Category Archives: Travels in Cleveland, Ohio

Off the beaten track

Jamestown, NYI left Buffalo heading south to the upper Ohio River valley to fit in a little book research on the Scots Settlement. On the way, I decided to make an extracurricular stop at the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, NY, just to see what it was like.

imageOften it’s these off-the-beaten-track side trips that bring about the most wonderful encounters, and this sojourn proved no exception. I had just seen a sign that I’d entered Conewango, NY, when a horse and wagon trotted over the rise in the road coming straight toward me, then made a sharp turn into … a blacksmith shop! By the time I’d figured out I wasn’t imagining things, I was a quarter mile down the road.

imageOf course, I turned around. Sure enough, the sign for the shop hung plain as day: Rabers Blacksmith Shop. The horse and wagon I’d seen was parked right out front. I pulled into the parking lot and hopped out of my car, camera in hand. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to witness a working blacksmith shop in the 21st century. No sirree bob.

imageJust then, a young man with a black beard, broad-brimmed Amish-style hat and a kind smile strode by. He glanced down at my iPad.

“Mind if I take some pictures?” I asked.

He gazed at me reasonably. “That’s fine. Just don’t include any people in the shots.”

imageAs we walked toward the shop, I nearly cackled with happiness but managed not to, thank God. Inside, the forge fires weren’t lit just then, but I soaked in the ramshackle array of metal and rust, tools and worn wood. One blacksmith was just then loading a box of horseshoes. I asked if that was the bulk of their work.

“We used to do wrought iron work, but we got out of that,” he said.

“I hear wrought iron is a little hard to come by these days,” I said.


imageI lingered for a while, talking with three blacksmiths in all about the changes in the artisan craft, about how I’d written a novel, oddly enough, about 19th century blacksmiths, and about how guys who were practically kids showed  up at the Raber shop these days to watch and ask questions, which we all saw as a positive trend. It pleased me to leave a book with them, in trade for taking the photos. As I handed it over, the white pages were instantly blackened by coal-dusted hands. The blacksmith laughed. “A book’s gonna get dirt on it pretty quick in a blacksmith shop,” he said.

I smiled appreciatively, not minding in the slightest. Back on the road, I continued toward Jamestown, thanking my lucky stars.

Cleveland historic B&B

I put off finding a hotel for too long prior to arrival in Cleveland — so many other things to do — so when I finally made some calls, there was no room at the inn.

Does Cleveland have B&B’s? I asked myself. I needed to be in Rocky River last night, so I searched the West Side, and sure enough, found a great place just off W. 25th, where all the great new pubs and microbrews are located, right near the signature West Side Market. Clifford House. Owner James Miner was great and welcoming, and cooked up a delicious breakfast, besides. Best of all, I slept really, really well.

Clifford House

First stops in Cleveland, WRHS and Loganberry Books

If you’re ever in Cleveland, don’t miss Loganberry Books. I found a treasure there (as I always do): Ohio Builds a Nation, a 298-page compendium of notable persons, places, and pioneer trivia in Ohio.

Friends John and Harriet took me there, and also to the Western Reserve Historical Museum. Somehow in visits past, I’d missed the original oil paintings on the walls. Here are just a couple.

The Cleveland Grays on Public Square, Northwest Quadrant
1839, by Joseph Parker
According to the interpretive sign, this is the earliest surviving oil painting of Public Square. It shows the parade of the volunteer militia the Grays, formed in 1837, as they marched in honor of their 2nd anniversary. The church pictured is the original Old North Presbyterian Church.
An Evening at the Ark
1835, by Julius Gollmann
The Arkites were an all-male club “of congenial spirits who met to discuss natural science, or play whist or chess, or talk sports.” Apparently their one-story meeting room, in a building where the Federal Building stands today, became so cluttered with specimens of flora and fauna that it resembled Noah’s Ark, hence their name. The painter is a German immigrant who was emulating the German genre of the day, the effort to portray everyday subjects as realistically and candidly as possible.

In Berlin, I found another example of this genre tradition from around the same time period.

Hasenclever’s “The Reading Room” at Berlin’s Bodemuseum

More evidence of the German influence in Cleveland of the mid-1800s. Not that I was looking for it or anything.

Guessing right

“You might want to look through Dad’s stuff, the boxes in the spare room,” my brother Craig said to me over the phone. I was visiting his house in Cincinnati in early May. He had left for work earlier that morning. “I’m not sure what’s in there.”

The rest of the afternoon found me sitting on the floor of my brother’s living room, pictures and documents spread around me, as I took photo after photo of family genealogy documents, histories, and old photographs.

The material I’d pulled out of storage had been sorted into 9 x 12 manila envelopes. The outsides were labelled with names — PATTERSON — HOPPENSACK — MCINTOSH — GRESSLE — but I soon discovered the contents did not match the labels. In my dad’s dotage (he passed away in 2009), I remembered how he used to mix everything up. I had a clear vision of him sitting in his assisted living room, through a drugged haze of Parkinson’s, anti-depressants, and other meds, attempting to compose his “autobiography.” These materials had no doubt been spilled across his coffee table to jog his memory, then stuffed back in confused disarray.

It amazed me that I had none of this stuff when I was writing my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths. I had letters, tin-types and other photos, a family tree, plenty of other paraphernalia, but this material I had not seen.

One document in particular took my breath away: an 1858 confirmation certificate for “Elisabeth Crolli,” Michael Harm’s future wife.

elizabeth crolly confirmation zum schifflein christi


I had guessed Elizabeth Crolly was religious. Here was impressive evidence — from a church I’d guessed her family had attended — Zum Schifflein Christi (The Little Boat of Christ) German Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Somehow, through DNA? or instinct?, I’d also guessed my great-great grandmother was very devoted to her faith. Now, I beheld the evidence of her confirmation, carefully pasted to a stiff backing and preserved, a message to descendants five generations later regarding what this German American held dear.


Cheers to these Cleveland West Siders, Herb, Harriet, Carol, Dorothy, and David, relatives and descendants of Henry Hoppensack (who appears near the end of my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths). After my talk at Fairview Park Library on April 24, we had a really great time getting re-acquainted at Stamper’s Tavern, all while sampling delicious Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold .
Herb, Harriet, Carol, Dorothy, David, Claire

Rauch & Lang electric cars

At my launch event for The Last of the Blacksmiths, during the question and answer period my friend Larry raised his hand.

“Was Rauch a real person in history?” he asked.

Yes! Charles Rauch was a real person, a contemporary of Michael Harm in Cleveland in the 19th century who built fine carriages, ice wagons and buggies. Of course, my book being historical fiction, I surmised his personality, likes and dislikes, but the real historic Charles Rauch, son of Jacob, did gravitate toward factory-style manufacture of carriage-making. The Rauch & Lang factory took up several blocks on Pearl Road on Cleveland’s west side. At the start of the 20th century, he stayed on the cutting edge of vehicle manufacture with the production of a state-of-the-art electric automobile. Like the fine carriages, the Rauch & Lang electric cars were popular with Cleveland’s wealthier, Millionaire’s Row set.

Rauch & Lang electric carAt a recent visit to the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, I was delighted to find this example, circa 1916, of a Rauch & Lang electric car.

“Like” Cleveland

Terminal Tower from steps of Cleveland Public LibraryWhat a welcoming place. My brief week in Cleveland has flown by. I’ve met descendants of other Cleveland blacksmiths and craftsmen, historical fiction fans, researchers on the quest for German ancestors, history buffs, and dear family friends, including a few descendants of a character in the novel (Henry Hoppensack).

“Did Henry mean to cheat Rapparlie on that wagon, or was he just hard of hearing?” one of them asked. (After my talk at the Fairview Park library, we of the Hoppensack clan were on our way over to tip a quaff at Stamper’s Tavern.)

“Do you think Henry could have had hearing difficulties?” I asked.

“Frank didn’t hear well.”

I nodded sagely, but of course this proves nothing.

Clevelanders have treated me with generous — one might even say Palatine — hospitality. The following Cleveland bookstores are carrying my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths.
Mac’s Backs
Loganberry Books
Visible Voice Books
and the museum shop of the Western Reserve Historical Society on East Blvd.
Fireside Bookshop in Chagrin Falls

If you don’t live in Cleveland, the book can be ordered from a bookstore near you! And thanks for supporting your local bookstores.

I don’t believe it

“While I’m in Cleveland, I want to drive up Woodland Avenue to see if the Harm & Schuster Carriageworks is still there,” I said to my brother last week on a visit to our hometown.

“No way,” Craig said. “I don’t believe it. It can’t still be there.”

But you never can tell about Cleveland. All those battered, coal-smoked buildings, overlooked by modern-day standards, trace back to a vibrant era of history. When my great-great-grandfather’s carriageworks moved from Champlain Street around 1880, Harm & Schuster was relocated to 811 & 813 Woodland Avenue. The address today would be 50th & Woodland. Since the street names have long since been converted to numbers, I used an 1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance map to determine that 50th was once Beech Street. In addition, I compared satellite images to the Sanborn maps.

And so, hoping against hope, I dragged my family to where I believe Harm & Schuster Carriages and Wagon Manufacturers once stood, and lookee here. Designed by Theo. Rosenberg, architect, historic records indicate the manufactory was one of the most fire-safe buildings of its time. This furniture store stands at the exact same location, and, quite possibly, is the exact same building.


My historical fiction novel writing friend advised me to look into art. “It’s a great resource for costumes and scenes and hints about the way people used to live.”

Yesterday afternoon, I stopped by the Cleveland Art Museum, and I now get what my writer friend means. Before the Impressionists, art functioned as photos do today — portraits, but also scenes of people living their lives. The Cleveland collection has some gems, and there’s no admission charge. Just wander in the door and view to your heart’s content. With permission, I took non-flash photos in the nineteenth century rooms.

“The Boat Builder,” 1904 is by John George Brown. The painting of the steamships is a detail from a much larger painting by Thomas Eakins called “The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake,” 1873.

Little did you know

Have you ever heard of Alexander von Humboldt? He is considered “The Great Naturalist.” A statue in his honor is erected in the German Cultural Garden. According to author Aaron Sachs, the name Humboldt was on the lips of just about every citizen of the nineteenth century. The Humboldt Current, by Aaron Sachs, is a terrific read about Humboldt and the roots of American environmentalism.

Have you ever heard of Father Jahn? To denizens of the nineteenth century, he was known as the “Father of Physical Education.” His philosophy for good physical fitness included “turnvereins” or physical fitness clubs. Cleveland had a very active one.

Below is a photo of the Cleveland Turnverein, compliments of the Cleveland State University Special Collection. The club is doing a demonstration at Edgewater Park. I’m guessing it was taken in the 1920s.