Making History While Serving a Congregation and the Community

Pastor Richard Gibson of the Elizabeth Baptist Church, a 2019 “Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland” honoree. (McKinley Wiley, The DarkRoom Company)
Richard Gibson in a 1997 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. program photo. (African American Archives of the Western Reserve Historical Society)


*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.

Chief Thunderwater

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.

John J. Grabowski

Chief Historian

Día de los Muertos

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


This November 1st members of northeast Ohio’s Mexican, community will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead.   It is a time when families get together to remember those who have passed away.   It is not an occasion of overwhelming sadness, but rather a joyful  time – an occasion for recollection and remembrance, a time when offerings ranging from flowers,  food and drink to dolls and toys are placed on gravesites or special altars are erected in a home.   Indeed, it is a time of coming together for families and for the community as a whole.

The origins of the celebration are often traced to the Christian feast of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.   Some also see the celebration related to the indigenous history of Mexico.   Whatever its origins, it is today a central feature of Mexican life that has been carried by Mexican migrants to all corners of the United States and elsewhere.  And that transference reminds us of a commonality shared by all who move from “there” to “here.”   Moving away from one’s home, also often means moving away from the graves of ones ancestors.  Remembering the dead at the cemetery is an important part of Dia de los Muertos.  Thus, it is difficult to break that particular bond for Mexicans and any migrant or immigrant – yet on November 1st, the altars that will be created in many homes in Northeast Ohio, and the recollection and celebration of the departed will, in many ways, provide an important link to family, home, and tradition.

Cleveland’s Columbus Day Parade

By: Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA


The earliest Christopher Columbus Day event was held in 1892, as revealed by a review of The Plain Dealer archives.  On the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ 1492 voyage, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation that the United States would mark the occasion as a holiday.  Following this, cities across the country, including Cleveland, organized events and parades.  Many scholars suggest that Harrison also used the anniversary celebration as a gesture to improve diplomatic relations with Italy and the Italian immigrants living in the U.S. after the horrific lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans in March 1891.

Not until the 1910s is there another mention in The Plain Dealer of a city-wide Columbus Day celebration in Cleveland.  For a decade prior, however, Italian immigrants had observed Columbus Day on a smaller scale in their own neighborhoods.  Echoes of the New Orleans lynching and the discrimination the Italian immigrants faced in their everyday lives inspired them to celebrate Columbus, who was one of their own countrymen.  Expressing pride in Columbus allowed the Italian immigrants to publicly express pride in their culture, and served as a way to legitimize their presence in the U.S. to those who otherwise thought they did not belong in the country.

In 1910, Columbus Day was declared a legal holiday in the state of Ohio, primarily due to the efforts of Giuseppe Carabelli.  Carabelli was a leader in Cleveland’s Italian immigrant community.  He was the first Italian American to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives and was the proprietor of The Carabelli Co., a stone carving and sculpting firm located on Euclid Avenue, opposite Lake View Cemetery.  On October 12, 1910, a grand celebration of Columbus Day was held in Cleveland, organized by a committee comprised of both Italian Americans and city leaders.  The day was marked with a large parade on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland that ended with a grand banquet sponsored by the Knights of Columbus at the Hotel Hollenden.

The Columbus Day Parade continued to be held annually in downtown Cleveland until 2004 when the committee in charge decided to move it to Little Italy.  After being cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the Columbus Day Parade will return to Cleveland’s Little Italy on October 11, 2021.  The parade kicks off at Noon and will proceed down Murray Hill Road, turning onto Fairview Court, then onto E. 125th St. after which it will follow Mayfield Road west, and will end at Holy Rosary Church.  It is sponsored by the Italian Sons and Daughters of America.

Building a Foundation for Latinx History

In the 1980s and 1990s the Western Reserve Historical Society began the process of collecting archival materials relating to the LatinX community as a part of its wider “ethnic archives” initiative.   Working with the guidance of Luis Martinez, then Mayor George Voinovich’s liaison to the Hispanic community, a number of important collections came to the Society’s library.   They include the papers of Andreas Castro, community leader and activist; those of Moises Maldonado who was involved in numerous community organizations;  the Felix Delgado family papers which reflect on the family’s journey from Mexico to Cleveland;  and the papers of Luis Martinez.  Of particular importance are copies of the minutes and other documents of the Club Azteca, the first organization established by the Mexican community in Cleveland.

Other collections represent organizations that worked with the LatinX community, including the West Side Community House, the Spanish American Committee, and the Lorain Neighborhood House Association.   Scattered issues of El Sol, an early Hispanic newspaper were also acquired and, importantly, a very complete set of programs from the earliest Puerto Rican Friendly Day celebrations.   Interestingly, one of the older WRHS collections, the records of Hiram House Social Settlement, reflect on that organization’s interaction with Mexican migrants to Cleveland in the 1930s and 1940s.

These collections represent a good foundation of a LatinX archive, one which WRHS is constantly seeking to build upon.

WRHS Italian American Collection

By: Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA


In 2006, WRHS partnered with the Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and the Italian American Cultural Foundation to establish the WRHS Italian American Collection and hire a curator specifically dedicated to preserving and documenting Italian American history in Northeast Ohio. Pamela Dorazio Dean has filled that role for the last 15 years and is now also serving as director of the new Italian American Museum of Cleveland (IAMCLE.)

The WRHS Italian American Collection contains approximately 85 objects and over 300 linear feet of manuscript materials, which include documents and photographs. The objects and manuscripts serve as a way to preserve the people, places, and organizations that comprise the history of Italian American experience in Northeast Ohio. Many of these resources have been used in exhibits, in public programs, and as teaching tools for students. They have also been consulted by researchers, such as author Pamela Schoenenwaldt, who referred to the collection when writing When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon.

A number of items from the Italian American Collection are currently on display in the WRHS exhibit Cleveland Starts Here and in the gallery at the Italian American Museum of Cleveland. A listing of the artifacts and manuscript that are part of the WRHS Italian American Collection can be found doing a search in the WRHS on-line catalog.

Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival closing night at the Cleveland History Center

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

On Friday, September 17, 2021, the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) partnered with the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF) to host the closing night event for GCUFF’s 10th Annual Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival. WRHS staff and members of the African American Archives Auxiliary (Quad A) were among the more than 100 guests who came to the Cleveland History Center for the awards program and the screening of “A Choice of Weapons,” the new documentary film inspired by the life of Gordon Parks.

Photographs by Brian K. Artisan and Mychal Lilly


Dr. Regennia N. Williams delivered opening remarks and made a special presentation during the program.


Pictured here are members of the African American Archives Auxiliary, including African American History Archivist Patrice Hamiter (fourth from right).


(left to right) Donna Dabbs, GCUFF’s Executive Director, is shown here with Quad A members Felicia Haney and Rhonda Crowder during the Awards Ceremony.


GCUFF team members are pictured here at the registration table in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

Surveying the Artistic Landscape at the Western Reserve Historical Society

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD


Those who have not visited the Cleveland History Center for some time may be pleasantly surprised to see the wealth of visual art that now adorns the walls of the Norton Gallery.  This project, the culmination of work that started in 2020, was completed over the summer of 2021, thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. Dennis Barrie, Chief Curator Eric Rivet, Dr. Mary Manning, Patricia Edmondson, Kevin Barrie, and three external art historians who reviewed the WRHS art holdings.


According to Dr. Dennis Barrie, whose extensive background in Art History made this exhibit particularly important to him, “For the last year or so, it has been the desire of the Curatorial staff and leadership to get more of our collections out of storage and available to the public.  We started with Fine Arts storage because, like many of our collection areas, it was not in particularly good shape.”


Barrie went on to say that he and the other members of the review team were looking for:

  • works of artistic merit that had not been seen in a long time
  • works of special interest to the history of the Western Reserve
  • works that demonstrated the breadth of our holdings

“The works selected are to be rotated in the future to provide even more opportunities to get the collection out before the world. The Fine Arts exhibits are but the first of what we are deeming “Open Storage” exhibits. Eric [Rivet] is working on getting more of our Shaker collections, decorative arts, etc. on display in the near future,” said Barrie.


The approximately 40 works in the current exhibit are a mere fraction of the total collection.  Nevertheless, visitors are able to view 19th-century art, some of which pre-dates the 1867 founding of WRHS, as well as 20th-century and 21st-century paintings.


In September of 2021, Charles J. Pinkney and Anna Arnold, two of the living artists whose works are currently on view in the Norton Gallery, agreed to participate in the Historical Society’s A. Grace Lee Mims Arts and Culture Oral History Project. Together, their paintings and the excerpts from their oral histories are part of an open invitation for guests to come and learn more about the WRHS collections. In commenting on the project, Chief Curator Eric Rivet stated, “I chose Anna Arnold’s portraits because her style is unique in our collection. There is nothing else in the museum’s fine art collection that looks like her [work], and I’m quite drawn to it. Her pieces add a lot of color and vibrancy to the gallery.”



Anna Arnold

*An excerpt from her oral history narrative


I am the director for the John C. and Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery at Ursuline College. I’ve been here since December of 2012.


I was born in Cleveland in 1960, that time of tremendous change in the country when we had all of this hope. I went to Iowa Maple School. Then we migrated from Cleveland to Shaker Heights in the mid-70s, so I went to Shaker Heights High School.  I later graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University.


Both of my parents came from the South. I believe that they came in the 50s. It could have been late 40s or 50s. My father’s name was Tyler Arnold Jr., my mother is Gloria Arnold, and my sister Lisa is also creative. She’s a writer.


I think I’m a teaching artist. I’m not in the classroom, but a lot of students will come to me, and they will talk to me about their direction or something that is going on in their lives, and it’s not necessarily people who are in the arts. So, I feel like I’m still an educator.  Even with the art that I create, I am teaching.


I love [Faith Ringgold’s and Vincent van Gogh’s] work and the work of Frida Kahlo. I love their work because it takes all of that emotion, whether joyful or tragic, they put everything in it. They didn’t leave anything out when they painted a portrait, or a flower, or water, or a landscape, or whatever it was. I look at their art and absorb that, the color and the texture. I include that in my own work. I’m always looking. I’m looking at everything to get ideas.


I always saw murals as another way to do a larger painting, and it’s a way to engage the public, maybe people who would not come into a gallery. They get a chance to walk up to a piece of art and engage with it, enjoy it, and look at it for years.


The Cleveland Museum of Art had a project probably 10 or 12 years ago, and Robin van Lear with Parade the Circle had this idea. She wanted the Museum to do these murals all over the Cleveland area near the art museum. We went into the communities and talked with the people, and got some ideas about what they wanted to do. One of the first murals I did was called “The Storyteller,” and that’s at the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center.  The storyteller is an older woman, and she’s telling the kids about her life and how important the church was. Now, I’m looking at that, and it’s like that woman is me. I’m the storyteller now. I know I was doing it back then, too, but that I am the elder now who is responsible for the younger people, encouraging them to dream and to have hope.




Charles J. Pinkney


I’m Charles J. Pinkney, and I’m affiliated with the Fine Arts Society, a group of individuals interested in the fine arts, as well as some other groups. I happened to be the first President of the San Diego Portrait Society.


I was born in Cleveland on East 97th Street, off Cedar Avenue, between Cedar and Quebec.   My parents were Theodore “Ted” Pinkney, and my mother was Mildred Jackson, Pinkney. I was the oldest of three boys that they had during their marriage, and I went to Bolton Elementary School. As a matter of fact, my second grade teacher, Miss Sherman, recommended that my mother take me to the Cleveland Museum of Art to draw on Saturday mornings in the classes for young students at that time.


My father was not opposed to the idea, but my mother was very interested.  She got me together and took me to those classes every Saturday morning. It was a wonderful opportunity and experience for me, because my mother certainly encouraged my need to become an artist and to become a painter, because I could draw and paint. Picasso said we are all born to be artists, but we live in a society that conditions us away from being artists. I was blessed to be able to get the kind of encouragement that I needed from my mother early on.


I went to Rawlings Junior High School, and I graduated from Glenville High School, and Kent State University.  As far as my early life is concerned, I grew up on the streets of Cleveland. As a boy, I remember shooting marbles on the Karamu House, parking lot. When a photographer there took me into the dark room and showed me how to develop a  photograph, that was magic to me. I thought that was the most interesting thing.  As a result, I was hooked on photography early on. I had a very interesting and very colorful, pleasant boyhood in Cleveland.


I called [the Cedar Avenue Community] the “Harlem of Cleveland.” It was the cultural center for Black people. As a matter of matter fact, the Karamu House, which is very famous, is located near that area, in the Quincy Avenue, 89th Street, Cedar Avenue area.

So I was very blessed to come in contact with many of Cleveland’s cultural leaders, if you will.  There was the Cedar Gardens, which became a very famous place where black musicians and other artistic people came together.  It was a very interesting and diverse area for that kind of activity.


Art was my major course of study at Glenville High School.  I wanted to study it, and I kept pursuing it.  Of course, I couldn’t make a living as a painter when I left Kent State, so I picked up a camera, which I learned to use very professionally while “painting” with my camera. I took that camera and eventually became the first African-American person that The Pittsburgh Press newspaper hired.


Artist Profile: Hector Castellanos Lara

Gathering images from the majestic volcanoes surrounding Ciudad de Guatemala in his youth, Hector Castellanos Lara brings forth a lament of sorrow, exile and joy from Central America.  His early influences included his father, a well-known commercial painter in Guatemala who worked on giant commercial and political murals from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Castellanos Lara’s mother, who drew inspiration from the folk art of Guatemala as a dressmaker, which included images of daily life, also had a major impact on him.  From this enchanted beginning an environment of art, joy and struggle, Hector’s work flows today.  


     In Long Island, New York, during the 1980s he developed his talents as a commercial designer working for El Greco Footwear, Inc.  At the same time, Hector began to explore and develop his work in the Fine Arts.  Now a resident of Cleveland Ohio since 1990 Hector Castellanos Lara has had numerous exhibitions and workshops in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Playhouse Square Foundation – Education Department, Outreach Programs Young Audiences, Outreach Programs Beck Center for the Arts, Immigrant Worker Project, International Community Council, The Arthouse, International House of Blues Foundation, MetroHealth Center, and Broadway School of Music and the Arts.  Including a solo exhibition “Spirit of Spontaneity”, the final exhibit at Cleveland State University Art Gallery and Creighton University “Winter 2015-16” Omaha, NE.


     Hector’s participation with many organizations in promoting and working with variety of community arts and cultural programs has established new opportunities for artists in the Greater Cleveland.   Starting with his work with Escuela Popular where he coordinated exhibits of emerging Latino Artists from Northeast Ohio, as well working with artist who came from Central America and Mexico to exhibit in Cleveland, Ohio for the first time.  From these beginnings he started working with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Parade the Circle and Chalk Festival as well at The Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin as both an Artist-in-Residence and Outreach Artist in schools and community centers across Cleveland.   


     This work, organizing community outreach and artists, lead Hector Castellanos Lara to become a co-founder of ALU (Artistas Latinos Unidos), an association dedicated to promoting the art of Latina/os and has served as a connect point for educational, community and social service organizations seeking artists for a myriad of projects.   ALU, in coordination with Cleveland Public Theatre, has mobilized students, immigrant community and members of the general public to celebrate Day of Dead, a multi-day event mixing traditions from across the Americas in art, dance, puppetry and music.  


     As a community lead, artist and organizer Hector works with diverse populations to cross borders – both real and imagined.   This ranges from his work as a board member of Spaces Galleries World Artist Program hosting emerging world artists and to work with migrant farm workers through the Immigrant Worker Project.  He has worked with organizations such as the International Community Council, Cleveland Public Library and countless local universities (College of Wooster, Cleveland State University, Baldwin Wallace College, Ashland University, Walsh University, Creighton University) to create interactive community art projects.  These projects not only awaken the imagination of members or students but also help these organizations create new community relationships.   


     It is not surprising that another facet of Hector Castellanos Lara’s work is in education and the arts.   He has worked in numerous public and private schools (K-12) on interactive educational projects.  Most important has been his work awaking people to the tradition of the Alfombras – a sawdust and flower carpets that draw on the traditional and modern images from Latin America and Community Mural Projects.   These workshops/projects include presentations on the history and traditions of popular art in the Americas.  Hector’s work has not been limited to traditional settings as demonstrated by his bilingual art therapy since 2010 with ALAS (Alliance of Latinos Against Stigma) a project of NAMI & Centers for Families & Children.   In art, education and community building the core of Hector Castellanos Lara’s work is to reach across the barriers that bind us to the past and together create a new future.  216-235-0811

Before Expedia: Travel Bureaus and Immigrants

By: John Grabowski, PhD

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

In the last twenty-five years the travel industry has seen enormous changes.   Self-booking via the internet has become the way “to go” in terms of arranging transport and accommodation.  This technological shift has taken a toll on independent travel bureaus, the number of which has dwindled significantly.   But some of the still existing businesses have origins that have little to do with going on holiday.   

Many travel bureaus began business by bringing people to Cleveland.   Almost every immigrant neighborhood in the city had a steamship agent whose main business was to get people from “there” to “here”, and also to arrange for money to be sent back to the homeland.   Michael Kniola’s business served the “Warsawa” Polish community along Fleet Avenue, while Joseph Tetlak, worked with the Poles in Tremont, and the Lewandowski bureau served the Poles in the Poznan area near St. Clair.   Henry Spira sold steamship tickets and started a foreign exchange service and a bank in the largely Jewish lower Woodland community.  His customers would have included Jews, Italians, and other nationalities resident in the area.  He would prosper and become a prominent figure in the Jewish Community.   Years later, in the 1950s Louis Depaolo, the unofficial “mayor of Little Italy” assisted Italian immigrants and also sponsored annual tours of Italy.  All of these individuals, and others became important “go to” people in their communities.

Changing technologies in the late nineteenth century spurred the growth of this industry.   The greatest changes were in transportation and communication.   The growth of railroad systems in the US and in Europe and, particularly, scheduled trans-oceanic packet steamship transportation made getting from “there to here” regular and systematic.  The financial success of the great ocean liners rested, in large part, on the immigrant trade — and the immigrant trade was driven by the growing labor needs of industrial cities like Cleveland.  

By the late nineteenth century a steamship agent/travel broker  in Cleveland could arrange a travel package that would take a European immigrant from a town near his/her home to a port in Europe, across the ocean, and to Cleveland by rail.  These journeys were often arranged by family or friends who had already arrived in the city.   That same agent could also send money earned in Cleveland back to the homeland.   A growing global network of telegraph lines made all of this possible.  This interconnectivity was a harbinger of what we know today.

This trade would flourish up to the first World War and then briefly again after the conflict, until the time when the United States severely restricted immigration in the 1920s.   It would revive after the cataclysm of World War II, but by the 1950s and 1960s, many immigrant travel bureaus were also arranging holidays for the descendants of the immigrant they had brought over – many of which took people back to their ancestral land – and by the late 1960s more often by air than by sea.

Today there are few remnants of this immigrant-based industry in Cleveland.  Kollander World Travel, which has worked with the South Slavic community for ninety-eight years, is an important link to this part of our community’s history.  It still books travel and tours – much of which are back to Slovenia and Croatia.  But, the history also lives on in the archives of the Western Reserve Historical Society.   Henry Spira’s papers are part of our collections as is an enormous archive of the Michael Kniola travel agency.    Kniola’s papers document thousands of trips from the then divided lands of Poland to Cleveland and almost an equal number of fund transfers sent by immigrant workers in our city to family and relatives.   WRHS also holds artifacts from the Kniola Bureau, including the wooden counter over which countless passages were arranged.

These collections reflect on a world well before Expedia – but one which still echoes today.  True, most of us see travel as a holiday experience, but countless other people around the globe still see it as a route to safety and a secure life – a fact that echoes through every daily news report.

Public Library Partners with WRHS to Offer a Free Lunchtime Discussion in October

By Dr. Tonya Briggs, Guest Contributor

Martin Luther King, Jr. Anchor Branch Manager

Cleveland Public Library


Branch libraries are constantly adapting to support community learning and development.  On Monday, October 18, 2021, Cleveland Public Library’s Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) branch will partner with the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) and Dr. Regennia N. Williams to present a free lunchtime program on There’s Something About Edgefield:  Shining a Light on the Black Community through History, Genealogy & Genetic DNA. Edna Gail Bush and Natonne Elaine Kemp are the book’s co-authors.  

The program will take place at the MLK branch, which is located at 1962 Stokes Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio 44106. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.  The first 10 people to register will receive a free copy of the book or a book bag. For registration information, please click HERE


This program, the only community-based discussion in the WRHS “By the Book” series, is designed to increase the MLK library staff and patrons’ level of awareness about the services and experiences offered within the University Circle community. Overall, the MLK branch library focuses on programs that lead to personal and community transformation. 


For example, I had the privilege of receiving a behind the scenes tour of WRHS’s African American Archives because my mother was a member of the African American Genealogical Society of Cleveland.  The tour increased my knowledge of and appreciation for the city of Cleveland and its African American communities’ historical contributions.


When the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) offered free book kits to libraries that would promote health literacy, a program focusing on There’s Something About Edgefield seemed to be a good way to share my mother’s and grandparents’ genealogical research with library users while introducing them to an interesting book about family history, local history, and a community in South Carolina.  


Learning about the achievements, challenges, and sacrifices of my ancestors increased my appreciation for how their choices impacted the opportunities that I have today. Thanks to an ancestor who donated land to a college so that his children could be educated for free, I am a fourth generation college graduate.  Until I taught college English, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be able to turn to my grandfather for guidance during my four years of college at Syracuse University. 


I feel fortunate to partner with Dr. Williams and WRHS to present our book talk on October 18, 2021, during Health Literacy Month.  Just as my grandfather’s experience with college provided a successful path to graduation, Dr. Williams’ experience with WRHS’s African American Archives and her family and local history research will help University Circle community members appreciate and begin the path towards learning about the importance of family health and community history in transforming their lives for the better.  


About the Author:

Dr. Tonya Briggs is a native Clevelander and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Anchor Branch Manager. Cleveland Public Library’s Martin Luther King, Jr. branch was established on April 16, 1970. The branch library’s collection and programs focus on social justice and reflects its diverse community. Librarianship is Dr. Briggs’s third career involving books and helping people transform their lives through easy access to information.  She has worked in book publishing in New York City, as a college English, Literature and Rhetoric instructor, and as an academic library dean. 

LAND Moto and Cleveland CycleWerks Gift Motorcycles to the Western Reserve Historical Society

In March 2020, Cleveland CycleWerks announced their newest technological advances with the launch of the Falcon E Moto.  In 2021, their founder Scott Colosimo spun off this new concept into LAND Moto, changing vehicles name to the District.  LAND Moto is focused on their Distributed Energy platform and E Motos.  With the growth of the LAND brand, it signals Scott’s desire to build LAND’s technology and manufacturing base in Cleveland, Ohio. LAND’s new product and direction represent 12 years of consumer insight, deep industry knowledge, and a unique take on the market that Scott has always had.  The first product, the District is a cross between a bike, moped and motorcycle, which LAND simply calls the “E Moto”.

Scott Colosimo, the founder of Cleveland CycleWerks and LAND Moto explained, “We are no longer bound by the physical constraints of internal combustion. Our platform grows with the rider as their skill and desire for speed increases, it was not possible to bridge the gap with gas, so we are building the electric business under the LAND brand.”

The District represents LAND’s entry into the e mobility and distributed energy space. These vehicles represent a shift in focus from high-volume vehicles to lower-volume, carefully crafted product, and U.S.-based manufacturing. With a localized footprint, LAND is able to vertically integrate in the U.S., enabling them to be more self-reliant and independent. Colosimo says, “The team wants to focus on higher craft, innovative materials, and advanced manufacturing techniques while growing our distributed energy platform.

The District will fit into several different categories from E-Bicycle, E-Moped, to E-Motorcycle.  These vehicles can be digitally customized to fit in several different classes with no physical changes needed; a shift from physical changes to digital makes updates to the vehicle possible even after it is in the consumers hands.

Colosimo formally gifted The Heist land speed record bike, an Ace Scrambler, a Misfit, and a LAND District all-electric bike to the Western Reserve Historical Society at the grand opening of the Year of the Motorcycle, August 19th.  The bikes are now on display as part of the exhibit “A Century of the American Motorcycle”.

Alternative “Entrepreneurs”

As we look at the history of business and enterprise in Greater Cleveland, it is worth noting that there was a collaborative model that focused on shared enterprise and societal good, rather than simply ever growing profits.

Many people will still remember the Cleveland Food Co-Op which was established in 1968 by a group of Hessler Road residents.  It started on a front porch on Hessler Road, and quickly had 50 household members.  By buying in bulk, it reduced costs and made food far more affordable.   Eventually the Co-op would move to a site on Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland, then to a location on Coventry and finally back to a site at 11702 Euclid Avenue in 1984.   Eventually, construction, traffic and the establishment of Whole Foods led to its closure in 2011.

Yet, it was not the first co-op in the city.  Several immigrant groups created their own system of community owned and operated stores that kept prices low and generated just enough profit to pay employees and cover rent.  The Workers Gymnastic Union, a Czech organization established co-ops in the 1930s.  One location, situated in Maple Heights, continued to function into the 1970s.  In 1936 The Gymnastic Union also known as the DTJ (after its Czech language title) also sponsored an alternative Workers Olympiad at its shared rural settlement Taborville in Auburn Township in response to the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany.   Polish grocers also created a joint association in order to allow independent shops the ability to buy produce at the lowest possible price.  For many years a Polish Grocers Association (PGA) store stood at the intersection of Worley Avenue and East 71st Street.

These stories are part of an alternative, but important aspect of business and entrepreneurship in Greater Cleveland.   At times associated with the Socialist movement (which was quite strong in Cleveland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) they suggested alternatives for affordable products (often in the most difficult of times) rather than a wider profit margin.    Some echoes of this communal ethos are reflected in the farmers’ markets that are held regularly in our area and in many small craft-based shops that provide unique goods and make enough money to support the entrepreneur – these are the “makers” of today who often settle for the quality of their products rather than the quantity of their profit.

Four WRHS Staff join Northeast Ohio Chapter of Fulbright Association

By: Emily Noggle
Marketing Manager at the Cleveland History Center


The Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Fulbright Association recently held annual elections for the Chapter Board. We are excited to announce that Regennia N. Williams, PhD, WRHS Distinguished Scholar of African American History & Culture; John Grabowski, PhD, WRHS Krieger Mueller Chief Historian; and Sean Martin, PhD, WRHS Associate Curator for Jewish History, have been elected to the following positions:

Regennia N. Williams, PhD – President

John Grabowski, PHD – Vice President

Sean Martin, PhD – Board of Directors

Kelly Falcone-Hall, WRHS President & CEO is also a member of the new Northeast Ohio Chapter.

What is the Fulbright Association?

The Fulbright Association is the U.S. alumni organization of the Fulbright Program, which is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U. S. government. They provide grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs. The Fulbright program allows students the opportunity to meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences, with the goal of promoting mutual understanding through cultural engagement and intellectual freedom.

So what does the Fulbright Association do to support the program?

Since their founding in 1946,The Fulbright Association has been making strides to make a difference all over the world. The Fulbright Association acts as a hub for alumni, connecting those who value diversity and international education. Their mission is to continue and extend the Fulbright tradition of education, advocacy and service. According to their website, the alumni represent over 165 countries and contains change-makers in politics, business, science, education, and the arts, including 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, 59 Nobel Prize laureates, 37 current or former heads of state or government, 70 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, and 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.

Our WRHS Fulbright Scholars have taught and/or conducted research in Europe, Asia, and Africa (among other places). Within their new positions, Dr. Williams, Dr. Grabowski, and Dr. Martin have been elected to provide support and create a collaborative environment for the Fulbright Program members and its alumni by creating opportunities for networking, professional development, mentoring, cultural enrichment, and community service. The local Northeast Ohio Chapter will work with visiting Fulbrighters from abroad by introducing them to history and resources of Northeast Ohio and by providing opportunities for them to meet one another while here. Please join us in congratulating the newest members of the Northeast Ohio Chapter Board!

The Guardians of Traffic

By: Pamela Dorazio Dean
WRHS Curator of Italian American History / Director, IAMCLE


What are the Guardians of Traffic?
The Guardians of Traffic are eight large figures sculpted on four Berea sandstone pylons on the
Hope Memorial Bridge, formerly Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, in Cleveland, Ohio. Two sets of
Guardians face the east and the other two sets face the west.

The artistic style can be described as transitional, between a stylized classicism and the
Modernistic or Art Deco style. They were modeled after the Greek god, Hermes. The Guardians
have been proudly overseeing the Hope Memorial Bridge since 1932 and have become iconic in
the city of Cleveland.

Each Guardian holds a different mode of transportation in its hands, including a hay rack, a
covered wagon, a stage coach, a passenger automobile, and four types of motor trucks. The
vehicles represent the progress made in transportation over time. Because of this, they are
sometimes called the Guardians of Transportation. The correct name as given by the designers,
however, is Guardians of Traffic.

Who created the Guardians of Traffic?
Many sources on the history and creation of the Guardians of Traffic credit Frank Walker of the
prominent Cleveland architectural firm of Walker and Weeks as the designer and Henry Hering
of New York as the sculptor. There is also mention of William Henry “Hank” Hope, the father
of famous comedian Bob Hope, who assisted with stone carving and whom the bridge was
renamed for in 1983.

A project of this magnitude and depth, however, requires the work of a team of uniquely skilled
and talented people. A few sources do mention that a crew of workmen helped in the creation
and installation of the Guardians. What they fail to mention, however, is that the majority of this
crew were Italian immigrants who not only “assisted” but proudly and diligently applied their
abilities and talents to bring the statues to life.


Who was on the crew that created the Guardians?
Many of the stone carvers and other workers on the crew who created the Guardians were Italian
immigrants from Oratino, Italy, a small paese (village) in the Province of Campobasso and who
settled in the Little Italy and other Italian neighborhoods of Cleveland.

This is a list of the known names of the individuals who worked on the Guardians of Traffic in
some capacity:

  • Bill Anslow
  • Thomas P. Campbell
  • Antonio Chiocchio, Lead
  • Carmen Chiocchio
  • Gennaro Chiocchio
  • Anthony Cipullo
  • Frank Cipullo
  • Louis Cirelli
  • Anthony Fatica
  • Celestino Fatica
  • Fiorangelo Fatica
  • Gennaro Fatica
  • Pasquale Fatica
  • Sam Gentile
  • William Henry Hope
  • Charles Iafelice
  • Frank Leonardi
  • Domenicantonio Mastrangelo
  • Jack O’Brien
  • Cosimo Palante
  • Celestino Petti
  • Loreto Petti
  • Peter Salvatore
  • Albert Tirabasso
  • Henry Tirabasso
  • Andrew Waddell
  • Charles Waddell

Where were the Guardians of Traffic carved?

The Guardians of Traffic were carved in Little Italy at the Ohio Cut Stone Company which was located at 2066 Random Road in what is currently known as the Singer Steel Building.  The Italians living in Little Italy were very excited and proud of this project.


Henry Chiocchio, related to Antonio and Gennaro, was interviewed for a 1983 Plain Dealer article about his family’s involvement with the pylons. The article states:

Henry said when he was just a little boy living near the stone carving shop in Little Italy, his father and Uncle Jim took him many nights after supper to see the days work. “I remember seeing the heads, the shoulders and the vehicles of the pylons being formed,” Henry Chiocchio said.  “I was very impressed. We Italian people are very proud of what we do, especially in working with our hands.”

Arts, Culture, and a New Oral History Project at WRHS 

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD 

The Western Reserve Historical Society  

Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture  

Life Member, The Oral History Association 

The recently accessioned archival collection for Dr. A. Grace Lee Mims (1930 –2019) is providing the inspiration for an exciting new oral history project at the Western Reserve Historical Society(WRHS). Dr. Mims, who was a librarian, soprano vocalist, radio personality, and educator, amassed a treasure trove of items that comprises more than 100 linear feet of manuscript materials, photographs, and audio recording from “The Black Arts,” a program that Mims hosted on WCLV Radio for more than 40 years.

Launched in the summer of 2021, the A. Grace Lee Mims Arts and Culture Oral History project engaged the talents of our project interns: DavidPatrick Ryan, Felicia Haney, Kathryn Oleksa, and Jerica Walls. Each of these college-educated young adults brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to their work. Project outcomes include digital audio and video recordings, interview transcripts, and a handbook based on research in existing secondary sources and firsthand knowledge gleaned from the research teams’2021 experiences in preparing for and implementing this pilot project.

As a historian who frequently chooses to locate her research activities at the intersection of the arts and the humanities, I had the pleasure of creating and directing the project, scheduling the interviews, and working with the interns to collect first-person narratives of artists, educators, and administrators at area institutions and organizations, including those with ties to the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Gospel Music Historical Society.

Our team worked closely with Michael Scharer-Zielinski, the WRHS Digital Access Assistant, to make sure that our remote recording and back-up activities were in keeping with the institution’s current guidelines for the creation and preservation of digital DavidPatrick Ryan, Kathryn Oleksa, Jerica Walls, Regennia N. Williams, Felicia Haney content. WRHS staff member Dahren Phillips-Bey is also working with the team to review and help edit transcripts.

Thus far, the project has benefitted greatly from the Oral History Association’s abundant web-based reference materials, including links to “Remote Interviewing Resources” and “OHA Principles and Best Practices,” as well as the webinar “Oral History at a Distance: Conducting Remote Interviews.”

These oral history interviews are part of the larger body of primary and secondary sources that will inform the research and writing for a book project on the recent history of African American arts and culture in Greater Cleveland. A panel of Cleveland-based oral historians will also share more information on this research and other projects during “Moving Stories in Challenging Times: Narratives from America’s North Coast,” a Roundtable session forOHA’s2021 Annual Meeting.

Over the years, Dr. Mims was interviewed for several oral history projects, including the HistoryMakers®,the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection. It was only in the wake of her passing, however, that I discovered evidence related to her own work as an oral historian. This evidence includes the transcripts of 1975 and 1976interviews of her mother, Alberta Grace Edwards Lee, and these transcripts are now part of the WRHS archival collection.

In both her professional career and through her work as a founding member of the African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Dr. Mims did much to shape the narratives about arts and culture in Cleveland’s history. Research for the ongoing A. Grace Lee Mims Arts and Culture Oral History Project is revealing important details about the lasting impact of her work.*All color photographs courtesy of the research team members. Dr. A. Grace Lee Mims hosted “The Black Arts” on WCLV Radio for more than 40 years. (Photo: Herbert Ascherman)

*All color photographs courtesy of the research team members

Make Your Own Guitar

Make your own guitar at home with common household goods.  Just follow the simple directions below.  Make a music video or take a photo of your instrument and share it with us on social media @halefarm.  Be sure to include the following hashtags with your post – #halefarmandvillage and #musicinthevalley.

Guitar Materials:

Empty Tissue box (shoebox with lid or cereal boxes work too–just cut out a hole!)

4-5 rubber bands (best if different widths and colors)

2 wooden popsicle sticks (can use paint stirrers or nail files too!)

OPTIONAL: Long cardboard tube or roll, scissors & tape (IE a paper towel, foil or parchment paper roll)

OPTIONAL: markers, glitter & glue, colored paper or tapes to decorate your box and roll, if you use one.

Start by tearing out the plastic pieces in the tissue opening, then decorate your box however you wish. If you would like it to be more guitar-like, you will want to add the cardboard tube on one end. To do so, hold the tube in the center of one the shorter square ends of the box and trace around it. Cut out the circle, and fix the roll to the box with tape. Finish decorating as you like!

Once your box looks good to you and all paints or glues are dry you will need to add the rubber bands by stretching around the box, making sure they are evenly spaced over the opening of the box. To finish, slide the popsicle sticks under the rubber bands on either side of the opening. You can experiment with the placement and sizes of rubber bands or stack more or less popsicle sticks to increase or decrease the tension on the bands. Explore how the sound can change!

For more step by step instructions and some project inspiration pictures, check out this link:

Working for our Country

Contributed by Patty Edmonson, WRHS’s Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles

Many American women experienced a newfound independence when they could serve our country during wartime. In July, 1942, Congress established the U.S. Navy WAVES, which stood for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.” When Clevelander Ann A. Cain joined, she was issued this blue wool uniform for winter, along with a white suit for summer, and in the following years a seersucker ensemble. The fashion house of Mainbocher, known for its crisp construction, designed the uniforms.

WAVES Uniforms, 1942. Designed by Mainbocher (American, 1929-1971). Manufactured by Handmacher (American, 1939-1990). Cain Estate 88.94.3 and 78.113


Not only did wartime service provide individual feelings of independence, but women could feel pride in their patriotism and support of their country. Some posters for WAVES recruitment tapped into this by showing young girls admiring the bravery and commitment of their role model Navy servicewomen. This particular design was printed over 40,000 times as a poster and was made into 45,000 postcards.

Recruitment Poster, 1944. John Falter. Image Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command

WAVES served at 900 stations throughout the United States. Their role was to perform stateside Navy jobs so that men could serve at sea. Officers worked in areas such as engineering and medicine, while enlisted women served a range of jobs including parachute rigging and clerical work. At its peak, 86, 291 women served as WAVES, although a mere 72 were African American. Other areas of wartime service for women, such as nursing, were more open to diversity: it was Clevelander and Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton who called for desegregation of the WWII nursing units.

The Consequences of Cleaveland

by John Grabowski, PhD | WRHS Krieger Mueller Historian

On July 4th 1796, on the bank of what is now Conneaut Creek, a group of surveyors led by Moses Cleaveland celebrated Independence Day.  Naming the site Port Independence, they fired off a salute, ate a meal of pork and beans, and drank to six patriotic toasts.   Eighteen days later they arrived at the mouth of Cuyahoga River, climbing up a hill on the east bank (near what is now St. Clair Avenue) to the heights over the river valley.

The river marked the boundary of that part of the Western Reserve to which Native Americans had ceded their claims in the Greenville Treaty of 1795, and it seemed a likely area to begin the exploration and mapping out of the lands now “available” to settlement.  Yet it took several weeks for Moses Cleaveland to decide if the site would serve as the center for the survey party’s work, and what some might call the capital of the Western Reserve.  He made that decision in August.  It was the best possible choice and considered naming the settlement Cuyahoga, but his colleagues convinced him that it should take his name.

This is a quick and far too easy summary of the founding of Cleveland for it misses the broader impact of the event.   When Cleaveland’s surveying crew began to lay out the lines that would define the townships of the Western Reserve, they were imposing a change on the landscape that exceeded anything that had come before.

(Map of English Colonies Bordering on Ohio River 1754)

Moses Cleaveland did not come to an unsettled or unknown land.   The area had seen nearly ten thousand years of human habitation, some nomadic and some permanent.   The Native Americans who were the first settlers made only minor marks on a landscape that had been shaped by geology and time.  They created trails, riverside settlements, and burial mounds.   The mounds were already ancient by the time Cleaveland arrived, yet they signified a deeper history than that which some people commonly assume.

Nor was Cleaveland’s survey party the first “European” group to visit the general area.  Indeed existing maps and narratives helped lead Cleaveland to the site that would bear his name.   French and English trappers had been active in the area – meeting European demands for fur by working with the native population.  And, this activity would have an impact on the ecology of the region reducing species beyond their normal, usual “take.”   The French and British would also begin to map the area, placing their own lines on the landscape in order to claim ownership, and they would go to battle over the trans-Appalachian west and in doing so involve the natives as allies and combatants.  These alliances and new ones would echo in the backcountry beyond the colonies during the American Revolution.

That process was a lead up to what Cleaveland’s surveyors would do.  They would set in motion a more detailed survey and division that would forever transform the land – according to some, for the better, and for others, perhaps, for the worse.

Certainly the New England style town commons, now Public Square, that they laid out in their first maps, indicates their desire to recreate a community like those they knew in New England.  Yet, it is important to remember that Cleaveland was a member of and working for the Connecticut Land Company, what we would today call a “real estate” investment company.  Its interest was in dividing and assessing the land for settlement and profiting by its subsequent sale.  Neither Cleaveland nor most of the other investors had any interest in settling in the area. In many ways this process still resonates today when open land or existing structures are developed or re-developed by companies whose primary interest is in profit.

(Early Drawing of Downtown Cleveland by surveyor Seth Pease)

It would take time, but in the short space of two centuries, indeed, in a mere single century, the lines Cleaveland’s survey team drew on the map of Northeastern Ohio (the Connecticut Western Reserve) to make the land logically marketable would provide the basis for the transformation of a landscape that had seemed eternal to its first inhabitants – a landscape that was heavily wooded, with a number of open streams and creeks, and with abundant wildlife.    It is a landscape that we simply cannot fathom today, except in some parks and rare corners of northeastern Ohio.

It is a story of a transformation that is well chronicled in the archival collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society in documents that provide valuable insights into the settlement of northeastern Ohio and, in some instances, which also record the thoughts of those who saw the eternal slip away.

Perhaps one of most powerful of these documents is in a very small notebook, in which John M. Holley, a member of the Cleaveland survey team, wrote down the words spoken by Red Jacket, an orator of the Six Nations and a sachem of the Senecas at a council between Cleaveland’s party and Native Americans which took place at Buffalo, New York on June 23, 1796.  The meeting was in order to resolve the issue of remaining Native American claims to the Western Reserve.

“You white people make a great parade about religion, you say you have a book of laws and rules which was given you by the Great Spirit, but is this true? Was it written by his own hand and given to you? No, says he, it was written by your own people. They do it to deceive you. Their whole wishes center here (pointing to his pocket), all they want is the money. . . He says white people tell them, they wish to come and live among them as brothers, and learn them agriculture. So they bring on implements of husbandry and presents, tell them good stories, and all appears honest. But when they are gone all appears as a dream. Our land is taken from us, and still we don’t know how to farm it.”

Red Jacket, who had received a peace medal from President Washington in 1792 would gain great fame as an orator.  His lifetime (1750-1830) witnessed enormous change: wars, a revolution, and the division and loss of the lands he and his ancestors had known for ages.  His words and his story prompt us to think not only about our past, as we celebrate the founding of Cleveland in July, but also about our future and the role we continue to play in altering the natural landscape.


by John Grabowski, PhD | WRHS Krieger Mueller Historian

In March 1924, a group of Yale alumni arrived in Cleveland to put on a musical show at the University Club.  They had been invited by two local alums, Elton Hoyt and Leonard Hanna, Jr. who had attended their performance in New York City and convinced the ensemble to reprise it in Cleveland.
The composer of the music was Cole Porter, a member of the Yale Class of 1913 and a close friend of Leonard Hanna, Jr. also a member of that class.

Leonard Hanna, Jr.





Cole Porter


Hanna, Porter, and other members of the group stayed at the Hanna family home on East Boulevard, today part of the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Cleveland History Center, in University Circle.   While there Hanna insisted that Porter write a special number about Cleveland to be added to the show.  As remembered by Warren Corning Wick, ”Leonard said Cole must close himself in his library, where he had a small upright piano moved. The butler was there with drinks and, closing the door, they told Cole he couldn’t come out until he’d written the song. 20 or 30 minutes later, Cole sheepishly asked, “Can I come out now? I have a song.” The song being, ‘Let’s Make It Cleveland.’”

The lyrics, in part, went as follows:

“Come on my dearie, Beside Lake Erie,
We are going to settle down.
Out in Ohio, Oh me, Oh my Oh,
I know the grandest town.
That’s the title of this ditty,
It’s the famous Forest City,
Where they’ve got the ammunition,
To prohibit prohibition,
Praise the Lord and sing Hosanna,
It’s the home of Hoyt and Hanna.
Cleveland! Cleveland! Cleveland!
Cleveland’s such a grand old town,
There’s such real he-men, Y -A-L-E men.

Porter and Hanna’s friendship, which began at Yale, would endure until Hanna’s death in 1957.   During that time Hanna would become one of the city’s most noted philanthropists and Porter would become one of the nation’s greatest composers, creating sophisticated songs for a multitude of Broadway musicals that remain enduring standards.

Their lifestyles were, however, far beyond the “ordinary” particularly during the Depression.  Each had immense wealth – it has been said that they were the two wealthiest young men to enter Yale in 1909.  And each had immense talent, Porter as a composer, and Hanna as a self-taught connoisseur of fine art.   His collection would enrich the Cleveland Museum of Art as would the enormous endowment he left it upon his death.  His largess would also enrich University Hospitals (the Hanna Pavilion) and support the construction of a new Karamu Theater in 1949.

Given their talent and status, they gathered around themselves a coterie of equally talented (if not as wealthy) friends, including Monty Woolley, Gerald Murphy (heir to the Mark Cross Leather Company), and Cleveland columnist Winsor French. They and many others would, at times, celebrate Porter’s first night openings – sometimes at Hanna’s fashionable New York City apartment.   They also traveled together.   In 1940, Cole, his wife Linda, Winsor French, Leonard Hanna, Roger Stearns and Billy Powell took an extended cruise to the South Seas.   And in his later visits to Cleveland, Porter would stay at Hanna’s Hilo estate in Kirtland.

It’s all a fascinating story about classmates who came to live in a wealthy, sophisticated, elegant world.  Certainly, the multiple books written about Cole Porter do an excellent job in depicting the atmosphere of the times.  The best of the books, including William McBrien’s biography of Porter and James Woods’ Out and About with Winsor French, as well as the film De-Lovely also focus on the strong same-sex bonds that underpinned their lives and their friendships.   At times, Porter’s lyrics reflect upon this.  In his song I’m a Gigolo, one line notes, “I’m a famous gigolo.  And of Lavender, my nature’s got just a dash in it.”  And in another song Farming, “Don’t inquire of Georgie Raft, why his cow has never calfed.  Georgie’s bull is beautiful, but he’s gay.”   To those who attended the shows on Broadway, lines such as these raised, perhaps, a knowing smile on members of the audience — and they certainly delighted Porter’s and Hanna’s close friends.  But they also exasperated the censors of the time

Knowing the stories of these classmates opens up a window on our humanity, one that was shaded for many years.  They also prompt the question as to how many other classmates, who lived in far different circumstances during those heavily closeted times before Stonewall, may have shared similar bonds and friendships but were unable to publicly express them, let alone, set them to music.