Saturday, February 27, 2016

Key Building and Huntington Bank Building - Cleveland - 2015-08-22 I have been editing a lot of photos taken this summer. I got lazy, and didn't get them processed and now I've got six months of photos to work on.

The group I've been working on have been images taken from the top of Terminal Tower downtown. These show varioius downtown building, the Cuyahoga River, and many of the river's bridges. Since I know little about any of this, I've been using Google Maps to try to identify the buildings I photographed.

Google Maps hasn't been very helpful, however, and it's been taking a long time to figure out what building names are (not just their address).

Bridges are even worse. One of the things I'm learning about Cleveland is just how fucked up history is around here. Cleveland's history goes back a long ways: The city was founded on July 22, 1796; became a village on December 23, 1814; and became a city on March 6, 1836. For much of its existence, Cleveland's history was not well maintained. Basic things like the existence of bridge, and where they were located; street names, and when they were changed; buildings and where they were constructed -- knowledge about these and many other things simply were not retained. About 1867, the Western Reserve Historical Society was founded to help Cleveland with its memory. But the Society is a jealous guardian of its knowledge. It publishes no history magazine, and as far as I can tell does little to distribute or solicit scholarship (amateur or professional) on Cleveland's history. The Ohio Historical Society -- sorry, we have to be pop-culture about it now. The Ohio History Connection (you're supposed to say that like you're cheering or whooping it up because cake has just arrived) publishes TIMELINE magazine four times a year. It's good, forcusing on history, archaeology, and natural history. But it's only been around since 1984, and the tone of its articles is a bit more popular history than I prefer.

Scranton Flats - Irishtown Bend - Cuyahoga Viaduct 02 - Cleveland OhioThere are other sources. Cleveland State University has put much of its visual archives online at the Cleveland Memory Project. While there are a vast number of images, most remain copyrighted and there is little in the way of information to accompany them. In the 1970s, Case Western Reserve University published the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, and they put the encyclopedia online in the late 1990s. These remain small articles, however, and almost none have been updated since they initially went online.

Bridges, you'd think, would have been much more carefully documented. After all, the history of Cleveland is the history of its river, the Cuyahoga. For decades, the Cuyahoga's vast, wide flats provided the space for vast, graet industries like iron, steel, oil refining, automobile manufacturing, salt mining, iron mining, and lumber. But the very existence of the Flats, created two Clevelands -- east and west. It was the bridging of the Cuyahoga that occupied Cleveland's civic leaders in its early decades, and which brought about so much distruption in the city's life.

But as I began to look for information just on the existing bridges over the Cuyahoga, I found an incredible lack of easily accessible history. All I was really looking for was the location of a bridge, the year it was completed, the bridge's name, and the year it was demolished (if it no longer exists). Cleveland Memory Project (CMP) has a lot of images of bridges, but there is almost no accompanying information. One page on the Memory Project documents (in a few scant paragraphs) eight or ten of the most historic bridges, but the information is sometimes inaccurate and most of the still-extant bridges (many of which are just about 100 years old) are not covered. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (ECH) suffers from similar defects: Information about the bridges is sometimes inaccurate, many bridges are not named, and the exact location of bridges is rarely stated.

As a last resort, I went to Wikipedia. And yes, Wikipedia has a list of the current and former crossings of the Cuyahoga. Indeed, this list covers crossings all the way to the river's headwaters.

And it was a little incomplete (although not nearly as incomplete as CMP or ECH), woefully undercited, and sometimes wildly inaccurate. Oddly, the list often was more about what type of bridge existed (rolling, bascule, swing, fixed, etc.) than it was the name of the bridge, where it was located, and the dates it existed. It's almost as if someone wanted to write articles about these bridges, but was too lazy to do so and so therefore just loaded up this page with the information they have. None of which was cited.

This aggravates me.

I began to fill in the blanks. It took me 14 hours to do so. Nonstop work. By midnight on Friday, I was brain-dead. But all the current and former crossings of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland are now complete, with citations, and accurately named, located, and dated.

The length of time it took me to find the information shows, I think, just how inaccessible Cleveland's history is to its people. I'm a solid, no -- fucking awesome researcher. And it took me two full days of work.

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