Local Lore 101
Cleveland's ties to farming, fashion, and the auto industry are just the tip of the iceberg
By Annie Zaleski
If you judge history just by textbook descriptions, it’s a total snoozefest. The past can’t be synthesized into a single, standardized chronicle of several hundred pages. History’s magic must be explored, touched, and discussed to ignite our imaginations. Fear not: Cleveland is lucky to have plenty of museums, artifacts, and educational spots that make history come to life in a vibrant fashion.
The Cleveland History Center at the Western Reserve Historical Society is (what else?) a showcase of what makes the Forest City an innovation pioneer. The Crawford Auto Aviation Museum displays hot-shot vintage cars made right here in C-Town — after all, we were a bustling automobile industry hub back in the day. The habits (and homes) of Cleveland’s elite upper class denizens are on display in the Chisholm Halle Costume Wing — whose exhibit, “In Style,” features fancy fashions from the 1870s to the 1930s — and the Bingham-Hanna and Hay-McKinney mansions, which have public tours. Plus, no trip back in time is complete without a spin on the refurbished Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel.
Speaking of entertainment: Cleveland also has League Park, the original home base of the Indians, as well as Major League Baseball’s oldest existing ball grounds. Not only was the 1920 World Series played there — a series the good guys (that’s us!) won — but Babe Ruth smacked his 500th dinger there. Plus, it’s ground zero for one of the city’s lesser-known championships: The Cleveland Buckeyes won the 1945 Negro League World Series there. Even better, you can now re-live these glory days in person. The restored ticket house at League Park, which reopened as a community park in 2014, is now the Baseball Heritage Museum.
The Cleveland Grays were an independent volunteer militia founded in 1837. Today, their fortress-like Grays Armory — which is on the National Register of Historic Places — preserves a wealth of military history and serves as a touchstone for local lore. John Philip Sousa performed there, the Cleveland Orchestra’s debut gig was there, and the first Cleveland Auto Show happened on its grounds. Oh, and none other than Teddy Roosevelt himself shot pool there. Speak softly and carry a big cue, indeed.
For those who find dry land pedestrian, The Steamship William G. Mather Maritime Museum, which is open May through October, is a must. The 618-foot steamboat used to haul cargo around the Great Lakes back in the day, and now it’s a relic with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
The field trip fave Hale Farm and Village, meanwhile, is equally absorbing. Visitors can peep some next-level Etsy crafts — including candlemaking, blacksmithing, pottery, glassblowing, and weaving — and since it’s an actual farm, that means there are plenty of adorable animals on hand to induce cute overload.
On the east side of Cleveland in Beachwood, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage contains fascinating, thorough chronicles of Jewish history, religion, and culture both in northeast Ohio and beyond. Their special exhibits, which have ranged from examinations of Nazi propaganda to the story of baseball’s link to Jewish culture, are always top-notch.
And Lake View Cemetery — besides being the final resting place of our 20th president, James A. Garfield — is a gorgeous, all-denominational locale that doubles as a tranquil nature enclave. Visitors can go on walking, bus, or self-guided tours, take in the great outdoors, or check out some historical signposts. Besides the 180-foot-tall Garfield Monument, there’sWade Chapel — named after Jeptha Wade, founder of the Western Union Telegraph Co. — and a 65-foot-tall monument to oil scion John D. Rockefeller.
If these suggestions didn’t completely scratch your history itch, head to clevelandhistorical.org and download their free app. You’ll then have even more facts, figures, and places to visit right at your fingertips.