Integrating Cleveland Baseball

Liscio, Stephanie M. Integrating Cleveland Baseball: Media Activism, the Integration of the Indians and the Demise of the Negro League Buckeyes. Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2010.

Now that the World Series is over, there is nothing better to do than look back on baseball history (until Spring).  Today, we are looking at Stephanie Liscio’s Integrating Cleveland Baseball, which has several story lines, but basically tells the history of African-Americans and baseball in Cleveland between 1922 through the early 1950s told through newspaper reporting from the era – specifically Cleveland’s African-American newspapers: Cleveland Gazette and the Call and Post.

The history of the Negro Leagues (or black baseball in general) is an expansive story, which some have been able to tell in a condensed storyline, but it is nice to see one work devoted to one city and team(s).  There was African-American baseball in Cleveland prior to 1920 (which probably could receive its own treatment), but this date is important as begin the first year of a financially organized league (Rube Foster’s Negro National League), which included the Cleveland Tate Stars in 1922 (along with teams in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo before the league dissolved in 1931).   Continue reading

Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters!

Bellamy, John Stark. Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters!: 16 Tragic True Tales of Death and Destruction.  Cleveland. Gray & Company, 2009.

Despite its sensationalist cover and title, Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters! is a well-thought-out document of the kind of disasters that met rapidly expanding industrial cities around the turn of the century through the War years.  Bellamy, who has written six anthologies of Cleveland true crime,  takes a look at non-natural disasters in the Cleveland area (every story occurs in Cleveland proper, but the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster of 1876 and the Cuyahoga Falls Interurban/train crash of 1940.)  Except for a brief mention of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, no disasters covered occur after 1955.  Are we safe now?

Even if you do not want to sit down and read disaster after disaster, I would recommend reading author’s Preface.  Bellamy talks about the art of disaster writing (from A Night to Remember to The Perfect Storm) to how he chose the Greatest Disasters.  He concludes that four stories must be included in such an anthology: The Collinwood School fire of 1908 (it will be proved that the doors opened outward), the East Ohio Gas Company explosion of 1944, the Ashtabula Bridge disaster, and the Cleveland Clinic fire of 1929.  I would recommend reading each of these four chapter as they are not only the disasters for Clevelanders to know, but each is very thorough and some of Bellamy’s best writing.  Continue reading

The Curse of Rocky Colavito

Pluto, Terry.  The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty Year Slump. Gray & Company; Cleveland, 1994.

In my mind, The Curse of Rocky Colavito is the definitive Cleveland Indians tale.  The team had some success in the late 1940s and early 1950s and recent playoff runs, but these were more aberrations than the soul of the team’s history.  Pluto’s recounting of the seasons between 1960 and 1993 tells the legend of how we see Cleveland sports today – right or wrong.  There were several really bad seasons, but mostly the teams were run-of-the-mill, non-contending and forgettable.  This book captures the feeling perfectly.

What is nice about The Curse of Rocky Colavito is its joyful defeatism.  There is an underlining nostalgia for bad memories.  For the most part, the Cleveland organization was not a group of lovable losers.   There are many unpleasant characters in the team’s management and roster outlined in Pluto’s stories.  Do check out the stories about GM Frank Lane, who got the wheels moving on the curse in the late 1950s.
Continue reading

The Cincinnati Subway and When Cleveland Had a Subway

Singer, Allen J.  The Cincinnati Subway: The History of Rapid Transit. Charleston, SC; Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Toman, James A, Bruce E. Young, James R. Spangler, Blaine S. Hays.  When Cleveland Had a Subway. Cleveland; Cleveland Landmark Press, 1999.

I would like to think this review is a guide to all you need to know about subways in Ohio.  Two books that could be read in one sitting.  A lifetime of conversation pieces.  (“Did you know there were subways in Ohio?”)

Yes, the electric underground has a history in Ohio.  Sort of.  From 1917 until 1954, Cleveland had underground trolley lines running under the Detroit-Superior Bridge (now known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge).  And there were two actual subway stations that looked just like real subway stations (because they were real stations).  Cincinnati’s story is more grand, in that an actual subway system was planned but never completed.

When Cleveland Had a Subway is a great little publication (48 pages) that tells the story of the bridges over the Cuyahoga and the trolley and Interubrans that ran under one of the bridges.  The text is brief but to the point, with a great description of an east-bound trolley turning right unto the bridge.  The authors do a good job of detailing where everything was located, from where the train entered the underground tunnels to where passengers entered and boarded the trains.  What should get this book on coffee tables is the great collection of old Cleveland photographs.  “See, there was a subway station!”

The Cincinnati Subway is also full of amazing photos of early trains/trolleys of the Queen City of the West’s past.  There are also maps, documents, and construction photos, along with a surprisingly detailed narrative.  The font used in this Arcadia publication is some of the smallest font I have come across in my readings.  Three page chapters could fill up 10 pages of text in average books.

The subway was, for the most part, going to replace the Ohio and Erie Canal, with a grand boulevard (Central Parkway) above.  The planning and construction of the subway occurred for about 20 years up until 1927, when new administrations had new ideas.  While there is plenty of information on the planning and construction of the subway, Singer’s main focus is on the politics of the construction.

In the afterword, Singer and a photographer, Suzanne Fleming, detail a tour taken of the subway line with several engineers.  The end result is some post-apocalyptic looking tunnels, sure to be of interest in Cincinnati residents.

As with skyscrapers, there were very few completed subways in America between 1930 and 1980–the age of cars and office parks.  The Cleveland subway closed with the end of electric trolley lines in 1954.  Covered in detail in The Cincinnati Subway, there were numerous attempts to repurpose the tunnel or revive the subway dream.  Of note, there has been a water line running through the tunnels since the 1950s.

Both forgotten architectural gems can be viewed by the public.  The Cuyahoga County Engineers Office opens the lower level (subway station) of the Veterans Bridge on various holiday weekends.  Likewise, the Cincinnati Museum Heritage Program and the Over-the-Rhine Foundation offer tours.  In looking at the  schedules, it looks like these tours have all passed for this year.  But don’t fret, next year, when you go on the tours, you can come prepared with the knowledge found in these two texts.


Hetrick, J. Thomas. Misfits! Baseball’s Worst Ever Team. Clifton, Va: Pocol Press. (1991). 100th Anniversary Edition.

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders were the ultimate Cleveland sports team. The owners (the Robinson brothers) were loathed, it seemed like the league was against the team, the players were mostly sub-par, and those players that were not, were traded away. 1899 was a watershed year in early baseball history in that the season led to the end of the National League-only system of “major” leagues, and opened a door for the American Association which started in 1901. (These two leagues eventually were joined and the only noticable difference now is that the American League uses a designated hitter.)  Every day of the Spider’s 1899 season is detailed in Misfits!

In case you have forgotten, I will give you a brief synopsis of the 1899 season. The Spiders were a moderately successful franchise throughout the 1890s, with numerous future Hall of Famers, including Cy Young. After the 1898 season, the Robinsons purchased the St. Louis Browns and proceeded to move the more successful Spider players to St. Louis. (Yes, they owned both teams. Brooklyn and Baltimore had the same arrangement going into the 1899 season). As the season progressed, any quality players (including the Spider’s manager Lave Cross) were traded away to St. Louis, and by the end of the season, any player on the Spiders still making money was released.

Cleveland fans quickly lost interest in the team, and the Spiders (commonly referred to as the Misfits), played most of their games on the road. Continue reading

Invisible Giants

Harwood, Herbert H. Jr., Invisible Giants: The Empires of Cleveland’s Van Sweringen Brothers. Bloomington, Indiana; Indiana University Press, 2003.

I walked into Invisible Giants knowing very little about the Van Sweringens (Oris Paxton and Mantis James). I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about the history of Shaker Heights. Little did I know that Shaker Heights was just the beginning. In the course of their business career (1900s through 1930s), the Van Sweringen brothers started a real estate empire, acquired over 29,000 miles or railroad (starting with the Nickel Plate), and built the Terminal Tower complex on Public Square in Cleveland.

Harwood is a train historian and I can imagine this biography would appeal most to those with an interest in railroads. But, the development of Cleveland in the 1910s-1930s is a fascinating story worth hearing. Cleveland went from an industrial town with poor rail service to an industrial town more friendly to rail service with the tallest building east of Manhattan.

Since very little is known about the private lives of the Van Sweringens, Invisible Giants reads like a long list of business transactions. While this might sound unappealing to the faint of heart, I found Harwood’s story structure to be refreshing for a biography. I will give away the story: the brothers obtain control of many companies with putting down almost no equity.

They (Harwood focuses on O.P. as the business mastermind) somehow found ways to borrow more and more money as the nation approached the Great Depression. The method of choice was the holding company. To simplify, in the 1920’s starting a holding company seemed to involve declaring you were starting a holding company and investors would give you all the money you could need.

In the end, needless to say, the empire collapsed quite quickly in 1930-31. (The financing seemed to be based on the value of shares in the holding companies. Not good in a market collapse.) When the brothers died within a year of each other in 1935-36, they were not well received in Cleveland. Invisible Giants does not portray the Van Sweringens as money manipulators. Their story is the ‘American’ entrepreneur epic of growing with a drunk father in Cleveland to owning your own holding companies. For what it is worth, Harwood portrays each brother as likable. We do not really know them, but we do know what they left behind: Shaker Heights, Terminal Tower, and rapid transit in Cleveland. (It is hard to imagine Cleveland developing the Shaker Lines or the even the Red Line with the brother’s initiative.)

In the current rush to understand the 1930’s, Invisible Giants should make some reading lists. Read the book and, if you have time, take the Green Line out to Shaker Square.

Moon Cleveland

Trattner, Douglas. Moon Cleveland. Berkeley, California; Avalon Travel, 2009.

The Moon Handbook for Cleveland is somewhat of a landmark. That being, I am not familiar with any other national publisher who had designated Cleveland with its own travel guide. The other major Ohio cities (Cincinnati and Columbus) have received at least minimal coverage for book-buying travelers from out of state. Both Cincinnati and Columbus have had ongoing editions in the Insider’s Guide Series and the Day Trip Series (GPP Travel). But not so for Cleveland until now.

I will argue that the Moon Handbook is a different publication than the Insider’s Guide and Day Trip Series. The Insider’s Guide is a “travel” guide, but its premise is also relocation, which can take up about half the book. The Day Trip Series is designed not only for travelers, but very likely locals. Moon Cleveland is a strait travel guide that you would pick up in a bookstore in Seattle.

This begs the question why a city like Cleveland would even have a national publisher release a guide book. There are plenty of comprehensive Ohio travel guides (including a Moon Handbook: Ohio) that adequately cover the major things to do in and around Cleveland. I do not see Cleveland as a distinct travel destination, but with over two million residents in its metro area, there are always nomads passing through. Most of these people will want to do something. As a resident of Cleveland, I would hope there is something to do.

I will confess that I wanted to dislike Moon Cleveland. (Where is the map of Slavic Village?) But, it actually makes Cleveland seem bigger and more impressive. Trattner has compiled probably the best snapshot of Cleveland in 2009 that can be found in print. Yes, the major institutions will remain, but when you are focusing on an area as small as Cleveland, the restaurant and entertainment section is very detailed. Though I wouldn’t expect to see the Old Angle (in the neighborhood of Ohio City) in a guide book, it is probably a place I would send someone who is visiting.

Trattner’s food background is evident, but he does a good job overall from his “three days in Cleveland” (Ohio City, Downtown/Tremont, University Circle) to his background information (nice little blurb about Euclid Avenue and the Healthline bus). While I would have liked to see him dig more around the lesser known areas of Cleveland, I must remind myself that this is book for a traveler and not a resident.

I cannot tell you why Moon Cleveland was published, but I like it and I hope it meets sales expectations.

I am curious, do you think a city smaller than Cleveland, without a major tourist destination, could fill up over 200 pages in a travel guide? Is there a city or region in Ohio that is lacking a nationally published travel guide, and needs one?

Cleveland Heights and Rail Depots of Northwest Ohio

Morton, Marian J. Cleveland Heights: The Making of an Urban Suburb. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

Camp, Mark J. Railroad Depots of Northeast Ohio. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

You have seen them at your library or bookstore when looking for books about local history. Inevitably, you will come across a professionally put together title of old black-and-white pictures and postcards. The photo on the cover is in a sepia tone. Not much text, but a lot of captions. The series is called Images of America and they are put out by Arcadia Publishing.

Even though there are 247 titles about Ohio, I do not plan on reviewing many Arcadia titles. Don’t get me wrong, from what I have seen, a lot of work has gone into putting together each title. My issue is that they are too local to the extent that they are unreadable to an outsider. I would love to have an Image of America about my neighborhood, but I wouldn’t touch one from two towns over.

That said, there are two Arcadia titles I have come across recently about Northeast Ohio that I found had a more wide spread appeal. (Or at least I found them interesting). First, Cleveland Heights: The Making of an Urban Suburb (from The Making of America Series) is a pretty standard town history narrative about an affluent East side garden suburb of Cleveland. Much more text than the Images of America Series. Notably, author Marian Morton takes a longer look at the development of the Severance Center shopping development during the 1960, which is now, among other things, a Wal-Mart. This event comes across as symbolic of Cleveland Heights changing from a turn of the century haven for the wealthy to a suburb’s suburb that we all know.

The second title is Rail Depots of Northwest Ohio (from the Images of Rail Series). What I like about Rail Depots is how the book is divided into rail lines and the depot stations are listed in a geographically relevant progression. Though many of the depots are long gone, it works as almost a field guide. The text is brief, but this is a great introduction into putting a company name on the different tracks we cross everyday. The Images of Rail Series covers Ohio pretty well, with 11 titles about corners of the state or cities.

Let me know if there are other Arcadia titles for which I am misinformed.

Amy and The Serial Killer’s Apprentice

Renner, James. Amy: My Search for Her Killer: Secrets & Suspects in the Unsolved Murder of Amy Mihaljevic. Cleveland: Gray & Company, 2006.

Renner, James. The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: And 12 Other True Stories of Cleveland’s Most Intriguing Unsolved Crimes. Cleveland: Gray & Company, 2008.

Reading former Cleveland Scene writer James Renner’s published works about infamous crimes of Greater Cleveland is a different experience than what you get from the typical true crime story. Always at the forefront is James Renner’s investigation. Unsolved mysteries will be presented, but the story is Renner’s journey. I could see where this could turn some readers off, but I give Renner a break as I have never investigated crime and it is all new to me. He is just some guy trying to solve some crimes.

Amy is probably his best work to date. Renner, who is a few years younger than Mihaljevic, remembers very explicitly the months after Amy Mihaljevic. From these childhood memories, he has developed a compelling story. I do not want to give away the ending, but even though we still do not know who killed Mihalijevic, Amy feels like a completed memoir about Renner’s investigation. The story follows his early career at Scene though his full-time investigation of Mihalijevic’s unsolved 1991 kidnapping and murder. What makes Amy so readable is the creepy nature of this case. There are a lot of possible suspects outlined in this book, each more disturbing than the last. From suspects to witnesses to law enforcement agents, enough questions are posed to make this a page turner.

For those with a shorter attention span, my favorite piece by Renner is “The Ted Conrad Affair ” from Serial Killer Apprentice. This article covers Conrad’s 1969 robbery of Society National Bank in downtown Cleveland. An inside job. Conrad is never seen again. Two scenes stick out for me. First, Renner recounts the night he is drinking margaritas at El Jalepenos on W. 117th Street when he is called by Conrad’s former girlfriend. The investigator in action. The second involves a brief moment when he believes he found Conrad from the details in a long-forgotten 1970’s novel, only to end with a disappointing phone call to some criminal’s mom. This leads to a visit to a visit to the Trumbull Correction Institution.

Yes, there might be other true crime about Cleveland, but will it be as much fun? I would recommend both of these titles. Amy will get in your head and you will think about it for days (ending up conveniently visiting Bay Village for the flimsiest of reasons, if I know you). The Serial Killer’s Apprentice captures Renner’s energy from Amy, but in a more workmanlike, professional-writer-sort-of-way.