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FADS AND FANCIES

FADS AND FANCIES may be regarded as two sides of the same coin. The latter is defined as "imagination or inclination, especially as exercised in a capricious manner," while a fad is "a temporary fashion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group." Fads, then, are individual fancies popularized, though few fancies reach the mass proportions of faddism. According to students of such phenomena, two prerequisites for the making of fads are leisure, in which to pursue them, and mass media, by which they are spread.

1818-1860. The media arrived in Cleveland on 31 July 1818, with the appearance of the CLEVELAND GAZETTE AND COMMERCIAL REGISTER. Under the fanciful heading of "The Lake Serpent," that very first issue contained an account of a ship attacked on "the beautiful and almost unparalleled waters of Lake Erie" by a 30-ft. monster. Alas, for local lake lore, a critical reading of the piece reveals it as an allegorical attack on financial speculation and a potential fad may have been nipped in the bud.

Perhaps as a legacy from its leisure-loathing New England founders, Cleveland generally has been a somewhat dubious follower rather than originator of fads. A short-lived Phrenological Society was organized at the end of 1837. Attending a phrenological demonstration 5 years later, however, the editor of the CLEVELAND HERALD dismissed it with a "So much for skull-ology, or rather numskull-ology." The female fashion fad of "bloomerism" had its brief flowering in Cleveland in 1851 as the DAILY TRUE DEMOCRAT reported sightings on city streets in June. "A public meeting has been called by the fussy old bachelors to `put down' the Bloomer-short dresses," the paper announced several weeks later. "The ladies, spunky creatures, are determined to `hold them up.'"

While lagging behind the popular fads of the day, Cleveland has never lacked its share of nonconformists willing to mock or evade the prevailing work ethic. One of them came to town in 1857 to take over the local column of the PLAIN DEALER, which ran under the suggestive heading of "City Facts and Fancies." He was CHARLES FARRAR BROWNE and his most memorable fancy came on the day he filled a news hole by inventing a fictitious traveling sideshow operator named Artemus Ward, who corresponded regularly thereafter, reporting in fractured spelling his progress through the hinterland and promising his never-fulfilled appearance in Cleveland. His fame spread through the Midwest and within a year Browne had to warn readers that an itinerant magician, apparently working Indiana under the name Artemus Ward, wasn't the real thing.

1860-1900. Following the Civil War, Cleveland began to adopt some of the recreational fads of the emerging middle class, often behind upper-class leadership. Thus JEPTHA H. WADE II stopped EUCLID AVE. traffic in the early 1880s by riding his 58" high-wheeler downtown, but by the mid-1890s, an estimated 50,000 Clevelanders were bicycling. Bicycle clubs such as the Cleveland Wheelmen and Forest City Ramblers, and manufacturers such as the Winton Bicycle Co., fueled the fad. The city also got its first large rollerskating rink in 1884; it had 24 of them a year later. For the less strenuous followers of trends, a Cleveland Camera Club (see CLEVELAND PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY) was established in 1887.

Amid increasing middle-class conformity, some Clevelanders in the "Gay Nineties" continued to march to different drummers. In downtown saloons might be found a character known simply as "Kelly the Piper," who played an old bagpipe for his room and meals. While making it a point of honor never to step up to the bar himself, he wouldn't refuse a beer from those who brought it to his corner. On PUBLIC SQUARE, "Newspaper Annie" (see ANNA PERKINS) adopted unisex clothing to sell copies of the CLEVELAND PRESS and her own poetry. Just southward, a black man called "Quotation Williams" frequented the HAYMARKET ready with a saying to suit any situation. "Old Sport" McLaughlin haunted the lakefront railroad yards depending upon handouts from the 2 A.M. Lakeshore Railroad dining car for his meals but keeping himself meticulously groomed nonetheless.

1900-1940. The dawning of the twentieth century brought the triumph of mass culture. What was originally viewed as a rich man's fad actually arrived in the 1890s, and former bicycle maker ALEXANDER WINTON captured the city's fancy in 1899 with a week-long trip in his newly developed automobile from Cleveland to New York. Fortunately, he had no need for the services of the undertaker who had tendered his business card en route. Organization of the Cleveland Automobile Club the following year gave Cleveland the second auto club in the U.S. (see OHIO MOTORISTS ASSN.). Cleveland's first movie theater was the American, just east of the HOLLENDEN HOTEL on Superior Ave., which opened in 1903 with the first "story" film, "The Great Train Robbery." Color comic supplements made their debut in the Sunday newspaper as early as 1903 in the CLEVELAND WORLD, though the daily "funnies" page didn't put in an appearance in the Cleveland Press until 1919--when "Freckles and His Friends" were still in grade school.

Cleveland never had a true tabloid newspaper on the model of the New York Daily News (est. 1919), although a full-sized weekly called the SUNDAY STAR rose (or stooped) in the Roaring Twenties to fill the void with such banner headlines as "Vice Raid Nets Many Flappers." One of the scandal sheet's favorite beats was Cleveland's lakefront where "Adam and Eve parties" were reported to be regular activities, particularly along Lake Rd. on the west side. Unoccupied summer cottages seemed to be favored venues for these orgies, where the local "gay crowd" guzzled illegal booze and did the "oyster strut" when not indulging in nude bathing. "Where will it lead, this abandon, this shameless flaunting of virtue," fretted the Star. "These girls and youths are the mothers and fathers of tomorrow!"

The stock market crash at least temporarily seemed to channel local youth toward more wholesome pursuits. Miniature golf came to Cleveland in the spring of 1930, and by the fall there were 36 layouts in such locales as ROCKEFELLER PARK and Danceland on Euclid Ave. Banned within Cleveland city limits, a marathon dance kicked up its heels in NEWBURGH HTS. on 31 Jan. 1933. Eclipsing the New Deal's contemporaneous Hundred Days, it ended in victory for a weary Chicago team 143 days later. Another marathon begun later that year in EUCLID ended prematurely when the promoters skipped out after 88 days. The 11 remaining dancers figured the jig was up when someone came to remove the stove. Marathons and walkathons were banned 2 years later by state law. Cleveland's first drive-in movie theater opened its gates on Northfield Rd. across from THISTLEDOWN RACE TRACK on 3 June 1938 with uniformed ushers on hand to clean windshields. Initially, none foresaw the innovation's potential for the corruption of youth.

1940-1996. A more primeval threat reportedly appeared during WORLD WAR II to disturb the peace of the bucolic village of Peninsula, just south of the Summit Co. line. According to Robert Bordner in the Cleveland Press, a 19' python was sighted by Clarence Mitchell crossing his cornfield and swimming across the CUYAHOGA RIVER. As Bordner nursed the story, the rampaging reptile proceeded to slither northward, swallowing chickens, scaling a 4' fence, eluding local posses and heading at a speed of a mile a day toward Cleveland's Public Square, leaving tractor-like tracks in its wake. There were still scoffers when the serpent allegedly holed up for the winter, but a definitive account by Bordner, subtitled "An Absolutely True Story," later appeared in the reputable Atlantic Monthly.

Believers and doubters similarly argued about the existence of "flying saucers" during the postwar period. When a Cleveland Press reporter tried to stir things up by sailing paper plates from the TERMINAL TOWER, a down-to-earth Cleveander dryly observed, "Them ain't saucers. Them's plates." There were local sightings, however, over Euclid in 1948 and in several locales, including the Cleveland Tank Plant (see I-X CENTER), in 1952. One Clevelander who took Unidentified Flying Objects seriously was commercial artist EARL NEFF who had 2 close encounters in PARMA in the early 1950s. Known as Cleveland's "Dean of UFOlogy," Neff gave them serious study, lecturing widely and hosting radio shows on the subject. East side saucer watchers in 1949 might have spotted not UFOs, but pole-sitter Charley Lupica hovering 60' above his store at Wade Park Ave. and E. 118 St. He went up on 31 May 1949 vowing not to descend until the CLEVELAND INDIANS had ascended to first place. When he finally alit on 25 Sept., the Tribe was far from first, but Lupica had set a pole-sitting record of 117 days.

Clevelanders such as Lupica still tended to follow fads imported from elsewhere rather than create their own. A group of east side teens carried this tendency to extremes by trying to revive goldfish-swallowing in the 1950s, a generation past its time. When Cleveland finally inspired a fad in the dark decade of default in the 1970s, it was one it gladly might have left to others. Prompted by such misfortunes as the burning of the Cuyahoga River and of the mayor's hair (in 2 separate incidents), Cleveland jokes became staple fare on television comedy shows. One theory held that Cleveland was merely the victim of the hard "k" sound of its name which made it sound funnier than others, while others maintained that the craze was originated by a group of bright, former Clevelanders who had found employment as Hollywood gag writers. Stay-behind Clevelanders were unamused, even by the back-handed compliment concealed in one of the best of the genre:

Q: How is Cleveland different from the Titanic?

A: Cleveland has a better orchestra.

More mean-spirited, whether based upon fact or not, was the popular West Coast designation of the polyester leisure suit with white patent-leather belt and shoes as "Full Cleveland."

One Clevelander of the period, however, managed to make his fortune by getting in on the ground floor of a fashion fad. Dan Gray, a SHAKER HTS. student who dropped out of school rather than cut his hair, began making up t-shirts with the logos of rock music groups in the back room of a west side record store where he worked. Recognizing a good thing when he saw it, he opened his own t-shirt emporium in 1974 with the slogan, "If You'll Wear It, We'll Print It." Enough Clevelanders took his dare to launch a chain of "Daffy Dan" t-shirt shops, where the motto became "If your t-shirt doesn't have a DD, it's just underwear." By 1981 annual sales had reached $5 million and one of the most popular sellers bore the appropriate legend, "Cleveland: You Gotta Be Tough!"

For those who did tough it out, post-industrial Cleveland at least seemed to offer enough leisure to place it on the cutting edge of fads. The fad of sports fans "woofing" to express approval, which originated in the "Dawg Pound" of the bleachers at CLEVELAND BROWNS games, went national through the late-night television show of Arsenio Hall, a native Clevelander. Released from the burden of heavy industry, Cleveland was learning to embrace fads, developing a trendy entertainment strip in the FLATS and a hopeful tourist attraction in the NORTH COAST HARBOR. As one local publication put it, "the silver lining of two decades of Cleveland jokes is the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME."

John E. Vacha