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East Ohio Gas Explosion Memorial
Many of the houses in the square mile surrounding East 61st St. are much newer than their neighbors because of what happened on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 20, 1944. A storage tank holding liquefied natural gas began emitting a vapor that dropped into sewer lines, flowing and mixing with air and sewer gas. The mixture ignited, launching manhole covers skyward (one was found several miles away in Glenville). Houses and clothing were instantly engulfed in flames as the explosion traveled through the sewers and up through drains. The disaster killed 131 people, injured 225, left 700 homeless, and destroyed 79 homes and two factories. This memorial plaque now adds a somber note to the children's playground on Grdina Ave.
Battleship Maine Memorial
Remember the Maine? We thought not. But back in 1898, it was a pretty big deal. Sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain, the USS Maine exploded and sank in the Havana Harbor on Feb, 15, 1898. The cause was never determined, but for political reasons Spain was blamed, and the event was used to stir up sentiment for the Spanish-American War. What's that got to do with Cleveland? Beats us. Nonetheless, there's a monument in Washington Park in Newburgh Heights that contains a porthole cover from the Maine and a section of the conning tower, mounted atop a big old rock. It's none too pretty (it looks like a metal rod stuck in a pile of dirt), but it is quite historical.
Collinwood School Fire Memorial
Another of Cleveland's very worst days was March 4, 1908 —Ash Wednesday, ironically — when a fire broke out at Lake View School in Collinwood, killing 172 students, two teachers, and one rescuer. At the time, it was one of the deadliest school fire disasters in U.S. history, with children jumping from second- and third-floor windows and little bodies burned so horribly they couldn't be identified. Many families couldn't afford to bury their children, so they were interred in a mass grave in Lake View Cemetery, where a majestic granite monument now stands.
Cleveland may not have the Baths at Caracalla or the Valley of the Kings, but there are enough impressive architectural ruins here to please the intrepid urban explorer. Abandoned factories, shuttered shopping malls, and blocks of vacant houses create a ghost town within the thriving urban scene. Here are several choice sites.
The Big Q
If you watched late-night local TV in the early '90s, you undoubtedly recall the jingle for The Big Q furniture store, in which a man — we'll charitably call him a singer — crooned, "The Big Q, The Big Q, stands for quality home fuuuuurniiiituuuure!" The store first opened in 1928 and was last owned by the kindly Jack Saul, who extended credit, as the vintage sign still boasts, to "domestics, pensioners, veterans, golden agers" and others who needed a helping hand, "no co-signer required." Like Cleveland, The Big Q's cheerfully garish yellow exterior gets a little more weather-beaten every year.