Cleveland, OH: Cleveland History Center Revisit

The only other museum I visited during my trip to Cleveland was the Cleveland History Center, also located in Cleveland’s University Circle (museum and university district), and also strictly enforcing mask wearing. I went to visit this with my mother the day before I left, when I was already stressing about the flight, the Covid test, and having to say goodbye to everyone (complete with the inevitable guilt trips about living so far away), so visiting a museum was actually a very nice distraction for a couple of hours. The Cleveland History Center, formerly the Western Reserve Historical Society and Crawford Auto Aviation Museum (you can see why they changed their name) is up there with the Cleveland Museum of Art in terms of my most visited museums in Cleveland. I went to the art museum loads in my teens and twenties because it was free and a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but I went way more to WRHS as a kid because it had something for everyone. Not to play into gender stereotypes, but it typically would be my father, grandpa, and brother looking at the cars, whilst me, my mother, and grandma checked out the fashion gallery and the 1911 Hay-McKinney Mansion, which is attached to the museum. Except for the car collection and the mansion, which weren’t open during our visit, the Cleveland History Center primarily hosts temporary exhibitions, all included in the $15 admission price, along with unlimited rides on the carousel (yes, a museum with a carousel inside! Shame it wasn’t there when I was a kid, or I’d have loved this place even more).

 

Because we’re both interested in historic fashion, we started with the Chisholm-Halle Costume Wing, which was home to “Amanda Wicker: Black Fashion Design in Cleveland” at the time of our visit. Amanda Wicker was a Black fashion designer who moved to Cleveland in 1924, where she lived until her death in 1987, and was very active in supporting the Black community, both by working with groups like NAACP and the National Urban League, and by mentoring Black women who were interested in fashion design. There were only fifteen outfits in this exhibition, so it was a bit more spread out than usual, but the clothes here were gorgeous. I loved the dress with the fur shrug and the wedding dress, which had a beautiful collar.

  

The next couple of galleries were a bit confusing, because they weren’t obviously a part of any of the exhibitions, but they were also different than the things that were there the last time I visited. I assume they were just a rotating display from the museum’s permanent collections, but a bit of context might have been nice. At any rate, it was a display of hats from now-defunct area department stores and paintings by local artists, though this didn’t seem to be a part of the Cleveland artists exhibition that was in its own gallery quite a distance away, so who knows? I especially liked the painting of the West Side Market, done shortly before it opened in 1912.

  

We did go to see “Honoring Our Past: The Golden Age of Cleveland Art 1900-1945” next, which I had read about in The Plain Dealer before our visit. I’m kind of obsessed with all the art deco posters of Cleveland made to advertise various air shows and the Great Lakes Exposition back in Cleveland’s heyday in the 1930s, which the museum has hanging above their car/plane collection, so I guess I was hoping for more of that sort of thing, but that was not what I got. Instead, it was art by people who lived in Cleveland, but not necessarily images of Cleveland, which meant a lot of it was fairly meh landscapes. However, there were a few pieces I did like, especially Margaret Bourke White’s photograph of the Goodyear Blimp Hangar. I love her photography – I have her photo of the Terminal Tower whilst it was still under construction hanging on my wall at home.

 

There were also quite a few pieces here by William Sommer, who lived near to where my parents live, in the Brandywine Valley of Ohio (not to be confused with the more famous Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania), and we enjoyed trying to see if any of his landscapes matched up to areas we knew, but I think they would be unremarkable if you weren’t familiar with the area. I did like the art deco tea set though (not by William Sommer).

 

“Women and Politics: Empowered to Vote, Empowered to Lead” was a small exhibition about the women’s rights movement in Cleveland. There were some great artefacts here, particularly the fab outfit worn by local women’s rights activist Mertice Laffer to a suffrage parade in 1914 (below), the collection of first lady dolls, and the homemade banners. There was an old-school voting machine on display as well, which honestly would have confused the crap out of me if I had to use it. I can see why it came with an instruction manual for first time voters! Honestly, I’ve never voted in person in America, so I don’t even know what the system is, but judging by the overseas voter ballots I have to fill out, I get the impression it’s more complicated than in the UK (I was still in anarchist “the whole system is evil and I’m not taking part in it” mode when I moved to the UK thirteen years ago, so I didn’t actually vote for the first time until I was well into my 20s, and it’s always been by postal ballot for US elections. I have voted in person in British elections since becoming a citizen in 2016, however).

 

Because the auto museum section is currently undergoing renovation, the only other exhibition here I hadn’t already seen was on motorcycles, but my interest level in those is pretty damn low, so I didn’t really take pictures. How great is that Cleveland Car poster though? Finally, even though I get pretty bad motion sickness, I knew my mother wanted to ride the carousel, so I agreed to go on once with her. The carousel is from Euclid Beach Amusement Park, a beloved Cleveland institution that went out of business long before I was born, but my grandparents had a book about it that I used to read all the time, and it’s exactly the sort of old-timey amusement park I wish I could have visited. I guess the carousel is the closest I’ll get, and I love that the interior is decorated with illustrations of Cleveland landmarks (I ended up right next to the Garfield Monument in Lake View Cemetery, one of my favourite places in Cleveland, though it wasn’t at all intentional because I picked my spot based solely on the horse I wanted). It wasn’t moving all that fast, so it wouldn’t have been that bad had some creepily overzealous employee (or volunteer?) who approached my mother and I before we got on to bore us with facts about the carousel that were already on the signage, not been standing alongside the gate leering at me for the entire ride, so that I had to studiously look away from him at the mirror next to me which meant I felt a bit sicker than I would have otherwise, but I was basically fine. Just a little woozy. Creeper then proceeded to follow us off the ride and start trying to tell us even more about the collections, and when we finally lost him (or so we thought), he reappeared one final time, when my mother for some reason felt compelled to tell him my whole life story, so I sincerely hope he doesn’t turn up on my doorstep in London. Ugh.

 

Other than the creepy volunteer or whatever he was, this was a fun visit, and a good way to spend my final day in Cleveland for a while. This is another museum in Cleveland I’d definitely recommend visiting – we haven’t got too many of them, but the ones we do have are mostly pretty decent!

10 comments

  1. You can’t beat a museum showcasing local history and this one looks like its well worth a visit. Think I’d be with the guys looking at cars though.

    1. The one part of the car section I liked was the little street of yesteryear they had in the back, which was under construction the last couple of times I visited. Will definitely be heading to the car museum on my next visit to see if they’ve finally brought it back or turned it into something else entirely!

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