Chapter 9. Cleveland, 1977
The winter of 1976/77 was one of the worst on record for the Great Lakes. Deep snow, strong winds and temperatures down to -20deg F (-28 C). Worse in Buffalo and northern New York state, where ‘Lake Effect’ – freezing 70mph winds from Lake Erie blowing heavy snow onto the land – dumped 37 inches of snow into huge snowdrifts that blocked roads, closed schools and business, and killed people trapped in their cars.
When Lake Erie froze over in December the year before that didn’t seem so bad. I remember on one clear, windless day just after that, when the lake looked so beautiful, so brilliantly white, and so solid that I thought I could walk the 50 miles or so across it to Canada.
Somebody did do that in 1978, when the cold was even colder.
I just bundled up, put on my hiking boots, carried a ski pole and set off across the ice from Euclid, looking carefully with every step to see the slightest sign of ice weakness and leads of water. I got about half a mile before I lost my nerve, started thinking adult thoughts such as ‘Does my new State Farm Life Insurance cover me if I disappear?’ turned around, took a photo of the shore, and walked back across the ice the way I came.
Better stick to cross-country skiing, in which I have someone else to be responsible for – not least for my wife, and now for our six-month-old English Cocker spaniel pup, Douglas.
Did you know that dogs sweat from their paws, besides from their tongues? Anna and I didn’t at first, but found out when he kept stopping behind our X-country skis to bite at frozen snow balls in his paws. Other things we quickly learned included the mailman. Did you know that if you leave a dog at home all day, with the mailman being the only one who comes to attack your mail box – and not even TRYING to come in – your dog will decide he is worse than a burglar, and bark till he is blue in the face? (well, he WAS a Blue Roan spaniel).
One day, later that summer, Douglas did accidentally meet our mailman on open ground outside our house. We first realized this when we heard a strange, whining, crying noise and found our dog clearly confused by this sworn enemy who was squatting and offering him a cookie. Oh, what does a dog DO? We hadn’t trained him for mailmen being nice!
Memory flash: Willoughby, Ohio, New Year’s Eve ‘77
It’s been a great Press party and we’re almost ready to leave. I’m at the cloakroom of this hotel with our ticket stubs. I have my coat but where is hers? The staff can’t find it.
It is not a coat like the others. It stands out. It is a fox fur demi-jacket that I bought her for Christmas. It has gone, almost certainly stolen. Oh dear. Expensive, but actually no great loss because Anna was starting to change her attitude about fur coats anyway: an anti-seal hunting movement had been growing in Canada and, linked to the feminist movement, it was starting to have a wider impact on furs.
I still have a photo of her wearing that jacket, just before the event. But it is the long, red dress under it that many years later still evokes a pang of loss because she was pregnant at that time, and subsequently miscarried. This was not the first, nor was it the last. But it marked the beginning of an intensive, two-year series of medical investigations for both of us which concluded in 1979 with adoption of our first wonderful son, Nick, followed nearly three years later by adoption of our second wonderful son, Jeff.
Fortunately, the weather in early January was not nearly as bad as it would be at the end of the month. At work on Jan 2, I spent the day with Cleveland school bus driver Joseph Liniman negotiating Cleveland’s streets to see what busing might be like if, as expected, Judge Battisti ordered it later in the year. Official school board plans were due by Jan 17.
Joseph and I hadn’t a clue what the plan might be, but we could at least suggest some routes and timings from white schools to black schools across the city, and vice versa. Some trips we did that day took as little as 12 minutes, and others as long at 40 minutes, each way.
I guided a map for the paper showing each of six routes we tested, along with a picture of Joe and his yellow 66-seat school bus, and me – in my fake fur black coat and a (real) bit of trendy fur moustache under my nose.
On Jan 11 The Press published the Ohio state School Board’s first desegregation plan: to shut 12 city schools and transfer the kids – mostly elementary – to other schools. The next day I learned that the Cleveland school board plan would reject cross town busing in favor of children being bused downtown for one or two days a week to take part in a variety of ‘integrated educational experiences’. A few days later, when the board’s plan was published, it detailed exactly which schools would be involved in what program.
The NAACP preferred the state plan to the city’s, but neither was exactly right for them. In late February it became clear that mass busing would not happen that September, as Judge Battisti originally demanded but the following year, 1978, and would involve some 40,000 students. The year after that another 40,000 students would become involved in busing.
Still pretty vague. So in February I went back to Detroit, which had started busing the year before, and talked to parents, students, teachers and senior school officials to see how desegregation was getting on. “The jury is still out” was the headline on one of the two stories I wrote. Half the schools were still 90% black, white families were fleeing the city, and improvements in education were very patchy. Part of the problem was lack of money. Detroit was twice the size of Cleveland, and most of the inner city had to be left untouched.
Nevertheless, once the black vs white fights on school buses and in the hallways of some high schools had been sorted out school officials said it was beginning to settle down. Arthur Jefferson, Detroit’s black superintendent of schools, told me: “The real bottom line is whether it is going to pay off in terms of better education for all students. And at the moment it’s too early to tell.
“I can’t say there has been an increase in improvements in relationships between blacks and whites, and I see no decline or increase in test scores.” There were 11 educational components of the judge’s court order, and only five were functioning.
Time for a quick journalistic break: The Queen! Britannia! Or rather a headline that said: “Britannia used to rule the waves, now must waive the rules.”
“Press reporter Peter Almond has been back to his homeland to look at the spirit of Britain in these economically troubled times.”
At the editor’s request I filled a page in the Press Magazine to mark the pending 25th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. “A lot has changed since 1952, when Britain was the hub of a far-flung empire,” said the blurb to my piece.
I’d like to reprint the whole piece here, but it is much too long. I’ll just include a few paragraphs to try to answer the question I got most from people in the US in 1976/77 given the negative news they had been receiving from Blighty: “Has the old country disappeared beneath the waves yet with all these strikes that have led to rubbish not being collected, electricity rationed, even funerals cancelled? Is the Queen going to sell Buckingham Palace to the Arabs? NOW are you going to become an American citizen?”
My six weeks in the British Isles last fall gave me reasons to fear for the economy of Britain, for jobs and funds for national health and old ways of working life that were disappearing – such as the proud, tough coal miners whose strikes were so damaging.
But also a sense of optimism that, fundamentally, Britain was still the country of humor and civility, character and national consensus “The British have an esprit de corps, a self-confidence that is raring to put the old place back on the map. But they don’t know how.” I wrote. “For the same basic attitudes that provide the British with the finest attitudes are the same that have them stuck on the road to economic recovery .
“Ask an American about his country and he may point with pride to its high standard of living, to his free and easy lifestyle, to his open classlessness. He will be less eager to talk about the other side of life here, of violence and corruption and bureaucracy of government officials, of selfishness and distrust between races and peoples.
‘Ask a Briton and he may talk about what his country has given to the world, of the talents of its scientists and musicians, its humor and its civilized society. He will be less eager to talk about its low productivity, its divisively militant unionism, its class-consciousness.
“And yet, for all its problems, Britain is still a highly satisfying place to live. One just needs to have a value system that doesn’t give monetary rewards a particularly high priority.”
An international survey that gained publicity while I was in England concluded that more Britons – one out of every five – would like to emigrate than those living in any other Western nation. Conversely, of all Western nations, the British scored the highest marks for being happy with their lot.’
Well, what’s the point of being miserable? This was the year another British Queen, Freddie Mercury and his rock band Queen, released ‘We are the Champions,’ a number that would go on to be a global anthem for almost every sport, charity and political event well into the next century.
It was also the year the first British Airways Concorde supersonic airliner flew from London to New York. And in the cheap seats Freddie Laker launched the Skytrain airline, offering tickets from Gatwick to New York at a third of the price of regular flights. Not to be outdone, NASA in Florida launched Voyager 1, whose mission was to fly past Jupiter and Saturn and head out into interstellar space.
As of June, 2021, it had been sending information back to earth for 43 years and nine months and travelled 14.1 billion miles. It carried a copy of the Golden Record, a message from humanity that includes greetings in 55 languages, pictures of people and places on earth and music ranging from Beethoven to Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode.’
Back on earth the first Star Wars movie set afire the imaginations of millions with images of human/alien cultures that some took as a metaphor for the Cold War with the Soviet Union that continued apace (America being the democratic rebels, of course). On TV the first episode of Alex Haley’s Roots, dramatically unveiling the lives of the first black slaves in America, was a phenomenal success, demonstrating that black Americans were not aliens but humans just like everyone else.
Another movie, All the President’s Men, told the story of President Nixon and Watergate, confirming to many Americans that their government was corrupt. Another movie, Network, added to a sense of national frustration about corporations with its theme of a veteran TV news anchor being made redundant. The anchor, played by actor Peter Finch, threatens to shoot himself live on TV, then changes his mind and urges his viewers to open their windows and shout: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”
In New York city that July a 25-hour electricity blackout in a brutal heatwave resulted in city-wide looting, and arson of 1,616 stores. Rioting resulting in 3,776 arrests, lots of deaths – and a spike in the births of babies.
And Elvis Presley died. The bloated ‘King of Rock ’n’ Roll’ died of a heart attack that August.
Believe it or not, there were still a lot of people – mostly older – who did not mourn the passing of Elvis. A white, southern man appropriating the ‘jungle music’ of blacks? Tsk. The cultural gap between whites and blacks was always there. Some would call the majority ‘Euro-centric’ or ‘Christian-centric,’ a white culture that expected respectful Christians to remove their hats when they entered a Christian church, and for teachers to demand the same for students arriving at school.
Was that the ‘institutional racism’ that was decried by the NAACP? Miss Bonnie Bassis, representing an organization which offered help to students suspended from school, suggested it was and that, for a start, the Cleveland school system should scrap its dress code that says ‘no wearing of hats in school.’ “The only ones who really want to wear hats in school are blacks,” she told a desegregation hearing in court. “They shouldn’t be suspended for that.”
Cleveland wasn’t that bad, she told Judge Battisti in a court hearing. Only 7% more blacks were suspended the previous year than whites; it was twice as high in other desegregation cities such as Boston, Denver, Dallas and Louisville. But that didn’t make it right. She demanded that a new discipline code be made by the School Board as part of the desegregation plan rather than the court work it out for themselves.
Added Cleveland Teachers Union leader James O’Meara: “I heard yesterday where a lady said we should not suspend kids for wearing hats in school. We don’t do that. We suspend kids when we tell the kids to take their hats off. That’s when we get the modern (earthy) language and teachers become upset.”
Fifty years later the ‘Euro-centric’ world and the black, Islamic and plain rebellious ones were still arguing about dress codes involving hijabs, hoodies and other head coverings, even caps to cover the bald heads of recovering white cancer patients.
On March 4 The Press launched an editorial that significantly rowed back on its earlier support for major desegregation, declaring that the current school board was not responsible for many of the charges detailed in Battisti’s ruling, that ‘most of the segregative actions cited by the judge go back to a time when there was far less sensitivity to the need for integrated education than exists now,’ and that integration should be ‘accomplished in an orderly way – not in an atmosphere of bitterness and hostility’ The School Board, said the editors, should be given the chance to explore and explain integration plans that run short of massive busing.
Memory Flash: Federal Court House, Cleveland, March ‘77
Judge Battisti has invited me back to his court room chambers for a chat. OFF the record, you understand. I’m getting to know quite a lot about this man who holds the future of thousands of Cleveland children and their parents in his hands. He explains more of his thinking about the direction of the case, and some of the political problems he has to confront. He’s looking for media support, especially from the Cleveland Press, which he thought was firmly on his side when it came to busing.
We exchange some personal details, mostly about his immigrant parents, and then he asks about my parents and if they had ever been to America. I tell him my mother had been twice, and would soon be returning again later this year, this time with my father, who had never visited.
“Are you staying in Cleveland with them? Travelling around”? he asks.
“The Carolinas, I think,” I reply. “We’d like to go in an RV (motor home), but I don’t know if we can afford it this year.”
“Oh, you must!” he says. “When are you planning to go?”
I wasn’t sure, but I thought September. I see his hand reach for the telephone, and hear him talk to his secretary, Faye Kaufman, saying something about Youngstown, about recreational vehicles and a man I could talk to.
I sit bolt upright.
“No, please,” I say. “I can’t do that!”
Federal Judge Frank J. Battisti turns to me, phone in his hand, and says “It won’t cost you anything.”
“No, really,” I say. “I can’t accept that.”
I REALLY could not accept somebody else paying for the hire of a recreational vehicle. I had already been hit two years earlier by Roldo Bartimole, the self-appointed Cleveland morals media inquisitor whose bi-weekly newsletter, Point of View, wagged a finger at me for persuading a south-of-Cleveland RV hire firm to waive its fees in exchange for me writing a travel piece about RV holidays.
I thought I was clear to do so because I was not a travel writer whose objectivity could be compromised by a business favor, had the approval and encouragement of our travel editors Bill and Betty Hughes, insisted I would cover the positives and negatives in my report, and told the dealer I could not include his company’s name or address. He was satisfied that the vehicle would probably be identifiable by sharp eyes in the photo accompanying my story.
I grew up with such questionable reportage in England. Even in the 70s local newspapers had little cash to send reporters and photographers anywhere that wasn’t direct, obvious news, unlike the wealthier rags.
But no, St Roldo of Bartimole nailed me for one obvious point: Why would an RV dealer loan a vehicle to a reporter for free when he wouldn’t to, say, a steel worker he doesn’t know? Because he expects to get free publicity. Neither a reporter nor anyone in the news business, said St Roldo, should accept freebies, kickbacks, or favors from anyone if he wants his readers to believe his news is not tainted – even if it does leave his paper at a competitive disadvantage.
And certainly not a federal judge with a reporter who follows him closely. Would he not be waiting for a favor from him in return?
I left the federal courthouse with a clearer understanding that this is instinctively how Battisti draws in those around him.
Like a Godfather.
In May a new desegregation plan was put forward by the school board. Its 148 pages included all the city’s “magnet schools” to soften the blow but boosts the number of students to be bused from its earlier plan of 5500 to 13,500. Phase 1, to start in September, would have all schools in the West Tech High area linked with the schools in the John Hay and East High areas.
Phase 2, between all schools in the South High area linked with the East Tech area, involving 8,281 students on a maximum of 87 buses. It would start in September ’78.
Phase 3, to start in 1979, would link all schools in the John Marshall area with those of John Adams, involving 11,057 students and a maximum of 127 buses. Another 11,170 students and 111 buses would be bused that year between Glenville High in the east and Lincoln-West High area in the west. In all 52,100 students would be transported, with many students using RTA buses and trains.
The plan was thought mostly likely to be accepted by Judge Battisti because it was his special experts who mostly prepared it. But the school board was divided for the first time, voting 5 to 2 in favor. John Gallagher Jr and William White rejected it, saying it was just too much.
It certainly was. Three months to find, order and prepare 87 new school buses by September? No way. Cleveland, state and federal experts were holding heated discussions behind the scenes on just who was going to pay for them. I did a little digging of my own, talking to officials in Boston and Cincinnati, and to bus manufacturers around the country. School buses are made in two parts, the chassis made by one company, the body by another. How many students per bus? The state said 119 per day, Cleveland experts said 126. One company after another said they were already going flat out producing school buses for other cities.
It would be weeks or months before anyone could know how many kids could actually be transported and when the buses could be delivered.
I wrote all this prominently in the paper on May 26. Battisti read it. The next day he issued a statement from the bench: No major busing in the fall. was the splash headline in the final edition on May 27.
“Some desegregation of the school system will take place in the fall of this year,” he said. “However, this court will not jeopardize the just, stable solution called for by putting in place remedies based on hastily drawn, ill-conceived provisions of a desegregation plan.
“In saying this the court stresses its view that the capability to plan for the transportation of numbers of pupils does not now exist. The court will not order substantial reassignment of pupils until it assured they can be adequately and efficiently transported.”
In June I spent three days in Cincinnati, covering the School Board’s appeal before the US. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. It was pretty clear the three judges were going to find in favor of the NAACP. But a month later it was front-page headlines again as the appeals court sent the whole case back to Battisti for further review in light of of a new US Supreme Court ruling in the Dayton desegregation case.
This ruling said the constitutional violations Battisti found must be shown to have had a system-wide effect before he could order system-wide desegregation. The School Board’s lawyers claimed victory: the NAACP said it changed nothing.
It was all very confusing for the public, especially for the teachers. While this new order was coming down 1,144 city school teachers were waiting for orders that, starting Sept 7, they would have to start work at another school.
Another page later in The Press had a chart showing the racial percentages of each school and how many teachers were to be transferred. I even listed the names of all the school principals to be transferred, and whether they were black or white.
Help! Data protection! Not in 1977.
Even I was getting confused. (even?) The next day, July 16, me, two Cleveland School Board members, both newspapers, all radio and TV reporters, even Supt Briggs and the head of the teachers union thought more than 1100 teachers were being transferred. Not so. These were assignments – or transfers – not teachers, said James Tanner, the deputy superintendent who drew up the list. A teacher could have more than one assignment. Only 570 teachers were going to be reassigned,.
And if that wasn’t bad enough we ran a correction under the headline of my story ‘School officials flunked math’ saying that Elmer C. Craven, a principal being transferred from one elementary school to another, was white, not black.
Memory Flash: Cleveland’s near West Side, July ‘77
I’m outside the magnificent St Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the Tremont district, watching filming of the wedding scene for the movie The Deerhunter, perhaps one of the best and most controversially-powerful anti-war films of a generation. It’s the height of summer but the script says it’s fall, so some people are wearing coats, and individual leaves from deciduous trees have been removed. Fake brown leaves are scattered on the ground between the cathedral and nearby Lemko Hall, where the reception takes place.
It looks bizarre, but the locals are excited. Robert de Niro! Meryl Streep! Christopher Walken! John Savage! John Cazale! George Dzunda! (George WHO?) All coming HERE, to Cleveland’s Russian-America heartland to feature a Russian wedding! Oh my! Not that all of them were famous. Indeed, probably only Robert de Niro was. Not Meryl Streep: this was her first major film role.
I can’t remember quite why I was there. I don’t think I wrote a story about it. Perhaps I heard from someone on the Community Page that the scenes looked distinctly bizarre – and it was my old stomping ground anyway.
Directed by Michael Cimino (who bombed with his next film, Heaven’s Gate), the story centers around three second or third generation Pennsylvania Russian-American steel-worker friends who join the US Army in Vietnam in early 1969. Some of the sets are supposed to be Clairton, on the Ohio river. and at the US Steel plant in Cleveland. Two thirds of the film is taken up with the group’s stressed final day together with girlfriends and families at the wedding of one of them, concluding with one final, half-drunk deer hunt in the (improbable for Pa.) mountains before shipping out to Vietnam.
Fully 51 of the 184-minute movie (too much) is taken up with the wedding scene, in which the bride is encouraged to drink up her red wine without losing a drop. Significantly, a drop does fall onto her pristine white wedding dress – a sign of future disaster.
I was blown away by the complex detail and reality of this film – with the exception of the gratuitous Russian roulette sequences. This was as far away as an English immigrant, who not long ago had escaped being drafted to Vietnam himself, could be. I didn’t know any Russian-American yahoo steel workers who drank too much, screwed around and carried rifles – except maybe one or two of my rugby-playing friends. But the young men and women these actors were portraying were my generation, under the direction of a remote federal government; patriots but caught up in a war they didn’t understand.
Their individual returns to America were just as harrowing – some of it at an underfunded Veterans Administration hospital in central Ohio. The theme music alone, Cavatina, brings tears to my eyes. Not to forget ‘Can’t take my eyes off you” by Frankie Valli, the song that became almost required for wedding receptions.
The Deerhunter won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and supporting actor for Walken, when it was released the next year. It was placed in the US Congress’ National Film Registry in 1996 as ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
I would see more of the emotion of Vietnam vets in Washington DC a few years later.
In November Dennis Kucinich would be elected mayor: The ‘boy mayor of Cleveland,’ the national press called him, who led the almost-broke city into a steeper decline which made it the first city in America to go into default – if not quite bankruptcy – since the Depression of the 1930s.
I won’t go into all that because others, such as The Press politics writer Brent Larkin, were much closer and better informed, but it clearly had a major effect on the schools and their funding.
But back in April Judge Battisti had already decided to ask the new federal administration of President Jimmy Carter to intervene in the case, specifically the Justice department and the U.S. Attorney General. Cleveland’s desegregation case, he said, was of national importance because of historic residential patterns that were replicated elsewhere in the United States. It was a surprise move that did not go down well with the NAACP, however, because Carter’s new Attorney general was Griffin Bell, who had been heavily involved in desegregation cases in the south and had said busing of students should be the last step in school desegregation.
Absolutely, said the school board. Look at the cost! Specifically: $77,967,035.44 ($362 million in 2022) for buying 99 buses for Phase 1 in September (I like that 44 cents), 230 buses for phase 2 in ‘78, 209 buses for the year after that. Total. 538 buses for precisely $56,304,672.50. The bulk of the money would have to come from Cleveland taxpayers….. Under Dennis Kucinich? whose fight against sale of the Municipal Light Plant would cost the city millions as the banks called in their loans?
The Justice Department quickly did get itself involved in the case, piling pressure on the school board to come up with a workable plan.
Memory flash: Hico, West Virginia, June ‘77
It was time for a break. Anna, me, Jim, Marcy, Al, Nancy, Jim and Joanne have travelled to the New River to try out white water rafting. It comes with a weekend camping package with a commercial company led by a bunch of fit-looking, self-confident young guys who show us their safety certificates and how we’re going to paddle our rafts down the river through the boiling waters of a couple of gorges. It will take most of the day, and we’ve brought sandwiches.
Our leader sits at the back and steers. Helmets and life-jackets on, eight of us take our seats, grab our paddles and set off with six other full rafts. Our guy is keen to tell us what happens when we hit ‘SUCK holes.” I emphasize the word ‘suck’ because that’s the way he says it and it has stuck with me. That night around the camp fire, and for years afterwards we would ask each other “Did you find any SUCK holes today?”
I fell off my seat at the very first suck hole, sprawling backwards on the floor of the raft between our leader’s legs. Anna hung on grimly, and so did (most) of the others. Then came the penultimate SUCK hole – and our leader was gone. Tossed out!
We found him swimming alongside our now-quiescent raft which, along with the others, was in a calm section at the end of the gorge. We were all invited to dive in and let ourselves drift over the next smooth section of rapids. I had a waterproof video camera with me, but those images are long gone.
A long ride home to Cleveland, but at least I was ready for the next set of desegregation suck holes.
Sept 7, first day of the new school year. And…….It went smoothly. Surprise!. Confusion at a minimum, even with 400 teachers transferred directly to other schools for the purposes of racial integration. Phew! But another 7,000 fewer students, as more parents upped sticks and moved to the suburbs.
Me, Bud and reporter meg Algren spent the day visiting one school after another, phoning in a continuing update of reports that changed the front page every couple of hours.
Memory Flash: Mohican River, Walhonding, Ohio, September, ‘77
It’s something, in my book, when you can make your parents genuinely, truly happy. We’re in our rented RV – fully paid up by Anna and me – at our favorite little camp site after spending much of the day paddling our rented canoes down the river. They came over from England a week ago; the third visit for Mom, the first for Dad. And they hadn’t counted on a week’s camping.
Camping was a no-no for my father. Growing up in England and Germany we never did it because, he said, after spending years in Iraq, India and elsewhere with the RAF he would never go under canvas again.
Well, this mini-motor home was not a tent. Day One, with the wind whispering in the pines, the river gurgling, the stars amazingly bright and the cool air drifting through the open windows, Dad slept in a proper bed under a metal roof (rather than on it, as in Basra 1933) and slept like a log.
“He says it’s the best sleep he’s ever had!” says a grinning Mom.
It was, indeed, among the best vacations both of them ever had. Anna and I had met them at the airport in Toronto, that being the closest to Cleveland their Britons-in-America club charter flight could bring them in a single flight the UK (Dad, 65, wasn’t so fit for long flights). So we did Niagara Falls, motelled it overnight, visited Buffalo and then the long, boring drive down I-90, with Pa in the back complaining about the ‘sedate’ max speed of 55mph.
It took a little while, but by the end of touring around Ohio – including a visit to the USAF museum at Dayton – I could see my relationship with my father had changed. He was a guest on my turf, happily being led by Anna and me, and we were on level terms.
I guess it happens with every father and son. This one just took 31 years, and it was very satisfying for both of us.
Back on the schools beat, I remember October 20/21 was a very strange day. My story in the early editions was about a blistering new attack by Judge Battisti on the Cleveland school board and Ohio Senate over money; namely, that if the senate rejected a bill to allow the school board to borrow money to repay a $35 million loan being called in to pay two Cleveland banks, the schools would have to close.
Close? When the judge was fighting to get the schools desegregated?
“The Cleveland schools will not close now, and will not be closed at any time in the future while public schools are open and operating anywhere in the state of Ohio,” Battisti pronounced in court. He had ordered Supt. Briggs, all board members and their lawyers to be in court for this tongue-lashing, but only two showed up: John E. Gallagher and Berthina Palmer. Board president Arnold Pinkney and other members were in Columbus meeting with the Ohio legislature.
Battisti was furious, using words such as ‘ignorance,’ ‘discreditable’, ‘foolish’, ‘squandered,’ ‘victimised,’ ‘scandalous.’
“Court, State War Over Schools” screamed the front page headline on my story that day. “In the wake of a devastating attack on the Cleveland School Board yesterday which ordered the schools to stay open indefinitely, federal Judge Frank Battisti has apparently created more uncertainty and confusion,’ I wrote.
But there was another story brewing that day, a lot brighter story: Prince Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth II and heir to the British throne, was within hours of arriving in Cleveland.
Memory flash: E9th St. Cleveland, Oct 20 ‘77
I’m on the roof of The Press building with the editor, Tom Boardman. Its early in the morning and we are having our picture taken by Press photographer Paul Toppelstein, raising the British Union flag under the U.S. one to mark the arrival of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, son of the Queen of England and heir to the throne of the world’s greatest monarchy. Hopefully, he will see our two flags together as his motorcade drives up E.9th St. from Burke Lakefront airport, and maybe wave to some of the people already waiting for him.
For this is no ordinary regal visit. Cleveland doesn’t do royal visits. You can’t count the occasional visit of the King of Saudi Arabia or his immediate family because they fly in on private jets to get private medical attention at the Cleveland Clinic. They don’t do what Prince Charles is about to do: actually VISIT Cleveland and the people of north eastern Ohio. From a Republic Steel works in the Flats to a crowded tree planting in Public Square to a swanky dinner with the cream of the midwest’s industrialists, and to meet and greet as many ordinary Clevelanders as he can.
My role is to follow him around and get the flavor for an opinion piece I’ll write on the Insight page the next day, Headline: It Was A Day To Be A WASP (for the uninitiated: a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), my designated ethnic grouping.
We put 14 reporters on the Charlie-boy story that day, of whom one, Norman Mlachak, even went to Chicago ahead of his visit to catch the sense of tens of thousands of Chicagoans giving the Prince a Beatles-style reception, screaming and cheering. It was a second royal visit there, the Queen having spent 14 hours in Chicago after opening the St Lawrence Seaway with President Eisenhower in 1959.
But a first for Cleveland, for whom kielbasa sausage and black-eyed peas spelt ‘ethnic royalty’ far more than a young Brit being presented with a white steel helmet bedecked with the British flag, the letters HRH – His Royal Highness – and the words Prince Charles.
I had never met him, but as I wrote in my piece, he made me proud to be British. That’s not an easy thing to write, because Britain in the mid-70s wasn’t very popular. Its industrial strife presented images of a deteriorating nation, of lingering resentment from older Americans with its refusal to send troops to help them in Vietnam yet sending thousands of troops to Northern Ireland and killing or imprisoning Irish rebels.
But underneath all that there was a genuine soft spot for the British royal family – especially from those who originally came from Europe. I may have mentioned Dorothy Martony, Anna’s work friend who would become godmother to our eldest son Nicholas. She was a bubbly, determined Italian divorcee who lived in a trailer park in Euclid, where she would almost freeze in winter. But she loved Britain, the Queen and all the royal family. They offered her and thousands of others a sense of stability and glamour in political life they couldn’t get from their own political leaders, especially at a time when President Nixon was forced out of office over Watergate. Those families from eastern Europe who still remember the crushing of their own royal families by Nazism and Communism saw in the British royal family much that they had missed.
“The Prince gets a Kingly welcome,” said the front page headline of The Press later that day (Battisti and school battles having been consigned to inside pages by tea time), a Larry Nighswander photograph of Charles smiling and shaking hands with a press of women screaming for him at the Public Square tree planting.
Not everyone was pleased at the witty, handsome, charming prince, of course. There was a crowd of about 200 IRA supporters outside the Cleveland State University campus for a building dedication who chanted ‘England out of Ireland’. But he wasn’t fazed and replied to someone shouting at him about the Irish: “Which Irish?” hinting at the majority of Northern Irelanders who were Protestant and wanted to remain part of Britain.
But for the great majority of Clevelanders this was a real PRINCE, heir to the throne of the country that founded America and gave it a degree of freedom for almost as many years than it had declared its own independence. And this, according to the staff of the Cleveland Press was MY DAY. Or, as one wag said to me after I’d written a detailed schedule of where Charles would be and what he would be doing when he arrived in Cleveland: “Are you the only one here who is actually ENJOYING all this?”
It was a day I could stand up and cheer my British heritage, say ‘fie!’ on ‘Melody of Love’ sung in Polish, and nationality festivals on the Mall that excluded anything British: no fish n’chips, no pork pies, no bangers and mash, no Haggis, no Leek pie nor Yorkshire pud, not to mention no Spotted Dick. A day when a truce was officially declared on The Establishment, and when a young future king could deprecate his own country by telling 150 Ohio industrialists: “I understand there is $32 billion in this very room. That’s twice as much as our gold and currency reserves. If I had known this earlier I might have asked for the hat to be passed around!”
The headline on Charles’ departure the next day for San Francisco was: ‘Bon voyage, Charles – thank you for coming’.
”Was it all worth it? Who really cares?’ I asked in my piece. “I can’t write about the real past of Cleveland. I’ve only been here since 1970. But in that time I don’t think I know of any moment apart from yesterday when someone of real style and almost magical royalty touched Cleveland in quite the way Prince Charles did. Cleveland put on its best front and I think we impressed him. Somehow I think we all look a bit better today.
‘We’ve all had a lot of fun putting on airs and pretending to be princes. But that’s what you get when you let us WASPs out of the closet for a while’.
In my opinion, however, I think the best lines in the paper that day were by our brilliant, pithy columnist, the late Dick Feagler, partially reproduced here courtesy of his widow, Julie. His words ran right beneath a piece by Marjorie Alge, our Society Editor, about the ‘very elegant party’ for Charles after a Severance Hall concert involving Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra and scores of the most important people in the area.
“If you are going to have anything to do with a prince, “wrote Feagler, “you ought to have a fairy godmother. Newspaper people don’t have fairy godmothers. Around princes, newspaper people are like Cinderella with size 12 feet. They don’t get much.
“Mrs Nancy Stendel, of Jordan Drive in Willoughby has, I believe, a fairy godmother. Her real mother had come over from England and so it was natural that Nancy Stendel should be lined up at Burke Lakefront Airport yesterday morning waiting for a glimpse of Prince Charles.
“She got more than a glimpse. When the prince reached out and shook her hand, Nancy Stendel held on. She looked at the prince with shining eyes.
“Will you kiss me?” she asked him.
“His highness responded gallantly. “He looked at me,” Mrs Stendel said, “and he said why not? And then he kissed me.”
“And Nancy Stendel, quite overcome, burst into tears. Her fairy godmother was working for her. A prince had spied her and kissed her just like in Cinderella. Though probably nothing will come of it because she had to go back to Willoughby.
“Contrast this with the case of Ronnie Kuntz, a newspaper photographer for UPI. Kuntz has no fairy godmother. Newspapermen with fairy godmothers go into public relations. But Kuntz has had plenty of experience covering massacres, disasters, stickups and ballgames. This, he figured, would be sufficient background to cope with a prince.
“Kuntz arrived on Public Square a little past noon to take a picture of the prince planting a tree. The square was packed with people and reporters. All the reporters were being herded around by royal lownesses who were with the prince’s party. Kuntz, who is not so tall himself, dodged these shepherds and scurried in the opposite direction where he thought the shooting might be better.
“Suddenly he was shoved from behind and knocked to the ground. Sprawling there, half dazed, Kuntz looked up. In front of him was the Prince of Wales. His highness raised a shovel full of dirt and tossed it towards Kunz’s face. Kunz grabbed his camera and snapped a picture of this. He snapped it while leaving because as he was shooting it a policeman picked him up, stood him on his feet and yelled:
“Do you have a fairy godmother?” (or words to that effect.)
“No”, said Kuntz.
“Then get outta here,” said the cop. And Kunz got.
“That’s the kind of day it was for the newsmen yesterday. Early in the morning on the press bus it was learned that nobody had ever covered a prince before. Nobody knew how to cover one. All everybody knew were the rules for not covering one. …………… ‘A prince does not make a good subject. He does not exist for newsmen. He exists for people like Mrs Stendel from Willoughby who want a little magic in their world.
“Over at the (Cleveland) Clinic yesterday afternoon the prince turned a corner and again confronted Ronnie Kuntz. A look of mild recognition flickered in the royal eyes. The prince knew he had seen Kuntz somewhere. But he did not recall that it had been on the other side of a shovel full of dirt. The prince noticed Kuntz beret.
“Was Kuntz with the French press corps, the prince wondered.
“No,” said Kuntz.
“The prince thought for a moment. “Was Kuntz then perhaps an onion salesman”, the prince inquired. Kuntz replied he was not.
“Then the prince passed on to wave to some people who were holding a sign that said “God save Charles of England.”
“Yesterday was a day for Cinderellas and onion salesmen. The reporters knew which they were. If the shoe fits, wear it.”
A few days after Prince Charles arrived back in England he met a 16-year-old girl at a palace function who delighted him with her impishness. Three years later he married Lady Diana Spencer in a ceremony watched by millions around the world.
It would be nice to think that a little bit of Cleveland’s non-stuffiness had rubbed off on him to go for a sweet, innocent ordinary girl (by royal standards) like Diana,.
But, of course, it ended in divorce and tragedy.
And the London plane tree Charles planted in Public Square didn’t last either. It was found that Cleveland’s winters were too cold for it, and so the tree was divorced to another city, where it died.
Memory flash: Salt Fork State Park, Ohio, November, ‘77
I’m deer hunting, deep in the scrub overlooking a small ravine, and I can hear something running about 100 yards away in the trees on the other side. I raise my trusty musket and prepare to fire.
Deer Hunting? Me? A Bambi killer? What the hell am I doing here?
This had nothing to do with the Deer Hunter movie, which would not be released for at least another year. But I’m deep into self-doubt. Not least when I stand in the office of the state wildlife officer and ask him a stupid question: “What could I do if I shot a deer and didn’t, you know, didn’t want to DO anything with it?” I asked. “Could I give it away to another hunter?”
The wildlife officer looked over to a good ol’ boy hunter seated in his office, who looked back at him and then they both looked back at me.
“Well now,” said the wildlife officer. “Why would you want to kill a deer and not take it with you? This is not quite the same as target shooting.”
Why indeed. They don’t call it ‘hunting’ in deer hunting country. They call it ‘harvesting,’ as in scooping up all the unwanted deer and enabling the rest to have enough food to survive for another year. There are about 100,000 deer in Ohio, reproducing steadily. In 1976 22,000 were killed, 2,000 of them with primitive weapons like mine – a Kentucky long rifle otherwise known as a Bedford County musket.
I only had it because of its beautiful design and skilled craftsmanship. Anna and I had seen it in a Pennsylvania gun shop specializing in replicas of colonial-era firearms. The stock was of polished maple, and on the silver external metal by the double trigger was the shape of a beaver, carved by a nearly-blind 90-year-old in Cincinnati. The barrel was rifled and accurate to 150 yards. I’d already proved that in target shooting at state and county fairs the previous year.
Anna has never been a fan of guns. But this one was different. She thought it was beautiful, a work of art, and anyway knew it would take me so long to load she’d be on the plane and halfway back to England if ever I got mad and tried to chase her with it. It hangs above a door in our living room even today, its firing pin removed and gathering dust, but still generating fond memories
You had to get the right amount of gunpowder poured down the barrel, then placed a square of muslin cloth over the end of it, put a lead ball on top of that, and rammed it all down to the bottom of the barrel. The next step was to prime the firing pin with a small explosive cap, and then pulled back one of the two triggers to lock it into place. Only then were you ready to shoot.
In Ohio ‘musketeers’ like me had a one-week window in the year designated to ‘primitive weapons’, which included bows and arrows, and you had to pay a licence and book a day and time to do it.
Worst of all was the instruction booklet on what to do when you’ve killed your deer that I only read when I arrived in the wildlife officer’s office. You had to give your deer a ‘field dressing.’ This sounds like an emergency bandage you’d put on your arm, but that’s not what they meant.
Field dressing was slicing up the deer to prevent the meat from spoiling. You had to remove the animal’s guts, split the pelvic bone with a knife or saw, dig a deep hole to hide the guts and then haul the remains out of the park to your vehicle. I’d seen pick-up trucks and Chevys around Ohio and Pennsylvania adorned with dead deer draped over their hoods. But was I going to do that all the way back to Cleveland? Hell, no.
So, out there at Salt Fork State Park, I didn’t aim at the rustling thing in the trees on the other side of the ravine. I pulled my aim slightly up and to the right, so that Anna could take my picture as I fired, smoke billowing out of the musket.
Headline for my story (with pictures): ‘Hunting Bambi — and hoping the little critter hides.’
“Deer Hunting” (not) at Salt Fork State Park, Ohio, November 1977. Left: the author puts a percussion cap above the installed gunpowder of his beautiful musket. Right: he chickens out on his ‘target’. But at least he’s gone through (some) of the motions. Ever closer to becoming American?
I’ll leave 1977 with the story of the renaming of West Junior High School, on the city’s near west side; a story about local politics.
West Junior High was an old school which, along with West High School, had been part of the neighborhood for 122 years, and no longer deemed fit for modern education. So it was torn down, and a new one built in its place for $4.5 million.
In keeping with the modern era of naming new things after politicians or someone famous the School Board decided to rename the school Joseph M. Gallagher Junior High, in honor of the retiring board member, a local resident, and his 29 years on the board.
But nobody bothered to ask the students, the parents, teachers or those in the community about it. And they were furious. The president of the school’s PTA, Mrs Gail Lehmann, quickly had 400 names on a petition demanding the school board change the name back to West. “The name West has always had a great meaning here,” she told me. I’ve got nothing against the man, but why don’t we change the names of East High or South High. Maybe they could name a library after him, or even call it West Gallagher Junior High. But keep West there”
Others reacted strongly too, including local councilwoman Mary Zone. But she admitted that she hoped the new school would be named after her husband Michael, a long-serving local councillor who died in 1974. Both she and School Board President Arnold Pinkney accepted that he, Pinkney, had suggested the name Zone when he accepted that a school could be named after him.
But Pinkney said: “I’ve made no promises to Mary Zone.”
It was, in fact, a bit of political finagling by board member George Dobrea and my trusty school board source John Edward Gallagher Jr (no relation to Joe), who had long and cheerly admitted he got elected largely because of old Joe Gallagher’s name.
John ‘couldn’t be reached for comment’ (a reporter suffers a price for keeping in with his best sources), but Pinkney said: “I don’t know the area as well as other board members. I don’t know how deep seated is the concern.(politics speech meaning ‘you do what you want in your area, but keep out of mine.’ “I think to change it now would be embarrassing to Joe (Gallagher)”
Joe himself said he doesn’t know about the opposition. “I was very pleased about the change,” he said. “I think it’s one of the finest gestures the board could have made. The name of West has gone into the Lincoln-West High School. I don’t think the petition drive is fair.”
But that’s the way politics worked in Cleveland in the 70’s; probably that’s the way it works everywhere still. In 2021 it was still called the Joseph M. Gallagher Junior High School.
It changed from a school of about 700 students in 1977, 70% white and 30% black and Asian, to a school of about 700 students, 47% Hispanic, 29% black, 10% Asian and 13% white in 2018. According to PublicSchoolReview.com it was in 2,987th place out of 3,255 schools in Ohio in 2018, and scraping the bottom in academic scores, with only 24% proficiency in math, 22% in reading, compared to the state average of 62%. Its academic rating was just 1/10.
I hope poor old Joe Gallagher has departed this world. I’m not sure I would want to have a failing school as my legacy. It’s very American to personalize structures but it’s risky. Google ‘Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, 2018’ and see what you get: 17 killed, 17 wounded by gunfire at the school. Secondary is her fame as an Everglades writer and campaigner.
Personally, I would have kept the name ‘West Junior High.’