Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
In Post-World War I Era Cleveland, a popular destination for African American migrants from the South, gospel music became increasingly popular. This growing popularity was due in no small measure to the business acumen of people like Claude Shields Sr., quartet singer and owner of the Shields Brothers Cleaners on Cedar Avenue.
After the 1920s, quartet artists and their fans did not hesitate to participate in and promote live concerts, make studio recordings, and, in some instances, write books about gospel’s influence on other styles of American music, including Rock and Roll. Arthur Turner (second from the right in the above Shields Brothers photo), for example, also served as the long-time manager for Cleveland’s Elite Jewels, “The Gospel Songbirds of the North,” and one of the city’s most popular female quartets.
Frederick Burton, whose family migrated to Cleveland from Tennessee in the 1960s, is the author of Cleveland’s Gospel Music (Arcadia, 2003) and founder of the Gospel Music Historical Society. In 2005, he and other artists participated in “Nearer My God to Thee,” during the Rock Hall’s tribute to Sam Cooke, a Mississippi native and migrant to Chicago. Cooke gained a national following as a member of the Soul Stirrers gospel quartet and as a solo artist.
In The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas A. Dorsey in the Urban Church (Oxford, 1992), Dr. Michael Harris suggests that Dorsey, a Georgia native and former pianist for blues legend Ma Rainey, was “The Father of Gospel Music.” Dorsey became director of music at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church in the 1920s and later founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, which many Clevelanders still support today.
Message by Kelly Falcone-Hall, President and CEO, WRHS
Dear WRHS family and friends:
Today, I am writing to share sad news. Our friend, Siegfried F. Buerling, Director of Properties Emeritus for the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS), passed away December 30, 2021. While there are no words to do justice to his memory and life’s work, I’ll do my best on behalf of WRHS, and as Siegfried’s friend, to remember and honor this singular individual who contributed so much to Hale Farm & Village and WRHS.
Siegfried F. Buerling was the first, longest serving and most beloved Director of Hale Farm & Village until his retirement in 1998. He began his career as an apprentice cabinetmaker in Buerling’s Cabinet Shop in post World War II Germany. He worked as a journeyman in cabinet shops in Germany and Switzerland, and later as a furniture restorer in Montreal, Canada.
In 1959, Siegfried took the position of Carpenter-Cabinetmaker at WRHS and before he joined The Hale Farm, as it was known then, he worked on a variety of special projects at WRHS’s headquarters in University Circle. Notably, he led the construction of the Museum Galleries built in the late 1950s that connect the Hanna and Hay Mansions – Western Reserve Galleries I, II, the Central Addition and the Norton Gallery. Soon after, he transferred to Hale Farm and worked on special projects during the farm’s earliest days as a museum. In no time, he rose to lead Hale Farm & Village as its longest and most accomplished Director, retiring in 1998 as the Director of Properties and Special Projects for WRHS.
No other person is more important to the history and trajectory of Hale Farm & Village than Siegfried Buerling. His leadership contributed to Hale’s success and popularity during its first decade of operations, so much so that he convinced leadership to create a master plan to expand the farm museum into an expansive outdoor living history experience. During the 1960s, Siegfried and his colleagues visited places like the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Michigan, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. They studied New England and old Western Reserve towns and villages and conducted extensive research in the WRHS Archives toward a vision for a 19th century Western Reserve village at Hale Farm.
To create the village, Siegfried established a ‘Preservation through Relocation Program’ that saved certain 19th century Western Reserve buildings threatened by development. These buildings, including the Mary Ann Sears Swetland Memorial Meetinghouse, Goldsmith House, Ephraim Brown Land Office, Benjamin Franklin Wade Law Office, Saltbox House, Jagger House, Jonathan E. Herrick House and others were relocated to Hale Farm and restored to their original beauty and charm around a recreated village green. Siegfried was responsible for identifying and restoring more than half of the museum’s historic structures, the foundation for the Hale Farm & Village experience today. This vision would come to define the experience and put Hale Farm & Village on the map as one of the finest outdoor living history museums in the United States.
During his long tenure, Siegfried worked tirelessly and masterfully with philanthropic, business and community leaders, chief among them the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR), which he founded, to further develop The Hale Farm into an expansive outdoor living history museum with 34 historic structures, an agriculture and horticulture program, a calendar of popular programs and special events, and establish the museum as a destination for unique, high quality curriculum-based school programming that continues today.
As a skilled cabinetmaker, Siegfried had a special interest in early American crafts and industry, and as a result developed a series of working craft shops and demonstrations at Hale Farm & Village including blacksmithing, glass blowing, pottery, basket, broom and candle making, and spinning and weaving. Once again, thanks to Siegfried’s vision and entrepreneurial mindset, Hale Farm’s renowned Craft and Trade Program started in the 1960s stands as the finest of its kind in the Midwest and the inspiration for WRHS’s Youth Entrepreneurship Education Program for schoolchildren.
As Director of Properties, Siegfried led WRHS’s work to restore and build experiences at its properties – Shandy Hall in Geneva, Loghurst in Canfield, the Holsey Gates House in Bedford, and the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor that was operated by WRHS until 2008.
Siegfried’s commitment to WRHS continued long after his retirement. In the 1990s, he managed the restoration of Euclid Beach Park Carousel horses (the Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel was restored to operating condition at the Cleveland History Center in 2014). In 2006, WRHS again engaged him as a Preservation Consultant and Project Manager of Hale’s major, multi-year preservation project to restore and stabilize the site’s collection of historic structures, and this work continues today.
For Siegfried, Hale Farm & Village was a labor of love and his life’s work. The Buerling family – Siegfried, his late wife Heidi, and his sons Bruce (deceased), Peter and Curt Buerling lived at Hale Farm. In 2008, to celebrate Hale Farm’s 50th anniversary as a museum, Siegfried was the first person to receive the Hale Farm & Village Legacy Award, and WRHS created a fund at the Akron Community Foundation in his name.
Friends, it is not possible to recount or begin to adequately describe Siegfried’s impact on Hale Farm & Village and WRHS in a single communication. To know Siegfried was to love and respect him and recently, I had the privilege of visiting with him, his son Curt Buerling, and Hale Farm & Village Director, Travis Henline. During this special visit, we made plans to host a holiday party with Siegfried, his family and close friends and decided after to celebrate Siegfried’s 90th birthday on January 29, 2022 at Hale. I am ever grateful to Curt for giving us the opportunity to visit with Siegfried, to reminisce and express to him how important he is to Hale Farm, to WRHS, and to so many of us personally.
On behalf of WRHS, I offer our sincerest condolences to Siegfried’s family and friends and pledge to continue his work to preserve and safeguard Hale Farm & Village and his story for the benefit and enrichment of generations to come.
Thank you, Siegfried.
Siegfried and Heidi Buerling,
HFV Legacy Award Benefit 2008
Kelly Falcone-Hall, Curt Buerling and Siegfried,
at Hale Farm 2021
Please share your memories, stories, and photos of Siegfried with us using the digital Share Your Story page.
By Patricia Edmonson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles
The WRHS costume collection is ringing in the new year with an exciting acquisition. Dr. Tameka Ellington, formerly of Kent State University, is taking the next step in her career to write, speak, and share her expertise with others. As part of that process she has made her work in surface and fashion design available and the WRHS will bring in four of Dr. Ellington’s garments.
In her own words, Ellington’s work tells the stories of her ancestors: “Asante Sana (thank you in Swahili) is the name I have chosen to represent my total body of work.” She looks to a number of African regions and countries for inspiration, and has hopes of one day learning more about her own tribe and heritage.
Dr. Ellington works with natural fibers and uses techniques such as wax batik with resist dying, digital textile printing, and non-traditional leather tooling. The four garments coming to WRHS include The Offspring, Royal Mbebana, The Origin of Anansi the Spider, and How the Zebra Got its Stripes. Their arrival is part of a larger initiative to create a more diverse costume collection. Dr. Ellington grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Glenville High School before continuing her education. Today she lives and works in Akron, and WRHS is excited to create an ongoing relationship and make plans to display her garments in the future.
Contributed by the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, Author, Let the Oppressed Go Free: Exploring Theologies of Liberation
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1948, Dr. Marvin A. McMickle is a 1970 graduate of Aurora University in Illinois with a B.A. in Philosophy. His alma mater also awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1990. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1973 and did two additional years of graduate study at Columbia University in New York. He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey in 1983. He was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1998. He was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio in 2010.
He was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1973 at Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City where he served on the pastoral staff from 1972-1976. He served as the pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church of Montclair, New Jersey from 1976-1986. He was pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio from 1987-2011. During that time, he led the church in establishing a ministry for people infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. This ministry was the first of its kind in the entire country. The church also instituted a community tithing initiative in which the church tithed out 10% of its annual budget to various community programs and agencies. Dr. McMickle was named Pastor Emeritus in 2018. He became Interim Pastor in May 2020. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Cleveland State University in Cleveland, OH, president of the Cleveland NAACP and Urban League, and president of the Shaker Heights Board of Education.
Dr. McMickle was the Professor of Homiletics at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio from 1996-2011. Upon retiring he was named Professor Emeritus by the Board of Trustee and the faculty. He is the author of 18 books. He has authored dozens of articles that regularly appear in professional journals and magazines. He is a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. In the winter semester of 2009, he served as a Visiting Professor of Preaching at Yale University Divinity School. He was also an adjunct instructor at Princeton, New Brunswick, and New York theological seminaries.
Dr. McMickle served as the 12th President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School from July 2011 to June 2019.
He is an active member of the Progressive National Convention and American Baptist Churches (ABCUSA).He is also a Life Member of Kapa Alpha Psi Fraternity and a member of Sigma Pi Phi.
Dr. McMickle has been married to Peggy Lorraine Noble since 1975 and they have one son, Aaron who resides in New York City with his wife Pilar and their two daughters Aaliyah and Lola.
Most recently, the Museum participated in the seventh annual Fuel Cleveland motorcycle show, held at the former Cleveland Twist Drill factory at East 47th and Lakeside. We brought our 1918 Cleveland single-cylinder bike, along with our ultra-rare 1956 Vincent Black Prince, and the positive response was immediate.
Around five thousand visitors packed the one-day show, and the variety of choppers, customs, bobbers, and vintage bikes was remarkable. Machines like the Vincent are so rarely seen that quite a stir was created, particularly among the motorcycle media. Our friends at Lowbrow Customs sponsored and organized the show, and with some good fortune, we may be invited back again next year! We would like to thank Bob Vail, Tim Dunn, and Bill Glavac for their kind assistance transporting our bikes to the show.
Late September saw the Crawford participating in the Molto Bella car show, held at Stan Hywet Hall on the 12th, where we displayed our newly-acquired 1956 Citroen Traction Avant Familiale to great interest from the crowd. Also, on the 25th, our Macedonia Preservation and Storage Facility hosted its second ‘Coffee and Cars’ of the year, but with dire weather forecast for the day, attendance was sparse. The rains held off however, and a highlight of the event was the firing up of two aircraft engines owned by Macedonia volunteer Frank Sesek (see Frank’s profile in News from the Crawford, Issue One). His 1943 Jacobs R755 radial was originally used to power training aircraft for future B17 bomber pilots, and the jet turbine is a Garrett Auxiliary Power Unit, which was used to start the Navy’s F18 Hornet fighters. Frank hit the afterburner on the jet and one could feel the heat blast thirty feet away! Really impressive! Keep an eye out for our next Coffee and Cars coming next Spring!
On September 11-12, BMW Motorrad (BMW Motorcycles Corporate) held a two-day rider experience at the Crawford in coordination with Pamela Dengler of Sill’s Motor Sales, Cleveland. Pam was featured in News from the Crawford Issue Two earlier this year. The BMW factory team arrived with a huge, purpose-built semi tractor-trailer housing eighteen of their new R-18, massive-engined touring motorcycles, designed to compete directly with Harley Davidson within this market niche.
Over eighty local riders signed up for the experience, with around ten rolling tours occurring each day. Snacks, beverages, and music were provided by Sill’s, and the BMW folks were pleased with the turnout, and considered the event a great success. Because of the support of local businesses like Sill’s the Crawford is able to extend a warm welcome to previously unengaged members of the motoring community. A big ‘Thank you!’ to Pam and her team!
August 28 saw the Crawford ‘Invaded’ by a group of local bikers celebrating a ‘Mods vs Rockers’ tribute to classic British motorcycling, where owners of scooters faced off against traditional large-displacement motorcycles with a display of their machines and a tour of the Century exhibit.
Of course, it was all good-natured rivalry, but their gathering served as a reminder of the very real confrontations created when ‘Mod’ scooter riders faced off against traditional ‘Rocker’ bikers in 1960’s England. The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr famously replied, when asked whether he was a ‘Mod’ or a ‘Rocker’, ‘Neither. I’m a Mocker’. Cleveland’s Skidmark Garage serves as headquarters for the ‘Mods vs Rockers’ group, and the Crawford looks forward to hosting this bunch of local rowdies again in the near future.
Occasionally, great classic cars are like comets; they burn brightly across the night sky, remain for a short time, then continue on their unseen and mysterious journey. Such is the case with our featured car, a 1929 Auburn 8-120 Speedster, originally owned by professional boxer Johnny Risko of Sheffield Lake, Ohio.
Risko, now largely forgotten, was a sports superstar in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, going toe-to-toe and sometimes beating boxing legends like Gene Tunney, Max Baer, and Max Schmelling. He became known as the ‘Rubber Man’ because of his ability to take a punch and keep coming forward. In approximately 140 fights, he was stopped only three times, and counted out only once, when he was 38 years old.
Because of his success, Risko could afford the finer things in life, one being the purchase of a new 1929 Auburn Speedster. When most cars of the period were capable of speeds in the 40 mph range, the Auburn could push nearly 100 mph. Risko, although a great boxer was an average driver, who promptly wrecked the car. Undaunted, he purchased another 1929 Speedster, drove more carefully, and kept the car until his death in 1953. From that point on, the Speedster became the proverbial comet, hidden from view in a Lodi, Ohio barn from 1956 until Auburn enthusiast Alan J. Atkinson of Houston, Texas recently discovered it while purchasing another Auburn from the the owner.
The Speedster was then sent to Doug Pray of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Co. in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma for a complete restoration. 3000 man-hours later, the Auburn was ready for the show circuit. On September 4th the Speedster gained top honors at the prestigious Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, and on October 9th, took a top award at the AACA Hershey Fall Meet. Immediately afterward, Mr. Atkinson transported the car to a gathering of Johnny Risko’s remaining relatives in Sheffield Lake, where the Speedster became the instant center of attention. Family members were encouraged to sit in the car for photographs, and October 10th was named ‘Johnny Risko Day’ by Sheffield Lake’s mayor.
The 8-120 Speedster is a true work of art in the automobile world. The steeply raked windscreen and unmistakable ‘boat-tail’ bodywork distinguish it clearly from its contemporaries. The silver-over-blue paint scheme fits the car perfectly, and the subtle bordeaux-rust paintwork on the wheels provides a subtle counterpoint. In a word, the car is stunning. A dove gray leather interior complements the styling beautifully. In later developments of the Auburn Speedster, the ‘boat-tail’ is present, but the fenders are faired more completely into the surrounding bodywork. The early versions, like the Risko car, are certainly more distinctive, and arguably more dramatic.
So, is this 1929 Auburn Speedster a true ‘Million Dollar Baby’? Perhaps not quite yet, but it certainly is within spitting distance of that seven figure number. It was, for a brief moment in October, a blazing comet that burned its way into our collective memory as an incredible automobile, and a living testament to the life and career of a local sports legend.
*Special thanks to Crawford volunteer Stan Kohn for making us aware of the Auburn’s appearance in Northeast Ohio.
In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. When his financial patron Lord Carnarvon, who was looking over Carter’s shoulder asked if he could see anything inside, Carter replied, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’
The Crawford’s Macedonia Restoration and Storage Facility may have little in common with the Valley of the Kings, but it too contains ‘wonderful things’ in a myriad of rooms which are not open to the public.
One room reveals shelf upon shelf of carefully stored vintage headlights; from oil-fueled to acetylene, to electric-powered. Nearby are corresponding glass lenses for the headlamps glimmering like jewels. Another room contains a trove of silver trophies, from aviation’s Golden Age to classic automobile races to awards garnered by some of the Crawford’s most noteworthy cars.
It was in a rather dark corner of a small storage area that the subject of this article was discovered, surrounded by equally rare and beautiful objects. It is an original casting of ‘La Cigogne’ (The Stork) created by French Sculptor Francois Bazin in 1920. Not only is it a beautifully executed bronze work of art, but significantly, it is the prototype for the ornaments which graced the radiator caps of all Hispano Suiza motorcars from 1920 onwards. It is an iconic image familiar to most vintage automobile enthusiasts and has been reproduced in all sizes and materials throughout the past century.
Bazin’s inspiration for the sculpture was the image that adorned the flanks of the aircraft of French flying ace Georges Guynemer during World War I. Bazin served in the fighter squadron led by Guynemer, and the artist wished to create a tribute to his commander who was lost in action. Coincidentally, the black prancing horse seen on all Ferrari automobiles was given to the automaker by the mother of the Italian fighter ace Francesco Baracca who carried the symbol on his aircraft, and was also killed in the last year of the war.
The stylized image of a flying stork was not exclusive to Hispano Suiza however. The wildly exquisite French Bucciali cars, produced from 1922 until 1933 had the bird emblazoned on each side of the engine cowlings, creating a unique and unforgettable impression of speed and elegance. They are among the rarest and most desirable of the great classics from the Golden Age of motoring.
Bazin went on to become a very successful artist, creating many significant works in bronze and porcelain throughout his long career. In addition to ‘La Cigogne’, he was responsible for several additional sculptures that eventually became coveted hood ornaments for exotic automobiles. To own one of Bazin’s hood ornaments is a collector’s dream, but to have one of the original sculptures on which they are based is extraordinary.
‘La Cigogne’ is cast in dark, low-luster bronze and is affixed to an elliptical, veined marble base. Dimensionally, it is 13 inches tall, 16 inches long, and around 6 inches wide. Its weight is approximately 20 pounds. The artist’s signature appears cast into the ‘cloud’ base supporting the stork. It clearly is part of a small edition of sculptures, but the exact number is unknown.
In the near future, the Crawford hopes to have the exquisite ‘La Cigogne’ on display for everyone to enjoy. It may not have the same cachet as King Tut’s belongings, but it truly is one of the rarest of birds.
As the temperatures lower, and the fluffy white stuff makes more frequent appearances, most of us face the sad reality that our vintage, sports, and classic cars must go into storage for the all-too-long winter. Before the garage is shuttered for the final time, here are some recommendations to follow so that come Spring, your car’s recommissioning will be headache-free.
Change your oil. Fresh oil will limit the amount of water the lubricant absorbs while static. Most folks don’t realize oil is hydroscopic, and with absorption of water it can partially lose its viscosity.
Over-inflate your tires. This is to reduce the possibility of incurring flat spots due to the tire remaining static while supporting the weight of the vehicle. The best method to avoid flat spots is to store the vehicle on jack stands to eliminate concentrated pressure on the tires.
Fill your gas tank. Having a full tank helps to prevent moisture from building up in the tank and corroding the fuel lines. A good fuel preservative is highly recommended as well.
Protect the undercarriage. A large piece of plastic dropcloth placed beneath your vehicle can prevent excess moisture evaporating from damp concrete and settling on your chassis. This is an easy, inexpensive way to prolong the metal bits underneath the shiny bits.
Install rodent deterrents. Mice and (heaven forbid) rats are incredibly injurious to automobiles in storage. They love to eat wiring, insulation, leather, and just about anything else they can sink their teeth into. They also love to create nests in the engine bay, heating system, and exhaust areas. First, block off your tailpipe(s) to prevent mice from using them to get into the exhaust system. Also, if possible, block off the intake to airboxes as well. If your car is running rough, you just may find the air filter chewed to pieces and a season’s worth of acorns stored there too. Electronic pest chasers are very effective in reducing the number of unwanted garage guests, and for those who do get through your first line of defense, mouse and rat traps are a must.
This is just a short list of suggestions to keep your stored car in top condition, and to avoid frustration when the weather warms once again.
The name ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ conjures up images of the Old West, where blue-clad cavalrymen galloped from their stockade forts to confront restive Native American tribes. With the clarity of hindsight, the romanticized notions of chivalry and valor associated with the cavalry have become a bit tarnished as awareness has increased regarding the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.
The real Buffalo Soldiers, however, were a largely forgotten group of six African American cavalry and infantry regiments, created by Congress in 1866. Ironically, they were a minority group facing discrimination who were tasked with suppressing another discriminated-against American minority rebelling against life on Indian reservations. They fought their way from West Texas to Kansas, on to Montana, eventually being billeted in San Francisco, where they became acting federal park rangers in the Sierra Nevada. Their exploits are chronicled in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas.
Fast forward to around 1993 in Chicago, where African American police officer Ken Thomas founds the ‘Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’ to promote a positive image of Black motorcyclists which would counter the prevailing perceptions of motorcycle clubs as ‘gangs’. Members were recruited from active-duty and retired military, law enforcement, and professional groups. The aim was to create not only an active brotherhood of riders, but an organization whose interaction with the community was based on charity, goodwill, and education.
The Buffalo Soldiers quickly grew to become one of the largest African American motorcycle clubs in the United States, with over 5000 members in around 140 chapters. Unusually, women were encouraged to become members in their own right as well.
Gone are the days when Buffalo Soldiers mounted up for adventure in frontier America. Now they straddle their ‘iron horses’ with a different and more positive approach to their mission; to give back to the local community, and to keep alive the memory of those African American troopers who faithfully served their country for nearly a century.
Stay tuned for more information on the Buffalo Soldiers when the Crawford’s exhibit ‘Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio’ begins in Mid-April, 2022.
The last quarter of 2021 has been (and continues to be) packed with activities and events here at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.
Our Year of the Motorcycle program launched on August 19 with the opening of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum exhibit, A Century of the American Motorcycle. This outstanding display of around thirty-five select machines from the Barber collection embody the very finest in American motorcycle technology and design from 1905 to the present. The exhibit has been a great success, generating much media coverage, and of all surveyed guests visiting the Cleveland History Center, around seventy percent cited the Century exhibit as their primary interest. When the Barber exhibit closes in Mid-March, 2022, it will be followed immediately by a complementary show of like size entitled Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio, featuring British, European, and Asian motorcycles, each with an important connection to this region. As Ohio ranks third overall in the nation with motorcycle registrations (behind California and Florida) the Crawford team feels a strong obligation to support and acknowledge the contribution made to local transportation history by motorcycling.
By Patricia Edmondson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costumes & Textiles
For many, the holidays are a time to feel warm and fuzzy. We celebrate, spend time with loved ones, and in Northeast Ohio try to find ways to stay literally warm on snowy, blustery evenings. The WRHS collection contains several pairs of slippers that would help do just that.
Needlepoint Slippers, mid-late 19th century
Gift of the University Circle Development Foundation 65.162.2
During the 19th century, young women often learned needlecraft as part of their education, and many women continued to practice the art for pleasure and out of necessity. Handmade gifts are one way to show love, and this pair of needlepoint slippers from the second half of the 19th century would have kept Charles Evarts’ (1847-1911) toes warm through the winter. Evarts worked in the insurance business during Cleveland’s early days. Slippers like these would have been made by purchasing the soles and assembling at home, or by taking the completed needlework to a local shoemaker for construction. The gift giver would use patterns to create the reindeer design, done here on a cheerful red background. Women’s magazines like Godey’s offered patterns for sewing projects including slippers.
Needlework patterns for slippers, Godey’s Ladies’ Book, 1855 and 1863
Scuffie Slipper, 1890s
H.K. Devereaux Estate, 52.256
Another option for cozy toes were fur slippers, in this case rabbit fur. Bedroom slippers without backs are called scuffs, or scuffies, for little ones. As children in the 1890s, Julian and Millie Devereux wore these slippers around the house. The Devereux family lived on Cleveland’s “millionaires’ row,” Euclid Avenue, and could afford luxuries like these during the snowy months.
Child’s Slippers, ca. 1983
This writer has her own fond memories of shuffling around the house in various pairs of slippers, and following the Mad for Plaid costume exhibition, donated a pair from the 1980s. Jack Edmonson wore these around Christmastime, and then his younger sister Patty, now WRHS costume curator, inherited them for her own use. These slippers represent the type worn by an average American child in the 20th century, rather than the privileged few. Whether you’re making or buying a cozy gift this winter, slippers are like a warm hug from a loved one, helping make the Ohio snow more bearable.
By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
On Sunday, October 24, 2021, hundreds of gospel music fans helped celebrate the 85th anniversary of The Elite Jewels, “The Gospel Songbirds of the North,” at the Sanctuary Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Mrs. Willie Mae Reese (pictured here) is the lead singer and current manager for the Elite Jewels. In the summer of 2021, she agreed to be one of the narrators for the Western Reserve Historical Society’s A. Grace Lee Mims Arts and Culture Oral History Project. An Arkansas native, Mrs. Reese shared stories about her family life and education in the South, her migration to Cleveland, her love for music, and the people who inspired her to tell the world about the place of the Elite Jewels in the history of Black gospel quartet singing. Excerpts from her July 2021 interview are included in this special “Home for the Holidays” issue of our newsletter.
The following passages are taken from a July 2021 oral history interview with Mrs. Willie Mae Reese. Dr. Regennia N. Williams and Ms. Kathryn Oleksa conducted the interview.
Early Life in Rural Arkansas
I was born in Jericho, Arkansas, and I grew up on a farm that my grandfather [Walter Adams] owned. He had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, and lots of farmland. He just raised everything there on his farm –including cotton. He had sharecroppers who also lived with their families in one of the other eight houses on our farm. The [Black] sharecroppers would plant their crops, and then they would give my grandfather a certain portion of that crop for staying there . . .
. . .There was a funny thing about it, though. White people would sometimes come to our farm. If you wanted a car, for example, they would drive that car all the way from Memphis, Tennessee, and let my grandfather see it. If he didn’t like the car, they would drive it all the way back to Memphis–and bring him another one to look at! The White people wouldn’t call him “Mr. Adam.” They would only call him “Uncle Walter,” because they didn’t want to say mister. That’s just the way that it was.
Music, Education, and Migration
sic, so I guess that’s where I got it from. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved gospel singing. I started out singing solos, and I just migrated into quartet singing. When I was a child, we even had a little singing group with our cousins . . .
I never rode a school bus. My sister Myrtle and I walked to school. When we graduated from the grade school in Arkansas, my sister and I moved to Memphis, Tennessee to live with our aunt. In Tennessee, we attended Booker T. Washington High School . . .
When I moved to Cleveland with my parents, I attended Cuyahoga Community College and studied Office Administration. Later, I started taking bass lessons from a professional [union] musician, and I am still taking lessons!
Mr. Arthur Turner and the Elite Jewels: Sources of Inspiration and “The Gospel Songbirds of the North”
In Cleveland, I always heard the Elite Jewels on the radio. They had a regular broadcast, and Mr. Arthur Turner was their manager. I thought that the Elite Jewels had the prettiest harmony that I had ever heard. I really, really wanted to sing with them, but I never thought I would get a chance to do that.
By the grace of God, Mr. Turner heard me singing a solo at a Baptist church in Cleveland, and he invited me to come to their rehearsal. I was about 30 years old at the time, and I started singing with the group soon after that. I don’t think anybody in the Elite Jewels had any formal training. It was just a God-given talent. We enjoyed singing, so we just kept doing it.
Mr. Turner made the Elite Jewels, because he had all of the contacts. He handled all of our management-related activities: he booked all of our concerts, he planned all of the programs, he collected the money, he maintained the equipment up. If we needed new equipment, he would go get that equipment. Of course, we paid for it, since he took it out of our money . . .
We performed with all the big groups, including the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar, and Inez Andrews’ group . . . We recorded for major labels like Savoy, and James Cleveland even invited the Elite Jewels to head the quartet section of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, because he loved the Elite Jewels, but we decided not to do that . . .
It was a traveling group, and we went everywhere. The Elite Jewels had lots of opportunities, because they didn’t just sing for Blacks; they sang for Whites, too. The Whites loved the music as much as the Blacks, so the group performed for both groups. Sometimes, we couldn’t even stay in hotels; we would stay in the homes of Black people along the way . . . You always feel left out when you are not allowed to eat where everybody else eats, when you are not allowed to stay where everybody else stays, because the hotels were for Whites . . . That’s the way that it was in the South. As a matter of fact, it was like that in some of the Northern states, too, but you never let that stop you. If we had let that stop us, I wouldn’t be singing today.
After Mr. Turner retired and I took over as manager, the group was still travelling. We just kept on pushing and kept on singing.
A special exhibit on view at the Cleveland History Center for the Holiday Season features popular toys from the 1960s to the 1980s, which often ended up under the Christmas tree or given as Hanukkah gifts. For the people who were kids during these decades, many of these toys defined their childhoods and will bring back memories of simpler, fun times.
Among the toys of the 1960s on display are an original Cootie, a Barbie doll, and a Chrissy doll. The 1970s display would not be complete without some Star Wars action figures and an X-Wing Fighter. There is also a “Welcome Back Kotter” die cut figure with paper clothes. Highlights of the 1980s selection include a Cabbage Patch Kid, Rubik’s Cube, and Nintendo Game Console. A special case features Cleveland toys, particularly those created by American Greetings, including Holly Hobby and Strawberry Shortcake.
WRHS is delighted to partner with STAR POP vintage + modern to bring you these wonderful toys. STAR POP is located in Cleveland’s Waterloo Arts District at 15813 Waterloo Road. For more than a decade STAR POP has bought and sold new and old toys, classic video games, records, vintage clothing, trading cards and other pop culture collectibles. Proprietor Troy Schwartz has been collecting toys since he was a kid. Collecting toys is part of his DNA as his father, grandparents, and great grandparents have worked in or owned toy stores at some point in their lives. STAR POP is open by appointment. For more info, visit www.starpopcleveland.com.
It is the largest object in the Cleveland Starts Here exhibit at the Cleveland History Center. It is so big that one is tempted to see it as part of the structure. However, the Ferro Enamel Mural is much more than backdrop. It is a stunning piece of enamel technology and a wonderful example of modernist art executed by Daniel Boza who studied at the Cleveland School of Art. It is also reflects on the spectacle that was the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940 where it first came into public view. But for many with long memories, it is a symbol of travel, for after New York it came back to Cleveland where it was installed in the main passenger concourse of Cleveland’s Union Terminal in 1941. For nearly four decades it was seen by hundreds of thousands of passengers who may have “read it” as a piece of art, or more simply seen it as a sign of leaving or arriving at home. Many of those who viewed it would have been making a December holiday visit – to or away from Cleveland.
It is, essentially a reminder of how Clevelanders traveled during the halcyon years of the American passenger railroad. Today we still travel during the darker days of December, usually enduring jammed airports and aircraft, or crowded chaotic highways that we often transit in bad weather. But in the end, it is all worth it – families reunite – yes to exchange gifts and to dine – but more so, simply to be together and to reminisce, exchanging stories that often focus on what the holiday season was like in the past – the gifts, the weather, and perhaps stories of the journeys made in good weather and bad.
Up until the early 1950s many of the holiday travel stories would have referenced the railroad. Trains were often crowded with collegians going home over winter break as well as with families and relatives “coming home” with presents. During World War II, servicemen and women lucky enough to get leave during December also crowded the trains that came into Cleveland. Yet, then and during the long history of rail travel in Cleveland (beginning in 1849) there were other stations that witnessed the hustle and bustle of travel and happy reunions.
Cleveland’s first “union” depot, built in 1853, was situated near the lakefront docks at what is now the end of West 9th Street. In 1866 it was replaced by a massive stone structure near the same site. It would be the city’s main station until the Cleveland Union Terminal Complex on Public Square opened in 1930 – and one railroad, the Pennsylvania would continue to use it until September 1953 (only a stone retaining wall remains today as a reminder) As “union” stations each of these three were built to serve multiple railroads, but not all. So holiday comings and goings could at, one time, end at the Baltimore and Ohio’s station (which is still standing) at the end of Canal Road at its intersection with Carter Road. The Wheeling and Lake Erie had a terminal up the slope from Canal Road in an area known as Vinegar Hill, while the Nickel Plate (New York, Chicago and St. Louis) had its original station just to the west of Broadway near East 14th. And, the Erie Railroad disembarked its passengers at a terminal in the Flats just under the east side of the Veterans Memorial Bridge. All of these stations would eventually be closed when the various railroads began to use the new, modern Cleveland Union Terminal – although it would take the Erie until 1949 to make the shift.
Only the Pennsylvania remained apart from the concourse that housed the Ferro Mural. After closing its service to the old Union Station in 1953, its station at E. 55th and Euclid became the end of the line for passengers. And that hints at more places where families likely reunited for the holidays. Many railroads had subsidiary stations within Greater Cleveland, some of which functioned as commuter stops. The Pennsylvania also maintained a station at Broadway and Harvard near the American Steel and Wire Plant. It could well have been the site where immigrant workers bound for what is now known as Slavic Village disembarked. The Erie had a station at East 55th near Bessemer. It was proximate to a large Czech community. The Nickel Plate had major station at suburban Rocky River and another in East Cleveland just to the west of the intersection of Superior and Euclid, which it shared with the New York Central. And one of the major stations on the New York Central’s east-west route was just to the south of Bratenahl and it often saw the coming and goings of some of the city’s wealthiest families, including the Rockefellers. All told there were dozens of stations in and around Cleveland over the years.
Yet, by the 1940s, the main destination in Cleveland and the place where most journeys started and ended was the Cleveland Union Terminal. It hosted over 60 trains a day in the 1940s, some, at times, running in multiple sections – particularly during the war and the busy holiday season. For those who arrived and had forgotten to buy a gift, it was the perfect place to do so with a variety of stores and shops and a department store, Higbees, accessible right from the station. And there at the end of the main concourse was the mural and a sign, “Welcome to Cleveland”.
Some thirty years later, rail service to the Terminal ended. Amtrak, created to take over national passenger service, began operation in May 1971 and then left the station in 1972. Only two through trains a day came to the city at the beginning of Amtrak service. The last scheduled passenger train to use the station was an Erie-Lackawanna commuter service in 1978. The concourse that had seen the holiday crowds and so much more was deserted, destined to become a site for indoor tennis courts and eventually the shops of Tower City Center. The mural was carefully taken down and donated to the Historical Society. It stayed in storage until 1993, when it was installed in the Society’s new Reinberger Gallery. The building’s design was literally created around the space needed for its installation. Today, while it no longer welcomes train travelers, it greets the guests and classes that come to the Cleveland History Center. As we celebrate the holidays this year, take the time to look at it closely and try to imagine all it has seen over the years. And if you have guests who have come to Cleveland via Amtrak be certain to have them join you!
Photo: Williams, J. Scott. “Huge Ferro Porcelain Enamel Mural Designed by J. Scott Williams.” CardCow.com, Curt Teich & Co., 1938, https://www.cardcow.com/422050/cleveland-ohio-huge-ferro-porcelain-enamel-mural-designed-by-j-scott-williams/.
By John Frato, Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel Training & Volunteer Coordinator
The midway at Euclid Beach Park featured three noteworthy carousels on opening day in 1921. One hundred years ago, three new rides made their debut at Euclid Beach Park. All but one would still be operating on September 28, 1969 when the Park closed its gates forever.
The Great American Racing Derby took its place next to the Grand Carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and across from the Flying Ponies which were a product of the Herschell-Spillman Company. While both the Derby and Grand Carousel had four rows of horses, the Derby required a much larger footprint. The Derby’s enclosure was 114 feet in diameter while the Carousel was housed in a 90 foot diameter structure. The Great American Racing Derby was a product of the Prior and Church Company of Venice, California. It was a very unique merry-go-round with 64 hand-carved wooden horses that ran four abreast and designed to hold two riders. Unlike a conventional carousel the horses not only went up and down but moved forward and backwards. Another similarity between the Grand Carousel and the Derby was the ability of rider’s to “win” a free ride. In the Grand Carousel’s early years of operation, riders could reach for a brass ring which would entitle them to a free ride. Likewise, riders on the Derby who found themselves in the lead of their row of horses when the bell rang at the end of the ride would also receive a free ride. The ride operator would place a small American Flag in a hole behind the horses left ear and the rider / riders would stay on their horse for the next turn of the Derby. The major difference between the two rides had to do with speed. The much faster speed of the Derby along with the horses’ up and down movement elevated this merry-go-round to a circular “thrill ride”. In 1967, the Derby fell victim to its high maintenance and the need for the Humphrey Company to raise operating capital amid dwindling attendance. It was sold to Cedar Point where it still operates as Cedar Downs.
The two other rides that made their debut in 1921 were the Dodgem and the Mill Chute. Both of these rides were altered significantly during their lifespan at Euclid Beach. The Dodgem building was 143 feet by 90 feet and at the time of its installation was reportedly the largest Dodgem track in the country. The original cars were designed to operate in exactly the opposite direction the driver intended. If for example, the driver steered left the car would go right. With cars that operated in this fashion it was difficult for riders to heed the operator’s instruction of: “Traffic moves one way and one way only, no head-on bumping”. In the 1930’s after more than ten years of mayhem, the ride cars were replaced with cars purchased from the Dodgem Corporation headquartered in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Over the years, the cars acquired a number of different paint schemes, but remained in operation until the park closed.
The Mill Chute was designed and built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Riders would board boats and leisurely head toward a darkened “mountain tunnel”. They would travel through a number of scenes painted with luminous paint before ascending the lift hill and plummeting into the “lake” below. As with the Dodgem, the boats on the Mill Chute were also replaced. The renovations went much farther with even the name of the ride changing to Over the Falls. In 1937, the channel was extended, more curves were added, the hill was raised from 30 to 37 feet and the angle was increased from 20 to 50 degrees. The results were a dramatic increase of speed from the top of the lift hill to the bottom.
*Based on an Interview with the Rev. Richard Gibson
By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
Twenty-five years ago, Richard Gibson served as the president of the African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Today, as we approach the end of the 50th anniversary year for the Auxiliary, the Rev. Richard Gibson is pastor of Cleveland’s Elizabeth Baptist Church. During a telephone interview on October 7, 2021, our most recent for the A. Grace Lee Mims Arts and Culture Oral History Project, Pastor Gibson discussed the importance of history, the current debates regarding the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), his role as a religious leader, and his responsibility as a community leader. The following excerpt from the transcript was edited for length and clarity. –RNW
I went to the Cleveland Public Schools and then went to Yale University for my undergraduate degree. My first job out of college was as a history teacher, and I taught history to high school juniors and seniors. I’m passionate about history, and I certainly appreciate the value of history –especially for our people during this time.
When I came back to Cleveland, I earned my law degree and my MBA from Case Western Reserve University. I was at Liberty Hill Baptist Church, and that is where I entered the ministry. I never intended to pastor, but I began pastoring at Elizabeth Baptist Church 18 years ago. Actually, this month [October 2021] I will celebrate my 18th anniversary as pastor.
It is critical that we know our history. I believe that history is foundational for us in that we can build upon it, and it keeps all of us accountable. You talked about Louis Stokes, for example. I served on a board with him before he transitioned. He chaired the board, actually, and our work focused on getting more youth of color into medical school. It was a fascinating approach, and he did things that were important not just in his public position in Congress. He was working on areas that would have an impact for generations.
There is a discussion that is taking place now about history and what should be taught in the classroom. One of the groups that is fighting hard and is really demonizing Critical Race Theory (CRT) is actually part of the Christian community. I’ve had to take strong positions with some of my colleagues who have looked at the teaching of CRT as a divisive issue, rather than looking at it as an issue that could be inclusive and looking at history broadly. So, history in this moment is really critical.
The position that I hold creates responsibilities for me. If I am sitting in a position, I should be doing all that I can do to help our people advance in their relationships with God and their relationships with our neighbors. We can’t really advance in our relationships with their neighbors if we don’t have that relationship with God—and we also need to own property, own businesses, and have opportunities to participate economically.
In this position, I have to push in all of those areas. Some might view that as making history, but I view it as my calling, my responsibility.
By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History\
A broken tombstone in Erie Street Cemetery opens a story critical to understanding an important part of the history of Native Americans in Greater Cleveland. It marks the grave of Joc O Sot, a member of the Sauk tribe who had fought in the Black Hawk War, and then came to Cleveland in the early 1830s. While his story is compelling, it leads to another story. Years after his death, another native American, Oghema Niagara – known to the community as Chief Thunderwater – would hold an annual ceremony at the grave to honor Joc O Sot.
Indeed, Chief Thunderwater, who was active in the Early Settlers Association of Cleveland, became the symbolic Native American in the city. Dressed in full Iroquois regalia, he often appeared at civic ceremonies as a representative of the true first people of Cleveland. That is how the public came to see him up to the time of his death in 1950. But, Oghema Niagara had a far deeper purpose, one that went well beyond being the “symbolic Indian” in Cleveland.
Born on a reservation near Lewistown, New York, in September 1865, Oghema Niagara became a powerful advocate for the rights and heritage of Native American People in Canada and New York. His advocacy took place at a time when stereotypes of Indians abounded and when native traditions were challenged by forced assimilation. In 1914 he established the Council of the Tribes. Headquartered in Cleveland, the organization fought for the rights of Native Americans on reservations in the US and Canada. His home in Cleveland became a place where other Native Americans could find shelter and assistance, and later in life he paired with a Cleveland businessman to begin a program to educate students about the history of the first peoples.
Yet, his advocacy (which was stridently challenged by authorities in Canada) has largely been forgotten and likely obscured by his public image at civic events at ceremonies in Cleveland where many who saw him perhaps viewed him as a relic of the past.
Today we know this deeper story of Chief Thunderwater thanks to the preservation of his papers by the Western Reserve Historical Society. They were fortuitously acquired at an auction in 1967 and have proved immensely helpful in the research for a new book, Chief Thunderwater: An Unexpected Indian in Unexpected Places written by Professor Gerald Reid of Sacred Heart University.
You’ll be able to learn more about Oghema Niagara when Professor Reid comes to the Historical Society for our By the Book authors series on November 4.