Summer in the CLE

The greater Cleveland area provides opportunity to find more than expected in the city on the lake.
Lisa Renze-Rhodes

There are some Midwestern truths that are too universal to deny.

Traveling hours by car anywhere is normal.

Waving to strangers is standard.

And the phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” brings an almost instant smile thanks to the movie, “A Christmas Story.”

The now-classic film (devoted fans can tune in over the holidays for a 24-hour marathon on cable) chronicles the Christmas traditions of a working-class family making their way in the world in the 1940s. Main character Ralphie Parker is a 9-year-old boy who hopes for nothing more than a BB gun under the tree that season.

During filming, movie producers scouted dozens of Midwestern cities before settling on Cleveland, thanks to a Tremont neighborhood home that looked like what the fictional Parkers would have. Years after the release and subsequent success of the film, the home was bought and restored to appear just as it does in the movie. It’s open for visitors basically year round, including options for overnight stays, and fans like Robert Borngraber can’t get enough.

Borngraber came to Cleveland from his home in Buffalo, New York, for a pilgrimage to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was looking to round out the weekend getaway when he learned the Christmas Story house was open — he didn’t need to be told twice.

“I’m a huge fan of that movie,” Borngraber said. “We watch it every year during the marathon.”

While a radio plays episodes of the Little Orphan Annie series, tour guides provide great behind-the-scenes movie trivia, Borngraber said. The house features all the expected favorites, from a blue bowling ball under the tree, to a lighted leg lamp in the picture window. But there’s more to a visit then simply fandom.

“It kind of connects me to my father, how he grew up and saw things in the world,” Borngraber said. “In those days, they didn’t have TV, they got everything from radio. And they didn’t always have the best car, so they worked to keep theirs going. It really hits emotionally.

“If you go to Cleveland, definitely don’t miss going there.”


From fiction to real “Hope”

Connections of a different kind bring visitors to what appears as a nondescript black metal bench in the city’s University Circle neighborhood.

But don’t be fooled by the seemingly simple design.

The bench in front of the Cozad-Bates House gives visitors a glimpse into the past and a chance to consider what the future could be. It’s all part of an initiative from The Toni Morrison Society called the Bench by the Road Project.

Launched in 2006, the project keys off a 1989 interview where Morrison spoke about the absence of any memorials or markers that speak specifically to what enslaved Africans experienced in their lifetimes.

“She was asked why she needed to write her novel Beloved, and she responded that it was necessary, essential, because there was no place where you or I could go to consider and remember the lives of those who endured,” said Carolyn Denard, founder and board chair of the Toni Morrison Society, and co-chair of the Bench by the Road project.

Morrison’s direct quote, from the Society’s website, is, “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves… There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn't exist… the book had to.”

Cleveland’s code name on the Underground Railroad was Hope, and the Cozad family along with others in the neighborhood were abolitionists, providing aid to those who sought freedom in Canada. The bench adds intentionality to an already rich history.

“Toni Morrison touched our lives in more ways than just as a novelist, she was a literary stateswoman, a cultural historian, and she used her novels to shore up that history,” Denard said. “When the society was formed, we took ‘bench by the road’ as our motto. We wanted there to be places where people could think about the history of African Americans, and of Morrison.”

To date, nearly two dozen benches have been placed in the U.S., the first at Sullivan Island, South Carolina. All the bench placements have been “transformative” Denard said.

“We have a primary obligation, those of us who know and those of us who teach and have access, it is certainly our obligation to pass that history and that information on and teach others,” she said. “There is something that’s so powerful about the bench by the road project because you can sit down, read about it, and consider your place and your actions in it.”


The Forest City

Deliberate actions decades ago created park and greenspace across the Cleveland region and that foresight continues to pay dividends today for residents and visitors alike.

The Cleveland Metroparks system, also known as The Emerald Necklace, spans more than 24,000 acres across northeast Ohio, said Jacqueline Gerling, with Cleveland Metroparks. More than 300 miles of trails move visitors to everything from waterfalls to the award-winning zoo that’s part of the parks system.

The appeal of the city’s parks is only enhanced by the proximity of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. From hiking to fishing, camping to canoeing, the park provides ample opportunity for family excursions. It’s the 125 miles of trails that keep bringing Mike Murray back.

Murray grew up in the region, left for college, but returned to his roots. The park has fueled a photography hobby he first picked up while he was away at school.

“Two years ago, I took a huge interest in photography,” Murray said. “In the park, the views change based on the times of year and the time of day. You can go out two days in a row and have completely different views.”

An avid walker and bicyclist, Murray said the thrill comes back every time he looks through the viewfinder to see what that day’s sights reveal.

He’s never been disappointed.

“I went four times last year at sunrise just to see what I could see,” Murray said. “It’s a photographers dreamland.”


If you go:

A Christmas Movie House

3159 W 11th St
Cleveland, OH 44109



Cozad-Bates House Bench by the Road

11508 Mayfield Road

Cleveland, OH 44106



Cleveland Metro Parks

4101 Fulton Parkway

Cleveland, OH 44144



Cuyahoga Valley National Park

15610 Vaughn Road 
Brecksville, OH 44141