The land, known as Mason Park, used to go by the more fetching name of "Death Trap," in honor of the many people who drowned in its clay pits, which were used as makeshift swimming holes through the 1920s. The city eventually took ownership of the property, refurbishing it in uniquely Rust Belt fashion -- by filling the pits with car batteries and trash, planting some grass, and calling it a park.
But when the school district was given the land, it found the site too soggy to build on. So it decided to test the soil. Not surprisingly, it found traces of lead and arsenic from the rotting materials below.
City consultants told the school board not to worry. Another time-honored Ohio remedy for dealing with hazardous waste -- just throw six more inches of dirt on it -- would do the trick.
Alas, someone had the temerity to point out that kids enjoy such extracurricular activities as eating dirt. And since the school would be sitting on an unsettled pile of car batteries, the structure would be likely to sink.
The district is now looking at another $750,000 just to refurbish the site. Meanwhile, the city is offering to throw in a few dozen blankets from smallpox victims to sweeten the deal.
The cement crusades
There's a fine line between standing up to the Man and being a total whackjob. Rinaldo P. Romano blew right past it.
The North Royalton resident became peeved last summer when the city built a new turn lane on the road next to his house. Romano reacted with gusto by driving concrete pipes into the ground right next to the road. Some were staked on the white line on the road's shoulder. This posed a bit of a problem for snow plows and garbage trucks, not to mention motorists who took the turn too tight.
The city slapped Romano with a misdemeanor citation, which he ignored. So the city took him to court. At trial, Romano claimed North Royalton had stolen his land without paying for it. He also said that placing big concrete posts on the roadway didn't create a danger -- they were simply helping him keep water from pooling in his yard.
Romano lost at trial, so he appealed. Judge Kenneth Rocco of Ohio's Eighth District Court of Appeals agreed that North Royalton never paid Romano for the hijacked land. But that's because Romano never tried to prove that he owned it in the first place. Nor was the judge moved by Romano's other arguments, including his ingenious Floral Defense. "Romano's claim that the pipes could be used as planters for flowers is unsubstantiated," the judge ruled.
Heimlich the hero?
It's been a tough new century for Dr. Henry Heimlich, who's gone from Ohio's most famous doctor to its most disgraced.
His hometown paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, busted him last year for stealing credit for a surgical procedure invented by a Hungarian doctor. Both The L.A. Times and New York Times have derided him for advocating the use of his Heimlich maneuver in drowning rescues, as well as for his efforts to cure AIDS and cancer by giving patients malaria. And in August, Scene wrote about scientists who suspected Heimlich of faking cases to burnish his reputation ("Heimlich's Maneuver," August 11).
All the same, it's hard to find good heroes in Cincinnati. So the Cincinnati Business Courier recently announced that it would bestow its greatest honor, the Lifetime Health Care Hero Award, on the 84-year-old Heimlich.
"As journalists at the Business Courier, we realize there are detractors to what Dr. Heimlich has done in the past," says Doug Bolton, the paper's publisher. "His work has been controversial, and we've written about that and we will continue to write about it."
In the meantime, they'll just give him lifetime achievement awards.
But the paper was quick to place the blame, er, credit for Heimlich's honor on a jury of community leaders.
"We as journalists don't make those determinations," Bolton says. "We put the program together. The jury pulls those nominations . . . and looks at the contributions of each nominee before deciding on the lifetime hero."
And just who nominated the dubious doctor? His lawyer, Joe Dehner.
A few good tacklers
The hot-pink flier handed out at the new Sprint store in Crocker Park invited Browns fans to "Meet football player Andra Davis Tuesday, December 21 . . . Or just stand there in silent awe."
Well, Sprint got the second part right anyway.
An hour and a half into Davis's scheduled appearance, the pizza had grown cold, and there was still no sign of the linebacker. Sensing growing agitation, DJs from 106.5 desperately tried to fill the void with trivia questions.
"What was the Browns' record this year?" one asked.
"3-10," someone called out.
"No, I'm sorry, it's 3-11," the DJ corrected.
Next question: "Who can name one of the three teams the Browns actually beat this year?"
At 7:30, Davis finally arrived, strolling into the store in a Sean John collection T-shirt. He took the mic reluctantly. "Uh, thanks for coming out," he said. "Sorry about the terrible season."
Afterward, an elementary-school boy was invited to tackle Davis in front of his adoring fans (read: his mother). Taking a deep breath, the boy barreled into Davis, and the linebacker indulgently stepped backward.
After taking a brief moment to recover, Davis turned to the boy and said, "Well, you're already better than a lot of people on the team."
Dick Goddard: Machine
Cleveland news channels are in a Cold War frenzy to build the baddest weather-detection machine. Problem is, most people think a Doppler is something yuppies put in their cappuccino. And none of these heavy armaments can compete with Fox 8's secret weapon: Dick Goddard and his woolly bears.
Goddard, the station's weatherman for the past 163 years, still prefers to predict winter weather by looking at the band of orange fur on the back of woolly bears. The less orange in the middle, the more snow for the region. "The caterpillars beat the computers over the last two years," says Goddard. While the data predicted mild winters, his woodland associates suggested otherwise, and they were right.
This winter's forecast: "The woolly bears are saying that temps this year won't be that far from normal. We'll probably get 62 inches of snow total."