Friday, October 30, 2009

More on Cleveland's Balloon Boy

The Plain Dealer recently ran a story about Cleveland's "Balloon Boy," a 6-year-old kid whose father floated him high over the city as a publicity stunt during the Depression. Think flagpole sitters and other attention-getters during those hard times. In these days, when Michael Jackson was lambasted for dangling a child over his balcony, you can imagine the response today if some father sent his 1st grader soaring up over Municipal Stadium in a home-made balloon, indeed the recent story of Falcon Heene is enough indication of how feelings have changed. Read the PD story for the story of Cleveland's Balloon Boy, but here are a couple of photos from the Cleveland Press Collection, at CSU's Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections.

BTW, in the PD story the child is identified as Billy Crawford, who they quote in the story as an 82-year-old today, whereas the Press calls him Don Crawford, which was the father's name.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage (BGSU)

Announcement received:

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage
Pallister Conference Room (1st Floor)

Jerome Library, Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, OH 43403
December 9, 2009 7PM - 8:30PM

The Ohio Preservation Council and the Intermuseum Conservation Association jointly developed this statewide preservation outreach initiative. The inaugural session was held in late 2008 at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, OH. The 2009 session will be presented in northwest Ohio at Bowling Green State University. Topics covered will include: a definition of preservation; the difference between preservation and conservation; appropriate types of supplies; disaster preparedness; print and online resources; and strategies for preservation fundraising. This program is free and open to the public.

To ensure that we have adequate handouts, please RSVP to ICA Director of Education Nicole Hayes by December 7, 2009.

Nicole M. Hayes
Director of Education and External Relations
Intermuseum Conservation Association
2915 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
t: 216.658.8700 f: 216.658.8709

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Planning Local History Projects on the Web

I always thought that the best way to launch a big undertaking like creating the Cleveland Memory Project was to get all the issues planned in advance, to secure major outside funding, to research and select the best hardware and software, to train the staff in the new technology, to perform some dry runs and then digitize thousands of items before announcing the product. I call this the "Spanish Armada" approach, acknowledging the similar preparations that must have gone into sending that massive fleet off to war.

Lacking the patience to do things the "right" way and eager to see what would work, I just started doing some local history web work in 1996 and gradually recruited other kindred souls on the CSU Library staff to join in. We made mistakes, back-tracked to undo unwise decisions, digitized whatever our whimsy led us to and generally made it up as we went along. I call that the "Dunkirk Model," where you just find something that will float and start paddling like crazy.

Our goal was to reach the New World of digital history as fast as possible. At any moment in the following decade, we expected to hear of a local Spanish Armada being launched, which would blow our effort out of the water, but it never sailed. Instead our fleet of collaborators just keeps growing and we're still operating in a whimsical fashion to a large degree, but we've discovered that this process is a whole lot more fun and is more sustainable, as we're not always worrying about where the next big grant's coming from to keep us afloat.

One outgrowth of this has been the Greater Cleveland History Digital Library Consortium, which will be meeting next on November 5th. The Consortium was formed from a meeting at CWRU in 2004 to help local institutions mount resources on the web about the region's history. Email me for details if you're interested.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

THATcamp: The Humanities and Technology Camp

Announcement received:

What is THATcamp?

THATCamp (The Humanities And Technology Camp) is a user-generated "unconference" on digital humanities inspired by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University.

At THATcamp 2009, CHNM floated the idea of holding regional camps around the country, an idea that quickly took hold, leading to events in Austin, Texas (THATcamp Austin) and Washington state (THATcamp Pacific Northwest), as well as a planned event in Michigan (THATcamp Great Lakes).

THATcamp Columbus, a collaborative effort of the Ohio Humanities Council and the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University, will be held in January 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.

What is an "unconference"?

According to Wikipedia, an unconference is "a conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by one or more organizers in advance of the event." An unconference is not a spectator event. Participants in an unconference are expected to present their work, share their knowledge, and actively collaborate with fellow participants rather than simply attend.

Who should attend?

Anyone with energy and an interest in digital humanities. That includes academics, librarians, archivists, cultural activists, curators, students, educators, and professionals in all fields where technology and the humanities collide.

What should I propose?

That's up to you. Sessions at THATCamp will range from software demos to training sessions to discussions of research findings to half-baked rants (but please no full-blown papers; we're not here to read or be read to). You should come to THATCamp with something in mind, and on the first day find a time, a place, and people to share it with. Once you're at THATCamp, you may also find people with similar topics and interests to team up with for a joint session. You might want to check out the original THATcamp blog or some of the regional camps to get an idea of the scope of topics, but don't feel limited by those examples. If it falls under the topic of the humanities and technology, and impacts you, your organization, or the field of digital humanities (broadly defined) then it's fair game.

Where and when will THATCamp be held?

The event will be held on Friday January 15th and Saturday, January 16th, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. We've yet to set an exact location so get in touch if you live or work in Columbus and want to help out!

Where's the schedule? When is THATCamp?

We'll create the entire schedule on Day 1, but the important parts go as follows: Day 1 begins with registration from 8:30-9 (breakfast included), and we'll begin promptly at 9am. Day 1 will end at 5:30pm, and we'll resume for day 2 at with breakfast (yes, we'll have lots of coffee) at 8:30am and sessions beginning at 9am. Following Day 2 sessions, we will hold a panel discussion, inviting institutional stakeholders to join in the dialogue.

How do I sign up?

Unfortunately, we only have space for 40-50 participants, so we have to do some vetting. The application form is here:

Apply Now!

How much?

THATCamp Columbus is free to all attendees, but a $25 donation towards materials, snacks, beverages, and t-shirts (yes, t-shirts!) will be much appreciated by the organizers.

How do I sponsor THATCamp?

A limited number of sponsorships are available to corporations and non-profits. Shoot us an email at

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Central Park for Cleveland (in 1935)

On the last day of 1935, The Cleveland Press reported that City of Cleveland parks director Hugo Varga had proposed that we build our own version of New York's Central Park on under-utilized land on the near east side. The acreage he had in mind was bounded by Chester and Euclid avenues, between East 21st and East 40th streets. Today that "under-utilized" land is the site of Cleveland State University! The report went on to discuss wider plans then afoot to develop today's MidTown area with housing projects and smaller parks, but this "Central Park" was to be the centerpiece.

Today we're back to examining ways to turn the depopulation of Cleveland into a new, green, urban agriculture project that in some ways is reminiscent of this Central Park plan in returning portions of the urban landscape to more natural uses.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Superman Signature Bridge

Howard Maier, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Area Coordinating Agency, recently sketched a whimsical drawing of a new signature bridge to replace the Innerbelt Bridge, where the iconic element is Superman, astride the deck, holding fistfuls of cable stays in his hands. The idea was to honor the Man of Steel in his birthplace, the City of Steel, as other supporters of Superman have been trying to realize.

I'm sure it's a well-received slide for his presentations, but it got me wondering how feasible it would be.

The current Innerbelt Bridge is 95 feet above the Cuyahoga, so let's say the new one has to be at least 100 high. Using the proportions of the ideal human body, which Superman certainly should be, we find that the middle of the figure's thighs should be 3/8 of the total height. If the deck is passing mid-thigh on Superman, that means he'd be 267 feet high overall. The Statue of Liberty is 151 feet high, without the pedestal, the Colossus of Rhodes of ancient wonder was 107 feet high, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall, the Terminal Tower is 708 feet high, and St. Louis' Gateway Arch is 630 feet high. One structure the same size was the original Ferris Wheel at Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition, at 260 feet, so Superman would certainly stand out, as Howard's drawing suggests, but not necessarily be impossible to construct.

Back to the ideal proportions, a figure that tall would have arms about 116 feet in length, hanging down to about the bridge deck. Angled out 45 degrees to either side, the span from one fist to the other would be some 164 feet and they would be 34 feet above the deck. I'm no bridge designer (and my trig may not even be up to this challenge), but I wonder if these fists would be in a position to properly support the river span section. Maybe a civil engineer will tell us.

Superman's crotch would be 33 feet above the deck, so the federal standards for minimum overhead clearance of 17 feet is no issue. I doubt that there'd be any way to save the cape, however.

I'm sure this would be far more interesting than anything ODOT has planned for the bridge.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Statement from the Western Reserve Historical Society

Press release received:

Subject: A Statement from the Western Reserve Historical Society

The Crawford Auto Aviation collection is an integral component of the Western Reserve Historical Society and is here to stay. We would like to set the record straight and tell the real story:

The Western Reserve Historical Society has a significant debt burden – due to the ill-fated project known as the Crawford Museum of Transportation and Industry (CMTI), a proposed new high-cost museum intended to house significant parts of the Crawford collection. The CMTI project ended for a variety of reasons in 2004.

Many community and WRHS leaders, including Crawford supporters, were advocates for CMTI. Sadly, when all finally agreed CMTI could not go forward, some $18 million had been spent on its development – creating a significant debt burden for the Historical Society and damaging donor relationships.

In 2007, the Board brought in a new President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Gainor B. Davis. She immediately made elimination of the debt a priority. Dr. Davis and the Board of WRHS drew up a plan to eliminate the debt burden and create a stable and sustainable future for the Historical Society. The total debt is approximately $5.4 million with $2.8 million of that due in 2010. The Board set a January 2010 deadline to pay off that portion of the debt.

At the same time, WRHS instituted aggressive budget cuts including staff reductions, pay cuts, increased deductibles for health care benefits, and suspension of the retirement plan match. Variable costs were cut to the bone. Revenue projections were conservative. All told, in the past 18 months we have cut $2 million, 35% of our operating budget. We feel we are positioned to move into a stable future as soon as the debt is paid off. Leading this effort with Dr. Davis is a new CFO who is improving the business methods and making sure we are good stewards of donor funds.

So how to pay off debt? You can’t fundraise for debt. Donors support projects and even general operating – not debt reduction. As with any organization that is fighting for financial stability, or any individual or family for that matter, the Historical Society had to turn to its assets – its collections – to work itself out from under the debt burden.

We have carefully selected those items to be sold from our collections, limiting them to duplicates or those that are not mission-related (more on that later). Selected items are not integral to the collections or the Historical Society’s work and programs. Our collections will maintain their integrity – including the Crawford which will still hold about 150 vehicles.

This is not a route any historical or museum professional wants to take. We know, as well as anyone, that selling collections in order to pay debt is not acceptable under current museum standards (however, given the current national fiscal situation and its impact on museums, some are calling for a review and revision of those standards).

Let us ask you this: what’s the alternative? Would you rather we close our doors entirely?

The belief that the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum is an entity separate from WRHS is baseless. The nucleus of the collection was an unrestricted gift from Thompson Ramo Wooldridge (later to become TRW Inc.) to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1963. It is a unique and important collection, and a valued part of our educational programming. The Historical Society’s internal operating divisions, the Crawford, the Archives-Library, the History Museum and Hale Farm and Village are simply that – departments within a single entity. The collections in each support and rely on one another. None are financially self-sustaining, and no department or set of collections is more important to our mission than another. Collection assets from all WRHS departments have also been sold over the years in order to reduce the debt. The Crawford is not and has not been singled out.

We recognize that among our assets is our volunteer corps which numbers some 600 people with about 10%, or 60 volunteers, working directly with the Crawford collection. Volunteers are and will remain major and appreciated contributors to the Society’s workforce.

Organizations grow, change and evolve – they must in order to survive. To believe we can and should operate today, with the identical mission as we had in 1867 when founded, or even in 1963, is not realistic. These tough economic times has forced all nonprofits, including WRHS, to narrow and focus their mission. Overly broad missions, trying to be all things to all people, are the death of organizations – especially nonprofits. We should be recognized for tightening and refining our mission – not criticized.

We know what we are and need to be in order to be a true asset to this community – and that means being the purveyor and storyteller of the history of the Western Reserve. That means using our vast collections: our archives, our photographs, our decorative arts, our buildings, our costumes, and our cars and airplanes to tell the WHOLE story – as no other institution in this region is able to do. That means using our cars to teach math and science to thousands of students. And using our Hale Farm & Village to teach about sustainability. And using the history of our steel industry to teach about entrepreneurship and motivate our next generation. And using our library to help people discover their heritage – where they came from – so they can build their own future.

This is the Western Reserve Historical Society, where we take history personally.

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