Cleveland January 17, 2023
14 Quirky Facts About Cleveland That Sound Made Up, But Are 100% Accurate
When it comes to unique stories, Cleveland stands out. This unusual city has had some quirky milestones and moments over the years, leading to some of Cleveland’s past moments feeling downright ridiculous and, in some cases, made up. They say fact is stranger than fiction, and The Land certainly makes a case for this colloquialism. These unusual facts about Cleveland sound made up, but they’re real… and their backstories are exciting, hilarious, fascinating, sorrowful, and everything in between.
1. Margaret Hamilton, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West, was a Clevelander.
When it comes to legends, Ohio is one of the spookiest states in the nation. Perhaps that's why we have more haunted houses to visit each fall than any other state... but that's a story for another time. The point is, this spooky place has crafted and influenced some iconic spooky figures, including none other than the Wicked Witch of the West herself. When Margaret Hamilton made her debut in
The Wizard of Oz, her on-screen persona spooked children everywhere. That's a bit ironic, as this queen of the night actually loved children. She was a beloved schoolteacher at Hough Elementary School, and she even operated a nursery for Cleveland Heights Presbyterian Church.
Hamilton would go on to work at The Cleveland Play House in the late 1920s and star in a few movies throughout the 1930s, but her biggest break doubtlessly came in 1939 when her witchy persona left crowds breathless. Can you imagine your elementary school teacher becoming one of cinema's most iconic villains?!
2. Cleveland innovation is out of this world.
Why is this Apollo Command Module such an important piece of Cleveland history? It may be on display at the Great Lakes Science Center, but that's just one piece of Cleveland's star-studded space story. Once upon a time, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) announced that it would be building an aeronautics lab in Cleveland.
In the early days, this space supported World War II-era innovation as an Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. By the time NACA changed its name to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, the Cleveland laboratory had already evolved. In 1954, liquid hydrogen rocket engines were being tested, and the first test flight took place in 1957. This locally-crafted technology was considered to be the critical invention that allowed us to pull off the Apollo moon landings. That was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!
3. Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery is the final resting place of the only baseball player to die from an in-game injury.
This one is a bit tragic, although it was an isolated incident that was fortunately never replicated. Ray Chapman was a baseball player who played as a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. From 1912 to 1920, this Kentucky-born baseball player helped locals root, root, root for the home team. He was passionate about helping his team win, and he set a Major League record for sacrifice hits in 1917. However, his career came to a tragic end in 1920 at the New York Polo Grounds.
Back then, it was common for pitchers to dirty the ball with dirt, tobacco juice, or anything else to give it an erratic and unpredictable flight pattern. Unfortunately, this practice also made the ball hard to see. It was a pitch thrown by Carl Mays that resulted in tragedy... Chapman didn't see the ball coming, and it struck him in the head. Hours later, he became the only Major League player to die from an in-game injury. Fortunately, his passing established a new rule that balls should immediately be replaced if they get dirty, and batting helmets were eventually implemented, with his death serving as inspiration for the safety measure.
4. Cleveland is the birthplace of rock and roll.
This one may be common knowledge among locals, but it's still a fact that sounds... well, kind of made up. However, in the 1950s, a local disc jockey at Cleveland radio station WJW was breaking the norms of the era's pop music. He preferred to play something known as "rock 'n roll," a term that existed since the 1940s but was not particularly popular. This DJ,
, is credited with giving the genre a platform and popularizing both the style of music and the name he passionately used to describe it. With his coordination, Cleveland became the site of the first-ever rock 'n roll concert... but it was shut down pretty darn quickly, as thousands of locals faked tickets and created a safety concern by over-inundating the venue. Today, many well-known musicians still claim Cleveland as their home, crediting the local music scene for shaping their careers.
5. Clevelanders spearheaded the automobile industry and sold the first American car.
We may not have a nickname like Motor City, but our quirky community spearheaded
the birth of the automotive industry
as a viable corner of the economy. This is thanks in part to greats like Alexander Winton, of Cleveland Winton Bicycle Co. fame. This tinkerer was inspired by the 1886 innovation known as the "vehicle powered by a gas engine." Just one decade later, Winton was tinkering with a single-cylinder automobile, and he'd go on to create a few functional prototypes.
Americans were skeptical, however, and Winton wasn't happy with that level of doubt. He set out to stage a massive publicity stunt; he drove from Cleveland to New York, an 800-mile trek that attested to the durability of his product. In 1898, this Cleveland automobile manufacturer sold his first car. In fact, this was the first car sale
in the whole nation!
This was a whole decade before Ford's Model T car was introduced, and it set the tone for an industry that was bound to explode.
6. A Clevelander performed the first successful blood transfusion.
The Cleveland Clinic is a name known around the world, and it
got its start in 1921
. One of its co-founders, George Washington Crile, was a talented and innovative surgeon. From spearheading the balanced anesthesia technique to perfecting the Crile mosquito clamp, he had no shortage of contributions to modern medicine. However, the most memorable moment in Crile's career is his accreditation as the surgeon to perform the first successful direct blood transfusion. The procedure had actually been done before, but Crile's technique had a unique method of transfusion that was quickly adopted by other surgeons.
7. The man who discovered King Tut's tomb is one of many early players in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
shocked the world when his team discovered an undisturbed tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings. Of course, he'd soon announce that the tomb housed King Tut, and Egyptomania would soon grip history lovers all around the world. However, before that moment, Carter was assisting the newly established Cleveland Museum of Art in collecting artifacts for their displays. From the 1910s up until his iconic discovery, Carter was purchasing fine samples of Ancient Egyptian art to display at the Cleveland Museum of Art and other institutions around the nation.
To this day, art procured by this famous Egyptologist can be admired by Cleveland museum-goers. His contribution to Egyptomania can even be seen in local architecture like that at Severance Hall, which prominently features columns and lotuses.
8. One of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance graduated from a Cleveland High School.
Bookworms everywhere are familiar with the Harlem Renaissance, a new era of forward-thinking literature, art, and scholarship from Black creators. This ground-breaking moment in time is often pinpointed to innovation in and around Harlem, Manhattan, but one of its biggest names actually has a history in Cleveland.
Talented writer Langston Hughes was born in Missouri in 1901, but his family had Ohio roots well before his mother's move to Cleveland (if you're wondering, his father was no longer in the picture by this time). His maternal grandmother was one of the first women to attend Oberlin College, and his maternal grandfather was active in the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society.
When Hughes settled in Cleveland, he was inspired by teachers like Helen Maria Chesnutt, whose father was said to be the first important Black novelist in American history. Hughes, one of just two African Americans in his class, began writing in high school. He was elected class poet, he worked for the school newspaper, and he even wrote his first piece of jazz poetry while in high school in Cleveland.
9. In 1985, two iconic Clevelanders passed away.
Back in 1985, two incredible human beings became mere memories and legends. The first, who you already know as a Cleveland native, was Margaret Hamilton. However, that same year,
Ettore Boiardi of Chef Boyardee fame
passed away at his home in Parma, Ohio.
This Italian immigrant opened his first restaurant in Cleveland in 1924, and it was a hit with locals. His fame grew from there, and his brand would go on to become one of the most recognizable food producers in the nation... all while he was building a comfortable and relaxing life in Greater Cleveland. When he passed away, Boiardi was buried in All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, and his resting place can still be visited by respectful fans to this day.
10. The tallest waterfall in Cuyahoga County is actually man-made.
Mill Creek Falls
is notable as the easiest waterfall to access in Cleveland... and it's amazingly urban. Located in Garfield Park Reservation, one of Cleveland's oldest parks, this 48-foot waterfall did not even exist prior to the early 1900s. It's said that a railroad company had to divert the flow of Mill Creek for construction, and the new course sent the stream tumbling down exposed rocks to create a magnificent waterfall.
By this time, Garfield Park was already an established park that locals had loved since 1894. It must have been quite an experience to visit your favorite park and suddenly spot a brand-new waterfall one day!
11. Cleveland was probably home to dinosaurs, but, uh... we're not really sure.
dinosaurs. These fascinating creatures once ruled the planet, and their extinction has left many schoolchildren daydreaming about what these fantastical beasts might have once looked like. Dinosaurs existed on every continent, but we don't really know what species lived in Ohio...
any species lived in Ohio.
The Cleveland area is best known for its
, as most of our rocks date from around the Devonian era. This oceanic moment in time occurred circa 410 million years ago, while the first dinosaurs didn't appear until circa 250 million years. More recent rocks have not been discovered in Ohio, as Ohio was above sea level following the Devonian and was unfortunately subjected to heavy erosion.
In theory, a more modern deposit of Mesozoic Era rocks
exist somewhere in the state, but if it does, we haven't found it yet. To this day, we can only guess which dinosaurs roamed Ohio... so we'll continue to bear the trilobite as our state fossil as a nod to our more measurable oceanic past.
12. The founder of Cleveland never lived here... and he actually only visited his namesake city once.
Once upon a time,
was sent by the Connecticut Land Company to conduct an expedition through the uncharted Ohio wilderness. A lawyer of Yale College prestige and a veteran of the American Revolution, Cleaveland was a well-rounded character responsible for negotiating with indigenous tribes for entrance into the Western Reserve.
Cleaveland brought gifts for locals, including beads and livestock, and he ultimately landed at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in 1796. He decided that his landing point was a fine spot to build a city, and his surveyors mapped it into town lots. He named this community Cleaveland, but legend maintains that the
was dropped from the city name due to the first newspaper, the
, being unable to fit the complete spelling into their masthead. Despite his legacy, Cleaveland was only in town from June to October of 1796. Following the completion of his work, Cleaveland returned to Connecticut and never came back to his namesake city.
13. Cleveland events like Kurentovanje only exist here and in their country of origin.
Cleveland is home to more Slovenian Americans than anywhere else in the nation. As a result, the city is home to a consulate for Slovenia... plus unique celebrations that don't really exist outside of European towns like Ptuj. In fact, Cleveland and Ptuj are two of the only cities in the world where you can experience
, an annual celebration that chases away winter to make way for spring!
This massive celebration takes place on or around the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, and it features costumed characters, music, and yummy food. Cleveland is home to various other odd celebrations, like pierogi and garlic festivals, and even
One World Day
14. Balto, the sled dog famous for his own movie series, lived in Cleveland.
Balto inspired people around the world when his bravery led to the delivery of a diphtheria antitoxin to an ailing town in remote Alaska. However, his story is complicated... and even sad at times. Balto's team did not endure the worst of the Iditarod trail, and they weren't even supposed to be the team to deliver the antitoxin. In fact, Balto might not have even been the lead sled dog... but Americans love a good underdog story, so his legacy was secured.
Sadly, his fame fizzled out, and he and the sled team became a mere sideshow act. They were
spotted by a Cleveland businessman
, who found himself moved to rescue the heroic pups. He rallied Clevelanders to raise money for their adoption, and Balto and his friends arrived in Cleveland in 1927. They lived out their lives in a massive enclosure at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (known as the Brookside Zoo at the time), and Balto was eventually stuffed and preserved when he finally passed away at 14 years of age. To this day, you can visit him and pay your respects at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
This city has a storied past that is almost unbelievable. Which of these unusual facts about Cleveland surprised you the most?
Believe it or not, these facts are just the tip of the iceberg. To learn more about bizarre historical moments in Cleveland’s timeline, check out our article on
the first rock and roll concert ever, John Wilkes Booth’s local tour, and more.
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