This article is presented to you by Red Roof Inn.
Cleveland rocks. English musician Ian Hunter knew it when he debuted the song of the same name in 1979. Cleveland native Drew Carey knew it when he used a cover of the city’s anthem by The Presidents of the United States of America as the opening theme of his Cleveland-set TV show in 1997. And Ohio kid LeBron James has known it – twice – since starting his pro career there in 2003. The first in the nation to be called an All-American City, Cleveland is the home of Olympian Jesse Owens, Chef Boyardee, Superman, and Rock and Roll.
So, to celebrate the second largest city in Ohio, let’s take quick trip through some tourist hot spots of Cleveland.
Pop Culture Attractions in Cleveland
A Christmas Story House
Bob Herbert’s 1983 classic A Christmas Story maybe set in Indiana, but Ralphie’s home is right here in Cleveland. And you can not only visit it, but spend the night there! The home used as the exterior of the Parker home in the Tremont neighborhood was restored to its original splendor – and the Major Award Leg Lamp (which must be Italian) burns in the window with the soft glow of electric sex. Visit the home, take a tour, check out the Christmas Story museum across the street, and even spend a night in Ralphie’s bed (or next door at the Bumpus House). And if you can’t make it before Christmas, the story goes all year with tours that’ll leave you saying what the fudge (only you won’t say “fudge”).
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland is the home of “Rock and Roll” due to radio DJ Alan Freed coining the term in the 1950s, and fittingly, the music looms over the city with the I.M. Pei-designed Hall of Fame overlooking Lake Erie. Pei, who died this year at 102 years old, designed the 150,000 square foot museum to echo the rebelliousness of the music and the rock generation. It shows, with its striking tower, and glass tent.
Inside, with more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is truly an ode to all music of rule breakers – and includes a range of items such as Johnny Cash’s Fender guitar, to a whole lot of Elvis items, props from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Tupac Shakur’s lyric notebook. And there’s even a fully stocked jam space …
Superman may have rocketed to Earth from the doomed planet of Krypton, but he’s really from Cleveland. In 1933, high schoolers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster self-published “The Reign of the Superman,” the first iteration – though a very different and villainous one – of the Man of Steel who debuted on the national stage in 1938, and chaned the course of pop culture as we know it. Siegel’s childhood home, where he lived when he wrote “Reign” in 1932, is located in the Northeast part of the city at 10622 Kimberly Avenue. It is a private residence (and charming enough for the Kent Family in Smallville), but it is marked by a sign announcing it as “the house where Superman was born,” where Siegel “gave us something to believe in.” It’s even adorned with a version of the Golden Age “S” shield.
Bessie, the Lake Erie Monster
While there are many tales of river and lake monsters across the globe, Cleveland’s Bessie (aka South Bay Bessie) is especially notable – and a point of local pride. First spotted in 1793, Bessie has been seen a handful of times in the 19th Century, as well as a few times in the 20th Century.
While she may remain dormant at the moment, Bessie is the inspiration behind the Cleveland Monsters minor league hockey team, and the seasonal Lake Erie Monster beer by Great Lakes Brewing Company. And every Halloween, the USS Cod Submarine Memorial on Cleveland’s North Coast Harbor blasts its deck gun every 30 minutes from the – allegedly haunted – WWII sub to keep Bessie at bay.
Wild West History in Cleveland
Joc-O-Sot’s Grave in the Erie Street Cemetery
Joc-O-Sot, aka Walking Bear, was an early 19th Century Native American from the Meskwaki tribe, who fought in the Black Hawk War against the U.S. government before relocating to Cleveland. He became involved in a theatrical touring company, where he traveled and performed depictions of Native American culture in a Wild West show. In his travels, he visited England, and impressed Queen Victoria. Joc-O-Sot eventually fell ill, and returned to U.S., where he died in 1844, and was buried in the Erie Street Cemetery.
Local lore has emerged that Joc-O-Sot’s spirit roams the cemetery, or that his grave is connected with a curse due to the story that he wasn’t buried on his land in Minnesota. He has also been associated with a curse on the Cleveland Indians.
True Crime Locations and Stories in Cleveland
The Torso Murders
The still-unsolved 1930s killing spree of The Cleveland Torso Murderer remains a dark, gory moment in the city’s history, when 12 to 20 people were murdered in grisly fashion. The victims’ deaths by decapitation and dismemberment are especially grim because they were never identified, leading to a series of John and Jane Does in the history books. Along with the grisly nature of the serial killing itself, the story is renowned in true crime circles because Eliot Ness, famed leader of The Untouchables, became involved with the police hunt for the murderer (and was supposedly taunted by the killer, and by a person he believed to be a suspect). A tour of sites associated with the crimes runs seasonally, and the Cleveland Police Museum maintains an exhibit about them.
Cleveland native (and legendary comic book writer) Brian Michael Bendis published a true crime comic about the events, titled Torso, along with artist Marc Andreyko, in 1998.
Corn Sugar Barons, and Cleveland’s Mafia
Cleveland was not immune to the organized crime most often associated with Chicago, and New York. In fact, the Cleveland Mafia, which began when the Lonardo and Porrello brothers migrated from Sicily, played an important role.
“Big Joe” Lonardo was a “corn sugar baron” who dealt in the corn sugar needed to make liquor during Prohibition. He was later murdered, and coincidentally his old lieutenant, and recent corn sugar rival, Joe Porrello took over as capo of Cleveland. But Porrello did oversee the first major meeting of the Commission, the controlling Mafia organization, in 1928 in Cleveland – although the confab was raided by police before it began. And these are just a couple notes from the early days of the Cleveland Mafia.
There are some tours to check out, but I recommend becoming acquainted with AmericanMafia.com and The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia, both by Rick Porrello (yes, of the same Porrello family that once ran corn sugar, and crime, in Cleveland).
The Variety Theater
The Spanish Gothic theater designed by Cleveland’s own Nicola Petti opened in 1927, and served as a bustling 1,900-seat movie palace for decades before becoming a concert venue in the ‘70s, and ‘80s. But after a plaster-rattling performance by Motörhead in 1984 – where the plug was literally pulled on Lemmy – the structure sat empty for another three decades.
Although some say it wasn’t entirely empty.
A caretaker of the theater, now undergoing renovations, says at least 19 ghosts haunt the Variety that were once performers, rig workers, and a ghost-in-white named Clara. According to paranormal theory, renovations can stir up activity, so it’s a good time to visit. Tours and ghost hunts are sometimes offered at the Variety, and information can be pursued through the Westown Community Development Corporation.
The Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse
A short drive from Cleveland’s downtown is the “lighthouse that shone for 100 years,” from 1825-1925, but which still stands at 60 feet high. The lighthouse was once manned by Captain Babcock, who gave his ill wife several cats. When she died, the cats supposedly disappeared, except for Sentinel, the gray ghost cat that continues to be reported. Now the lighthouse allows curious visitors to hold paranormal investigations at the location, in addition to taking tours during normal operating hours.