Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Michael Ceraolo- A Poem

from Euclid Creek Book Three

"Hundreds of homeless and unemployed men
have built themselves tiny houses
from sheets of tin and wooden boxes
and live in peaceful,
                             if not lavish,

(A few years later they would all be gone:
                                                            where they went,
and what happened to them,
                                          was not remarked upon)


"Cleveland has for several years
been so depressed by adverse circumstances
that a forward-looking enterprise is needed
to revive the spirit of civic pride
that formerly characterized the city"

"Now the country is getting out of the depression,
Cleveland should show the whole United States
in 1936 that it is leading the procession"

on Saturday March 7, 1936
ground was broken for the first building
of what would be called the Great Lakes Exposition;
it couldn't call itself a World's Fair
because there was official participation
from only one foreign government (Canada),
there was plenty of unofficial participation
from many foreign governments who had
officials stationed in Cleveland
proving that photo-ops for politicians
have been around as long as photography,
there is a picture of the Mayor
'using' an antique shovel
from the time of the first Clevelanders;
the ground had actually been broken
by someone using a modern shovel
and then placed on the antique
so the photo of the groundbreaking
could be taken)

                          Not much time
was allotted for the construction:
June 27th was the scheduled opening date,
and it would be met,
                               thanks due
to the more than three thousand workers
representing many skilled trades
as well as unskilled laborers
                                           (in addition
to an exhibit at the Exposition
the United States paid many of those workers
through the WPA)
to pass a dump one day and
the next to find it a garden,
with rolling lawns and flowering shrubs"

At noon on the aforementioned 27th
President Roosevelt pushed a button
in the nation's capital,
the gates to the Exposition opened
The Secretary of Commerce, Daniel C. Roper
(why do politicians use middle initials?
was there another Daniel Roper
he desperately wanted to be distinct from?),
represented the administration at the opening,
                                                                   and said,
"I compliment the people of the Great Lakes region
on this striking significant exposition
symbolizing the material and cultural progress
of this beautiful and productive section
of America"

                              on that first day
came the lighting that would try
to live up to the flacks' hype
("the best lighted exposition
the world has ever seen"),
the method of that initial illumination
was impressive:
                         a telescope
at the observatory in East Cleveland
was trained on the moon,
at exactly 8:22 PM received
the satellite's reflected light,
stored it in a cell at the base,
sent it off to the exposition grounds,
it exploded a ceremonial bomb
that started the generators running
and ignited the rest of the lights in sequence:
"a broad demi-lune of multi-colored phosphorescence"
"an exciting and glamorous setting from overhead,
at closer approach its multiple details
of design and execution are no less imaginative"
(the second year's gate-opening,
and its first-night lighting,
would be much less eventful)

There would be official participation
from three other states,
after much dithering by downstate politicians,
official participation by the home state as well
(foreshadowing future demographic trends,
possibly helping to bring them about also,
the state of Florida had the biggest state exhibit)

There would be rides and a midway
with all the usual attractions

There would be art exhibits showcased off-site
at the Cleveland Museum of Art

There would be theater in all forms,
from Shakespeare to strippers

There would be a Streets of the World,
showcasing thirty-eight nationalities,
some an integral part of the city's 
everyday life,
with only a handful of residents
in the city

There would be a wide variety of live music
at bandstands and from a studio,
some of it would be broadcast over
the national radio networks

there would be exhibits of technology,
prescient yet unremarked upon:
the phone company's offering
of free long-distance calls
from a heavy-traffic area
that offered the calls zero privacy
prefigured the mobile phone's allowing anyone
access to at least half the conversation;
remarked upon less than presciently:
an entertainment reporter wrote,
"A show that would appear doomed
is Television"

The second year would be slightly smaller:
the entrance gate would be moved back
and Lakeside Avenue re-opened
There would be less emphasis on education
and more on entertainment,
several new attractions:
among these Billy Rose's Aquacade,
its Hollywood and Olympic stars
(sometimes combined in the same person),
its large-scale Busby Berkeley-like water ballets
(today called synchronized swimming)
Everything closed September 26, 1937

Nothing today remains from the Exposition;
the last thing left was the Donald Gray Gardens,
lasted almost to the end of the twentieth century,
when the powers-that-be decided to tear down
the existing stadium in order to
build a new one on the same spot,
and the Gardens were demolished as well
All the other buildings were razed in the space
of just a few years,
rubble piles resumed their residency on the lakefront
(the last two Torso Murder victims
were found in one of those rubble piles)

Seven-and-a-half million visitors
in the two hundred and twenty-nine days
over the Exposition's two seasons
                                                   (an estimated
sixty percent of those from out of town)
pointed the way for the future:
"Cleveland is going to have a downtown waterfront
in which the people can take permanent pride and pleasure"
"What has been a shambles will be a place of permanent beauty"

But such an outcome wouldn't be achieved
for several decades,
then realized only partially:
there would be a few attractions built
that would cater more to the tourist trade,
there would be limited walkways,
no shops or restaurants,
a large area taken up by a lakefront airport,
denied access to the lake to those
without corporate or personal planes

1 comment:

  1. Michael you have captured the essence of Cleveland as she reveals her innermost secrets over time. Years of poverty amid the glory of new explorations. The sweat and tears of the working class mingle in the soil beneath the towers of capitalist prosperity. Tent cities with shanty houses, dilapidated, replaced by a revolving door of changes that have eroded the landscape taking the resources and denying access to the best, revitalized places. Cleveland, where the poor cling to a fantastical hope and faded promises, and the rich gather roses, drink wine, and feast to excess.