Perceptions of the Burning River: Deindustrialization and

Perceptions of the Burning River: Deindustrialization and Cleveland's Cuyahoga River
Author(s): David Stradling and Richard Stradling
Source: Environmental History, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jul., 2008), pp. 515-535
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Forest History Society and American
Society for Environmental History
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25473265
Accessed: 28-08-2015 17:14 UTC
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DAVIDSTRADLINGAND RICHARDSTRADLING
perceptions
of the burning
deindustrialization
river:
and
CLEVELAND'S
RIVER
CUYAHOGA
ABSTRACT
In 1969, Cleveland's
River caught
fire and burned
for about
Cuyahoga
twenty minutes,
two railroad trestles. After initially receiving
little local news coverage,
the
damaging
an
fire evolved
iconic event of the environmental
into
crisis. Significantly,
the river had
fire at least nine times before 1969. Why, then, did the 1969 fire garner so much
caught
one
interest? We
that the growing
of the burning
river reveals
argue
importance
in Cleveland
of deindustrialization
of the long, wrenching
and
consequence
process
much
of the United States.
on economic
Press
of the earlier fires focused
coverage
issues. The Cuyahoga
and its industrial flats were at the heart of Cleveland's
economy;
the area's docks,
to the city's well
and refineries were essential
railroads, warehouses,
as the 1969 fire story evolved,
the flats were
however,
being. By the 1970s,
rapidly
as were
No
make
emptying,
nearby
neighborhoods.
longer did most Clevelanders
their living near the industrial river. From a greater physical
and psychological
distance,
river looked much more
then, the burning
up in an earlier
troubling than it had close
era. Cleveland's
sensibilities?like
those of the nation as a whole?created
postindustrial
new meanings
and
for the Cuyahoga
its 1969 fire.
IN THE 1980s, CLEVELAND BEGAN to rediscover the industrial flats along the
River.
Cuyahoga
Once
the heart
of this Midwestern
the flats had
metropolis,
been
slowly abandoned and bypassed fornearly fiftyyears, with new highways bridging
the narrow
mid-1990s,
and
bars
decades
valley
though,
and
and
old
Jacobs
restaurants
of deterioration,
factories
and
Field
had
sprung
evidence
giving
way
Gund
Arena
up
along
of the city's
to grassy,
sports
brought
the
unused
crooked
industrial
past
fields.
fans
river below.
remained
By
the
downtown,
Despite
abundant,
David Stradling and Richard Stradling, "Perceptions
of the Burning River: Deindustrialization
Cleveland's
River," Environmental History 13 (July 2008): 515-35.
Cuyahoga
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and
516
|
ENVIRONMENTAL
HISTORY
the many
including
archaic
rows
(JULY
2008)
1. A Local
Figure
Brewery's
River Pale Ale
Burning
ware
brick
drawbridges,
13
rows
houses,
and
pilings
that constitute
and
of
the
river's banks
much
through
of the city.1 Part of the return
to
this
once-industrial
included
landscape
a
of
marketing
River
Burning
created
the
new
beer,
Pale
Ale,
Great
by
Lakes
Brewing Company of Ohio
City, the neighborhood just
the
above
near
on
Cuyahoga
west
River's
Burning
the
of Cleveland.
side
brilliant
is emblematic
packaging
the city's
of
self
postindustrial
But
it is also much
mockery.
more.
The
claims
package
fire on the
that the 1969
is in this beer."
surely
many
still
feel
rassment
And
the famously
on
of the
in the
the
city's
at Great
flawed
fire.
Lakes
In an
that
to the romance,
River
Burning
packaging
on the Lake"
era of 1970s,
"Mistake
was
a city
that made
represents
Cuyahoga
things.
an
stars
back
taken
on
every
by two of
framed
shine
down
to an
industrial
to better
economic
back
In this
industrial
have
appears
brilliant
reaches
Company,
even
add
flats. Adding
Cleveland
Brewing
and
history,
forged by
image
a
glow to a rose-tinted
skyline
the water
the burning
imagining,
and
character
those
including
ownership
city. The
before
when
times,
others,
urban
the drawbridges
on the fortunate
identity,
Since the early 1990s, Great Lakes Brewing Company has sold
Burning River Pale Ale, using imagery that romanticizes
Cleveland's
industrial past.
embar
Cuyahoga,
to take
flames
bottle,
Courtesy of Great Lakes BrewingCo., Cleveland, OH
Clevelanders
about
begun
in an
there
so, while
some
flammable
pride
much
in the city as
character
have
as
"built
Cuyahoga
past,
postindustrial
of pining
worthy
pride.2
Although now the firemight represent Cleveland's industrial past, in the 1970s
it helped
Cleveland's
solidify
reputation
as one
of the nation's
most
troubled
cities,
"identified with urban blight, white flight and decay of the river and Lake Erie,"
as U.S.
New
Seamonds'
connect
the 1980s,
& World
phrase
urban
Reports
suggests,
decay
the Cuyahoga
with
reporter
for many
Jack A.
the environmental
fire only gained
Seamonds
Americans
described
the Cuyahoga's
crisis.
in cultural
Through
currency,
in 1984.
burning
the
as more
1970s
helped
and
Americans
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As
into
PERCEPTIONS
linked environment
Clevelanders-intimately
including
OF THE BURNING
RIVER
to de
problems
landscapes.3
industrializing
The fire memorialized
on
remembrance
by Burning River Pale Ale, and by Seamonds'
its fifteenth
late on a Sunday
occurred
anniversary,
in
morning
June 1969. An oil slick and debris burned intensely for less than half an hour,
damaging
two railroad
the flames
on film.
one
trestles,
seriously.
in time
arrived
Firefighters
to douse
the blaze before it could do more damage; photographers arrived too late to catch
two dailies,
Cleveland's
Instead,
the Press
and
the Plain
Dealer,
published photos of the damaged trestles the following day, though only thePlain
Dealer
a story, which
included
on page
appeared
11C and was
so clumsily
handled
that it contained two typographical errors in the lead paragraph. Under the
headline, "Oil Slick Fire Damages 2 River Spans," the article began: "An (sic)
burning oil slick floating on (sic) Cuyahoga River caused $50,000 damage to two
key railroad trestles at the foot of Campbell Road Hill SE about noon yesterday,
closing one to traffic." In both Cleveland papers, the news was the damaged
not
trestles,
the burning
river.
Clearly the local press made
the blaze
ignored
produced
a story
Cleveland
and
altogether.
about
little of the fire,and the national press initially
If the Associated
the Cuyahoga
or any
Press
fire that
other
it was
summer,
wire
not
service
by the
used
New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the Columbus Dispatch, although the
latter did carry a story two weeks later about the finger pointing between
over
state
the
after a short
dramatically
essay
was
who
to blame.4
The
in rime magazine
appeared
situation
changed
in early August.
Under
theheadline "The Cities: The Price ofOptimism," the unbylined piece listed several
troubled
urban
exclaimed.
but
waterways
"Chocolate-brown,
on the
Cuyahoga.
focused
with
oily, bubbling
river!"
"Some
subsurface
the essay
it oozes
gases,
rather
than flows."After repeating a joke about how people who fall into the river decay
rather
than
the essay
drown,
told
quickly
the story
of the fire. "A few weeks
ago,
the oil-slicked river burst into flames and burned with such intensity that two
railroad
about
bridges
it were
spanning
the fire would
have
had
nearly
less
destroyed."
influence
Perhaps
that
it not appeared
on the water,
had
one
sentence
a dramatic
above
of a boat nearly
in flames
dark smoke
photograph
engulfed
filling
the sky, streams
of water
from bridge-bound
the tug.
firefighters
feebly spraying
in Flaming
was
"Boat Caught
the only caption.5
Cuyahoga"
Time
when
failed
another
to note
that
that
across
fire swept
had
photo
been
the Cuyahoga's
taken
seventeen
waters.
It's not
years
clear
earlier,
whether
the
editors at Time mistakenly used the older photo or did so deliberately, perhaps
thinking
created
the more
a new
interpretation.
dramatic
story
When
scene
for the
would
1969
combined
with
grab
fire,
readers'
connecting
the prose
above,
attention.
an
old
Either
image
the photo
way,
with
suggested
Time
a new
that
the river's pollution had finally gotten so bad the river simply and
spectacularly
"burst
After
symbolic
into
flames,"
the Time
seemingly
coverage,
environmental
for the first time.
the 1969
catastrophes
fire evolved
into one of the great
Cuyahoga
era. National
ofthe
industrial
Geographies
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| 517
518
|
ENVIRONMENTAL
stark
in December
issue
13 (JULY
HISTORY
the cover
under
1970,
2008)
"Our Ecological
Crisis,"
prominently
featured the Cuyahoga, using a foldout image of the industrial riverwith several
stacks
smoking
Geographic
that posited
pollution
problem,
again
as representative
would
in the
as
in Time
on
in a
water
serious
Henceforth,
over
over and
crisis, mentioned
works
and
fire, usually
wastelands.
ecological
in scholarly
and
press
popular
of urban
the environmental
symbolize
to the
of the nations
emblematic
chemical
mills,
coverage
references
before
stretch,
of steel
The
industries."6
waters.
shadowed
six-mile
"Along
the wastes
even more
the Cuyahoga
the dark,
this
receives
other
encouraged
context
the Cuyahoga
and
plants,
on
flames
noted,
river
the
Erie,
and meat-rendering
National
no
but
the fire, the caption
into Lake
emptying
its shores,
along
After mentioning
the
environmental
movement.7
The fire took on mythic status, and errors of fact became unimportant to the
story's
obvious
watched
the
National
meaning.
the month
got
Geographic
wrong,
although
the storywas just a year and a half old at that point. Both the references and the
mistakes increased over time. In 1990, the EPA Journal claimed people had
on
fire
which
television,
hadn't.
they
who
Newman,
Randy
immortalized the firewith his song "Burn On" in 1972, repeated this error in the
to a 1998
liner notes
fire on
linear
television."
Great
Late,
river
Ashworth
up
Environmental
erroneous
repeats
"I saw
claiming,
William
"went massively
An
Lakes:
dissertation
author
Earlier,
of the
miles"
album,
compilation
in flames,"
History.
statements
about
in his
recent
A
the
that
claimed
on
River
the Cuyahoga
had
"several
The
book,
1986
doctoral
history
from
taken
fire, perhaps
websites that claim the Cuyahoga burned for days. Taken together, these errors
an
suggest
fire had
the 1969
in adding
interest
to grow
drama
to match
to an actually
rather
expectations
people's
fire must
this transformative
Clearly
seen the flames
have
and been appropriately
nation must
no one has offered
or without
With
the facts, almost
for why
have
status.
its mythic
people
came
so much
to care
about
the 1969
been
those
the
massive;
Neither
of an
much
fire. Even
if
to match
itwas,
moved.
as
event,
unexciting
of what
is true.8
explanation
commentators
who took note of the fact that the Cuyahoga had burned many times before 1969
did little to explain why itwas the 1969 fire that attracted so much attention,
the one
itwas
why
was
actually
shouldn't
that everyone
from
1952.
fire.
catch
if the image
remembered-even
explanation
Apparently
In October
1997,
been
has
Adam
Rivers
unnecessary.
the
Werbach,
they remembered
then
24-year-old
was
president of the Sierra Club, was asked on CNN to explain why the 1969 fire
so important. "Imean a river lighting on firewas almost biblical," said Werbach,
was
who
"And
the fire occurred.
not yet born when
it energized
American
action,
because people understood that that should not be happening."9
Journalists
on
policy.
common
1972:
and
In 1995,
on
columnist
syndicated
summation
"Then,
activists
environmental
June
of the
22,
events
1969,
all
also
Matthews
to the Clean
broke
loose.
the
simplified
Christopher
leading
hell
have
The
Water
Act's
Cuyahoga
fire's
effect
a
repeated
passage
River
in
near
Cleveland became so polluted with combustible chemical waste that it exploded
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into
Three
flame.
More
acted."
later, Congress
years
RIVER
OF THE BURNING
PERCEPTIONS
Steve
recently,
a
Tuckerman,
biologist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, stood over the site of
the 1969 fire and drew an emotional conclusion. "It was the beginning of the
Water
Clean
conception,
Historians
fire have
fire's
1969
much
hallowed
more
been
only
a few words
than
the nation's
in the historical
not
even
a
full
for the growth
explanation
narrative
the
that;
waterways.
of the fire.Most
long-often
find a comprehensive
importance
In the press,
ground."10
complicated
to improve
movement
do we
nowhere
sentence-and
is almost
too have been rather terse in their discussions
to the
references
This
it wasn't
a national
fire ignited
Cuyahoga
in the
the EPA.
and
Act,
in popular
and
of the
environmental
crisis. In a typical approach, Philip Shabecoff mentions the 1969 fire on the first
of his
page
Three
on
book
the environmental
of a list that places
fire by way
Mile
Island,
and Love
Canal.
but
activism,
other
great
then
in The Green
Similarly,
only
events,
returns
including
Revolution,
to the
Bhopal,
Kirkpatrick
firewith other events that he suggests sparked
Sale lists the 1969 Cuyahoga
environmental
but
movement,
the fire among
offers
no
of why
explanation
earlier
fires
no
had
such effect.Ted Steinberg uses the Cuyahoga to open a chapter on the development
of environmentalism, though interestingly he chooses to begin with the 1952 fire.
Although Steinberg's brief discussion ofthe Cuyahoga fires is incomplete, itoffers
much
more
than most
1952
blaze,
he mentions
histories
an
of environmental
earlier,
minor
flammable history. Steinberg then moves
After
politics.
in 1899,
fire
the
describing
the river's
revealing
long
to the 1969 fire and asks nearly the
same
we pose here:
a routine
to make
"What
event
in the local
question
changed
a
an
cause
industrial
into
of
environmental
celebre?"
city
history
gritty
Steinberg's
answer
concern
rests on growing
in environmental
By 1969,
ecological
politics.
people understood that the Cuyahoga's pollution had meaning beyond Cleveland,
most immediately and dramatically forLake Erie, themost troubled Great Lake.
Certainly
Rachel
of the fire, so brief
coverage
level,
awareness
ecological
had
in the 1960s,
grown
especially
in the wake
of
Carson's Silent Spring (1962), as Steinberg describes. But the initial
a more
suggests
in the local press
and
so slow
to develop
at the national
evolution.11
complicated
Altogether, the Cuyahoga firehas attracted considerable referencing but little
In the one
research.
uses
Adler
that
work,
been
federal
necessary.
work
scholarly
the burning
river
intervention,
After
as
focused
via
all, he notes,
on the
that
evidence
the Clean
fire, legal
state
the fire in 1969
was
Act
Jonathan
was
to
beginning
of 1972, may
not have
regulation
Water
historian
not nearly
as bad
as
that
in 1952.Adler concludes of the fabled event: "Itwas a little fire on a long-polluted
river
already
embarked
on
the road
to recovery."
Adler
emphasizes
that
the city
had initiated a river cleanup, to be funded by a $100 million bond overwhelmingly
approved by voters in the fall of 1968. Indeed, without federal or state help,
Cleveland had begun to rebuild its sewage system, adding treatment facilities
designed to improvewater quality in the river and in Lake Erie, the source of the
city's water
of the
1969
supply.
Of course
fire, had
not
yet
this particular
improved
water
barely
underway
by the time
nor
it
would
address
the
quality
work,
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| 519
520
|
ENVIRONMENTAL
HISTORY
13 (JULY
2008)
industrial polluters that lined the Cuyahoga and emptied wastes directly into
the river without
sewers.12
city
using
is correct
Adler
Still,
the Cuyahoga's
that
water quality had improved between themid-1950s and the late 1960s, as better
evidenced by the dramatic decrease in the frequency of fires than by the relatively
small size of the 1969 blaze. Cleveland's steel mills had invested in pollution
controls, and the city had taken steps to diminish the fire hazard posed by
oil on the river's
accumulating
federal
surface.
command-and-control
only
regulation,
to call
written
essay,
into question
addresses
partially
the
of
issue
so fabled, suggesting that the story-especially
why the 1969 fire became
form-helped
exaggerated
Adler's
federal
justify
in water
involvement
in
quality.
Surprisingly, beyond Adler's essay, scholars have paid little attention to the
Cuyahoga fire-or we should say the Cuyahoga fires.
Adam Rome advises historians to pay attention to the 1960s context of the
environmental
waxing
movement,
that
arguing
rise
the
of
liberal
politics,
heightened women's political activism, and the developing counterculture all
to environmentalism's
contributed
that
elsewhere
movement-concern
for open
in emphasizing
Steinberg
among
citizens.
average
different
Cleveland's
these
1969
fires.
so much
river gain
burning
trends,
and
1952
Rome
Surely
awareness
also
has
cultural
as
science,
even
ask
further,
is
to the
speak
changes,
we
in the movement?
currency
is right,
of ecological
But,
argued
of the environmental
aspects
particularly.13
growing
of these
All
to the
reactions
space
the
some
drive
helped
Rome
influence.
growing
suburbanization
did
why
more
Perhaps
important, why has that currency grown dramatically over time?Why would a
minor
in a
fire
We
of the
consequence
to the nation's
politics?
the
that
argue
so much
matter
landscape
long-industrialized
environmental
evolving
of the
importance
growing
one
reveals
that
of deindustrialization
process
long, wrenching
river
burning
occurred
in Cleveland and across theMidwest and Northeast beginning in the 1950s. Earlier
fires
concerned
1969
the
concern
river.
Through
reaction
indicated;
polluted
as
leaders
city
to the
fire
was
to the
threats
as well,
as
the
cursory
1970s,
this
this was
Initially
in the
coverage
railroad
for the damaged
the
economy.
not
bridges,
the
concerns
Environmental
changed.
local
the
press
terribly
took
precedence over those of rail travel through the flats and shipping along the river.
Ironically, though the burning river would come to represent the costs of
the growing
industrialization,
of deindustrialization.
to the fire actually
reaction
In the
and
1960s,
Clevelanders
thereafter,
increasingly
the process
represented
as industrial employment
garnered decreasing benefits from industry,especially
same
not
time, and
coincidentally, Cleveland itself experienced
plummeted. At the
a horrible
decline,
ail contributed
of American
urban
decline
as
race
riots,
to the growing
cities.
more
Although
intensely
crime,
urban
blight,
crisis-a
Cleveland
than most
poverty,
crisis
experienced
American
and municipal
Cleveland
shared
insolvency
with
dozens
and
deindustrialization
places,
both
of these
trends
swept across much of the nation. That the Cuyahoga fire evolved into one of the
great
disasters
of the environmental
crisis
tells
us
something
about
Americans'
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industrial
of
suspicion
growing
a
landscapes,
suspicion
crisis
of the
1960s
environmental
crisis
that
We
not mean
do
to
and
1970s
developed
of the
conceptions
years.14
alone
deindustrialization
that
suggest
Americans'
shaped
in these
the
by
encouraged
In this way, the deepening
decreasing benefits they derived from such places.
urban
RIVER
OF THE BURNING
PERCEPTIONS
the
explains
different reactions to the 1952 and 1969 fires on the Cuyahoga, but it does help
urban
industrializing
look
environmental
lived near
Most
who
people
looked
when
the Cuyahoga
more
to the
Our
still
even
on
relies
three
to the burning
reaction
Indeed,
1970s
limited
had
after
negative
no
longer
outfalls.
sewage
or even
distance,
close
that
earlier
ought
era,
so much
itmeant
is part
deindustrialization
to concern
the
then,
in an
up
lined
knew
ourselves
of
as we
with
of environmentalism.
argument
generally,
and
it had
words,
that we
Americans,
industries,
and businesses
In other
Clevelander.
of the 1960s
the growth
explain
troubling
the industries
their
psychological
than
de
Americans
and
heavy
rapidly
its many
Most
stacks
these
and
most
and
way.
and
physical
more
much
and
average
the context
initial
From
a greater
did.
river
burning
relied
from
the
Clevelanders,
their polluting
zones,
on paychecks
for
landscape
in a disinterested
industrial
longer
By
urban-industrial
consequences
older
no
1970, most
space
open
Beyond
concern
expressed
landscape.
the
upon
movement.
environmental
environmentalism
wilderness,
could
of the
focus
the
explain
areas
interrelated
river
that
suggests
were
more
much
the mild
First,
and Americans
environments.
industrial
for urban,
expectations
the fire, Clevelanders
of evidence.
Clevelanders,
concern
to express
likely
about air pollution, which escaped from industrial zones to plague residential
neighborhoods,
were not ready
of them
many
to think
beginning
crisis.
ecological
with
the Time
and
politicians
presented
developing
In other words,
in the suburbs.
of a burning
This
an
would
Geographic
as the poster
river
in 1969
apocalyptic
symbolism
National
the burning
as
river
be
of a rapidly
over
time,
learned
as
coverage,
child
Clevelanders
symbol
the press
of the degraded
and
urban
no
the long
longer remembered
to
take on even more
of Cuyahoga
the 1969 fire
fires, allowing
history
significance.
a recounting
of several
with a major
blaze
in
fires, beginning
Second,
Cuyahoga
over
Over
reveals
how
much
and
the
nation
time.
the
Cleveland
1868,
changed
were hardly
about
the burning
river, but not until
years Clevelanders
complacent
In addition,
environment.
most
eventually
people
the 1970s did theybegin to think of itsmeaning
terms.
Third,
and most
the city's economy
had no connection
their
own
economic
deindustrialization
important,
in the
second
half
to the Cuyahoga
well-being,
in anything other than economic
could
of the 1900s.
as
an
now
fundamentally
Over
industrial
develop
time,
waterway,
different
reshaped
Clevelanders
at
who
the heart
relationships
of
with
the river.
IN THE SUMMER OF 1969, the Cleveland papers offered a few, sparse follow-up
stories on the fire.The first featuredMayor Carl B. Stokes, the firstblack mayor
of a large American
city, and
Cleveland's
Utilities
Director
Ben
S. Stef anski
touring
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ENVIRONMENTAL
13 (JULY
HISTORY
2008)
the site the day after the fire and announcing that the citywould file a formal
complaint with the state. Stefanski blamed the state for literally permitting
industries to dump pollutants into the river, and he defended Cleveland, noting,
no
"We have
over what
jurisdiction
in there."
is dumped
state
The
later
returned
the finger pointing, claiming the city's own failing sewage systemwas themajor
source of oil on the river and that the state was considering banning all new
construction in Cleveland until the city improved its sewer system. The city
funds for sewer
retorted that the state had failed to provide matching
construction. The newspapers faithfullyreported the back and forth,adding little
more
two weeks
to the story. Finally,
the fire, a Plain
after
Dealer
stated
editorial
bluntly: "Bickering between Cleveland and the state overwho bears responsibility
so polluted
a stream
of the Cuyahoga,
for the condition
it catches
fire from
time
to time,will not improve the quality of the filthystream." The phrase "from time
to time," used in two Plain Dealer editorials after the fire,was the only hint in the
newspaper
that
coverage
he
that
asking
fire before.15
caught
following the fire,hundreds of people wrote letters to Carl
In the months
Stokes
had
the Cuyahoga
take
to
steps
the
improve
The
environment.
city's
vast
of these letters came from children, who wrote them for school
majority
and most
assignments,
of these
in the
school
attended
children
city's
suburbs,
such as Cleveland Heights, Mentor, and Beachwood. Tellingly few of these letters
mention the Cuyahoga River. The children, and undoubtedly their teachers too,
were
much
with
concerned
or as a brown
snow
on
fallen
more
cloud
which
air pollution,
over
that hung
they
as
experienced
a city they did not know
soot
well.
Dozens of lettersdid discuss water pollution, but they focused on Lake Erie, where
fish kills,
foul
recreational
Erie
led
David
and
closed
these
threatened
beaches
and swimming
fishing, boating,
the focus of an intense
against
campaign
in part
by
the League
a Shaker
Blaushild,
Heights
of Women
auto
Voters
dealer
and
children's
in the lake.l6
pastimes:
been
had
years,
odors,
water
and
Indeed,
Lake
for many
pollution
residents
suburban
recreational
favored
fisherman,
like
who
helped initiate the "Save Lake Erie Now" campaign across northern Ohio in 1964.
Aided by a long series of articles by Cleveland Press reporter Betty Klaric, the
put
campaign
considerable
pressure
on the state
of Ohio
and
the city of Cleveland,
both ofwhich participated in a number of conferences concerning the pollution
ofLake Erie and its tributaries. One of thesemeetings had taken place inCleveland
justmonths before the 1969 fire.17
In the flood of citizens' letters that reached Carl Stokes around the firstEarth
almost none
Day inApril 1970, there were few references to the Cuyahoga and
case
the
thatmentioned the fire.As had been the
campaign to save
throughout
a
a
Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga remained primarily
polluter of valued
culprit,
it flowed. In
into
which
resources-the beaches and fisheries of the great lake
and
around
landscape
Stokes
his
Cleveland,
nor
the primary
did pay more
administration
the Cuyahoga
attention
neither
object
was
neither
the primary
of environmental
activism.
symbol
of a polluted
Although
Mayor
letter writers,
of these
than most
to the Cuyahoga
nor
new
administrative
initiated
changes
programs
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OF THE BURNING
PERCEPTIONS
RIVER
to deal with water pollution after the fire.The citywould rely on the previously
created Cleveland Clean Water Task Force Action Plan, designed to spend the
previously
bond
approved
no
brought
to solve
money,
the
to the bureaucracy.
changes
river's
one
No
In sum,
problems.
a
lost
one
job; no
the
fire
one
gained
either.18
Outside
Cleveland,
awareness
of the
speak
control
late
1970,
water
United
stood
a section
States
in the House
to
empowering
on the
Cuyahoga.
issues
quality
to raise
continued
Stokes,
brother,
contained
that
to study
the press
Louis
the mayor's
bill
of Engineers
Corps
Army
In
and
Cleveland
of a flood
in favor
and
politicians
fire.
Cuyahoga
from
Representative
U.S.
meanwhile,
the
Stokes spoke at length about the river,noting that itwould "live in infamyas the
only river in theworld to be proclaimed a firehazard." He added, "In Juneof 1969,
river
the
actually
A
bridges.
shameful
and
occurrence."
As
vigorous
$100,000
it became
continued,
not
have
clear
railroad
this
prevented
that he
the
thought
as the newspapers
to the two bridges,
the damage
to two
damage
could
program
cleanup
Stokes
fire was
of the river
problem
almost
fire, causing
caught
continuous
had originally suggested. Stokes resented the stigma the fire had attached to
the negative
Cleveland,
lower
Erie,
Cuyahoga
had
into which
the
diminished
and
swimming
"the
concluded,
other
purpose
fish
its wastes,
had
disallowed
been
a
River
that
had
decreased.
not
has
in Europe.
He
Sport
areas.
of Lake
fishing
"In short,"
only made
and
for any
but
waste,
had
Stokes
it useless
industrial
the
noted
uses
recreational
in several
for sewage
place
dumping
even
received,
life" and
emptied
of the Cuyahoga
rape
than
no
"virtually
river
city had
his
press
also
has had a deleterious effectupon the ecology of one of the Great Lakes." Stokes
the evolving
spoke
of the story.
of environmentalism,
language
Stokes
had
found
a new way
to
the meaning
change
an old
problem.19
helping
to talk
about
THE LONG BURNING RIVER
BY 1970, AS STOKES SPOKE eloquently about the Cuyahoga, Clevelanders knew,
or ought
to have
impossible
press
at
was
coverage
least
known,
to know
their
first fire may
"from
over
spread
fire department
burned
have
fire
caught
flames
and
the Cuyahoga
The
river
times
inconsistent
ten times
of the press.
that
how many
are
records
simply
enough
in August
1868,
when
It is
because
incomplete.
to catch
intensely
occurred
to time."
time
the river,
But
the attention
a spark
from
the stacks of a passing tug apparently ignited an oil slick on the river.The Plain
Dealer noted that the fire could have been farworse had it spread to the vast
lumber
stores
to force
oil refiners
attention
and
even
the paper
along
the banks.
along
to the fact that
under
along
the warehouses,
reported,
"and
Further,
the river
in some
the Plain
to clean
the whole
there
places
up
length
are
Dealer
its crusade
heightened
their businesses.
"We have
called
of the river, under
deposits
of this
to the thickness
the wharves,
inflammable
of several
inches."
stuff,"
Just
the year before the 1868 fire, JohnD. Rockefeller had cobbled
together five
refineries
within
the firm of Rockefeller,
Andrews
and
Flagler,
already
the largest
oil refiners in theworld. Still, the Plain Dealer had littlepatience forthe relatively
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ENVIRONMENTAL
new
business,
(JULY
as
oil there were
the floating
elevators,
warehouses,
13
the water
oil along
seeing
the flats. Above
and
HISTORY
flouring
2008)
a threat
"millions
machine
mills,
to the complex
upon
millions
and
railroad
shops
economy
of
of property
in
depots,
freight
all liable at any moment,
carelessness,
by the merest
lumberyards,
on
or a
a conflagration
to
set
of a match
be
fire
producing
lighted cigar,
extensive
of the use
that no human
could
efforts
stop."
The
reaction,
newspaper's
with
along
that
of
Mayor Stephen Burhrer, who encouraged city council to take further action to
outlaw oil discharges, made clear that the problem revealed by the burning river
was that the flames threatened shipping and riverfrontbusinesses, which were
at the heart
of the city's
a dramatic
During
prosperity.20
a spectacular
in 1883
flood
late-winter
across
fire raced
the high waters ofKingsbury Run, a creek that ran past the Standard Oil refinery
before joining the Cuyahoga at the Great Lakes Towing Company boat repair yard,
just south of downtown. Leaking oil froma still at theThurmer and Teagle refinery
was ignited by a boiler house standing in the rising water. The New York Times
the horror
described
massive
refinery.
of burning
water
efforts
the heroic
Although
downstream
moving
toward
of firemen
and
Standard
Oil's
saved
employees
much of the plant, several Standard tanks exploded and buildings burned. Men
jumped into the high water to dam up the culvert that separated Kingsbury Run
from the Cuyahoga, successfully keeping the fire from the flooded flats along
the larger river.Nearly thirtyyears later, in 1912, another horrific blaze threatened
Standard Oil's Refinery Number 1,when gasoline leaking from a barge at
Standard's docks covered the river and then caught fire. No flood waters
threatened to push this fire deep into the city,but the rapidly spreading flames
five men
killed
Avenue.
a boat
caulking
"Without
at the Great
Dealer
the Plain
warning"
Lakes
Towing
near
Company
Jefferson
of blue
blast
"a shriveling
reported,
flame from thewater beneath themwrapped the drydock in fire."The deaths and
the
extent
of the
a yacht,
five tugs,
destroyed
as a fire hazard.
fire, which
The
the river
fears about
heightened
as saying,
one tug captain
blaze
up
and
destroy
us." Although
two
circumstances,
urban
become
it, had
These
industrial
issue
national
not because
the damage warranted
the
dry docks,
Press
moment
the river
remained
critical
reported
to
is going
to the city's
unmistakable.21
fires gained
fires, water-borne
significant
the Cuyahoga
three
of the River," as the headline of a Plain Dealer editorial
economy, "The Menace
called
at what
know
"We don't
and
Cleveland
only because
attention,
read
the press
blazes
meaning
special
attention
gained
only because
but
when
loss
of their
into them.
thoroughfares.
By
of accumulating
oil
the 1920s,
slicks
themselves
the growing
onto
in harbors
were
scale
other
of life or the scale
important
to cities
of the problem
the political
of
of water was
it. That the fires occurred on bodies
the waterways
unusual
Like
agenda,
as
forced
raising
concerns that international shipping might be disrupted by fire. In 1921, flames
on the Hudson
shooting from the exhaust of a motorboat ignited a pool of oil
a
turn
River along Manhattan, which in
frigate. In that
ignited and destroyed
a
Oil
Standard
instance, the firemarshal blamed
pipeline under the
leaking
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OF THE BURNING
PERCEPTIONS
RIVER
Hudson for the slick, but oil had been collecting on the surfaces ofmany harbors,
especially those surrounded by industry. A year after the Hudson River fire,
Congress passed a joint resolution requesting that the president call an
international conference on maritime oil pollution, in part because "the fire
hazard
of floating oil on the piles of piers and
created by the accumulation
bulkheads
into
momentum
waters
harbor
stalled,
however,
a
[was]
Act of 1924, which prohibited maritime
nor
industrial
discharges
Thus,
government
inland
did
regulation
to catch
river continued
any
fire. In 1936,
source
growing
in the passage
resulting
of alarm."
of the modest
oil discharges
Political
Oil Pollution
but did not address
waters.22
to improve
nothing
the Press
the Cuyahoga,
that
announced
the
and
River
"Long-Feared
Peril" had arrived when another oil fireburned away thewooden piers of an Erie
Railroad bridge. One worker, operating the torch that ignited the oil, was treated
forminor burns. Although the fire temporarily closed the Erie line, forcing a
of trains,
rerouting
"in
its practical
the greatest
that
as the Press
of the fire was,
consequence
demonstration
the river will
burn."
reported,
the real
Apparently
fear
was that a fireon the riverwould ignite gasoline storage facilities, including those
of Gulf Refining Company which were imperiled by this particular fire.Fire Chief
James
E. Granger
of fire boats
that
concluded
had plied
a fire boat.
to reacquire
the city needed
the river before
1932, when
A series
the last had been
decommissioned.23
The Press coverage of the February 1948 fire opened with the telling phrase,
in the
"Industry
Saturday
night
River
Cuyahoga
blaze
had
caused
Valley
$100,000
is constantly
in damage,
menaced
but
by
fires."
the three-alarm
The
"slop
oil" firehad threatened much greater damage in the flats. The Plain Dealer ran a
front-pagebanner headline "River Oil Fire Perils Clark Bridge" and reported that
more than thirtyhoses had trained water on the firebefore itwas extinguished.
By then, the firehad buckled parts of the Clark Avenue Bridge and burned through
a bundle
of
electric
cables,
knocking
out
power
in the
nearby
Brooklyn
neighborhood. The jackknife bridge of theRiver Terminal Railroad was inoperable;
railroad
ties caused
serious
to the bridge
itself and the
damage
fire destroyed
the controls. According
to the Press,
the economic
spreading
impact
a 10 percent
of the fire included
"reduction
loss" at Republic
Steel because
the
hot-burning
railroad bridge linking two parts of the steel plant had been disabled.24
The
1948
fire caused
enough
damage,
and held
out
enough
that more
promise
would follow, that the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce gathered
together key
players to discuss potential solutions. In addition to lobbying the city to
rehabilitate the fireboat, the group hoped to persuade Clevelanders who worked
with flammable liquids not to dispose of them in a way thatmight take them to
the river. The committee would even study whether enough oil collected in the
river to make
its reclamation
profitable.25
A few months
later, the River
and Harbor
Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, headed by Gifford F. Hood, president of
the American
fires. The
Steel
city would
& Wire
Company,
a fire
employ
a four-part
announced
tug or the harbormaster's
plan
to prevent
yacht
further
to patrol
the
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| 525
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ENVIRONMENTAL
2. The Cuyahoga
Figure
13
HISTORY
(JULY
2008)
Fire of 1948.
t^4_L.-____I^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^M
Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State UniversityLibrary.
On a Saturday evening inFebruary, 1948, the oil slop on the Cuyahoga River caught fire.The spreading
two bridges and reminded Cleveland of the constant economic peril it
flames seriously damaged
faced from its heavily polluted waterway.
river
times
several
the city purchase
water
in search
locations."
to discourage
campaign
of slicks.
to remove
equipment
at "various
quality
public
a day
The
slicks,
also
chamber
and
that
the committee
Finally,
the draining
that
recommended
the city analyze
the river's
a broad
recommended
wastes
of flammable
into
the
river
sewers.26
through
Most
attention
press
Commission
study
in use
methods
around
for oil slick
the nation.
tried to reduce
Galveston
oil.
accumulating
summer
that
of methods
Buffalo
on
focused
removal.
Baltimore,
the
The
Port
city's
San
Philadelphia,
the fire threat in their harbors
used
to disperse
chemicals
and
commission
floating
Harbor
found
several
and
Francisco,
by skimming
oil
on
its
long
polluted river,while Los Angeles sucked up oil slicks with a hose. Interestingly,
Thomas Lavin ofAtlantic Refining inPhiladelphia advised against treating slicks
with
sand
animal
that would
life in the water."
carry
The
the
Press
oil
down,
noting
concluded,
that
however,
the process
"That
should
"destroys
all
not present
much of a problem here. Any form of animal life that can live in the Cuyahoga
should
get
fat on carbonized
sand."27
In August, the skipper of the city's fire boat told the Press that his boat had
patrolled
water
the Cuyahoga
in the
river
the entire
to freeze."
The
previous
headline
winter
on
the
"because
story
read,
there
is not
"Fire Hazards
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enough
Peril
PERCEPTIONS
Cuyahoga
In December,
Shipping."
company
out war
on the fire-hazardous
measures
the mere
than
the
told
representatives
OF THE BURNING
the Plain Dealer
Port
city's
oil slicks
and
of chemicals."
spraying
reported that chemical
Harbor
in the Cuyahoga
RIVER
Commission
River
Instead,
that
formore
calls
the oil
skimming
"all
heroic
from
the surface "is themost important tactic inkeeping the five river-miles of docks,
and
bridges
industries
safe
from
slick-fed
were
the commissioners
fires,
told."28
Through all of the press coverage in the late 1940s, it remained clear that the
major problem of the burning river was its threat to transportation, both to
shipping on the Cuyahoga and across themany bridges that spanned thewater.
References to the plight of the river itselfwere few.A1948 editorial in the Press
included a reminder that, "While not entirely related to fireprevention, thewhole
of
question
and
sewage
unsettled."
It noted
a problem
that
needed
replacement
of
Coverage
influenced
by
local
River
remains
Cuyahoga
to
be
in
river
the
sewage
dumped
today,"
not as
as the
resolved,
though
perhaps
urgently
with nonflammable
concrete.29
pilings
the
river
in the
continues
to be
of wooden
waste
industrial
"Raw
that,
fires
economic
in Cleveland's
interests,
was
newspapers
but
these
fires
undoubtedly
garnered
essentially
no
The
last
river
fire
coverage outside the city. The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the
Columbus Dispatch did not run a word about the fires of 1936 and 1948.30Further,
a Cleveland Press article in early 1941
suggests that fires that caused no
significant
damage
of a March
paragraph
that
caused
about
story
mention
may
have
17,1941,
story
to an
ore
in damage
the fire
itself, however.
fire only
after
attention
in the Press
$7,500
the
media
escaped
It's
the Coast
carrier.
The
that
likely
Guard
altogether.
to a "recent"
referred
Press
files
the paper's
don't
editors
to
thought
to prosecute
threatened
a
contain
"industries
which pollute the Cuyahoga River with refuse which may
impede navigation in
the Cleveland harbor," which was the subject of the story.The article also noted
that
insurance
classed
also
only
the polluted
while
June 1949,
continued.
a spectacular
inMarch
concluded
fires
1951.
that, with
oil
In October
some
notable
slick
1950,
a
exceptions,
an
trestle
clouds
year-long
most
been
long
on the Great
indication
that
pollutants.31
railroad
fire sent
has
fire hazards
to the economic
Another
to city
appealed
River
of the worst,"
flammable
the
often
Cuyahoga
"one
had
river,
had
of the worst
difficulty
controlling
the considerable
attention
political
Despite
lakefront
oil-covered
as one
was
the Cuyahoga
interests"
"shipping
"The
fire underwriters
Tellingly,
ports
and
the pollution.
by marine
Lakes."
other
underwriters
to stop
officials
threat
of heavy
survey
posed
by
destroyed
over
smoke
the
was
in
by the fire department
were
cooperating
industries
with the city's requests to stop dumping flammable
liquids into the Cuyahoga.
But
the river
"still presents
a serious
fire hazard
to the
community,"
fire officials
reported. InMay 1952, Press reporterMaxwell Riddle took a fireboat tour of the
riverwith city fire officials, who pointed out two-inch thick oil slicks. "In
many
places, the riverwas bubbling like a beer mash," Riddle wrote. Fire officials told
Riddle
that
fire here
the worst
would
wipe
spot
that
on the river was
company
out
near
the mouth
in a hurry,"
a
of
Kingsbury
lieutenant
with
Run.
the
"A
fire
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| 527
528
|
HISTORY
ENVIRONMENTAL
3. The Cuyahoga
Figure
13
(JULY
2008)
Fire of 1952.
Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State UniversityLibrary.
The Cuyahoga fire inNovember of 1952 was among the most damaging. The flames destroyed three
tugs and the dry docks of Great Lakes Towing Company. Firefighters attempted to save the Jefferson
Avenue Bridge, while a tug struggled to escape the flames.
to warrant
enough
said.32
Six months
later,
it happened.
another
front-page
banner
headline,
bureau
prevention
The
fire was
1952
large
Fire Ruins
"Oil Slick
Flats
Shipyard," in the Plain Dealer. The firedestroyed three tugs and the dry docks of
the Great Lakes Towing Company. It also damaged the JeffersonAvenue Bridge
and came perilously close to the Standard Oil refinery.Firemen battled the blaze
from
the bridge
series
of photos
which
flames,"
Local
was
for the
headline
4 said
river's
the big
The
the
sake
on
page
1952
but
in the Heart
fire underscored
oil slick menace
because
fire and
terms.
in economic
it put
be
earlier,
The
safe
there.
the 1952
Columbus
That
blaze
Dispatch
l-and
the cost
others
would
be an
the
the
fire's
A
spread.
of a tug "enveloped
would
in
in Time
appear
at
of inaction.
to affect
economic
risk.
financial
"Well,
pollution
Under
the
on November
in the Press
somebody
had
rates. Vessel
better
owners
if they feel that the ships will
loss."34 As with
no press
attention
essentially
ran part of an Associated
Press
story
attracted
over
fretted
fire insurance
on
crackdown
subsequent
leaders
an editorial
of Cleveland,"
is bound
City
are not going to use the river forwinter mooring
not
one
included
later.33
years
framed
to prevent
attempting
Dealer
story
of the November
still
"Danger
get busy.
for the Plain
accompanied
coverage
polluters
a fire boat,
from
seventeen
magazine
not
and
snapped
the
fire four years
outside
Cleveland.
on the fire, but
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the
OF THE BURNING
PERCEPTIONS
RIVER
| 529
Cincinnati Enquirer failed tomention it at all. The Wall Street lournal also did
not refer to the fire,though three days later it reported that Cleveland had reached
a long-time low in unemployment, having apparently shaken off the effects of a
resolved
recently
steel
strike.
to a Federal
According
Reserve
Bank
the
report,
Cleveland region had topped records in both steel and automobile production,
all was
suggesting
In 1952,
mills
well
in the
was
Cleveland
and Laughlin's
a
an
reaches
Cleveland Works,
was
metropolis.35
obviously
the flats at the upper
occupied
Company,
industrial
still
industrial
city. Two massive
steel
of navigation
on the
Cuyahoga.
Jones
formerly Otis Steel and Cleveland Furnace
fully modernized,
integrated
steel
ores
for two blast
plant.
its crooked
Along
riverfront, Jones& Laughlin handled limestone and ore delivered by tug-guided
its sintering
ships;
plant
the
prepared
furnaces.
ovens
Coke
baked thousands of tons of coal, delivered by rail, using some of the thirty-eight
miles
of standard-gage
that laced
the property.
The plant
consumed
oil
a nearby
as natural
in the
gas, used
refinery, as well
steel took on the various
On the
demanded.
mills, where
shapes
buyers
were
bank ofthe Cuyahoga,
Steel's
facilities
Republic
impressive.
equally
delivered
track
from
by pipeline
finishing
opposite
across
Sprawling
and
genius
42
roughly
1,200
offered
percent
of the
mills
these
acres,
thousands
revealed
of high-paying
city's workers
industrialism's
The
jobs.36
productive
census
found
1950
in manufacturing,
employed
river.
No
wonder
Cuyahoga's
the
on
focused
press
the
economic
of
many
them in the industries that filled the flats and the neighborhoods
around the
of the
consequences
flammability.
DEINDUSTRIALIZATION
OVER THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS, roughly the years between the 1952 and 1969
the city lost 60,000
and by 1990
manufacturing
jobs. The decline
persisted,
of the city's workers
held manufacturing
jobs. Over the previous
the city had
lost 140,000
of
seventy years
jobs, the vast majority
manufacturing
them after 1950. Some
came
of the attrition
as viable
automation,
through
plants
fires,
23 percent
only
increased
without
production
increasing
payroll.
was
This
case
the
in the
steel
industry. In 1952, Republic Steel, which kept its general offices downtown, had
69,000
nearly
more
than
core.
city's
of steel.
10 million
Among
By
tons
all
(not
employees
tons
9 million
1972,
of them
fewer
than
of steel.37
Other
were
some
the closures
in Cleveland),
41,000
businesses
and
Williams
1873.New
the
produce
produced
or moved
homegrown
its headquarters
oil there in 1966, when
it cleared
refining
laid off or relocated
the employees
who worked
stopped
could
employees
closed
of Cleveland's
Standard Oil, which had long since moved
and
Republic
out of the
companies.
out of Cleveland,
site
of its Refinery
No.
in the flats.38 In 1982, Sherwin
1
closed its Canal Road factory in the flats,where ithad operated since
factories
in the Cleveland
metro
area,
such
as the massive
Ford
complex
that opened in stages in Brook Park beginning in the 1950s, were built well away
from
bridged
the historic
core
of the
city, out
on
cheaper
land
near
the highways
that
the river valley.
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530
|
ENVIRONMENTAL
HISTORY
In the city, residential
1960s,
and
poverty
13
districts
(JULY
2008)
stores
dwindled;
unemployment
As
closed.
in
clustered
as
early
inner-city
the mid
neighborhoods,
includingWest Central, Goodrich, and Kinsman. By 1980, the cityhad lost 341,000
residents off its peak thirtyyears earlier. By then, some places in the city had
decayed for so long that they simply seemed empty, including black eastside
neighborhoods and large parts of the industrial flats along the Cuyahoga. Once a
complex
of industry,
neighborhood
and
restaurants,
storefronts,
warehousing,
bars, the flats still held some viable businesses, but the long and winding
riverfront could do little but remind Clevelanders ofwhat the city used to be.39
Cleveland's
and
decline
concentrated
a racial
had
as well,
component
left the city's
unemployment
as
extreme
segregation
As
simmering.
ghettoes
Cleveland
struggled with both deindustrialization and growing Black Nationalism, the city
had two terriblydamaging riots. In 1966, the first lasted six nights and left four
people dead. Arsonists set 240 fires,mostly in the Hough neighborhood east of
downtown, and the police and the National Guard made nearly three hundred
arrests.
Earl
not
will
who
Gamer,
open
I'm
again.
in the words
even before
the riots Hough's
of the rented
"Many
The
'deteriorating.'"
next
was
owned
three
officers,
several
between
were
and
between
the
killed.
died
people
two
riots,
the condition
everyone as
by almost
in 1968,
arson
and
as
began
a gun
battle
and
white
Americans
African
Looting
summarized,
and
landlords,
described
militant
Of course,
Lackritz.
As Lackritz
degraded.
of violence,
eruption
of whom
seven
days,
In the year
second
neighborhood
Marc
altogether.40
a Saturday
Evening
and
have
might
its "wasteland
long retained
by absentee
was
"I can't
reported
comment
last
first researcher,
environment
were
homes
This
which
of the riot's
of the land and buildings
in the Glenville
police
ruined."
completely
appearance,"
in Hough,
market
the entire neighborhood,
described
of most
a meat
owned
over
followed
Post
headline
the
asked
"Can Cleveland Escape Burning?" In the lengthy expose that followed, JohnSkow
described
Cleveland's
he wrote,
"was worn
ghetto
out
and
and
the
feeble."
The city,
economic
malaise.
growing
were
it
mistake
"the
already
calling
city's
People
on the lake." And then, interestingly, Skow noted that Lake Erie was fouled with
pollution, a problem thatmany people along the lake had also recognized as a
The
mistake.
and
environment
urban
its neighborhoods.
And
had
over
its natural
devastated-both
been
the
next
two
summers
both
would
attributes
burn.41
Combined with the shrinking employment opportunities, growing concern for
the city's schools, and looming budget problems (the city actually went bankrupt
in 1978, defaulting on $15million in loans), the riots and increasing crime helped
fuel ongoing flight fromthe city,perpetuating disinvestment in Cleveland's core.42
And so, by the time Great Lakes Brewing Company began selling its Burning
River
and
Pale
Ale
in 1991,
the surrounding
industrialization
Cleveland
knew
and
venues
sports
had
much
the Cuyahoga
was
no
neighborhoods
produced.
about
of downtown.
Fewer
the
and
longer
no
the economic
heart
of the city,
longer thrived on the wealth
fewer people
who
lived
inmetropolitan
towers
the glass
beyond
city's core, especially
a story on Maingate
In 1998, the Plain Dealerran
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OF
PERCEPTIONS
Business
to rebrand
created
Corporation,
Development
THE
RIVER
BURNING
the postindustrial
|
flats
as a gateway to downtown. The neighborhood still held a sizeable concrete plant
and aMarathon Ashland asphalt storage facility,along with a plaque thatmarked
the site of Standard Oil Refinery No. i, still an open field thirtyyears after the
demolition.
Constance
Executive
discussed
Perotti, Maingate's
Director,
facility's
the difficulty
this place.
of selling
"It's not well-known,"
she said.
"I give tours
and there are Clevelanders,
lots of them, who don't know
this place."43
is the
This
that we
context
is most
think
associate
1952,
to return.
unlikely
so
did
for new
1936.
environmental
was
Industry
fled too, and,
People
saw
and
purposes
an
not
ecological
wasteland,
attention
to the environment,
in determining
important
river with
the burning
or 1948, or even
the nation
1969,
once
new
with
came
but not
to
after
it left it seemed
now
returned
they
place
why
after
the city, and
fleeing
though
the
economic
decline
and
then,
they
saw
that
eyes-eyes
an
engine.
The 1969 firewas the last on the Cuyahoga, and this, too, affects itsmeaning.
The Cuyahoga burned just as a growing number of Americans turned their
environmental
Cleveland's
economic
somehow
seemed
flammable
While
the press
river's
recovery.
massive
deterioration
the fifteenth
By
to
improvements
had investedmillions
again
anniversary
its Southerly
no
landscape.
and
in the
reveled
of the fire, the city had
plant,
river
from a
competition
deindustrialized
similarly
on the fire, it has also
sewage
years,
of a burning
story
with
Critical
the
both
undertaken
its steel
plants
inwater treatment and recycling. If the river itselfhad not
Lake
recovered,
fully
once
continued
a
Over
stopped.
the
for decades,
through
to reflect
the nation.
engulfed
fires
and
continued,
river running
has
of crisis
the
It echoed
explanatory.
similarly
a sense
when
followed-and
legislation
Erie
a
attracting
was
on
well
number
large
its way
to ecological
of fishers.
The
its walleye
health,
Plain
Dealer
marked
the
twenty-fifthanniversary of the fireby noting how much progress had been made
on
the Cuyahoga
recent
bar
itself, where
and
restaurant
time along
spending
litter in the flotsam.
River
Burning
water,
Cuyahoga's
recovery-a
since
On
1969.
remarkable
the
The
other
completeness
Lakes
Brewing
Company
attention
festivals
that might
hand,
Clevelanders'
to draw
annual
recovery
the crooked
trolled
revealed
of toxics
Great
designed
causes.
boaters
the persistence
despite
In 2001,
Festival,
for environmental
recreational
developments
the
continued,
recovery
and
held
the
and
in
and
inaugural
raise money
the
celebrating
success
environmentalism's
represent
river's
of Cleveland's
in the sediment
to the river
have
river
interest
may
tell us more
about
the
deindustrialization.44
David
Stradling is associate professor in the Department ofHistory at the
University of Cincinnati. He is the author ofMaking Mountains: New York City
and the Catskills (University ofWashington Press, 2007), and Smokestacks and
Progressives:
Environmentalists,
Engineers,
and
Air
Quality
in America,
1881
1951 (IohnsHopkins, 1999). Richard Stradling is deputymetro editor arThe News
and
Observer,
Raleigh,
North
Carolina.
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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
531
532
ENVIRONMENTAL
|
HISTORY
13
(JULY
2008)
NOTES
i.
rebirth received national
See "'Mistake
Cleveland's
attention.
by the Lake' Wakes
to
New York Times,
10, 1995, and "From Steel Mills
Up, Roaring,"
September
A City Rises
New York Times, October
Out of Disrespect,"
Museums,
3, 1997. See,
Annals
also, Barney Warf and Brian Holley, "The Rise and Fall and Rise of Cleveland,"
and Social
of the American
Science
of Political
551 (May 1997): 208-21.
Academy
2.
as Tools
Steven M. Schnell
and Joseph F. Reese,
"Microbreweries
of Local
21 (Fall/Winter
Schnell
and
Identity," Journal of Cultural
2003): 45-69.
Geography
now
Reese
We
call Burning
River an "inside
which
think
it
be.
may
by
joke,"
they
underestimate
the pride Clevelanders
feel in the city's industrial
history, however,
both good and bad. Great Lakes began brewing Burning River in 1991.
3.
See
lack A. Seamonds,
"In Cleveland,
Clean Waters
Give New Breath
of Life," US.
News
& World
4.
68.
Report, fune 18,1984,
in the New York
lonathan H. Adler reports that he has read an article that appeared
did not run in all editions
of the
Times several days after the fire, but it apparently
in the New York Times online archive, nor did it appear
paper and does not appear
The Times
did run an editorial,
"The
in the New York Times
Index
of 1969.
did not
Environment,"
just three days after the fire. The editorial
Deteriorating
that
featured the massive
mention
the Cuyahoga,
but instead
fish kill on the Rhine
see Jonathan
fire. (New York Times, June 25,1969;
the day after the Cleveland
began
a History
H. Adler,
of Environmental
"Fables
of the Cuyahoga:
Reconstructing
Fordham
Protection,"
5.
Columbus
Environmental
July 4,1969;
Dispatch,
Law
footnote 5.)
14 (Fall 2002):
The Price of Optimism,"
Time, August
lournal
"The Cities:
41.
1,1969,
6.
"Pollution,
7.
5-7
Other
to Man's
Threat
Only Home,"
National
138
Geographic
(December
1970):
to the Cuyahoga
fire include David Zwick and Marcy Benstock,
early references
Wasteland:
(New York:
Study Group Report on Water Pollution
Ralph Nader's
Grossman
J. Carter,
Publishers,
1971), 3; Luther
"1973: A Crisis Atmosphere:
December
A Lesson
of Plenty," Science,
Environment:
for the People
28,1973:1324;
Water
8.
1969, back cover.
16 (November
A. Liroff, EPA lournal
1, 1990):
5; Randy
liner notes; William
Newman
Years
of
(Rhino,
Newman,
1998),
Randy
Guilty: 30
The Late, Great Lakes
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), 140; Robert W.
Ashworth,
and the Labor
Environmentalism
Blues: Working-Class
"Environmental
Gordon,
State
Environmental
(PhD
diss.,
32.
Alliance,
University,
2004),
Wayne
1968-1985"
and Audubon,
November
Theo
and Richard
Colborn
claims
Gordon
9.
Adam
10.
#97ioi703Vo9,
Chris Matthews,
Werbach,
Oregonian,
Columbus
that the river "burned
CNN Morning
LexisNexis.
"Clean Water
News
Good
out of control
9:00
a.m.
for days."
ET, October
for Republicans
June 11,1995;
"Cuyahoga
October
8, 2002.
Dispatch,
River's
to Earth: Nature's
Role
Cleanup
as Well
Reclaims
17, 1997,
as Others,"
'Hallowed
transcript
The Sunday
Ground,'"
in American
(New York: Oxford
History
The American
Fierce
Fire:
A
Green
Shabecoff,
Press, 2002), 239,248;
Philip
University
Movement
Environmental
(New York: Hill and Wang,
1993), xi, 111-12; Kirkpatrick
Environmental
The American
{New
Movement,
1962-1992
Sale, The Green Revolution:
11. Ted Steinberg,
York:
Hill
before,
challenge
due
Down
and Wang,
to heavy
to
the
fire
notes
that the river had caught
1993), 19. Hal Rothman
fire as a "direct
but frames the 1969
industrial
pollution,
of a Nation?
See his
The Greening
ethic
of progress."
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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
OF THE BURNING
PERCEPTIONS
RIVER
Brace College
in the United State Since 1945 (New York: Harcourt
role in the
concerning
Congress's
1998), 99. In a recent monograph
Paul Charles Milazzo
of water pollution
pays appropriately
regulation,
development
and
to the Cuyahoga
little attention
fire, in Unlikely Environmentalists:
Congress
Press of Kansas,
Clean Water,
2006).
(Lawrence:
1945-1972
University
Environmentalism
Publishers,
12.
H.
Jonathan
of the
"Fables
Adler,
Environmental
Fordham
Protection,"
Cuyahoga:
Environmental
Reconstructing
Law lournal
a History
14 (Fall 2002):
of
95,
108-12.
13. Adam
14.
a Chance':
"'Give Earth
Rome,
The Environmental
Movement
and
the Sixties,"
of American
lournal
In his seminal work
525.
90 (September
2003):
History
on the modern
P. Hays notes,
environmental
Samuel
movement,
source of the environmental
but he stops short
"Cities were the major
movement,"
and Permanence:
crises. See Beauty, Health
of linking the urban and environmental
Environmental
in the United
States,
1955-1985
(Cambridge:
Cambridge
in the urban
On the important role of deindustrialization
71.
1987),
see Thomas
The Origins
of the Urban Crisis: Race and
J. Sugrue,
Politics
Press,
University
crisis of Detroit,
in Postwar
Inequality
Detroit
an
(Princeton:
Princeton
Press, 1996). The best
University
to
control
in the
pollution
struggle
industrial
concerning
city's
era is still Andrew Hurley's
Environmental
Class, Race, and
postwar
Inequalities:
in Gary, Indiana,
Industrial
of North
Pollution
1945-1980
(Chapel Hill: University
Carolina
Press,
1995).
monograph
Plain
15.
Cleveland
16.
1969.
Carl Stokes
Collection
Papers,
Cleveland
June, 23, 24, July 8, 9,1969;
Dealer,
box
4370,
75,
files
1433,
Press,
June 23, July 8,
1438, Western
Reserve
Historical
[hereafter WRHS].
Society
to save Lake Erie is extensive.
Of particular
value
17. The literature on the campaign
are William
Laice Erie Rehabilitated:
McGucken,
1960s
Controlling
Europhication,
of Akron Press,
K. Schulte,
and Terrianne
(Akron, OH: University
2000);
1990s
at the Water's
to
of Women
Voters and the Struggle
Edge: The League
State University
of New York at Buffalo,
(PhD dissertation,
1956-1970"
to
2006).
See, also, Terence Kehoe,
up the Great Lakes: From Cooperation
Cleaning
Confrontation
Illinois University
(Dekalb: Northern
Press, 1997).
Carl Stokes Papers,
Collection
WRHS.
4370, box 75, files 1433,1438,
"Grassroots
Save Lake
18.
19. Rivers
Erie,
and Harbors
pollution
Air and Water
Pollution,
Subcommittee
20.
Pollution-1970,
Cleveland
Daily
Control
(December
federal role in financing
fire and
caught
had
Act of 1970, HR 19877, 91st Cong., 2nd sess.,
Carl Stokes
also spoke on the
7, 1970): H 40150.
inWashington
in 1970. Before the Senate
on
Subcommittee
on April 28, Carl Stokes spoke in favor of a
greatly expanded
and Flood
Record
Congressional
issue of water
the Cuyahoga
sewage treatment facilities. Stokes mentioned
had become
of polluted
rivers.
See
Senate
symbolic
on Air and Water Pollution
on Public Works, Water
of the Committee
Part 2, 91st Cong., 2nd Sess., 1970, 412-13.
Plain
Dealer,
August
29, September
2,1868;
Cleveland
1,1868,
303.
September
Proceedings,
21. "A Great Oil Fire," New York Times, February 4, 6,1883;
Cleveland
Daily
Press, May 2,1912; Cleveland
May 2,1912; Cleveland
Daily Plain Dealer,
"Oil Barge Explodes,
5 Dead," New York Times, May 2,1912. Generally
City Council
Plain
Dealer,
May 3,1912.
fires on the
or any of the other bodies
of water
that caught fire around
the country,
Cuyahoga,
news. Undoubtedly
did not make
the national
the loss of life attracted
the attention
of the Times
in this instance. We
fire, as not every blaze made
cannot
be certain
the city papers.
One
how many times the river caught
Cleveland
Press article concerning
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| 533
534
|
ENVIRONMENTAL
13 (JULY
HISTORY
shipping on the river noted a "recent
fire itself. [Press, March
17,1941.]
2008)
fire," and yet the paper
run no story on the
had
22. New
York Times, May
Oil Pollution
of
Committee,
24, 1912; Interdepartmental
Waters
DC: Government
Office, 1926), 1;William
(Washington,
Printing
Navigable
in the United
L. Andreen,
"The Evolution
of Water
Pollution
Control
States-State,
23.
Part II," Stanford Environmental
Law lournal
Local, and Federal Efforts, 1789-1972:
22 (2003): 223-25.
River Peril Happens-Cuyahoga
Cleveland
Press, February
Burns,"
7,
"Long-Feared
are found in the Cleveland
Press articles
Press clippings
1936. All of the referenced
Cleveland
collection,
24.
Cleveland
Plain
Press,
Dealer,
25.
Cleveland
26.
Ibid.,
State
February
"River Oil Fire Perils
Cleveland
Clark Bridge,"
8,1948.
February
Press,
University.
8, 9,1948.
February
27.
July 29,1948.
"Oil Slick Removal Methods
28.
1948.
Plain Dealer,
20,1948.
are Studied,"
11, December
August
Cleveland
Press
undated
summer
clipping,
18,1948.
Cleveland
Press, August
12,1948.
to cover a labor convention
the
in Cleveland
30. The Times even had a correspondent
9,1948.]
day of the 1948 fire. [New York Times, February
famous
of the non-Cuyahoga
the most
Press, March
17, 1941. Perhaps
31. Cleveland
on the surface
in 1959, when gasoline
fires in the United States occurred
waterborne
29.
tug engulfed a tanker, killing seven
Ship Channel
ignited by a passing
in
Lake
that year, Onondaga
Earlier
York Times, November
9,1959.
line leaked oil. New York
New York, also caught fire, after an underwater
of the Houston
men:
see New
Syracuse,
32.
Times, April 14,1959.
Plain Dealer,
Cleveland
March
33.
1952.
Cleveland
Plain
November
34.
Cleveland
Press,
35.
36.
Dealer,
Cleveland
13,1951;
Press,
October
13,1950;
6,
May
2,1952.
November
4,1952.
November
Columbus
2, 1952; "Cleveland
Recovering
Dispatch,
4,1952.
Effects, FRB Reports," Wall Street lournal, November
... Cleveland
T. J. Ess, "Jones and Laughlin
Works,"
reprinted
Steel
From
from Iron
and
Strike
Steel
(February 1959).
Engineer
Historical
Steel Annual
1952, 1972, available
through Proquest
37. Republic
Reports,
did not produce up to its capacity
Annual Reports. Due to the strike in 1952, Republic
in 1953.
of 9 million
tons, but itwould
38.
Standard
Oil
of Ohio
Annual
Report,
1966,
available
through
Proquest
Historical
Annual
39.
See
Reports.
the fine summation
Wheeler,
Press,
fewer
of Cleveland's
1997). Despite
than 478,000
decline
in Carol
Poh Miller
and Robert
Indiana
(Bloomington:
1796-1996
to lose population.
it continues
the city's comeback,
residents,
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/39/
A Concise
Cleveland:
History,
A.
University
It now has
3916000.html;
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/39/3916000.html.
Church Planning
Riots of 1966 (Cleveland:
The Hough
E. Lackritz,
Regional
40. Marc
and Urban
"Race, Violence,
Office, 1968), 21, 40, 64. See, also, Todd M. Michney,
of Urban
and
the
Little
Cleveland's
lournal
1966 Hough Uprising,"
Territoriality:
Italy
History
41.
42.
32 (March
Saturday
Evening
On the influence
2006):
404-28.
Post,
38-49.
luly 29,1967,
of the race on disinvestment,
see Townsand
Price-Spratlen
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and
PERCEPTIONS
OF THE BURNING
RIVER
Avery M.
43.
44.
A Longitudinal
"Race and Population
Look at Cleveland
Guest,
Change:
Forum 17 (March 2002):
Neighborhoods,"
105-36.
Sociological
"Downtown
Cleveland's
Plain
Just Outside
Gritty Gateway
City's Glow," Cleveland
Dealer, December
16,1998.
"In Cleveland,
Clean Waters
June 18,1984,
68;
Suggests
2001.
Give New
"A River Reborn,"
Burning-River
Fest Would
Breath
of Life," U.S. News
and World Report,
Plain Dealer,
June 22, 1994; "Brewery
be Eco-Fun,"
Cleveland
Plain Dealer, February 19,
Cleveland
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| 535