Joanne Siegel stood on the porch of 10622 Kimberly Avenue in Cleveland, staring out at hundreds of people who stood in torrential rain waiting for her to cut the ribbon and dedicate the rebuilt home where her late husband and his friend created an icon.
“If Jerry’s mother were here today she would poke her head out this door, look at all you people and say, “Oy vey Jerome! What have you done?” Siegel told the crowd.
Indeed, what have Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster done?
It was 75 or 76 years ago, (historians disagree) that the first stab of what was to become Superman was created in this old house in a Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland called Glenville. A few years later, in 1938, the character in the red, blue and yellow tights would leap off the cover of “Action Comics” #1 and into history.
This past weekend, members of the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster families flew in from around the country to join local relatives for a weekend celebration of the Man of Steel — along with a couple thousand well wishers. As part of the Screaming Tiki Cleveland Supercon, the relatives and hundreds of others got to see what comic fans can do with the right motivation: preserve history.
Novelist and comics writer Brad Meltzer teamed up with the Cleveland-based Siegel and Shuster Society last year and ran a month-long auction of original art and other unique items by the biggest names in the comics industry. The auction raised $111,000 to save the crumbling house on Kimberly Avenue. The $100,000 profit after auction fees paid to replace the roof and exterior of the house and a good part of the inside, include the upstairs room where the magic happened.
On Saturday, everyone got to see the concrete results of their generosity.
Leigh Goldie, Shuster’s cousin and a founding member of the Siegel and Shuster Society, stood in the corner of the well-worn porch looking out at the hundreds of people. “Oh my God,” she said under her breath. “After 18 months, it’s really happening.”
Joanne Siegel and her daughter Laura were frantically looking for Joanne’s earring. “It just popped off and went into the Phantom Zone,” Joanne said.
They never found it, Laura had a spare pair. Look for a single black earring owned by Joanne Siegel to show up on eBay any minute.
It was swelteringly hot when local radio and television personality and author Michael Olszewski tapped on the microphone. “We gather here to honor two teenagers who created a universe,” he said…
The rain held off until the just before Joanne Siegel spoke, looking as if she is still quite astonished by all the fuss. “This is a very special place,” she said. “Something amazing happened here that spread throughout the world. And it’s still here. Come up and feel the vibes in this house.”
City Councilman Kevin Conwell, one of the few in the city who fought for some recognition of the house over the years, showed three new street signs that will replace the current street. Kimberly Avenue will have the added honorary name of “Jerry Siegel Lane” on the sign. Nearby Parkwood Lane will be known as “Lois Lane,” (yes, everyone got the pun) and Amor Avenue, where Joe Shuster’s apartment was formerly located, will bear the honorary name of “Joe Shuster Lane.”
The climax of the event was the unveiling of a burnished steel fence in the front of the house with a stylized “S” in a familiar shield. On another part of the fence is a shield with an inscription talking about the house and what happened there.
More than a decade ago, the city of Cleveland promised such a plaque to Hattie and Jefferson Gray, who’ve owned the house for more than 20 years. Hattie says she’s still waiting for that plaque.
The Siegel and Shuster Society hired a Cleveland artist to design and erect the fence. What the folks admiring the fence didn’t know was that the fence was installed just hours before the unveiling. And since Siegel relatives said they remembered that the house had hedges in front, new ones were planted.
A few blocks away, at the site where Joe Shuster’s apartment once stood, the Siegel and Shuster Society put up another fence with the pages of “Action Comics” #1 on huge, metal plates on it. At the center is another panel with a picture of Jerry and Joe and some words about the men and their creation. Another ceremony will soon be held to officially mark the Shuster site.
Back at the Siegel house, the new siding and roof, the house and the neighborhood seemed to exude a new life. Glenville is not the safest neighborhood in the city, much of it is a high crime area. On this Saturday morning, Kimberly Avenue never looked better. Volunteers cleaned up and made minor repairs to house up and down the street, even planted flowers to goose up a few lawns.
The night before the ceremony, the far-flung Siegels and Shusters gathered at a club in downtown Cleveland and talked about the two men who brought them together. Many met for the first time that night.
One of them, Jerry Fine of Cleveland Heights, prides himself on introducing Joe Shuster to his cousin, Jerry Siegel. “Joe and I went to elementary school together and he was always an amazing artist,” Fine said. “I remember he created the most incredible colored maps and he showed me how he did it. We did a comic strip together for the newspaper called ‘Jerry The Journalist,’ where I was depicted as a grasshopper.”
Fine said he urged Shuster to look up his cousin, Jerry Siegel, when he got to Glenville High School. “He did and they started working together on the Glenville Torch,” Fine said. “The rest is history, isn’t it?”
Fine’s “little brother” Irving, another founding member of the Siegel and Shuster Society, praised Brad Meltzer, who flew into Cleveland just for the gathering. He had to be in New York on Saturday to receive an award by a national literacy foundation, but juggled his schedule to make the stopover. Meltzer was given a proclamation by Cleveland City Council for his efforts in running the auction that raised the money to fix the Siegel house.
Friday night was also Joe Shuster’s birthday and Peter Smith, the promoter of the Tiki con, presented a gargantuan cake in the shape of Superman’s insignia to celebrate. The evening also jogged a memory in Laura Siegel Larson. “I called him Uncle Joe and he was a very important person in my life,” she said. “Joe and my dad were always getting together over the years. The last time I saw him was at his birthday.
“He and my dad talked and talked about the ’30s and the good days they had. They talked about Superman, they talked about everything.
“Five days later, Uncle Joe died.”
The family members gathered together on Saturday afternoon for a nostalgic panel about the two men that brought them together. Though little new was added to the mythology of the men and their creation, a rapt audience listened to gentle stories of a simpler age before the movies, before the lawsuits, before the dream was tarnished.
Look, up in the sky…
All photographs by Michael San Giacomo
Michael San Giacomo, a reporter and comic book columnist for the “Plain Dealer” in Cleveland, wrote numerous columns berating the city for not doing more to honor it’s most famous son. One column in late 2007 helped create the spark that spawned the Siegel and Shuster Society.