free, as well as to the Rockefeller Greenhouse.

A new web site for the Cleveland Cultural Gardens can be found at this link. And, if you’d like to sneak a peak before going there, a very nice collection of photographs can be found here.

An interesting web site covering the state and the preservation of the Gardens can be found at the Cultural Landscape Foundation, here.

There are also many photos of the early days of the Gardens which can be found at the Cleveland Press Memory Project, here.



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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cleveland, Birthplace of Superman

One famous person who was born in Cleveland is fictional. It’s Superman. But he wasn’t born the old fashioned way, it was with the merging of the creative minds and hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Joe Shuster (July 10, 1914 - July 30, 1992) was born in Canada, but his family moved to the Cleveland area in the mid-1920s, when Shuster was 10 years old. Jerry Siegel (October 17, 1914 – January 28, 1996) was born in Cleveland. Both attended Glenville High School.

Siegel and Shuster were fans of science fiction, movies, and comics. They published a “fanzine” in the mid-1920s. Inspired by Philip Wylie's book, "Gladiator", about a mysterious character with superpowers and invulnerability, they created a strip for their fanzine (Shuster the artist, Siegel the writer) that featured a super-powered villain, but they later made him in a hero.

Here’s an interesting history of Siegel, Shuster, and Superman:

Metropolis Marvels

Superman came from two Cleveland teenagers with nothing but a shared dream and the ambition to tell a great story. Great Superman stories are the best of the bunch, and among the hardest to tell. Join us as we pay our respects to the folks who created, continued, shaped and reshaped the legend of Superman.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
AKA: Two Boys From Cleveland

Who They Are:
Superman was the brainchild of two Depression-era Cleveland teenagers, Jerome Siegel (1914-1996) and Joseph Shuster (1914-1992). Jerry was born in Cleveland; Joe was born in Toronto. They met when they both attended Glenville High School, where Jerry worked on the student newspaper, The Torch. (Joe had worked as a newsboy for the Toronto Daily Star, so they could both claim a journalistic background.)

Jerry and Joe had a lot in common. They were both the children of Jewish immigrants. They were both shy and retiring young men, with perhaps more than their share of insecurity and hang-ups when it came to the opposite sex. They both loved science fiction and the fantastic stories of the pulps. They were not strangers to mortality, or to life's difficulties, or to the whips and scorns that led many to share their fantastic dream of a being with powers "far beyond those of mortal men." Jerry's father, Mitchell, a sign painter and haberdasher, had been murdered by a thief when Jerry was still in middle school. Joe would suffer from debilitating vision problems - making his work as a comic book artist extremely difficult - all his life. Cornered by an all-pervasive reality, Siegel and Shuster did not fear the impossible.

Jerry would write the stories, and Joe would draw them. Between the two of them they would create one of the most beloved fictional characters of the 20th century and inspire a new industry. That industry, in its turn, would populate American mythology with a rich pantheon of legendary figures that would cross the boundaries of the medium in which they were born, into the worlds of radio, television, film - and beyond. Before all that, however, they were two struggling creators who spent their share of lean years looking for a publisher.

Before the last son of Krypton ever appeared in a comic book or took a form we would recognize today, Siegel and Shuster introduced his precursor in "Reign of the Superman," a short tale they published in their early fanzine, the appropriately titled Science Fiction. This story, which features a brilliant scientist whose machinations grant awesome mental powers to derelict Bill Dunn, has few of the features fans would come to associate with the Man of Steel. The 'Superman' of the title is no hero, but a power-mad villain bent on world conquest. Dunn's power eventually fades, and he becomes a nonentity again (in a kind of 'Super-Powers for Algernon' twist). Yet there are bits and pieces of unearthed Superman arcana lying within this tale: the incredible power of science, super-powers and awesome feats, and a strange meteor rock from outer space (it is this substance which allows the scientist, Smalley, to give Dunn his powers).

Though the derelict Superman didn't fly, the character continued to germinate in Jerry's mind. No doubt influenced by many of the pulps, including Doc Savage ('Man of Bronze') and The Shadow (who had a secret identity and a girlfriend named 'Lane'), Jerry and Joe were also inspired by E. C. Segar's Thimble Theatre superhero, Popeye, whose adventures in a series of animated cartoons produced by Max Fleischer brought the hero's boisterous, energetic power to vivid life. Popeye had super-strength (albeit for a short, spinach-fueled duration), seeming invulnerability, and he moved like a dynamo across the screen. (Serendipity would bring Siegel's Superman to Fleischer Studios just a few short years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1.)

Superman's colorful costume may have been inspired by the outlandish outfits pulp artists usually drew on their adventurous spacefarers; or by the garb of circus performers, accustomed to perpetrating super-feats; or it may have come from Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, popular in the mid-'30s; or it may be a combination of all of these. Superman's guise of Clark Kent was likely inspired (like the later Batman's guise of Bruce Wayne) by Douglas Fairbanks' Don Diego de la Vega in The Mark of Zorro, based on Johnston McCulley's great pulp character. Whatever their inspirations, Jerry's stories, drawn by Joe, were gradually taking the shape that would launch an industry. Yet the two young Clevelanders couldn't find a home for their Kryptonian.

Originally envisioning Superman as a newspaper strip - this was the heyday of the strips, after all, a fecund era for such legends as Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, and Popeye, among many others - Siegel and Shuster sent their hero to any syndicate or potential publisher they could find. In those days it was rejection, and not Kryptonite, that thwarted the Man of Steel more often than not. Eventually, of course, the pair hit on a bit of luck - they found a publisher in the person of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.

Wheeler-Nicholson was trying to compete in the budding comic book industry. At that time, comics generally consisted of reprints of newspaper strips, compounded into book form and sold on the newsstand as an ersatz collection. Wheeler-Nicholson was publishing original material - not so much because he was trying to inaugurate a new industry as because he couldn't afford the syndicate material. Jerry and Joe's first work for Wheeler-Nicholson appeared in New Fun Comics, an adventure strip featuring 'Henry Duval, Soldier of France,' a foppish dandy in the tradition of Percy Blakeney. (Other early Siegel and Shuster creations who would find their way into the pages of the nascent DC comics included Dr. Occult and Slam Bradley, both of whom are still around today.)

Finally, Superman was slated to appear as the cover feature in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). The issue was a huge success, and it took National (the future DC) a while to figure out why. Minions were dispatched to the newsstands, and word came back that "the book with Superman in it" was flying off the stands. In short order, Superman would appear on every Action cover and by 1939 in a second title, Superman. A veritable slew of imitators would emerge (most notably, DC's Batman, Timely's Captain America, and Fawcett's Captain Marvel), and the rest would be history.

Jerry and Joe had hit the jackpot - or had they? Unlike the canny Bob Kane (Batman's co-creator), Siegel and Shuster had, in their eagerness to find a publisher, sold the bulk of their rights to the character to National. Both creators would fight their own 'never-ending battle' to garner a piece of the Superman pie. In 1946, Jerry and Joe sued National for the rights to the character, gaining only Superboy (which had been, in its earliest form, Jerry's idea), after a two-year fight. They sold the Boy of Steel to the company for $100,000 and were kicked out of the Fortress for a full decade. An attempt to recreate their success with a new character - the uniquely unamusing Funnyman - met with failure. Joe's vision would fade, limiting his ability to get work, and Jerry frequently wrote under pseudonyms - though he did return to DC in the late '50s and in the early '60s wrote some of the best Silver Age Superman stories ever penned.

In 1975, with Superman set to fly on the big screen and earn DC's parent company, Warner Communications, even more incredible revenues, Jerry launched a public relations campaign to draw attention to the short shrift he and Joe had been given. Ultimately, Jerry and Joe would regain their credit (missing for years from comics, film and TV appearances) and a small stipend of $35,000 a year for the rest of their lives. Yet Siegel and Shuster's troubled relationship with DC Comics remains a black mark on the company's history and serves as a cautionary tale for young, up-and-coming comics creators.

Joe passed away in 1992 and Jerry in 1996. Behind them they left a legacy - a character who inspires, and who will continue to inspire, billions of people. They also labored over a cornerstone of what would become the AOL Time Warner Empire. Superman, 'champion of the oppressed,' destroyer of slums and challenger of the status quo, is the property of a massive corporation.

See Superman Returns. When those extremely important words come up - "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" - do your part for the cause of truth, justice, and the American way. Remember the boys from Cleveland.





While I don’t have an address for the Shuster house, the Siegel House is easy to find. The address of the Siegel home where Superman was “conceived” is 10622 Kimberly Avenue, and is currently listed as a Cleveland Landmark. Sadly, though, it’s not quite getting the attention it deserves from the city of Cleveland, as you’ll read in the following article.



Superman was created in Cleveland, but you might need X-ray vision to see the evidence


James A. Finley/Associated Press
Superman towers over the town square in Metropolis, Ill., where residents have claimed the DC Comics hero as their own. (In spite of his roots here in Cleveland.)

It's another Summer of Superman in Metropolis, Ill., a sleepy Ohio River town of 6,500 whose main link to the Man of Steel -- OK, whose only link -- is the name of his fictional city. They make the most of it. DC Comics and the Illinois legislature declared it the "Hometown of Superman," and the local paper was renamed the Metropolis Planet. There's a 15-foot-tall bronze Superman statue. And this year, marking the 70th anniversary of Superman's debut on the cover of Action Comics No. 1, they also tried to set a world's record for the most people dressed in Superman outfits.

But in Cleveland -- where a couple of Glenville teenagers actually created Superman 75 years ago -- the comparatively muted observances have been more Smallville than Metropolis.

Some highlights:

-- Superman memorabilia was featured at the North Coast Comic Con in May.

-- "Last Son," Brad Ricca's documentary film about Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was screened last weekend at IngenuityFest.

-- The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage will present the traveling exhibition "Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950" from Tuesday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Jan. 4.

-- And Northeast Ohio cartoonist Tom Batiuk will begin a three-week Superman-themed story in his "Funky Winkerbean" strip starting Monday, Aug. 11.

Positively Cleveland, the area's convention and visitors bureau, staged a meeting of civic leaders in January to plot a celebration, spurred by a commentary in The Plain Dealer by comics columnist Michael Sangiacomo lamenting Superman's neglect. They dismissed talk of a Superman statue -- an idea first raised in a Plain Dealer column in 1978 -- or museum.

But organizers squabbled, and a longer lead time was needed to get permissions for sanctioned events from DC Comics parent Time Warner.

"We just couldn't get it done this summer," said Terry Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and a former head of DC's rival Marvel Entertainment. "People are looking to the future. Hopefully, it does move forward."

"There are people who won't settle for anything less than a big statue in a prominent place, as though that makes it all official," said Dennis Dooley, co-author of the book "Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend."

"But there ought to be some recognition, and there is. Superman probably is the most famous character to come out of here. If you went to China and showed them pictures of Strawberry Shortcake or Chef Boyardee, they'd have no idea. If you showed them Superman, they'd know. It's a universal figure. It's natural for places to want to claim their share of their glory."

Cleveland once did, especially when its ties to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were stronger and fresher. The two were celebrities in the early 1940s, when they still lived in town -- both had moved from Glenville to University Heights -- and when newspapers called Superman "the now famous Man of Steel." They produced Superman with a staff of five artists in a one-room office in Cleveland.

Siegel, the writer who ran to pal Shuster's house one dawn after coming up with Superman -- "I am lying in bed counting sheep when all of a sudden it hits me" -- was sworn into the Army in 1943 as part of the July 4th Festival of Freedom at Cleveland Stadium. When he divorced and remarried in 1948, he asked the license bureau to keep it quiet until columnist Walter Winchell could break the story.

Siegel and Shuster had sold the rights to Superman for $130 in 1938, after trying unsuccessfully to market the comic on their own, but they still were writing and drawing under contract.

In 1947, before their contract expired, they sued to regain the rights and a share of profits. They won a limited settlement, but their claim was rejected. They lost their jobs, and their bylines were dropped. Years of bitterness and frustration followed.

They were living in New York by then, though Siegel later went to Los Angeles. Cleveland was left with few tangible links to Superman, if any, beyond the guessing game of which Glenville High School students might have been the models for Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Or how much of their own Depression-era experience, as the bespectacled and nerdy sons of immigrants, influenced their creation of a "strange visitor from another planet."

Shuster said the model for Metropolis was not Cleveland, where his family moved when he was 10, but his native Toronto. The Daily Planet, he said, came from the Toronto Daily Star.

Los Angeles was the recognizable stand-in for Metropolis on "The Adventures of Superman" on TV through the 1950s.

Superman himself was being eclipsed by other comics superheroes until "Superman: The Movie" went into development in 1974, with a supersized budget and A-list stars.

Siegel came out of seclusion to put a curse on the movie, and launched a campaign with the nearly blind Shuster to protest their treatment by DC. A settlement gave them "created by" credit on all Superman properties, and paid each a $20,000 annual "pension."

And just as Superman helped create the modern comic-book business more than a generation earlier, the movie's release in 1978 paved the way for a new type of superhero film.

But while the movie revived Cleveland's interest and pride in a fictional native son, its unbilled co-star was New York City.

Metropolis, Ill., had only recently staked its claim as Superman's "hometown." When the editor of its Planet was asked what place Siegel and Shuster would have there, he said, "I don't believe I've ever heard of them."

Being second with the claim, like someone who found an old deed in the attic, didn't boost Cleveland's super-status. Neither did the fact that the city was entering hard and fractious times politically and economically when the idea of a Superman monument was first raised.

A nonprofit group formed in the 1980s to build a statue tied to Superman's 50th anniversary and the release of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," the last and cheapest of the series. Comics sales were sagging, the movie bombed, and the group went bust.

An aide to one prominent local officeholder said any smart politician would support efforts to recognize Superman, but taking the lead would be difficult "when we've got problems of poverty, schools, crime and employment."

"The city is challenged to raise money for so many things," Terry Stewart said.

But the effort hasn't died. Dooley thinks it shouldn't, no more than Superman has.

"A lot of characters bite the dust," he said, noting the fading of heroes like Straight Arrow, Green Arrow and Aquaman. "Superman and Batman are always riveting. The stories get reappropriated and reworked by another generation.

"Popular culture embodies things we believe in or yearn for."

Or the things that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster believed in and yearned for. In Cleveland. Which remembers.

Read more:
• Cleveland let statue fly away

• Superman, on-screen and off.


Added Note: I had already been writing my blog on Superman and had it scheduled for publication before the following piece cropped up in today’s Plain Dealer. I thought I'd include it.

Novel's Superman lore a bit weak on the facts


Posted by Patrick O'Donnell and Michael Sangiacomo August 27, 2008 01:00AM

James A. Finley/Associated Press
Superman's 15-foot statue looks over the town of Metropolis, Ill. An upcoming book by Brad Metzler suggests a new set of circumstances surrounding the orgin of th iconic character.

It's a tale worthy of ... well, a comic book.

A shopkeeper is gunned down in a robbery of his store. His son, while not going on a vigilante rampage himself, seeks justice in a more symbolic way: He invents the ultimate crime-fighting superhero ever, Superman, to be his instrument of vengeance.

If true, it would be a blockbuster.

But is it?

The buzz circulating in the comic world this week, and highlighted Tuesday in USA Today, is that Superman was inspired by the death of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel's father during a 1932 robbery of his store.


Novelist Brad Meltzer found some details around that robbery too eerie to be coincidence. And he's milking them for all they're worth as he promotes his upcoming book, which uses the Siegel family and its home on Kimberly Avenue here in Cleveland for a conspiracy tale.

"I still believe the world got Superman because this kid lost his father," Meltzer said. "Is it just a coincidence that Michel died and within a short time, his son creates the world's greatest superhero?"

After all, superheroes like Spiderman and Batman started fighting crime after relatives were murdered. The story behind the Superman stories would make a great comic book itself.

But though it is true that Michel Siegel, 59, died during a robbery, there is no evidence beyond confused family legend that he was shot. The man, sometimes referred to as Mitchell, actually died of a heart attack.

Jerry Siegel also never connected his father's death to Superman before he himself died in 1996. And his widow Joanne, doesn't think the robbery made Siegel or his co-creating friend Joe Shuster invent Superman to fight such crimes.

"Jerry said his father had a heart attack after the robbery," she said Tuesday. "I don't think that it inspired him (to create Superman]. How many people whose fathers have died have inspired them to do anything at all?"

There are conflicting accounts about exactly how Siegel came up with the notion of Superman while a student at Glenville High School. Late in his life, he said it came to him one hot July night as he lay in bed unable to sleep.

Though Superman was not published until 1938, he and Shuster started work on the idea in either 1932 or 1933.

In that period -- the night of June 2, 1932 -- police were called to his father's second-hand clothing store at 3560 Central Ave. According to the police report, three men came into the shop and walked out with a suit without paying.

Michel Siegel, 59, collapsed in the store and died.

"At no time were any blows struck or any weapons used," the report states.

The death certificate says Siegel had chronic myocarditis and died of heart failure. It reports no bullet wounds.

Marlene Goodman and Irving Siegel, both cousins of Jerry Siegel, said most family members knew the truth, but some thought Michel was shot.

"I remember an aunt telling me there was a shooting and I think I passed that on to a writer," Irving Siegel said.

Michel Siegel's death in the robbery was part of a previous book, "Men of Tomorrow," published in 2004.

Meltzer, however, uses the shooting legend in his new novel, "Book of Lies." The killing is a plot point for the murder/espionage novel, which comes out Sept. 2.

Meltzer said he believes the death was pivotal to the creation of Superman. He points to an unpublished comic book cover from 1933 showing Superman stopping a robbery of a merchant, who Meltzer says looks like Michel Siegel.

"This would have been written soon, perhaps even weeks, after his dad's death," he said. "It had to be related."

Then in scanning through microfiche copies of The Plain Dealer from 1932, Meltzer found a letter to the editor the day after Michel Siegel's death signed by an A.L. Luther.

"Is this where he came up with Lex Luthor?" he asked.

The villain from the comics, however, was spelled Luthor, not Luther. The name Lex did not appear until the 1960s.

Though titled "Vigilantes Not Needed," the letter has nothing to do with Siegel's death or any particular crimes. It decries vigilantism and calls for nationalizing police under Army generals.

Brad Ricca, a lecturer at Case Western Reserve University and director of a Siegel, Shuster and Superman documentary called "Last Son," said Siegel drew inspiration for Superman from many sources. He said the costume has a bit of Flash Gordon, the hair of Tarzan and weightlifter's boots.

"When his dad died, Jerry knew he had to do something to help support himself and his mother," Ricca said. "He created Superman by drawing on everything that was all around him, including his dad."

He added: "There is a scene in the second issue of Superman where he is standing at the grave of his adoptive parents, promising them that he would do good. This made me think of Jerry's father and how this was Jerry's way of promising to make something of himself."

So why all this attention now? Widow Joanne Siegel says it's all because of the new books.

"You know how writers are, they say things," she said.

News Researcher Jo Ellen Corrigan contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo co-teaches a class with Brad Ricca.


Update September 2, 2008
Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that an online auction to benefit the restoration of Jerry Siegel’s Cleveland home in the Glenville neighborhood will begin today. More information about the auction can be found at the “Ordinary People Change the World” web site, here.

You can also see a video on this topic, below, which includes comments from Brad Meltzer, author of “Book of Lies”, that also includes a look at the current state of the home, which isn’t very good on the inside.






Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.