Oh my stars and garters, what a day. Cleveland has a lot to offer. We spent a very full day here, and barely scratched the surface. Cleveland gets a bum rap. Here’s a quick story:
In May of 1981, I was driving around Seattle, listening to the Seattle Mariner’s game on AM 710, KIRO. I don’t remember much about that particular game, but I do recall this conversation between Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs, the Mariners play by play team:
Dave Niehaus: “Well, it’s all done in Cleveland, and it’s a perfect game for Len Barker of the Indians.”
Rick Rizzs: “I think there’s been some sort of mistake, Dave.”
DN: “Pretty sure it’s right, it just came over the wire. Indians win, three to nothing, and Barker throws a perfect game.”
RR: “We’ve both spent our share of time in Cleveland, and so we both know… nothing can be perfect in Cleveland.”
Cue Rim Shot.
We rather liked Cleveland. In fact, we think:
Before we get to our visit at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, though, I want to talk about Lake View Cemetery. We’ve been to some interesting and amazing cemeteries on our Lap Around America – Boot Hill in Nevada, the cemetery where Buddy Holly is buried, St. Louis cemetery in New Orleans, and Bonaventure cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. For our money, they all paled next to Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
Dawn and I have both chosen to be cremated when we die, but we both had the same thought, walking around Lake View: If we were going to be buried somewhere, this would be a pretty fine place. It’s like a beautiful garden that also happens to have headstones scattered through it. There are small ponds, interesting statuary, and gently rolling hills. It is peaceful beyond words.
Also, there are famous people buried there. Elliot Ness, the famous FBI agent, had his ashes scattered over one of the ponds, and his headstone is there to mark the spot. Also, one of my heroes, Alan Freed, is buried there. If you’ve read my book Rock ‘n Roll Heaven, you might remember this small bit, as Pertime, Buddy Holly, and Jimmy Velvet are walking through Heaven:
Their path moved away from the small-town business district housing Buddy’s roller rink, toward a section of larger buildings. As they walked under an awning, Jimmy glanced through a large picture window and saw a man sitting at a 1950s radio board with half a dozen potentiometers, two turntables and a hanging microphone. Above the sidewalk, speakers broadcast what he was playing. The last few notes of The Fleetwoods’ Come Softly faded out.
“This is Alan Freed, King of the Moondoggers, playing the songs that matter, the records that have stood the test of time and crossed over with me to Rock ‘n Roll Heaven. These are the Moonglows, from Cleveland, Ohio, waaaay back in the ole US of A.” He pushed a button and the record started to spin. The doo-wop intro of Sincerely played, with just a hint of scratchiness as the 45 turned.
“That’s Alan Freed!”
“Yeah, it is,” Buddy drawled. “You can’t be surprised to see Alan in Rock ‘n Roll Heaven. He doesn’t have a regularly scheduled show, but he goes on the air whenever he wants.”
Alan looked out the window and waved as he cued up the next record. By the time they were out of earshot, Sincerely had finished playing and segued directly into Mr. Lee by The Bobbettes.
I put that in the book for several reasons. One, I thought Rock ‘n Roll Heaven needed a disc jockey, and two, I have always thought Alan Freed got a bum rap, not unlike his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Once upon a time, his ashes resided in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Eventually, though, the Hall decided they didn’t want him there anymore. Tacky, tacky. His family moved him to Lake View and gave him this awesome tombstone:
President James Garfield is also buried here. I’m interested in President Garfield. He is one of four presidents to be assassinated (along with Lincoln, McKinley, & Kennedy) and was only president for a few months before he was shot. He was well-qualified to be president, and it would have been interesting to see what he could have done with his full term. Instead, an insane office-seeker named Charles Guiteau shot him twice at close range. Even though Lincoln had already been assassinated, US Presidents did not have any kind of guard when they were out in public. Garfield lingered for eleven weeks after he was shot, and he died a horrible death, honestly. However, of all the US Presidents, he has the grandest resting place.
That incredible castle is the final resting place for Garfield, his wife, daughter and son in law. Not too shabby. He doesn’t just get his own castle, though, he has a larger than life statue of himself inside.
If you climb to the top of the winding staircase, you are rewarded with this view of Cleveland.
So, the celebrity burial spots are cool enough, but it was the statues from regular people that touched me. I didn’t catch the name of the man who is buried here, but how cool is this as a marker?
Even better, I thought, is this:
A young girl, eternally sitting on a park bench reading a favorite book. On the back of the statue is a quote from Albert Camus: In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. Moving.
I saved the best of Lake View cemetery until last, though – The Angel of Death Victorious. I probably don’t have to tell you that I am not the finest appreciator of the art of sculpture. It is rare that I see something that connects with me in a visceral, emotional way. This statue had that effect and more on me. Here she is, sometimes also called The Crying Angel.
There are so many things about her that I find fascinating, compelling. It might look like that is a sword that she is holding, but when examined closely, you can see that it is a torch, upside down and extinguished, like the life it marks. Also, her wings. Graceful, arcing, powerful, and yet needing to be supported. Finally, of course, are the black tears.
They aren’t tears, of course. The statue is made of bronze, and the black is just a result of the weathering. Still, it’s an eerie effect, the black tears combined with the placid, resigned expression. Overall, the effect of the statue on me was that it appeared she could stand up and fly away at any moment. I admit, that would spook me.
I could stay and look at her all day, and I took a bunch more photos of her, but we had a lot more to see today. Our next stop was the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have mixed feelings about the hall. On the one hand, having a place where fans can come together to see thousands of pieces of iconic rock history is a wonderful thing. On the other hand, the hall often seems to be run by the same suits that helped run the recording industry into the ground over the last few decades. Rock ‘n Roll should never feel corporate.
As to the hall itself, it’s pretty wonderful. Nice design. Open and airy, but very private feeling, once you get into some of the darkened areas. We spent two and a half hours inside, and I would say that we scratched the surface, but not too much more. We might have seen 35-40% of what there is to see. And, there’s a lot.
Famous instruments like Ringo’s actual drum kit:
or Gregg Allman’s Hammond organ:
There’s a lot of that stuff, and it’s all very cool. To me, though, what resonated the most is when we got a chance to see the actual handwritten lyrics to songs we love. This was my favorite of all of them, John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to In My Life.
Here’s something else I discovered, just for me. As cool as it is to see the artifacts of rock ‘n roll, that doesn’t compare to hearing the music. Scattered all over the four floors of the hall are little theaters that play different films. We sat and watched a tribute to Dick Clark and American Bandstand for quite a while. Seeing the instruments and pictures and lyrics is fine and good, but for me, it’s the music that moves me.
Our final stop on this busy, busy day was the house where the movie A Christmas Story was filmed. We didn’t just get to walk through the house where Ralphie and his family lived, though, we got a fully narrated live tour from a *very* knowledgeable guide. Before we got to that house, though, we parked next door, in the driveway of those darned Bumpus’s. Happily, the turkey-stealing dogs were nowhere in sight. Here’s what the Bumpus house looks like today:
And here’s what the A Christmas Story house looks like:
As soon as we turned the corner, Dawn recognized it. 🙂 If you look carefully, you can see the Major Award there in the front window.
We learned a lot about the movie that we didn’t know, even though we have seen it dozens of times, and that was just last Christmas! For instance, we learned how and why they chose to shoot the movie in Cleveland, even though Jean Shepherd, who wrote the story, based on his own childhood, grew up in Indiana. They shot the movie on a very limited budget, and the director, Bob Clark, was looking for a department store that would let him take over their store for several months, after the store was closed. He struck out all over the USA, but finally, Higbee’s Department Store in Cleveland agreed. So, a small neighborhood and department store in Cleveland ended up standing in for Hammond, Indiana, circa 1940.
Also, it kind of bummed Dawn out to learn that the year they shot the movie, it never snowed in Cleveland. So, every bit of snow you see in the movie is fake, from the snow drifts and snow balls to the snowfall at the end of the movie.
Our guide also told us that parts of the movie were shot on location in Cleveland, but others were shot on a soundstage in Hollywood. Here’s how to tell which is which. Any of the interior house shots with the drapes closed were shot in Hollywood. Any of the scenes with the curtains open were shot in Cleveland.
We were also a bit staggered at how small the house was inside. In the movie, everything felt spacious, but in reality, the kitchen and eating area, all one room, are tiny. Here’s a couple of shots of the inside.
Just like when Randy was hiding under the cupboard, right? Also, the backyard is where the scenes were shot after Ralphie got his Red Ryder gun. I thought you might recognize this shed where Black Bart and his men were crawling over the top, threatening the family.
Here’s one last story about the filming of the movie. One of the most memorable scenes is where the family ends up going to the Chinese restaurant on Christmas, after the Bumpus dogs steal the turkey. The highlights of the scene are the Chinese carolers serenading the family and chopping the head violently off the duck. Here’s what we learned today: Bob Clark gave Melinda Dillon, who played Mother Parker, a fake script, so she didn’t know what was coming in the scene. When the carolers started singing, her laughter was authentic. Likewise, her surprised gasp when the duck gets its head lopped off. Next time you watch the movie, keep your eyes on the boys in that scene. They can’t take their eyes off Melinda Dillon, because everyone but her was in on the joke. Her reaction made the whole scene, and it’s the only one in the movie that they got in one take.
So, that’s it for Day Forty-Five. We are whipped. What a day. Tomorrow, we’re not sightseeing much, mostly just driving, finishing off Ohio and heading up Michigan toward the Upper Peninsula. No idea how far we will make it tomorrow.
Thanks for coming along on our trip!
Cheers, and safe travels!