Love Letter to Cleveland Mural at CSU is a Hidden Gem

If ever there was something representative of a hidden gem in a city, the mural titled “Love Letter to Cleveland” is it. The mural was installed on the third floor of the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University in 2019, but it didn’t start out there. Let’s dig a little bit into the history of this fun-and-upbeat representation of Cleveland’s past and present. (First is my video tour of the mural, and then below that is the background information)

Video Tour of the Mural

Originated in the Ohio City Neighborhood

“Love Letter to Cleveland” was created by artists Gary and Laura Dumm. As their website indicates, they’ve been creating art for over half a century, with Gary being a cartoonist and Laura a pop art painter. They work separately and also collaborate on certain projects. For this project, they collaborated, with Gary drawing the mural and Laura coloring it in.

“Because we love our city, we wanted to pay homage to the “People Places and Things” that make our city a wonderful place to live.”

The mural was originally installed in Ohio City near the West Side Market in 2013 on the back of the Orange Blossom Press building. The Dumms had initially conceptualized having 200 figures represented on the mural, but had to narrow it down to 50 for space considerations. Over time, water and element damage diminished the appearance of the mural, in some cases making the figures unrecognizable. In the screenshots below from Google Maps, you can see how it looked in 2017 (left), four years after it had been installed. The street-facing side of the mural was completely gone. Two years later, in 2019 (right), the entire mural was gone and the building received a fresh coat of purple paint.

The Dumms began a GoFundMe to find a new home for the mural, raising $4,700. They were still seeking a physical location when Bill Burrow, the head of Special Collections at CSU’s Michael Schwartz Library, decided to offer the perfect canvas: two blank 40-foot walls on the third floor of the library, an area that would always be protected from the elements.

The downside to the location is that it is relatively hidden. People driving by in cars or tourists walking the streets of Downtown Cleveland may have no idea it exists, and yet it’s one of the coolest murals I’ve seen in the city. Heck, I’m sure most locals aren’t even aware of it. That is one of the reasons that I filmed my video and am writing this article: I hope people will pay a visit to CSU during open hours to take in the mural for all its glory.

Who is Featured in the Mural?

Another fun thing about the mural is that a thin blue banner passes through the middle of it, with the names of all of the illustrations. Here are all of the names listed, along with a brief description of who or what they are in relation to Cleveland.

  • John D. Rockefeller: The famous businessman founded the Standard Oil Company, helping establish the city as a place of industry. The Rockefeller Building on the corner of West 6th and Superior Avenue is named after him.
  • Cleveland Air Show: One of the most established air shows in the country, it occurs over Labor Day weekend each year and brings more than 100,000 visitors to Burke Lakefront Airport. Anyone who works Downtown or lives in the city can often hear and see glimpses of the planes practicing leading up to the show.
  • The Thinker: Outside of the Cleveland Art Museum’s main entrance, it was one of 25 identical statues created by Auguste Rodin. In 1970, a bomb was set off beneath the statue, bringing it down, but the museum opted to re-install it without repairing any damage done to it.
  • Goodtime III: If you go to George Voinavich Park beyond the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you’ll often see the Goodtime III boat docked. It can hold 1,000 passengers and gives people tours around Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. The boat is the successor to previous smaller boats, the Goodtime I and Goodtime II. The Goodtime III began its operations in 1991.
  • Chef Boyardee: I loved eating Beefaroni as a kid — I practically lived on it. At the time, I didn’t know that the brand had some ties to Cleveland — the chef, Ettore Boiardi, opened a restaurant called “Giardano d’Italia” in 1924 at the corner of East 9th and Woodland Avenue, and he began distributing his popular spaghetti sauce in milk bottles. The actual company came later and was in Pennsylvania, but still his origins are deeply entrenched in Cleveland!
  • Jim Brown: The legendary Cleveland Browns running back was the team’s first-round pick in 1957. He spent his entire 8-year career with the Browns, but is known by many as the greatest running back of all time, and was part of the team’s last Championship season in 1964. He was also an actor, and for many years in his retirement, was an activist and figurehead for the Browns organization.
  • The Bone Lady: There have been some popular Browns fans in the past based on their costume, and The Bone Lady is one of them. Although she has disappeared from the spotlight a bit over the past few years, over as my Browns blog, Dawgs By Nature, staff writer Barry Shuck caught up with her and did an awesome Part 1 and Part 2 interview with her.
  • Cleveland Orchestra: Founded in 1918, most of its concerts are played at Severence Hall in University Circle. It is one of the “Big Five” orchestras in the country, along with ones in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
  • Cy Young: We all know that the Cy Young award is given to the best pitcher in the American and National League of Major League Baseball each year, but he was born in Gilmore, Ohio and began his career with the Cleveland Spiders. He pitched for them from 1890-1898, and then pitched for the Cleveland Naps from 1909-1911. Much like Jim Brown with football, Cy Young is known as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
  • Carl Stokes: Born-and-raised in Cleveland, he became the city’s 51st mayor in 1967 and was one of the first black elected mayors of a major city in the United States. The building at the corner of Huron and Superior Avenue is named after him, as the Carl B. Stokes United States Courthouse.
  • Guardians of Traffic: On the Hope Memorial Bridge (formerly known as the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge), there are eight Guardians of Traffic statues. Although they were a relatively popular symbol of Cleveland, they gained even more notoriety a few years ago when the city’s baseball team changed their name from the Indians to the Guardians.
  • Eliot Ness: Nationally, Ness is most known for bringing down famous mobster Al Capone. In Cleveland, though, he was the city’s Director of Public Safety, heading the Police, Fire, and Traffic Departments.
  • Leg Lamp: Although many people around the country would understand the visual of a leg lamp in a window near Christmas time, the city of Cleveland is where you’ll see it represented all over the place. That is because much of the movie “A Christmas Story” was filmed in Cleveland — heck, the original house in the Tremont neighborhood is now part of a popular museum there!
  • Michael Stanley: Stanley was a local musician who won the hearts of many Clevelanders over the years, with a genre of rock, folk rock, and heartland rock. He was also the afternoon disc jockey for WNCX in Cleveland from 1990 to 2001.
  • Ione Biggs: She was an advocate for peace and human rights, both locally and around the world.
  • Cleveland Zoo: Did you know that when the Cleveland Zoo started in 1882, it was located where the Cleveland Museum of Art now stands? It moved to its current location in 1907 in Old Brooklyn. It reportedly has one of the largest collections of primates in North America, and is part of the Cleveland Metroparks system as of 1975.
  • Baker Electric Car: Move over, Elon Musk — Cleveland has more original roots to electric vehicles. The Baker Motor Vehicle Company was headquartered in Cleveland, OH and specialized in electric vehicles, producing 400 cars annually by 1905.
  • Tracy Chapman: The famous singer-songwriter, known for hits “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason,” was born in Cleveland.
  • Viktor Schreckengost: He was known for his work as an industrial designer, but also a teacher, sculptor, and artist. He graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts and taught there for more than 50 years; as far as the mural goes, he is represented by the red wagon, as that was one of the industrial designs he was recognized for.
  • Jane Scott: Scott was a famous rock music critic for the Plain Dealer, having national notoriety. She is also credited as having been influential in Cleveland landing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Alan Freed: Deeply tied to rock & roll (and even credited for coming up with that term), Freed was a disc jockey for WJW in Cleveland (850 AM). He was also one of the organizers of the Moondog Coronation Ball, which has been labeled as the first ever rock & roll concert.
  • Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The concept of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was established in 1983, and then in 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the city for its permanent home. It opened in 1995 and has arguably become the top must-see tourist attraction for visitors.
  • Playhouse Square: Everyone knows about Broadway and New York City, but did you know that Cleveland has the next largest performing arts center in the United States? Playhouse Square is predominantly located on Euclid Avenue around East 14th Street, and also features the world’s largest outdoor chandelier.
  • Arsenio Hall: The comedian, actor, and talk show host was born in Cleveland. The Arsenio Hall Show aired 1,406 episodes, with its original run from 1989 to 1994.
  • Bridges: This is a generic label for the various old and impressive bridges throughout the city of Cleveland.
  • Ghoulardi: A fictional horror host of Shock Theater on WJW-TV (Channel 8) from 1963-1966, the character had a ton of popularity among locals, to the point that his legacy still stands today despite its relatively short-lived nature. The character was played by disc jockey Ernie Anderson, who later became the “voice” of ABC (i.e. “This is…ABC”)
  • Churches in Cleveland: Like the bridges reference, this is a general reference to all of the grand churches throughout the city.
  • Dick Goddard: Cleveland’s most popular meteorologist, he as a household name, having 50 years on Cleveland TV. He was also the Browns’ official statistician for home games from 1966 to 2011, and an animal activist. The cat depicted by Goddard is Bubba, their big orange-and-white 20-pound cat.
  • Margaret Hamilton: The actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz was born in Cleveland.
  • Life Savers: The popular candy, which is now owned by Mars, got its start in Garrettsville, OH in 1912 by candy manufacturer Clarence Crane. He sold the concept of Life Savers to a company in New York for about $2,000, and it’s made a whole heck of a lot more since then.
  • Michael Symon: He’s probably the most famous modern-day chef in the Greater Cleveland area, owning several restaurants and regularly appearing as a guest in various food/chef-related TV programs. His Mabel’s BBQ is featured both in Cleveland, and near the Las Vegas Strip, if you’re a frequent traveler.
  • West Side Market: In 1912, the current location of the West Side Market opened at the corner of West 25th and Lorain Avenue. It recently celebrated 100 years of operation and is a top place for both locals and tourists to visit, both for the market vendors and the architecture. See my video tour here.
  • Cleveland Trolley: This is in reference to the large network of streetcars that existed in Cleveland in the first half of the 20th century, although its also a general enough of a reference that one could tie it to the now-discontinued Lolly the Trolley.
  • Harvey Pekar: He was known for his comic series titled American Splendor. A movie with the same name was released in 2003, featuring Paul Giamatti in the role of Pekar.
  • Jesse Owens: At the age of 9, Owens moved to Cleveland and later attended East Tech High School. He went on to win four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in track & field, making him one of the most iconic athletes of all time. There is an Olympic Oak Plaza dedicated to Owens in the East Side of Cleveland (see my video here).
  • Perch: I believe this is another general reference, tying it to the fish in Lake Erie.
  • Halle Berry: Probably the most famous actress from Cleveland, Berry has starred in a ton of films and TV shows. Interesting fact: she was born Maria Halle Berry, but later flipped her first and middle name at age five. “Halle” was named after Halle’s Department Stores in Cleveland.
  • Garrett Morgan: I knew of this one from way back in elementary school since I did a project on it (which I still have to this day somewhere). Morgan was an inventor who I know most of for designing a “stop/go traffic signal” that was hand-operated. He also had success inventing hair care products and a safety hood smoke protection device.
  • Mercury, NASA: I believe this is a reference to Project Mercury, which was the first human spaceflight program in the United States from 1958 to 1963. One of the astronaut training locations was the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, which was later re-named to the NASA Glenn Research Center.
  • Free Stamp: All Clevelanders should be familiar with the big Free Stamp sculpture that is located in Willard Park, created by Claes Oldenburg. It was originally supposed to be displayed by the BP building at Public Square and would stand upright, but a series of events led to its eventual placement.
  • Dennis Kucinich: A lifelong Clevelander, he’s held a bunch of political positions including Mayor from 1977-1979, Senator from 1995-1997, U.S. House Representative from 1997-2013, and a couple of presidential run attempts.
  • Rocket Cars: At the old Euclid Beach Amusement Park, one of the popular rides was The Rocket Car, a space rocket swinging ride. It has since been transformed into a street-legal vehicle, which are attractions that Clevelanders can spot riding down the street for festivities and events to this day.
  • Dorothy Fuldheim: Referred to as the “First Lady of Television News,” she was a journalist for The Cleveland Press and anchor for WEWS-TV for 37 years.
  • Hulett Unloaders: The Hulett Ore Unloaders were invented by George Hulett in 1989. They were 100-feet tall, 800-ton machines that could shovel up to 17 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone. For 80 years, they stood tall on Whiskey Island, even if not always in operation. However, they are being sold for scrap in 2024, with a 60-foot arm and bucket to be saved for a future display somewhere.
  • Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: Born in Cleveland, he was multi-talented as a singer-songwriter, musician, actor, film producer, and boxer. One of his most famous performances if the song, “I Put a Spell on You.”
  • Jack Casino: Located in the old Higbee Building at Tower City, it became Jack Casino in 2012, in part with Dan Gilbert’s involvement. You might not know it from the outside, but inside, the casino often has a ton of gamblers playing.
  • Superman, Lois Lane, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster: I’m lumping these ones together, even though they have individual references: Sigel and Shuster are the creators of Superman, and they met in 1932 while attending Glenville High School in Cleveland. The Cleveland Public Library in Downtown Cleveland has a special exhibit on Superman, and a future sculpture is being placed by the Huntington Convention Center.
  • Steel: This could either be a reference to Cleveland’s many ties to steel (including Cleveland-Cliffs being headquartered there), or a reference to Superman being called the Man of Steel.

There were originally 200 iconic figures that the Dumms had on their list of candidates to include in the mural, but they had to trim it to around 53 figures. When I thought about the list, two missing figures came to mind: LeBron James and Drew Carey. The exclusion of James makes sense, though, when you look at the timing: the mural was first finished in 2013, and that was when James was a member of the Miami Heat, having left the Cavaliers to win a Championship elsewhere (he later returned to the Cavs to deliver a Championship in 2016, and probably would be included present day if I had to guess). As for Carey, I found a brief note from Cleveland Magazine in which Gary Dumm indicated that Carey was cut from the list after his political criticism of Cleveland irked him.

Be sure to check out the mural at CSU when you have a chance!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *