Thursday, August 11, 2005

All Condon, all the time

Today was a day full of George Condon, which is a very good day indeed.

It got off to a great start when I had lunch with George and he even picked up the check! We’ve been getting together of late, as he works on new books to join the many that have enriched the literature about our city. Visiting with him is always a great pleasure, as he is a veritable jukebox of stories about Cleveland, gathered in thirty years of writing a daily column for the Plain Dealer until retiring twenty years ago. He talks about what a tremendous grind it was, turning out five columns a week, week after week, no matter what. On top of that, he occasionally found ways to get a few columns ahead, so he could do the research for his several books: Cleveland, the Best Kept Secret (1967), Laughter from the Rafters (1968), Stars on the Water: the Story of the Erie Canal (1974), Yesterday’s Cleveland, (1976), Cleveland: Prodigy of the Western Reserve (1979), and several other works, including a charming collection of stories about Irish nicknames in Cleveland, Gaels of Laughter and Tears (1995). He’s a generation ahead of me in age, but I notice that his Cleveland and my Cleveland are closer together by now than either are to today’s Cleveland.

My Condon day continued at dinner, as I read Stars on the Water. I have to be reading something as I eat and this book is both entertaining and educational. It’s all I can do to keep from driving to upstate New York to see what remains of what may be the most significant piece of civil infrastructure in the country’s history. (Our local version, the Ohio & Erie Canal, is certainly Cleveland’s most important construction project, by any measure.)

I finished the evening off reading another chapter from his Cleveland: the Best Kept Secret title to my Aunt Helen. As I mentioned back in January, her vision is failing and I’ve taken to reading local history books to her. Then it was Don Robertson’s moving novel set around the historic East Ohio Gas Company explosion of 1944, The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, which was followed this summer by Bob Manry’s account of his solo voyage across the Atlantic 40 years ago, Tinkerbelle (more...). George’s writing style is so smooth that it’s a joy to read his works aloud and so that’s the work Helen and I are currently enjoying. Best Kept Secret is out of print, but we at CSU are preparing an e-book edition for the Cleveland Memory Project, with George’s generous approval, of course, so we’ll be able to help keep his works known.

One thing I’ve carried away from reading George and talking to him is his conclusion that the city’s done little to commemorate its more important citizens by naming things after them. Alfred Kelley, father of the Ohio & Erie Canal, deserves to have the city named for him, more than Moses Cleaveland does, but other than a never-used appellation for the I-480 bridge across the Cuyahoga Valley (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know that either), he goes unrecognized and unremembered. I’ve had it suggested that the proposed Canal Basin Park would be a perfect feature to name for Kelley and I wholeheartedly agree. Tom L. Johnson is another critically important figure in the city’s history, but try to find something named for him. We come up with fairly anonymous names for some of our major landmarks – witness the “Terminal Tower” and “The Mall” – and while that may be part of our charm, it wouldn’t hurt to honor some of the people who are most responsible for the city’s past greatness. At least George thinks so. I agree.


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