Main Body

Chapter 6. Cleveland, 1974

An ominous start to the year: Monday, Jan 7, first day back to school – starting at 8am for high schools: in the dark, an hour before sunrise. Page One splash for me that day: DARKNESS BRINGS MOTHERS’ REVOLT, as parents not only in Cleveland but across the country protested the introduction of Daylight Savings Time due to a fuel shortage. Some kids were leaving home at 7.30am, fully 90 minutes before sunrise. More often than not mothers dumped them into station wagons and drove them to school instead of them walking or riding their bikes in the dark.

A fuel saving, Mr President?

DST would continue, off and on, until late October 1975, brought on by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupling the price of oil to countries actively supporting Israel in its military victory in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Oil in the US went up from $3 a barrel to nearly $12.

Roughly at the same time the states and U.S. government cut the speed limit to 55mph to save fuel costs. This went on for years and years – and would drive me nuts. Poking along on any interminable, boring interstate for mile after boring mile at 55mph was an accident waiting to happen, in my book. Not even in traffic-congested Britain would anyone think of imposing a national 55mph speed limit in open country. And certainly not in Germany, which well into the 21st century had a maximum speed limit of 80mph – or none at all.

But at least the Cleveland schools desegregation case didn’t happen this year. It wasn’t ready. It took money and time for the NAACP to put its case together, and it didn’t have much of either. Desegregation cases were popping up all over the country, and along with them new Supreme Court rulings that forced changes of direction even as depositions were being taken, witness statements made and legal avenues examined and re-examined.

I strummed my fingers on my desk and got on with dealing with one of the live, serious issues of a declining Cleveland school system – Guns in Schools.

There was last year’s experience of ‘Judy’ the 15-year-old from suburban South Euclid who had pulled a gun on a teacher, but that was nothing compared to the daily occurrences in Cleveland schools. It took several weeks to collect and analyze the police and school reports, teachers’ assessments, parents and students’ comments and the sheer misery of the fear and threat of violence instead of learning.

The series started at the top of the front page on March 25,’74, with the headline ‘Students toting guns with books,’  along with a drawing of a school locker, open to reveal a few books, a jacket – and a handgun. Students’ lockers in those days were sometimes used to accommodate something more deadly than school books, although school authorities had no way of knowing just how many weapons there could be in them. Not since the U.S. Supreme Court declared wholesale locker searches illegal.

Why? “Students are arming themselves for protection, to threaten, to steal, and to impress,” I wrote, listing a series of incidents that occurred since the start of the school year.

“Whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it wrong, because we’re not gaining on the problem of weapons,” said Lt George Trammell, head of the Cleveland police juvenile unit. School Board President Arnold Pinkney said: “Contrary to reports that crime is going down, it’s not evident in the community. There has been continuous exposure of youngsters to guns.”

The dismal truth was that gun-carrying was most prevalent on the city’s black East Side.

There. I’ve said it. Written it. Is that why nobody, no newspaper, no TV or radio station, seems to have put such words into the public media in increasingly racial-sensitive Cleveland, Ohio?  All the known statistics were accessible; all the hand-wringing education, police, politicians, union, parents, and kids were accessible. Blame the outsider for declaring the Emperor Has No Clothes. 

I took a lunchtime walk along the hallways of John F. Kennedy High School on the East Side. It was crammed with noisy students, and in the darkened auditorium the smell of marijuana was unmistakable; a hard-to-see movie was being projected onto a makeshift screen on upended tables. The regular screen had been ripped.  In the projection booth several older students smoked and played cards. Cigarette smoke hung thick and heavy in restrooms. A security guard waltzed and laughed along a hallway, each arm around a female student.

‘School officials give an impression of constantly fighting a battle to keep the lid on the 2,700-member school.” I noted.

One teacher at a junior high, who insisted on anonymity, explained a circumstance that could result in a child bringing a gun to school: Essentially, if two kids got into a fight, were surrounded by other kids, and threats were made – such as: “I’m going to kill you!’ the pressure would be on that student to prove he (almost always he) had the potential of killing someone, even if he didn’t mean it.

“I had something like that happen to me a couple of weeks ago,“ said Wenners Ballad Jr, a JFK senior. “I wouldn’t let this guy into an after-school dance. We argued and he said: “I’m going to get my rod.”

“Well, he didn’t because he knew he wasn’t just dealing with me. I’m with the athletes and we all kinda get together. But if I didn’t have the support of my buddies I might have been in trouble.”

Arnold Pinkney again:  “This is the first generation of black youth to be seeing these Superfly-type movies. They see these cool dudes with the flashy clothes and the guns and they emulate them. The road back is going to be a tough climb.”

At Lincoln Junior High School on the East Side I listened to a black security guard explain the difference between the east side and west side to a distraught black mother, waiting for her son to be stitched up from a knife wound.

“Lady, the difference between East and West is the difference between night and day,” he told her. “On the West Side its knives and sniffing glue. On the East Side it’s guns and heroin. They’re seven years behind us on the West Side.”

Perhaps the lady should be lucky her son wasn’t shot, being an East Sider?

Memory flash: John F. Kennedy High School auditorium, Cleveland

The first piece of paper, screwed up into a ball, struck my shoulder a glancing blow as I walked through the massed ranks of more than a thousand students gathered in the auditorium.

The second paper ball bounced neatly off my head. One of the three security guards surrounding me batted off another paper ball. Somebody pulled hard at my jacket. I wasn’t afraid, just confused.

I had been invited to the school by its principal, politely and sincerely, to come and visit him, some teachers and a few members of the school’s student committee to talk about my Guns in School series. We arranged mid-morning the next day, I believe. I duly arrived, met the principal, teachers and student committee, explained the reasons and methods behind the series and, as I stood up to leave was asked if I could hang on for a minute to talk to some more students.

No problem. I didn’t know quite where I was being taken to until – HOLY MOLY! – I found myself on the stage of the school’s main auditorium, behind a lectern and addressing at least 1500 students (or so I was told afterwards). I explained, again, why I wrote this series and why The Press ran it. The principal invited questions, even though I was unprepared and had no notes.

Hands shot up and I was asked, in several different ways, where I was born, where I went to school, how long I had been in America and Cleveland. Some questions were very pointed: essentially ‘What do you know, white boy?” 

At least I had William Wilberforce to fall back on. The early Anglo-American settlers may have owned slaves brought from Africa, but Britain was the first major western country to outlaw slavery. Wilberforce was born 40 miles from my home in York, and spent 20 years as a Christian evangelical politician campaigning for a ban on the British slave trade. That was passed by Parliament in 1807, and a ban across most of the British Empire in 1833. America, of course, did not officially abolish slavery until the end of the Civil War in 1865. I’m pretty sure I forgot to tell them about the arrival of many thousands of American troops in the UK in WWII, and how the blacks were mostly welcomed by the British – at the displeasure of the (U.S.) officially-segregated white soldiers and airmen.

I don’t know if I pulled it off, but the students who asked the questions were at least receptive and polite – I think. The majority, however, just looked sullen, or angry. The paper balls were a sign of that. Should I not have expected resentment? What was in my series for them? They knew it already because they lived it every day.

I can only say that when I first saw the motto of Scripps Howard at the main entrance to The Press on E.9th Street: “Give Light and the People will find their own Way” next to a lighthouse and its beacons of light, I did think “I’m going to like it here.”

I didn’t have any answers to the questions the JFK students posed about guns in school, but did hope that by shining a light on a major problem, money, political attention and a whole lot of change of attitudes might help.

Hmmmm…Naïve might be a better word. 

There is an ad-end to this story. Two days after the above story happened, 16-year-old Andres Floyd, a black youth, heard about it from friends at the athletic track where he was training. He heard about the athletes at JFK providing such close-knit support together that they didn’t fear being attacked by other students with knives or guns. Apparently, he wanted to find out more, and to see if he was mentioned.

He went to his local grocery story and started thumbing through the newspapers. A court later heard that the store owner, a white man, told him to stop as these were papers for sale, not to be rummaged through. An argument ensued, and the owner’s son, Anthony Konieczka, intervened and threw Floyd out into the street. Konieczka then shot him with a hand gun, telling the court later that he thought Floyd was going for a gun in his pocket. He was unarmed. Koniezka was exonerated.

Floyd  was described by one judge as a “star athlete,” a track star, who now appeared to be paralyzed for life. He did recover, but never ran again. Reportedly, he was left with a limp, sued Konieczka for $1.2 million in a civil suit, and settled for $36,000.

Fifty years later it bothers me somewhat that a 16-year-old boy – a potential athletic star – had wanted to read something I wrote, but instead ended up having his life severely changed.  

My guns in school series also reminded me that Truth cannot always overcome Perception. Eighteen years later I would find out just how strong perception could be when it came to reasons for invading Iraq.

Memory Flash: Press Newsroom.  April, 1974

Ah, back to normal. I’ll write this little story as published in the paper….

“It was 8.30 on a Monday morning. I was quietly staring at my typewriter when my city editor, with a visitor to The Press next to him, called to me.

“Hey, Peter, talk to this dummy, willya?”

“My Monday morning blues vanished as fast as embarrassment arrived. Dummy? I mean, what a way to refer to a guest to the newsroom!

“But I need not have worried. Wayne Roland, the visitor, wasn’t.

“For Roland is a dummy….. or rather he projects himself into one when he goes into his act. Roland is a ventriloquist, a professional who was in town to promote Sipity Doo Da, a kid’s new soft drink produced by Blue Plate Foods Inc of New Orleans.”

Etc.  etc about being an old-fashioned ventriloquist in tough times.

“One of our photographers had “Sipity” pose on Roland’s knee. Roland looked suitably toothy: Sipity decidedly creepy.

Last line of my story, after Roland packed his bags and left?

“I went back like a dummy to staring at my typewriter.”

Actually, there WAS a man – a member of the public – who did regularly come into the newsroom and sat at the edge of the news desk for an hour or two every time. I wouldn’t call him a dummy, but he didn’t say much, if at all. His name was Bob and he was a patient at a psychiatric hospital, I think. No problem; he just sort of ABSORBED everything that was going on around him: the sub editors, the telephones, the copy boys and girls, the photographers. And he read the paper a lot.

Anything but sit in his room at a psychiatric institute.

Was he a spy for the Plain Dealer? Who knows? Somebody said he came in a few times with his girlfriend.

Not so welcome was the man who came into the newsroom, shouted something and fired a bullet into the ceiling. After that there was no direct public access to the newsroom, not with a lock combination on the door from the downstairs vestibule and an armed guard at the door.


“Yes, it’s Johnny Rutherford!  Johnny Rutherford wins the 1974 Indianapolis 500!” exclaimed the voice on the car radio.

We are on vacation to the West Coast, and passing through Indianapolis. Not that we  actually saw the Indy 500, mind you, but we did hear it loud and clear as we drove through the city on Sunday May 26. And Rutherford did it in a British-made McLaren!

So we were motoringly psyched up by the time we got to St Louis, and ready for Route 66, the ONLY way to get to LA in my book, even if we didn’t start in Chicago.

Now you go through Saint Louis
Down through Missouri.
Oklahoma city looks oh so pretty.
You’ll see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino.

Won’t you get hip to this timely tip
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66.”

Sung by The Rolling Stones, of course.

(Sound only)

Even as I’m convinced Mick never actually sang the words “Winona, Kingman, and Barstow”. Not in the original anyway (I’ve listened to that record-of-my-youth scores of times – and could never quite fathom what he sang at that point.

Sorry Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Chuck Berry, and Bobby Troup, who wrote the song in 1946, but the Stones were my heroes from 1964, when I launched myself onto the world as an 18-year-old kid in England.

I just KNEW that one day I’d make that California trip!

Anna and I took our time in our li’l old Camaro, soaking up everything from the Texas panhandle and the mining ‘ghost towns’ of Colorado, to Old Tucson and Boothill Cemetery (“Here Lies Lester Moore, Two slugs from a 44. No Les No More”), Nogales, Mexico, then the cacti of the Sonora Desert, and the Grand Canyon, near where we boiled in our tent balanced by long hours in and under the cool(er) waters of Canyon Lake. To the Santa Fe and the Tesuque Pueblo Indian reservation, the Colorado Rockies, Death Valley, Queen Mary at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Utah and Nebraska – where our air conditioning finally broke down.

And not forgetting Las Vegas, quite the most wonderfully OUTRAGEOUS city in the world – in my opinion. Anna and I got the full blast of it on the day we arrived when we picked up “free!” tickets for a show that evening, paid for by the most intensive, most bullying sales pitch for property we have ever encountered – before and since. Vegas has since provided me with several Memory Flash stories, which will pop up in subsequent memoirs over the next 50 years.

But look what we missed in Cleveland while we were away: The Indians Ten Cent Beer Night at Municipal stadium on June 4! What a wonderfully-Cleveland disaster! 25,000 baseball fans working their way through as much 3.2 beer as they possibly can in a game against the Texas Rangers. A limit of six beers per purchase but with no limit on the number of purchases. Fist fights in the stands and on the field, to the point that the game was forfeited in the ninth inning because of rioting everywhere.

Good old Cleveland!  

What we learned most about our trip is that America is less of a country than it is a CONTINENT, with significantly different attitudes and climates and distances that create concepts of a nation that depend more on symbols to unite than the geographical closeness of the historic and crowded island we knew in the UK. To stand in Kansas City and look up at airliners crossing the country from Atlantic seaboard to Pacific is to realise that relatively few of their passengers ever see the great bulk of the country in between. Conversely, if they ever did stop in Kansas they would have no sense that there could conceivably be any foreign country or different language spoken naturally for more than 700 miles in every direction (Windsor, Ontario, is the closest foreign city).

I still recall the strange sense of alienation I felt when we crossed the Sierras into California and knew that the Pacific waters we were driving towards were not the ones I knew on the eastern seaboard. San Diego is not Williamsburg.

The historic ‘natural’ link to Europe I had in Cleveland does not exist in LA, not withstanding Hollywood.

Memory Flash: The Cleveland Press cuttings library June 22, 1974

HOW’S MY BIRD?  –  Press schools writer Peter Almond, who is British born, is currently Out West with his wife Anna. While away, Peter has entrusted their pet parakeet named Dickie Bird to fellow reporter Jim Dudas. Jim got a picture postcard in the mail the other day from Las Vegas addressed to Mr. Richard Bird.

“Ah, those Brits are so formal”.

Back in Cleveland that July I checked in with Nathaniel Jones, national general counsel for the NAACP, and asked when I could fix in a date for the start of the Cleveland desegregation case. I had September pencilled in.

“You can’t. Haven’t you heard the news?” he replied. “The Supreme Court has overturned Detroit. No metro remedy in Detroit, so none in Cleveland.”

This was a severe blow to the NAACP. They had persuaded lower courts to rule that suburban schools could be included in Detroit’s school desegregation plan so there could be no ‘escape hatch’ for parents seeking to avoid busing. Ohio Governor John Gilligan and other state officials had been brought into the Cleveland case as co-defendants primarily for that reason. A city-suburban plan, it was thought, could be ordered through state officials as the supreme government in a state.

Defeat of that argument in Detroit meant the NAACP lawyers would have to take several months to regain their confidence in the ultimate success of their Cleveland suit. Supt Briggs insisted Cleveland school officials had done more than any major school district in the nation to overcome effects of segregation. With the Supreme Court’s Detroit ruling they sought victory by hiring top lawyer Charles Clarke and two others from the law firm of Squire, Sanders and Dempsey to argue their case. They even added in black former school critic John Bustamente to join their team.

In the meantime, after President Nixon was forced to resign on Aug 8 because of Watergate, national policy was picked up by the unelected Gerald Ford, Detroit stepson of the Ford motor company founder, who was generally in favor of school desegregation but against forced busing of the kind that prompted rioting in Boston that September.

It would be October, 1975 before lawyers from both sides in Cleveland finally met in pre-trial conferences before Federal Judge Frank J. Battisti. The NAACP wasn’t entirely giving up with the state, however. With Democrat Gov Gilligan narrowly defeated by Republican Jim Rhodes in the November 74 elections the case would be known as Reed vs Rhodes.


Memory flash:  Euclid General Hospital, mid summer ‘74

I think Anna’s been rumbled. It’s in the mid-90s F and it’s so hot she’s been commandeering every electric fan she can find – including one of ours – to try to keep her patients cool. Euclid general, you see, doesn’t have air conditioning – except in some management offices.

Who needs air conditioning, says management, when we are right on the edge of lovely cool Lake Erie? We have Natural Air Conditioning!

Well, tell that to the patients and nurses on a hot, hot, hot night in July when there is not the slightest breath of moving air!   

Anna’s told me about it, and I’ve written a short piece for the paper. Anonymously, of course. Anonymous, my foot. What effort does it take for hospital director Jay W. Collins to ask his staff “Do you know anyone with a connection to the Cleveland Press?”

I’m told Collins, who was also a Euclid councilman, got ribbed about it. And Collins doesn’t like to be ribbed. Anna wasn’t confronted about it, but I don’t suppose it helped her career prospects. The hospital did, ultimately, get air conditioning.

Writing about school children always reminded me that they were usually far ahead of their parents in their way of expressing themselves. On May 29 I put together a list of ‘new’ words to enable parents to better understand their teenage children.

“If you’re going to book your slave at the end of the day,” I wrote, “wearing your Parma’s and a vine with flood pants, make sure you keep warm on the way home because the hawk is killing today.  And if you don’t understand all this you’re just jive turkey”.

Translation:  If you’re going to leave your job at the end of the day wearing your white socks and a suit with pants that are too short, make sure you keep warm on the way home because the wind is cold today.  And if you don’t understand this then you don’t have it all together.”

There then follows a list of expressions that would be instantly recognizable 50 years later, such as:  I’m going to party” – Have a good time. “Get off my case” – Leave me alone. “Get down”. “What’s happening, blood?” – A greeting to someone you’re close to. “Cold blooded” – Everything bad. “He’s scuzzy” – creepy, strange. “A bummer” – rotten time. “Bad.” – Good. “Zoomin’” – High on drugs.  Etc.

I got my list from seniors at Brooklyn and Collinwood High Schools, and fourth graders at John Raper elementary school, E65th Str. But of course I needed some intellectualism, which came from Dr Howard Mims, an associate professor of speech and drama at Cleveland State University. He said ‘jive turkey’ was now really ‘in’ because it was heard frequently in a popular record by Kool and the Gang. And the Ohio Players.

“If a lot of these slang expressions are from blacks it’s because they have a history of talking this way,” said Dr Mims. “It goes back to slavery days when they used slang as a kind of secret code word. The expressions outlive their usefulness when they become too widely known, so they think up something else.”

“The use of slang may be on the increase, he says, largely because of a greater permissiveness in today’s society.”

 In the 21st century I think we might call all this rather patronising.

On Aug 2 Press photographer Tony Tomsic took a picture of Paul W. Briggs standing at the door of his house on Edgewater Drive getting a posed, somewhat embarrassed good luck kiss on his cheek from his wife, Arvilla. He was on his way to work on the first day of his 11th year as superintendent of Cleveland’s public schools. (I always admired Tomsic, by the way, because of his classic American go-get-em, sports-mad attitude, with which he had carved out a dual life on The Press and as a freelance photographer for Sports Illustrated and Time magazine. He earned enough to take his family to the Galapagos Islands on a private yacht for a month).

Very, very few superintendents of big city school districts survive ten years in the post, so I wrote a front page piece about Briggs from the perspective of three people who knew him and his work and reputation: School Board president Arnold Pinkney, long time schools critic Nancy Oakley and Sidney Marland, former US Commissioner of education. They all gave him high marks – and some criticism.

So why hasn’t he moved on up to bigger, perhaps national things? Briggs himself told me he has rejected all offers. “I’m not a bureaucrat,” he said. “I like to have the closest line between decision and action. I could never be a broker. I’ve stayed here because I like Cleveland. The people are tremendous.”

I’d write my own critique four years later. But I know what he means about the people.

Take, for instance, Mrs Laura Hoyer, 64, whose release from police custody the same day Tomsic took the picture of Briggs, was marked on P4, on the back of my story, by one from Jim Dudas about the haziness of the death of her husband 18 years earlier. His mummified remains had been found by a couple of kids in an empty apartment on Superior Ave a few days earlier. It appears that on a day in 1956 Mr Hoyer came home drunk, she threw a pan of water at him, he fell down the stairs, and died.  The body was dismembered by a saw and possibly a meat cleaver. Mrs Hoyer moved the remains with her every time she moved house, in 1961 rewrapping it a copy of the Press and a blanket.

Police said they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Mrs Hoyer, now an old, sick woman in a wheelchair.

Memory Flash:  Cleveland Heights rugby field, October ‘74

“Almond! Why do you keep falling over? That’s the third time I’ve seen you do it this game.”

“Keep” falling over? I fell over. No reason. It just happens some times.

The man drawing my attention to my right ankle was the referee in this rugby match, Dr John Bergfeld. And you listened to him. He was not only the founder of the Cleveland Blues rugby club in 1964 but also the orthopaedic specialist for the Cleveland Browns NFL team, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, and head of sports medicine at Cleveland Clinic hospital, one of the best in the world.

He had a look at my right ankle, manipulated it a little and said:  “Come and see me. You’ve got a loose ligament.”

So I did, and after a six-hour operation that removed one longtitudinal tendon in my lower leg (“you only need one,” he said) and made it into a new ligament from my right ankle across the top of my foot. The next day I was home with lower leg in plaster. But bored. I went back to work prematurely and, apparently, looked so pale and scary that managing editor Dick Campbell came over a suggested I go home again.

Almost 50 years later I can report that Bergfeld did a solid job. I continued to run, play rugby and football (badly), ski cross-country, and complete several marathons and half marathons.

Cheers, Doctor John! (who appeared to be still working in 2022).

As a further thought on rugby and injuries I think it is worth noting that I did get published criticism after my 1973 story extolling the virtues of the game. Someone at a local college wrote that it was a dangerous game and should be banned at college level, citing a young player who was knocked out in a rugby collision, never regained consciousness, and died. The sport, he said, involved none of the safety features of American football (helmets, shoulder pads etc), had no physical assessments, and was not regulated or insured by the colleges.  “Is rugby really necessary?” he asked.

I dismissed his criticism at the time because, as I said, rugby did not involve running AT an opposing players, but to take down the opposing players with a waist or leg tackle, to pass the ball to avoid being tackled oneself, or to kick it ahead. Sure, I said, players could sometimes get a bang on the head, get knocked out, but they’d be fine the next day.

I was wrong. We didn’t know it at the time, but 50 years later, as the NFL and professional soccer has also found in both the US and UK, those head bangings do catch you up with you. By 2020 increasing numbers of former players had been found with dementia, to the point today that players have to be taken off the field to be checked if they have a concussion, and specific ‘concussion replacements’ introduced.

Sometimes I’ll come across a yellowing newspaper clip with my byline that I have no memory of at all. One such, on Sept 3 and 4 ’74, was top of the front page in a two-part series about the reading and TV viewing habits of Cleveland area 16 year olds: 410 girls and boys in 10 sophomore classes at ten high schools. I seem to have invented a questionnaire form and sent it around to those high schools. Unscientific but interesting, if I do say so myself. The point, I guess, was that it was almost the start of the new school year and this might encourage teachers, parents and students to think BOOKS, and EDUCATION.

(And hopefully help to fill up some news space in the paper).

”Students turn off books, turn on TV” was the challenging Page 1 headline. The next day it was “Books of tragedy, violence popular with teens.”

“He or she watches TV for almost three hours a day, but reads for only 30 minutes,” says my opening paragraph. “His favorite books are about gangs and drugs, and he prefers comics and light reading material.  When he reads it’s almost always with music playing in the background.

“He pays less attention to the news in a newspaper than he does to the news on TV. But his family gets at least one newspaper every day and he reads it too. About a quarter of his friends have difficulty reading at home. “

Well, talk about shooting yourself in the foot! “He pays less attention to the news in a newspaper than he does to the news on TV?” sounds a bit like admitting defeat for print news. No wonder the Cleveland Press died eight years later. Or maybe I thought I would be sending out a rallying cry for parents: Come on, folks!  Get your kids reading real news from a real newspaper!

And I told them, from our survey, what the most popular books were for Cleveland area teenagers in 1974: the top five: “Go ask Alice,”  a 1971 diary about a teenage girl who develops a drug addiction at age 15 and runs away from home on a journey of self-destructive escapism. “The Outsiders,” a book written by a 17-year-old about street gangs in the 1950s (sort of West Side Story then?; “Run, Baby, Run’” a novel about New York gangsters who are converted to religion; “The Exorcist”, a 1971 horror novel by Peter Blatty that details the demonic possession of an 12-year-old girl (the movie had been released only months earlier and 16-year-olds shouldn’t have seen it. It WAS very scary.

And the Bible, which isn’t any of those things.

Oh boy.

Kids eh?

Memory Flash:  E.185th St., 9.45pm Sept. 28  ‘74

I’ve been working late and am now stopped at a convenience store to pick up a bottle of wine. I get back into the car and find it won’t start. Dead battery. I need a jump start. A car draws up next to me.

“Good sir!” I cry to the driver (well that’s the way I wrote this story for the paper). “Could I borrow your car for a moment to get mine started?”

He readily agrees and I stretch out my jumper cables to the terminals of his battery. Except I’ve got the wires crossed.

Flash, bang! His battery is now dead. But the owner is good about it, says it was an old car and an old battery.

Another young man says he works at a nearby gas station and he will get his car. He returns shortly in an old rear-engine Corvair, which promptly stops in a cloud of smoke because his fan belt has come off. He can’t get his car started again either.

A third Good Samaritan then arrives and offers to help with his jumper cables. He sets up a multi-car battery link of jumper cables, and all but one of our cars start. One by one we depart, leaving the Corvair and the gas station guy to sort himself out.

I get home at 10.30 and, of course, Anna does not believe me. She just thinks I am concocting a weird story to cover my absence from the dinner she has cooked for us.

As I conclude in my story for the paper (with cartoon) “To those guys out there who stopped to help me – thanks.

And sorry.”

Same area. Collinwood. I looked through my clips for the rest of the year and saw a lot of misery in Cleveland schools, which started their new school year in September with thousands of students refusing to attend. Headline: “Police sirens wail, 500 bolt Collinwood.” This was about an incident on Oct 14 when about 500 youngsters rushed out of the racially-mixed high school because of police attracted to a fight at E 152nd Street and St Clair Ave, just as the school bell rang for a change of classes.

Over the police radio came the cry of a police officer at the scene: “Get those cars out of here. The sirens are only making things worse. The kids are coming out of school!”

The incident was not entirely unexpected, however. The Principal said he had received a serious threat of revenge for the death of 16-year-old old David Britton nine days earlier.

Tensions were indeed so high at Collinwood that I now wonder at how much Freedom of Speech we published in those days. The head of the Collinwood Improvement Council’s defence of white residents of the area was that they were ”trying to preserve a good neighbourhood… We in Collinwood refuse to accept a social life lower than ours,” he told me. “We will reject blacks until they prove they are responsible people.”

(As an aside, Collinwood’s Lake View elementary school was the site of one of the worst school disasters in U.S. history when, in 1908, 172 children, two teachers and a rescuer died in a fire that consumed the building. The school had only two external doors, access to one of which was blocked by panicking children. Numerous new laws across the nation followed).

Tensions? It wasn’t just lawyers, politicians, teachers, parents in trouble, it was US – the reporters and others who wrote about them. From Nov 9 to Dec 21, 1974 the union staffs at both The Press and the Plain Dealer went on strike. No papers, no news, nothing (OK there was TV and radio but their tiny news staffs were stuck up a gumtree without The Press and PD to lead). It did not happen all of a sudden, and I don’t know any details, but for three days from Nov 6 -8, if I remember rightly, both papers came out under a joint masthead – the first time this had ever happened.

Then it was an ever-deepening lockout. Union strike funds did not last long and I remember the last two or three weeks we had only whatever income we could scrape together. Someone connected to Cleveland’s schools found some money for Supt Briggs to hire reporters and editors he liked – including my predecessor and my opposition at the PD – but of course, not me (and I wouldn’t have taken Briggs’ money anyway).  But I did know people on parent-teacher associations in the area and they scraped up some cash for me to go around to schools and deliver lectures to children on my home town of ancient York. I had slides and photos and a lot of exciting history stories, which seemed to go down well for a couple of weeks until we returned to proper work.

I might as well finish up the year with yet a few more school downers, just as it had started:  A bomb was found at John Marshall High School, on the West Side; Four students were wounded by a sawn-off shotgun at East Tech High. Arson was suspected at West Tech High. A major LSD drug supplier to school youngster was freed on probation.

“I could throw up,” said the police sergeant who led the exhaustive investigation. “No one ever had a better case – and we lose it.”


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From Across the Pond by Peter Almond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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