Ohio’s Rich Amusement Park History

By John Frato, Carousel Operations Coordinator, Cleveland History Center

 

The Euclid Beach Park Company was incorporated on October 23, 1894, by John Flynn, John Irwin, Albert E. Thompson, Jerome B. Burrows, and Hylas B. Gladwish. Their business prospectus stated: “The lncorporators are convinced that a Summer Resort within easy reach of Cleveland properly appointed and conducted, will be both popular and profitable.” It goes on to state that estimates of admissions for a day’s outing in Cleveland proper and the surrounding communities were made. The estimated total spent by patrons annually was $455,000.00. The owners reasoned that a park like Euclid Beach, with its great lakeside location and superior amenities would garner a large share of that total.

 

When Euclid Beach first opened to the public on June 22, 1895, approximately 30 amusement parks were operating in Ohio, with even more opening after the Park’s inaugural year. Keeping in mind how much more difficult travel was 125 years ago, the vast majority of these parks posed no direct competition, but it is surprising to see how many amusement parks dotted Ohio’s landscape so early in the development of the amusement park industry. What makes the list even more impressive is that it does not include a large number of picnic groves/resorts that were also in operation.

 

Euclid Beach’s life span of 74 years pales in comparison to a number of other parks in the Cleveland area.  Chippewa Lake in Medina opened in 1878 and operated until 1978 hanging on to celebrate the park’s bittersweet centennial year.

 

Geauga Lake in Aurora also got an earlier start than Euclid Beach.  Opening in 1888, Clevelander’s enjoyed the thrills of its many rides and attractions until 2007.  One of the notable differences between Euclid Beach and Geauga Lake had to do with management.  Euclid Beach was owned and operated by the Humphrey Family 69 of its 74 operational years and the family’s management style did not change very much over the years.  A trip to Euclid Beach was like visiting an old friend.  There might be some new rides or attractions, but the park had a familiar “feel”.   Geauga Lake was owned by a number of groups during its lifetime.  Differing management styles resulted in changes that made the experience of visiting the park quite different over the years.

 

Idora Park, which operated in Youngstown, had a life span similar to Euclid Beach, operating from 1899 to 1984.  Puritas Springs Park located on Cleveland’s west side operated a few years fewer than the Beach.  The fun times and thrill of the Cyclone delighted park goers for 60 years until its closure in 1958.

 

Of all the amusement parks that operated during Euclid Beach’s lifetime, Luna Park located at East 110 Street and Woodland Avenue provided the stiffest competition to the Beach.  Glitz and glamour was the keynote for all of the rides and attractions.  Luna was more of an “adult” place for Clevelander’s to enjoy with risqué side shows and alcohol available for sale.  The park opened with much fanfare in 1905 and closed its doors in 1929 the victim of the economic hard times. Euclid Beach struggled during this period of time, but was in a better position to survive because it was not impacted by Prohibition and the loss alcohol sales.

 

Other parks came and went so quickly that they are mere footnotes in history.  White City was located a mere one mile east of Euclid Beach on Lake Shore Boulevard.  The two parks even shared the same street car line.  Unlike Euclid Beach with its free gate, White City charged an admission fee.  The park opened in 1902 and a short five years later closed its doors forever in 1927 due to a devastating fire.

 

Only two amusement parks that opened their doors in the Cleveland area are still operating today.  The first season at Cedar point was in 1870.  It opened twenty five years before Euclid Beach.   Unlike all of its contemporaries, it has not only survived but thrived over the years.  A small part of Euclid Beach lives on among the myriad of roller coasters that operate there.  It is not a”high ride” but an attraction some have described as a “carousel on steroids”.  Derby Downs (formerly The Great American Racing Derby at Euclid Beach) is a classic carousel that riders can race four abreast on hand carved wooden horses.

 

What is often referred to as a hidden gem here in Cleveland is the Memphis Kiddie Park.  Stuart Wintner opened the five acre park in 1852 on Memphis Avenue in Brooklyn on Cleveland’s west side.  He never envisioned Memphis Kiddie Park as being in direct competition with the other much larger amusement parks in the area, but felt a children’s park would be successful.   His vision was correct.  Over the years the little park has not only survived but thrived delighting generations of Clevelanders. Like Euclid Beach there has never been a charge for admission or parking.

 

There is not just one reason to the question for the closure of all of these amusement parks.  The answer is multifaceted with fire, storm damage, competition, Great Depression, World Wars, Prohibition, and changing social times all playing a role.

 

 

  • Avon Park-Girard, OH – (1897 – 1920s)
  • Brady Lake Park-Ravenna, OH – (1891 – 1944)
  • Casino Park – Toledo, OH (Dates??)
  • Cedar Point, OH-(1870 – Still operating)
  • Chippewa Lake, Saville, OH – (1878 – 1978)
  • Cleveland Zoo Kiddie Park- Cleveland, OH-(1950’s)
  • Crystal Beach Park – Vermillion, OH – (1884 – 1965)
  • Crystal Lake Park – Akron, OH (Dates??)
  • Euclid Beach – Cleveland, OH – (1895 – 1969)
  • Forest City Park – Cleveland, OH – (1883 – mid 1920s)
  • Geauga Lake – OH – (I 888 – 2007)
  • Gordon Gardens-Cleveland, OH – (1922 – 1927)
  • High Bridge Glens – Cuyahoga Falls, OH – (1882 – 1920s)
  • Kiddie Playland-North Randall, – (1950’s)
  • Idora Park-Youngstown, OH – (1899-1984)
  • Johnson’s Island – Sandusky, OH – (1894 – 1897 & 1904 – 1907)
  • Lake Erie Park-Toledo, OH – (1895 -1910)
  • Lakeside Park -Akron, OH – (1912? – 1917)
  • Lincoln Park- Rocky River, OH – (1906 – 1920’s)
  • Luna Park-Cleveland, OH – (1905-1929)
  • Merrimack Park – Aurora, OH (Dates??)
  • Mentor Beach Playland – Mentor, OH (Dates??)
  • Memphis Kiddie Park1 – Brooklyn, OH – (1952 – Still operating)
  • Meyer’s Lake Park- Canton, OH – (1902 – 1974)
  • Mother Goose Land – Canton, OH (Dates??)
  • Old Orchard Park- between Cleveland & Akron, OH – (1927 – 1933)
  • Pera’s / Erieview Park- Geneva on the Lake, OH – (1946 – 2006)
  • Playland Park – Akron, OH (Dates??)
  • Presque Isle – Toledo, OH (Dates??)
  • Puritas Springs Park-Cleveland, OH – (1898 – 1958)
  • Riverside Park- Findley, OH – (1930s – mid 1970s)
  • Riverview Park-Cuyahoga Falls, OH – (1921 – 1932)
  • Riverview Park – Akron, OH – (1919 – ?)
  • Sandy Beach – Akron, OH (Dates??)
  • Sea World Ohio – Aurora, OH – (1970-2000)
  • Scenic Park – Rocky River, OH – (1900 -1906)
  • Shady Lake Park – Streetsboro, OH – (1978 – 1982)
  • Silver Lake Park – Akron / Cuyahoga Falls, OH – (1876 – 1917)
  • Springfield Lake Park – Akron, OH – (1914 – 1920s)
  • Summit Beach Park-Akron, OH – (1917 – 1958)
  • Toledo Beach-Toledo, OH – (1907 – 1930 & 1962 – 1970)
  • Vollmar’s Park- Bowling Green, OH – (1900- 1948 & 1963 – 2001)
  • Walbridge Park-Toledo, OH- ( 1888 – late 1950s)
  • White City- Cleveland, OH – (1897-1907)
  • White City-Toledo, OH – (1907 – ?)
  • Wildwater Kingdom – Aurora, OH – (2005-2016)
  • Willow Beach Amusements – Toledo, OH – (1929 – 1947)
  • Willough Beach Park – Willoughby, OH – (1907 – 1926)
  • Wonderland -Toledo, OH (Dates??)
  • Woodland Beach Park-Ashtabula, OH – (1884 – 1952)

Opening Day: First Roller Coaster in the USA June 16, 1884

By John Frato, Carousel Operations Coordinator, Cleveland History Center

What is recognized as America’s first roller coaster type ride is the Gravity Railway located in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.  In the 1950’s, the town’s name was officially changed to Jim Thorpe after the famous Olympic athlete. Then In 1827, the Mauch Chunk and Summit Railroad was constructed to carry coal out of the mountain mines located there down a nine mile stretch of rugged mountain area.  The rail line was not only carried coal down the mountainside, but also miners returning to their homes.  A more efficient rail line was built in 1872 and the line was purchased by the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) in 1874.  Seeing the commercial value of offering rides to the general public, Theodore and H.L. Mumford leased the line from the CNJ and operated the railway as a tourist attraction until the Great Depression forced their closure in 1932.  America’s first roller coaster “thrill” ride began taking on passengers in 1874 and was an immediate success.  A young talented inventor rode the ride and his life path changed. That young man’s name was LaMarcus Adna Thompson. He was born in Licking County, Ohio on March 1, 1848 and is often referred to

as “the Father of the Modern American Roller Coaster”. Throughout his lifetime, he held over thirty patents relating to roller coaster technology. The original Switchback Railway built at Coney Island in 1884 was designed by Thompson working off of another inventor’s patent that was filed in 1878. Richard Knudson called his version of a gravity roller coaster the “Inclined Plane Railway” and it is strikingly similar to Thompson’s final design. The Switchback Railway that debuted at Coney Island on June 16, 1884 holds the distinction of being the first roller coaster type ride designed and built for the purpose of amusement rather than an existing rail line converted for that purpose. The ride consisted of two sets of parallel tracks descending in opposite directions from elevated towers. To complete their round trip riders had to get out of their cars after they came to a stop and ascend a second fifty foot tower to board cars to head back. The novelty of the new ride far surpassed any problems riders had with exiting their cars, re-boarding, or climbing the second set of stairs to the top of the tower to return.  Initially riders were not seated directly in front of one another as they are on modern roller coasters, but were seated in benches parallel with the track facing outward.  Even with all of its shortcomings, the ride was immensely popular and reportedly paid for itself during its first month of operation.

The original cost for the heart pounding six mile per hour ride that lasted one minute was five cents.  Thompson’s later rides were often referred to as Scenic Railways since they gave riders a panoramic view of the landscape as they traversed the tracks from one end to the other. His later designs had elaborate backgrounds of exotic foreign locales painted along the length of the tracks. The immense popularity of the new ride led to the formation of the L. A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company that oversaw the construction of rides across the country. It should come as no surprise that when rides were first added to Euclid Beach in 1896 a LaMarcus Thompson Gravity Roller Coaster was built. The Switchback Railway at Euclid Beach had a little over one thousand feet of track. Riders climbed stairs to the top of the tower where they boarded a car that was manually pushed out of the loading platform and hopefully gravity took the passengers to the opposite end of the tracks where the other tower was located. There they would disembark and the ride operators would push the car up to the loading platform in that tower. Once they were again seated, they would be pushed out onto the track for the return trip to the first tower…a truly exhausting amount of labor for a six mile per hour trip. The ride was dismantled and removed from the Park when the Figure Eight was installed in 1904.

The big question…can you still ride a Switchback Railway today? The answer is sort of…a modern version of the ride with a lift hill opened at a small amusement park located between San Antonio and Austin Texas in the small town of Seguin in 2015.

The Famous Switchback Railway was designed by the Ohio based Gravity Group for ZDT’s Amusement Park and is the first new wooden “shuttle coaster” built anywhere in the world in more than a century. Like the old Switchback at Euclid Beach it reverses course mid-way. Unlike the ride at the Beach it retraces its way back to the loading station backwards rather than forward. The “new” Switchback begins with a sixty three foot tall lift hill rather than a friendly push by Park employees, reaches speeds up to forty five miles per hour, and ascends a sixty four foot tower before rocketing back to the station along 1,980 feet of track (actually only about 1,000 feet of track but you travel it twice). A brake run at the bottom of the lift hill along with a section of switch track allows the coaster to safely operate two trains.

 

 

Celebratory Noise: Seeking a Safe and Sane Fourth of July

In August 1905, William P. Palmer, a resident on the “Overlook” in Cleveland Heights sent a letter to Mayor Tom L. Johnson complaining about the fireworks being set off during the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy, located just below his house.  Johnson sent the letter to his police chief, Fred Kohler.   Kohler investigated the situation and replied to Palmer, noting that nothing could be done as the fireworks were set off just beyond the city limits.  He promised, however, to work with the community to try to quiet things down.

Interestingly, Palmer was the head of American Steel and Wire in Cleveland and also would become the president of the Western Reserve Historical Society to which he left an outstanding collection of material relating to the Civil War and the abolitionist movement.

Palmer’s issue with fireworks reflected a larger concern in Cleveland and other urban areas during the early Twentieth Century.   It was not only the noise, but the danger posed by fireworks.  The “Safe and Sane Fourth of July” movement began in Cleveland in 1908.   It followed on several major local firework related disasters.  In 1903 a fireworks manufacturing company located on Orange Avenue (near today’s main Cuyahoga Community Campus) suffered a massive explosion.  It destroyed twelve buildings and resulted in three deaths.   Later a display of fireworks for sale at a local Kresge store exploded when a spark from a sparkler set fire to a flag and then the counter.   Many people were burned and five were trampled to death as shoppers fled the inferno.    That resulted in the movement to ban fireworks and, indeed, in 1908 Cleveland prohibited fireworks in the city.  It was the first community in the nation to do so.

Nevertheless, the Safe and Sane ordinance allowed for professional displays and banned powerful or dangerous devices from sale.  Local noise or nuisance ordinances also impinged on the personal use of fireworks, but busy police departments had little time to enforce the laws.  One local policeman who did enforce the ordinance ended up shooting off the confiscated fireworks in his own back yard (which was adjacent to the author’s childhood home).  The cacophony of explosions were to continue on the Fourth of July with little interruption  — and, indeed, it accelerated in the past several decades with the appearance of fireworks “wholesale” sites alongside many state highways.  The only caveat was that the buyer had to sign a paper indicating that the devices would be used outside the state.

With so many loopholes, the state has just passed a law this year allowing for the legal use of certain fireworks – provided that local ordinances do not prohibit their use, and that they be used on specific holidays, including New Year’s Eve and Day, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, on and around the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and for the Hindu Festival of Diwali.

The new law reflects not only the difficulty of banning fireworks, but also our desire to celebrate heritage and history with noise, color and light – a propensity that has expanded with the growing diversity of the nation.   It’s hard to imagine what Mr. Palmer would think if he were living on Overlook Road today — the Feast of the Assumption continues, as does the Fourth of July — and on the Lunar New Year and Diwali, Case Western Reserve University joins in the celebration with professional fireworks displays that honor the heritage and holidays of many of its students.

Local History and Global Connections: Members of the WRHS Staff and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Fulbright Association Support CCWA’s Seminar for Visiting Fulbright

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD

(Left to right) Dr. Yusrah Schweikn, Dr. Regennia N. Williams, Dr. Medha Bhattacharyya, and Dr. Richard Feinberg are pictured above at the opening reception and networking event for the May 2022 seminar. (Emanuel Wallace, Photographer)

 

Members of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Fulbright Association joined the Cleveland Council on
World Affairs (CCWA) in welcoming more than 80 visiting Fulbright scholars to “Preparing for and
Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change.” This May 2022 Fulbright Enrichment Seminar was held at the
Global Center for Health Innovation in Downtown Cleveland.

According to the organizers, the participants hailed from more than 40 different countries, and
the seminar offered “an introduction to climate change issues in Cleveland, Ohio, and provided a local
perspective on this topic of global importance.” Beyond the basic introduction, the seminar also
explored “climate change and environmental issues through a lens of environmental justice” while
examining “the impact of climate on public health, natural resources, and infrastructure.” In keeping
with information in the seminar packet, “Multi-disciplinary keynotes, panel discussions, breakout
sessions, and site visits [focused on] Cleveland’s unique environmental history, present day challenges
related to the impact on underserved communities, and efforts to ensure a sustainable and resilient
community for decades to come.”

Dr. Regennia N. Williams, the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Distinguished Scholar of
African American History and Culture and president of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Fulbright
Association, offered words of welcome during the seminar’s opening reception and networking event.
For Williams, “The seminar provided local Fulbright alumni with invaluable opportunities to network
with scholars from around the world, exchange information about common research interests, consider
the possibility of future collaborations, and find out more about local tourist attractions—including
“Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio,” a special exhibit that is on view at WRHS through
September 2022.”

“Interestingly enough,” said Williams, “it was during my 2010 Fulbright Fellowship in Nigeria
that I rode a motorcycle for the first time in my life and came to appreciate the beauty of many rural
areas that were most easily, affordably, and quickly accessed by motorcycle.” This statement sparked
several interesting discussions with other Fulbrighters about motorcycles as the preferred mode of
transportation in many Asian and African countries.
Northeast Ohio Chapter members Dr. Edward Sivak and Dr. Suzanne Ondrus, who held Fulbright
appointments in Finland and Burkina Faso, respectively, spoke during the seminar’s closing session. Like
their visiting colleagues, local Fulbrighters found the seminar be both engaging and enlightening.
This seminar was newly re-activated Northeast Ohio Chapter’s second major event of the
current program year, and quarterly meetings and the spring 2022 elections have also taken place. For
more information on past and upcoming events, please visit the Chapter’s website.

About the Host Organization

(Left to right) Attorney Carter E. Strang, Board Chair for the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA), is pictured here with Kelly Falcone-Hall, President and CEO of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) and member of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Fulbright Association; and Carina Van Vliet, CCWA’s Chief Executive Officer. (Emanuel Wallace, Photographer)

“The Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1923 to
promote dialogue on world peace. Since then, CCWA has evolved to offer an array of programs that
inspire engagement in international affairs and world cultures. CCWA engages with our community
through our Speaker Series, Model United Nations, Maura O’Donnell-McCarthy Center for Global
Understanding, and Exchange Programs. In 2020-2021, CCWA hosted over 300 international visitors
through in person and virtual programming, organized 25 public speaker programs, and engaged with
877 students through our Model United Nations program.” (Source: Seminar Information Packet)

Preserving Pride in Cleveland

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

When the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (ECH) was published in 1987 it was a landmark publication in a number of ways.  It was the first modern encyclopedia of a city and it was the first major work to include a history of Cleveland’s LGBT community and a number of the institutions within that community.   It was a small step, but an important one.

Equally, if not more important, was the formal establishment of a program to collect archival records and publications relating to Greater Cleveland’s LGBTQ community at the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1991.  It was created in partnership with the LGBT Community Center.  Aubrey Wertheim, who at that time directed the Center, played a pivotal role in getting the archives started.

Now over thirty years after these initiatives began we can measure their growth and, indeed, their success.   The number of collections relating to the LGBTQ+ community held at WRHS has grown immensely.    In 2014, the collections were central to the creation of an exhibit at the Cleveland History Center on the local LGBTQ community which ran during the Gay Games held in Cleveland that year.  Most importantly, the collections continue to serve the needs of researchers in the WRHS Library.

At the same time the Encyclopedia also continued to grow.  A second edition was published in 1996 to honor the city’s Bicentennial, but most importantly, the ECH went online in May 1998, making it the first urban encyclopedia accessible on the World Wide Web.   Moving online also made it possible for staff to quickly update the ECH.  The number of entries relating to the LGBTQ+ community has grown thanks to a number of authors including CWRU student interns and members of the community, most particularly John Nosek and Leon Stevens.   This summer, WRHS will host a CWRU student intern, Sidney Negron, who will process and catalog archival materials from the LGBTQ+ collections and write new articles for the Encyclopedia.   It’s an ideal combination, one that brings together these two important aspects of preserving Pride in Cleveland and one which also elicits a great deal of pride among those of us who have long worked on the Encyclopedia and at WRHS.

May 5, 1862: A Battle to be Remembered

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

Photo courtesy of plainpress.blog, taken by Chuck Hoven

Today Cinco de Mayo is an occasion to celebrate the cultures and history of Mexico.  It is not, as some people think, Mexican Independence Day (which falls on September 16), but rather a commemoration of the Battle of Pueblo where a small force of Mexicans fought off a French invading army.  The Mexicans, many of indigenous or mixed ancestry lost 200 dead and the French, who retreated, lost approximately 500. That battle sparked Mexican resistance to the French who finally withdrew from Mexico in 1867.

Today, that victory is celebrated in Mexico and wherever Mexicans live and is a time of great cultural pride.   It was likely remembered by the first groups of Mexicans who came to Cleveland during the 1910s, again a time of turmoil in Mexico, sparked by a long draw-out revolution.   When they arrived in Cleveland and other parts of northeastern Ohio they joined a wide variety of immigrants who worked in the area’s mills and factories and, like those other newcomers, sought to preserve their culture in a new land.   One of the ways they did so was to establish a club.  Club Azteca was founded in 1932 with Felix Delgado as its first president.   It quickly began to coordinate the community’s celebration of both Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day.  By 1951, with a growing membership and increased donations, Club Azteca bought a building at 5602 Lorain Avenue and renovated the structure and decorated it with motifs reflecting Mexican culture.    For many years the building housed a variety of events.  It was a landmark on Lorain Avenue, but then another battle ensued.

Unused for several years the building became a prime target for developers on the near west side seeking to build new upscale residences.    That was the start of what one might consider another “battle”.  A coalition of Mexican and LatinX organizations pushed back on the project and while the structure itself could not be saved a compromise of sorts was achieved.   It was engineered by the Azteca Coalition which included Club Azteca, Inc., Comité Mexicano de Cleveland, Young Latino Network and the Mexican American Historical Society, with support from the Cleveland Foundation.  This plan will see to the preservation of various artifacts and artwork from the building along with other materials that relate to the Mexican and LatinX communities.  In some ways this echoes the victory at the Battle of Pueblo – it was one battle that would eventually lead to a larger victory five years later.   So, perhaps five years from now we will be able to see the fuller preservation and recognition of the roles that Mexicans and the LatinX community have played in building our nation and city.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Ten Short Years Ago

By John Frato, Carousel Operations Coordinator, Cleveland History Center

The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Carousel Pavilion took place on the lawn in front of the Cleveland History Center at the corner of East Boulevard and East 108th Street on Tuesday April 17, 2012.  Just ten short years ago, the appearance of the Cleveland History Center was transformed forever as the construction of the Pavilion to house the iconic Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel began.

It was a long journey for the Carousel to that pivotal day.  When the laughter and good times that became synonymous with a visit to Euclid Beach came to an end on September 28, 1969, the business of demolition and ride disposal became the focus.  A number of the rides including the Colonnade’s many “kiddie” rides, the Flying Scooters, Dodgem, Sleepy Hollow Train, and Rotor would again operate under Humphrey management at Shady Lake Park in Streetsboro.  The reprise was short lived with the park operating a few short years from 1978 to 1982.  The Thriller, Racing Coaster, Flying Turns, Over the Falls, Laff in the Dark, and Surprise House would all fall victim to the wrecking ball.  The Grand Carousel along with a number of other rides was sold.  The Carousel was purchased by a ride broker and re-sold almost immediately to a small sea side amusement park outside of Portland, Maine called Palace Playland.  By the summer of 1970, the Carousel was operating again at its new home.  It operated there until 1996, when financial difficulties forced its sale.  Through a community based effort, the auctioneer was persuaded to conduct the auction in Cleveland.  On July 19, 1997, the winning bid by the Trust for Public Land brought the Carousel “full circle” back to its home on the shore of Lake Erie.  Over the next fifteen years a number of locations were suggested, Public Square, East Ninth street pier, Shaker Square, and even the State Park where it was originally located.  For a number of reasons, each site lacked the support to move forward.

 

In 2010, a group of community members who understood the impact the restoration and return to operation of this beloved symbol of what was arguably Cleveland’s most famous amusement park would have to the region, founded Cleveland’s Euclid Beach Park Carousel Society.  The April 17th ground breaking was a direct result of the successful collaboration of the Carousel Society with the Western Reserve Historical Society and Euclid Beach Park Now (a community organization formed in 1989 to honor and preserve the memory of Euclid Beach Park). The Carousel Society and Euclid Beach Park Now proposed the partnership with WRHS after determining University Circle was the best location for the Carousel.  At the time of the ground breaking ceremony, former WRHS President & CEO Dr. Gainor B. Davis was quoted as saying: “The timing is perfect and exciting,”  “We refer to the current renovations at the Cleveland History Center as a “transformation,” because it will completely transform the look, feel and amenities of the facility.  Add to that project a glass jewel box housing a carousel on our corner to entice visitors inside, takes the Cleveland History Center even one step further in being a family-friendly destination in Northeast Ohio.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Frato

Posted in Uncategorized

Inventing Annie

By Robyn Marcs, Grants Manager at the Western Reserve Historical Society

Legend has it that in 1894, two wealthy Bostonians told each other that it would be inconceivable for a woman to ride a bicycle around the world in 15 months (and raise $5,000 on her own).  The two men bet each other $20,000 against $10,000 that it couldn’t be done.  Little did they know that Anna “Annie” Kopchovsky, a Jewish immigrant and young mother of three, overheard this gentlemen’s bet and decided to take actions into her own hands.  However, this may have been one of the sensational fictions Annie invented to sell her reason for circumnavigating the globe on a bicycle. As they say in the Netflix show Inventing Anna, “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”

Annie Londonderry with a Columbia bicycle,1894. Image courtesy of biciclettami.it

Anna Cohen was born in Latvia in 1870 and emigrated to the United States with her Orthodox Jewish family five years later.  When she was 18, she married Max Kopchovsky, a clothing salesman, and lived in Boston.  Within the next four years they had three children together.  Anna didn’t really take to her routine as housewife and mother, and she wanted something more out of life than selling advertisement space in Boston newspapers.  She later said that she “did not want to spend her life at home with a baby under my apron every year.”

 

Mrs. Kopchovsky seemed an unlikely candidate for being the first woman to ride a bicycle around the world solo, but her natural charm and determination garnered her several sponsors for her trip.  The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company paid her $100 (about $3,000 in today’s money) to go by the name “Annie Londonderry” during her travels.  This offer was gratefully accepted by Anna Kopchovsky who wanted to hide her Jewish identity to combat anti-Semitism that was running rampant throughout the country.  It was in this manner that Anna Kopchovsky became Annie Londonderry.

 

Age 24, Annie set out for her bicycle trip around the world from Boston on June 25, 1894 with a bike donated by the Columbia Bicycle Company.  She later revealed that she had only learned to ride her bike three days prior. Annie quickly learned that riding a bicycle in cumbersome skirts was not going to work.  She started to wear bloomers on her trip to make it easier for herself, a decision that was somewhat scandalous at the time. On September 3, she had biked to Cleveland with The Plain Dealer announcing that “Miss Londonderry… will remain in this city until this afternoon, when she will start westward…”  By September 24, the petite 5’3” and 100-pound Annie had lost 20 pounds and only had 3 cents to her name by the time she reached Chicago.  With winter on the horizon and facing crossing the Rocky Mountains solo in harsh weather, Annie bicycled back to Boston and planned to set out on her trip again – but this time heading out from the east.  She did stop in Cleveland a second time and gave a talk at the Cleveland Wheel Club and visited the Cleveland Athletic Club according to The Plain Dealer.  On November 24, Annie set out for France from New York City on a steamer armed with a new bicycle and determination.

Annie as depicted in an illustration that accompanied her first-person account of her trip published in the New York World on October 20, 1895. Image courtesy of annielondonderry.com

 

Annie’s new bike, courtesy of the Sterling Bicycle Company, was a men’s bicycle.  She stitched her bloomers into tighter-fitting pants – something that definitely made the newspapers and caught everyone’s attention.  She also began to embellish her story, telling the European public that she had gone to medical school, graduated from Harvard, was attacked by robbers (but also robbers were gentlemen and would never hurt her), she was an orphan – and even an heiress.  She claimed to speak German and Swedish, although she really only knew English and Yiddish.  Interestingly, Annie did not mention her husband and children during her travels, giving the impression that she was an eligible single woman.  However, her fame was on the rise and she gained sponsorship after sponsorship.

Annie Londonderry, in the final incarnation of her bicycle riding costume, 1856. Image courtesy of Jewish Women’s Archive.

Annie’s charm, charisma, and natural showmanship helped her popularity and tales spread on her way towards Asia.  She even spun a tale about how she found herself on the front lines of the Sino-Japanese War, a fun story albeit a fictitious one.  She set foot on American soil again in San Francisco on March 23, 1895.  Annie even asked a couple of men on a roadside she was passing near San Francisco to pose as robbers in a publicity stunt so she could tell thrilling stories of escape and adventure to those she met along her journey. She pedaled her way through the “Wild West,” making stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa before making it to Chicago and completing her trek in Boston on September 14, 1895.  It had been one year, three months, and one day since Annie Londonderry set off on her bicycling adventure.

Map of Annie Londonderry’s travels, created by Mera MacKendrick. Image courtesy of whatshernamepodcast.com

 

Upon returning to Boston, Annie moved her family to New York City to pursue a journalism career. Interestingly, she never bicycled again after her circumnavigation of the globe, which is understandable as she probably had enough of it for one lifetime!   Miss Annie Londonderry settled back into life as Mrs. Anna Kopchovsky, gradually fading into obscurity after her world tour and trying several business adventures in New York and California.  She passed away in 1947 and is buried beside her husband Max who had died the year prior.  Her epitaph simply reads “Beloved Mother.”

 

In an article about her bicycling adventures written for The New York World, Annie wrote “I am a journalist and ‘a new woman,’ if that means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”  And she certainly did, even though she massaged the truth on occasion, it doesn’t take away from her remarkable achievement.

Posted in Uncategorized

Highlighting Jewish Heritage in the Western Reserve: Agudath B’nai Israel

By Sean Martin, Ph.D., Associate Curator for Jewish History at the Western Reserve Historical Society

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, but here at WRHS we work throughout the year to collect materials related to the Jewish heritage of Northeast Ohio. Thanks to the generosity of local Jewish leaders with a keen sense of history, the Cleveland Jewish Archives were established at WRHS in 1976, with the cooperation of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. Since then, we have worked to help tell the stories of Jewish Cleveland by preserving original materials and making them accessible to the public.

 

We’re proud now to be able to say that over a hundred photographs from Agudath B’nai Israel, a Jewish congregation in Lorain, are now available online. These photographs, many including past leaders and congregants, were part of the materials donated to WRHS by ABI Trustees in 1983. We were able to put them online because of the initiative and support of Nat Fields and Ron Alpern, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to make even more materials from ABI accessible in the near future.

Agudath B’nai Israel in Lorain was formed in 1925 through the merger of Agudath Achim and Beth Israel, two existing Jewish congregations in Lorain, and a B’nai B’rith group about to establish a third congregation. Agudath B’nai Israel agreed on Conservative services, and met in the Fifteenth Street Synagogue built in 1905 for Agudath Achim. Soon after the merger, attention focused on building a new temple to accommodate the merged congregation. In addition to the main sanctuary, the new building opened in 1932 housed a lodge room for meetings, a gymnasium with a stage, a kosher kitchen, and classrooms, enabling it to serve as a hub for all kinds of social and cultural activities. In the late 1960s the congregation moved. The current building on Meister Road was dedicated in 1969.

The help of many ABI members, past and present, ensured the photographs are well identified, so those connected with the congregation can find friends and relatives and remember the years gone by. WRHS is most grateful to Esther Merves, Sheila Evenchik, and Sue Frankle for the help they provided Ron Alpern in identifying the members of the Sisterhood, Couples Club, youth groups, and other organizations. Thanks also go to Mark Jaffee as well as the ABI Officers and Board of Trustees for their support of this undertaking.

The photographs now online represent the entirety of the photographs that make up Picture Group 295 Agudath B’nai Israel Congregation Photographs, one of the collections in the WRHS Library. But there are many more materials—anniversary books, programs, brochures, and other items—that are part of a larger collection in the library at WRHS (Manuscript 3976 Agudath B’nai Israel Congregation Records). As always, WRHS is interested in collecting more materials as well. If you have items related to ABI, the Jewish community in Lorain, or any other local Jewish story, please contact, Dr. Sean Martin, Associate Curator for Jewish History, at smartin@wrhs.org.

Posted in Uncategorized

When Away Becomes Home – New Beginnings

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Receipt of payment to join the Ohio Emigration Association, 1855. Image courtesy of the WRHS Library.
Most of us, when considering our family history, often focus on the story of an ancestor who went from there (Asia, Europe, the American South, Mexico, and other places around the globe.) to here – northeastern Ohio. Using the records we find in a library like that of the Historical Society, or on-line sources, we try to reconstruct the story of the person who made the journey and then attempt to imagine how they felt when the left the familiar for someplace new.  The “prize” in that research is locating that person in time and space – where did they live before, when did they come, how did they come, who came with them? It’s an intriguing task, not unlike putting a puzzle together. But there’s always a piece or two missing.

Once focused on “founders” and prominent figures, genealogy expanded beginning in the 1960s to encompass the multiple ethnicities, those groups whose arrival in northeast Ohio created the multi-cultural community and region we know today.  So the stories of “from there to here” are now more diverse than ever –ranging from those which relate to a distant ancestor who came from the British Isles, to those of people whose grandparents may have come more recently from India or Turkey – and, indeed, to those whose ancestry dates back to this continent for thousands of years, for Native Americans are part of this chain of movement to our region.

Slovenian family in the 1900s. Image courtesy of the WRHS Library.

Yet, even though we may know who was the first in our family to come to Greater Cleveland, there is something we can not often know with certainty.  Even if we have letters or memoirs of a migrant or immigrant ancestor, it is still difficult to understand the feelings and emotions of leaving an old home and arriving in a new, often very strange place. We can speculate and imagine what it was like – but the only person who would know with certainty is the ancestor.  Intimate, intricate, and complex emotions are often bound up within ourselves.  It’s that elusive piece of the puzzle.

The important thing to grasp is that each of us has a story of a move to a new beginning,  and why not?  Noted immigration historian Dirk Hoerder has written that migration and immigration (or if you will, movement) is one of the common factors that binds us together as human beings – we’ve been moving from place to place throughout time.    If one wants to be Biblical –ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden.

While it is important and satisfying for each of us personally to find our place in the history of migration, or simply to understand the scope of this global movement, it is more critical that we empathize with those who are seeking a new beginning today.  Doing so honors our own pasts.   Every upheaval in the world has echoed and will continue to echo in Greater Cleveland.   In the years after World War II, homeless refugees found their way to our community.  Again, after the collapse of South Vietnam we became a new home for those who fled the new regime.   Today we are welcoming those who are fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan.  And now, with the horrific invasion of Ukraine, we will again be a haven for Ukrainians – just as we were after World War II.   We cannot live in the past and ignore the present.

Americanization Institute 1910s. Image courtesy of the WRHS Library.

Perhaps, rather than seeking the almost impossible – coming to know exactly what our ancestors felt when they left the familiar for the new  — we should meet, assist and come to know those who are arriving now.   Their stories need to be heard and understood.   And in those stories we might better sense our own history.

Posted in Uncategorized

If You Build It, They Will Come

By Robyn Marcs, Grants Manager at the Western Reserve Historical Society

“It’s like the constitution, the institution of dear old baseball.”
Ragtime the Musical

With the recent name change of the Cleveland Indians to the Guardians, one may want to reflect on how far our team has come since its founding in 1901.  The American League Cleveland team has called three ballparks home: League Park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and Progressive Field (also known as Jacobs Field to those of us who grew up with that name).

Cleveland Indians home opener, 1927. Image courtesy of the WRHS Library

 

League Park: 1891-1946

Originally the home of the Cleveland Spiders, our city’s National League team featuring the great Cy Young, from 1891-1899, League Park is located on the corner of E. 66th and Lexington.  The Cleveland Bluebirds (the original name of the 1901 American League team) took over the park upon their founding.  The Bluebirds’ first game was played there on the April 29, 1901.  There was much buzz in the city as they welcomed their new team, but according to that day’s Plain Dealer, “We do not care to march our players through the street like circus animals,” said the team’s owner, Jack Kilfoyl.  However, private celebrations were held throughout the city to commemorate the new American League Cleveland Bluebirds.

League Park was also the scene of a perfect game, which was pitched by the famed Addie Joss on October 2, 1908.  Baseball legends like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Napoleon Lajoie played there during the glory days in 1910s.  Most significantly, it was the site of the Cleveland Indians’ first World Series win in 1920.  Game Five of this Fall Classic saw several firsts, including the only World Series unassisted triple play by Bill Wambsganss.  The Cleveland Buckeyes won the Negro League World Series there in 1945. This historic ballpark saw its final game on November 24, 1949, which was a football march between Western Reserve University and Case Institution of Technology.  While the majority of the park was demolished in 1951, today the ticketing building and part of the left field wall remains.  The field and the ticketing building serves as the home of the Baseball Heritage Museum.

Fans at League Park on Opening Day 1930, Image courtesy of the WRHS Library

 

 

Cleveland Municipal Stadium: 1946-1994


The mood during the Cleveland Indians’ first game in their new ballpark on July 31, 1932 is best told by the following day’s Plain Dealer article by John W. Vance:

The Cleveland Indians game home to the $3,000,000 stadium yesterday and found 80,184 friends and relations standing on the figurative steps to cry them welcome, to set a new world’s record for baseball crowds and to toss the [Great] Depression, yelping feebly, over the wall into Lake Erie. … You who said the Cleveland Stadium would never be filled can paste the figures in your hats, eat them in alphabet soup and stencil them on the bed room [sic] ceiling so you’ll dream about them at night.

 

Clevelanders had been seeking a new stadium for years, especially since League Park was constructed in 1891 and had seen better days.  Between 1932 and 1946 the Indians would still play at League Park periodically.  The Indians would play their home games of the 1948 World Series at the stadium but would eventually win the series in Boston.

One notable event that those of a certain age may remember was the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night on June 4, 1974.  Due to the rambunctious and intoxicated fans, the Indians eventually had to forfeit the game to the Texas Rangers.  The following year, the Indians hired Frank Robinson as the first Black manager of a Major League Baseball team.  Cleveland saw another perfect game when Len Barker pitched one at the stadium in 1981, the last one for our team to date.  Since it’s baseball season, we don’t need to dwell on Red Right 88 and The Drive, but these Browns events also took place at Cleveland Stadium.

Over the next sixty years, Cleveland Municipal Stadium began to show its age.  Fans were ready for a new ballpark, and the last MLB game was played at the old stadium on October 3, 1993.  However, a new age of Cleveland Indians baseball was on the horizon.

 

Len Barker winning his perfect game, 1981. Image from Sports Illustrated

 

Progressive (Jacobs) Field: 1994-Present


All of us have driven past the fabled corner of Carnegie and Ontario and/or walked across the indoor bridge connecting Tower City to Progressive Field.  In 1994, Clevelanders finally were awarded a new stadium, Jacobs Field.  According to The Plain Dealer, “Cleveland baseball fans accustomed to cold, cavernous Cleveland Stadium will be positively floored by [the] conveniences at Jacobs Field.”  Then-President Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch at the new stadium to Sandy Alomar, Jr. on April 1, 1994 during an exhibition game.  The first official game was held on April 4 with the Tribe defeating the Seattle Mariners 4-3.

The Indians broke the forty-one-year World Series drought in 1995 as the American League champions, falling to the Atlanta Braves in six games.  In 1997 the promising AL Champs lost to the new Florida Marlins team in a devastating disappoint to city caught in a long drought.  We don’t need to talk about Jose Mesa.  Despite falling short of a Fall Classic win, the ‘90s Indians were a team to reckoned with, featuring the likes of Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, and Manny Ramirez.

In 2007, the stadium was renamed Progressive Field, and the following year Asdrubal Cabrera completed his legendary unassisted triple play, only the 14th in MLB history.  Growing up, my favorite players were Robbie Alomar during his stint on the Tribe, as well as Travis “Pronk” Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo.  Yours truly was also in attendance at Progressive Field during the live streaming of Game 3 of the 2016 World Series, where the umpires tried time after time to give the Cubs the game, but the Indians ended up winning 1-0.

Now the Cleveland Guardians are in another “rebuilding” stage, and we’ll see where the seasons ahead take them.  Progressive Field (it will always be “The Jake” to me) remodeled once more in 2014/15, clearing seats in the right field for a spectacular new Cleveland restaurant dining area that is well-received by locals and out-of-towners alike.

As George Stephanopolous said on the Jacobs Field home opener, “The president was saying what a beautiful place this is. I was proud. It’s always great to be home.”

1997 Cleveland Indians stars, image courtesy of The Athletic
Posted in Uncategorized

Finding Amelia — In Cleveland

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

A recent story in the New York Times titled “An Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved” was certain to get attention.   Was it “the” answer to the question of where she crashed and perished in her round-the-world flight in July 1937?   No, it was about another mystery related to this noted woman aviator.

It all centered on a leather flight helmet that had been kept in a family for decades and which family tradition claimed that it belonged to Amelia.   It purportedly had dropped during the hubbub that surrounded Amelia’s landing at the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1929 as a participant in a woman’s transcontinental air race.  Even though she came in third she received a huge welcome as people swarmed around her single engine Lockheed Vega airplane – and why not, she was then the nation’s most noted female pilot.

The year before (1928) she had flown across the Atlantic – albeit as a working passenger in a plane piloted by Wilmer Stoltz and Louis Gordon.   This was one year after Charles Lindberg’s flight and it made the headlines – placing Amelia as the first woman to cross the Atlantic.  She soon became a national icon and would do a solo transatlantic flight in 1932.

Her flight to Cleveland was a true test of her skills – indeed, only 11 of the 20 who began the race made it to Cleveland.  In the coming years she would visit the city numerous times, usually at the National Air Races which the city hosted again seven more times in the 1930s.  Her fame continued to grow and in 1933 she and first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a plane ride together.  She and Eleanor became fast friends exchanging both letters and ideas.

Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt flying from Washington, DC to Baltimore in 1933, Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution

She also pushed against the barriers facing women pilots who were usually referred to as aviatrixes  — and indeed, the cross country race was gender nicknamed the “Power Puff Derby” by actor and humorist Will Rogers.  Yet during 1930s she would hone her skills as a flyer, winning races and setting records.  At the same time she used her celebrity to promote the growing aviation industry, and served as a Vice President of National Airways .  But perhaps her most important contribution was being a founder of the Ninety-Nines a group of women pilots who worked to advocate for women in aviation.  She served as the organization’s first president in 1930.

Her ultimate goal was to circumnavigate the globe.  Her flight would not be the first, but it would be the longest, flying roughly along the equator – a total of approximately 29,000 miles.   As we know, that flight in 1937 which began in Oakland, California, would never be completed.   She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 1st, 1937 while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island – a small speck of land in the South Pacific.   They have never been found – and the search for Amelia goes on today, eighty-five years later.

As to the mystery of the flight helmet which was dropped on the ground when she landed in Cleveland – well, it turns out that the helmet was indeed hers.    Its authenticity was confirmed by using a sophisticated photogrammetric analysis of the helmet compared to one worn by Amelia in images taken in 1928.

Yet, Amelia, like her helmet, really is no longer lost.   Her skills and daring were remarkable and they helped advance the cause of women who sought to fly.  That she often came to Cleveland (and lost her helmet here!) is something worth noting and, indeed, celebrating.   Much of the story of her involvement in the National Air Races is chronicled in the Historical Society’s stunning collection of air race documents and memorabilia – and Amelia is also honored at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport.

 

1929 National Air Races and Aeronautical Exposition, Courtesy of the WRHS Archives
Posted in Uncategorized

Cleveland Changes Baseball History

By Mary Manning, Ph.D., PK-12 Education Coordinator & Youth Entrepreneurship Education (YEE) Project Director (Interim)

In 1946, the Cleveland Indians gained a new owner – Bill Veeck, an enthusiastic promoter committed to making the team the best in baseball at nearly any cost.

In 1947, the team stopped splitting time between their historic stadium, League Park in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, and moved into Municipal Stadium full-time. Where League Park’s capacity numbered 22,500, Municipal Stadium could accommodate three times as many fans, and Veeck employed imaginative tactics and stadium promotions to fill as many of those seats as he could.

In July of 1947, Veeck signed Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles of the Negro American League and brought him straight to the majors, believing Doby could handle the transition and that a stint in the minor leagues to warm him up would limit the media impact of the signing. With Doby’s arrival in Cleveland, Major League Baseball’s American League was officially integrated—mere months after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Then, in 1948, the Indians fielded a roster that included Doby, along with famed former Negro League pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and won the World Series.

This photograph from WRHS collections shows Doby and Paige at a moment of rest during a game that must be in either the 1948 season or the 1949 season – the only two years Paige played with the Indians. To some degree, it reflects the personalities of the two men. Doby, a known introvert, surveys the scene before him, while Paige, a charismatic, confident man, seems in the middle of speaking.

These two men also represent the kinds of players who made up the first two waves of the integration of Major League Baseball. Doby was 23 years old when he arrived in Cleveland, an extraordinarily gifted young multi-sport athlete who would eventually put together a 13-year MLB career on top of the four seasons he had played in the Negro Leagues. In 1978, he would become the second Black manager in Major League Baseball for the Chicago White Sox (second to the Indians’ Frank Robinson, hired as a player-manager in 1975).

In contrast, Paige remains the oldest player to debut in Major League Baseball—he was 42 years old when he made his first start with the Indians in July of 1948. Yet he had been pitching professionally since 1927 when he began his career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League. In between Negro League seasons, he would barnstorm throughout the Midwest and other parts of the country, including a tour beginning in the fall of 1946 that pitted him against Indians great Bob Feller on a near daily basis. Paige had an uncommonly high number of pitches in his arsenal and accumulated new tricks that helped him maintain his dominant form on the mound as he grew older.

Together, these two very different men would help lead the Indians to first the American League pennant and then to the most recent World Series victory in Cleveland. Both would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Doby would be honored in 2015 with a statue in front of Progressive Field. Though Jackie Robinson was the first and most famous player to begin the integration of Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians played a crucial role in how baseball would receive players from the Negro Leagues, especially ones as experienced and talented as Paige.

Y Hoops?!

Photo: Buildings YMCA Old Central Building 1900s, Photo courtesy of the WRHS Archives.

 

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

The NBA All Star Game’s arrival in Cleveland in February provides a good reason for looking at the history of basketball – and, that history is remarkable.  Today the game is played around the world.  Its global reach is reflected in the NBA.  Currently, 39 countries are represented by 109 players.  With 30 teams and a roster limit of 15 for each team, there are 450 – so the international representation is just a bit over 24%

That’s pretty amazing for a sport that was invented in the United States by James Naismith (1861-1939) who, by the way, was born in Canada.  Many, if not most people, know the story of Naismith using a peach basket and a soccer ball to create the game.  His thirteen original rules for the game still, in most ways, echo on today’s courts although the style and speed of the game are far different from what he envisioned.  However, the place (the YMCA) where he created the game is central to the internationalization of basketball.

Educated at McGill University (where he played football, lacrosse, soccer, and rugby – and also was a gymnast) he moved to the United States in 1890 to study at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.  It was there that he invented basketball.  The impetus for its creation was the need to provide bored and boisterous young men with a vigorous indoor athletic activity during the winter months.  The first game was played on March 12, 1892.

Perhaps at this point it is important to emphasize that the YMCA is the Young Men’s Christian Association.   The YMCA movement began in the mid-1840s in London and quickly spread well beyond England.  Cleveland’s branch of the movement began in 1854.  The common thread that bound all the early Y’s together was helping the many young men coming into cities lead a good, pure Christian life and thus avoid the temptations – bars, brothels, and bad company – that characterized growing urban areas.  The Cleveland YMCA stated its purpose as to prevent “the ruin, physical and spiritual, which overtakes so large a proportion of the multitude of young men constantly arriving in our city.”

It did not take long for the organization to realize that the best way to attract young men to membership and participation was through vigorous physical activity – it built teamwork, fellowship and also burned off energies that could have been directed to the dissipations of city life.   It was the leader in the national movement known as “Muscular Christianity” which ran against older notions that physical exercise, and sport where antithetical to a good religious life.  By the 1880s “muscular Christianity’ helped power a burgeoning sports culture in the United States.  It provided a good basis for what would become gym programs in schools, it buttressed a growing collegiate sports movement, and fit neatly into the life and politics of men such as Theodore Roosevelt.

That’s why basketball’s birth was in the confines of a Christian organization.  Indeed, by the late nineteenth century, the YMCA was one of the pre-eminent sports “powers” in the United States.  It fielded its own football team, captained by Amos Alonzo Stagg.  The team was known as “Stagg’s Stubby Christians”.  Of course the Y inherited a developing football culture, but it also invented another sport – volleyball.  And as a Christian, global organization linked to a strong missionary movement the sports the “Y” created reached a wide audience.

Within a decade of basketball’s invention, it was not only being played at the YMCA but at public schools, colleges, and social settlements.   Cleveland’s Hiram House Settlement was fielding basketball teams in the early 1900s and those teams reflected the immigrant communities that Hiram House served – some teams were largely Jewish and others Italian – and their battles on the court sometimes moved out into the street.

The game also quickly attracted women and also resulted in restrictive women’s rules for many collegiate women.  Interestingly the rules were written by a woman, Senda Berenson, who oversaw the physical education program at Smith College.  Yet, women, including the multi-sport star Babe Didrikson, would play by the general rules or some other modification of them.

Basketball also moved quickly beyond Protestant Christianity.   Played in the settlement houses of New York City it became “the” game of the children of Jewish immigrants and at one time was known as the “Jewish” game.  Soon, traveling teams of adult players were attracting audiences.  Among them were the Philadelphia SPHAs (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) which dominated the game at the exhibition, semi-pro, and pro level.   Cleveland’s first basketball “impresario” in the 1920s was Max Rosenblum who also promoted amateur baseball, soccer, football, and bowling.

Basketball’s origins were in an increasingly segregated societyand that too was reflected in the YMCA.  The first Black YMCA was established in Washington D.C. in 1853, and other branches followed.   In Cleveland, the Cedar Avenue Branch became the Black YMCA, although there was contention in the community about accepting a segregated facility.  Eventually, in 1946, the YMCA established a policy to end segregation.

It was in this and other milieus that the sport spread into the African American community.  Indeed, even in settlement houses, such as Hiram House, there were Black teams and ethnic white teams.   The sport spread throughout the playgrounds in Black areas of the cities and also in schools, which even though not “officially” segregated, became predominantly Black.  The East Tech “Scarabs” in Cleveland became one of the city’s basketball powerhouses during the 1930s.  Nationally, Black teams, such as the New York Renaissance (the“Rens”) played and beat many of the best white teams.  One of the best early basketball players to come out of Cleveland, “Wee” Willie Smith, (who started playing at Hiram House)  played for the Rens and is now a member of the NBA Hall of Fame. Professional basketball, however, remained segregated until 1950 when the NBA would break the color barrier.

It took some time for professional basketball to evolve into the “mega” sport it is today.   The real base of the game for many years was in high school, college, and company teams.  In Cleveland amateur basketball predominated until the founding of the Cavaliers, Cleveland’s first NBA team in 1970.  Prior to that, the city had fielded several pro teams, including the Rosenblums, the Allman Transfers, the Cleveland Rebels, and the Cleveland Pipers.  The Pipers made history by hiring the first Black coach in pro-basketball, John McLendon in 1962.

Yet, to focus only on the pro-game is to ignore what began at the YMCA 130 years ago.  Today, hoops abound – on urban playgrounds, in backyards, on suburban garages, and on barns in the countryside.

An estimated 450 million people participate in basketball around the globe which ranks it fifth among all sports, and its global audience ranks third with an estimated 2.2 billion fans!  Given this, it should come as no surprise that the NBA’s roster reflects the world.   So, on February 20th, Cleveland will, in essence, host the world  — thanks in large part to the YMCA!

Do You Believe in Miracles?

By Robyn Marcs, Grants Manager at the Western Reserve Historical Society

Most Clevelanders can tell you where they were when our beloved Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals. For me, my family and I had just come back from a Father’s Days barbecue. My mom and I watched the final minutes of the game and then jumped around our living room hugging each other crying while my Pittsburgher father mumbled something about not being able to make fun of Cleveland not having a championship since 1964 anymore. However, forty years before the 2016 championship, there was another miracle in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were a new team in 1976, having only been established six years prior. The team didn’t even have a set place to play until 1974 when the Richfield Coliseum opened with the hope that its convenient location halfway between Akron and Cleveland would draw more fans. The 1976 Cavs were led by Austin Carr, Dick Snyder, Jim Chones, veteran player Nate Thurmond, and Robert “Bingo” Smith.

It’s every sports players’ dream to have a game’s final moments fall on them, and Dick Snyder was no exception. The Cavs had finally made it to the first round of the playoffs, and the seven game series was tied at 3-3 (sound familiar?) on April 29, 1976. The final seconds of the game saw the score tied at 85-85. With four seconds left, Dick Snyder made a crucial two-point basket that put the Cavs in the lead, and when the Bullets tried unsuccessfully to close the gap, the Richfield Coliseum erupted into cheers for the home team. The late Cavs announcer Joe Tait emotionally shouted, “The Cavaliers win! The Cavaliers win! 87-85!” Fans flooded the court, and even tried to tear down the baskets!

While unfortunately the Cavs fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 after star player Jim Chones broke his ankle, the legacy of the Miracle of Richfield lives on. It was the first time that the Cleveland Cavaliers showed themselves to be more than just an expansion team, and today Bingo Smith, Austin Carr, and Nate Thurmond have had their numbers retired by the team. And forty years later the Cavs brought the championship home in one of the greatest games of the NBA Finals. It just goes to show that you can’t spell “Miracle” without “CLE.”

Cleveland, Ohio and the Rise of Gospel Blues

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD

Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

The Shields Brothers established their gospel quartet in 1928 and kept the group together for 70 years. (Photograph by Allen E. Cole; courtesy of Frederick Burton.)

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.

The cover of Frederick Burton’s Cleveland’s Gospel Music. (Arcadia Publishing, 2003)

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.

 

New Costume Acquisition: Dr. Tameka Ellington

Images courtesy of Dr. Tameka Ellington

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.

Join our Discussion with the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle

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.

Fuel Cleveland

By John C. Lutsch

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.

Fuel Cleveland ‘1955 Vincent Black Prince’ Photo by John Lutsch
‘1918 Cleveland’ Photo by John Lutsch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

‘The Crawford at Fuel Cleveland’ Photo by John Lutsch

Coffee and Cars Event

By John C. Lutsch

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!