- Bill Veeck Documentary
Exerpt from “Veeck – A Man for Any Season” produced in 1985
2. Satchel Paige – a Short Video
3. Alone in the Shadows: The Triumph of Larry Doby
Bill Veeck. The Man Who Conquered Cleveland and Changed Baseball Forever.
By Bill Lubinger
The morning of Oct. 12, 1948, was chilly and battleship gray.
But the city of Cleveland may have never felt so glorious; its residents never so proud.
Estimates vary. Some say more than 300,000 fans jammed the sidewalks of Euclid Avenue, from Public Square to University Circle. Others put the number closer to 500,000.
They lined the city’s main artery, squeezing parts of the two-lane thoroughfare down to one, all to celebrate their championship baseball team.
The Indians had finally won a World Series championship – their first since 1920 and, as the cruel baseball Gods would have it more than six decades later, their last.
Convertibles carrying the Indians’ players and their wives and city leaders paraded the 107 blocks past a cheering throng.
“I remember getting off a train and riding in an open car down Euclid Avenue at 8 o’clock in the morning,” recalls Al Rosen, one of only three players from that team still living. “The town lined up on either side of the street. It was remarkable. The people turned out en masse.”
Teammate Eddie Robinson, now 91 and retired in Fort Worth, Texas, still remembers how the sidewalk crowds were elbow to elbow. Some revelers perched themselves on parked cars and buses.
“It was wonderful,” he says. “It was a wonderful year.”
A year largely orchestrated by a chain-smoking man in the lead car with reddish hair, a wooden leg from a World War II injury and a huge smile that matched his gregarious personality.
No, not Indians’ 31-year-old shortstop/manager and World Series hero Lou Boudreau. Not Cleveland Mayor Tom Burke. But team owner Bill Veeck, who left an indelible mark on Cleveland and Major League Baseball.
“Maverick” is the term biographers and others still use to describe him, because he had the strength and conviction to follow his own path despite insults and criticism from traditionalists.
While other team owners scoffed and ridiculed him for what they considered low-brow publicity stunts, Veeck introduced many of the fan-friendly promotions that still make heading to the ballpark an experience that transcends the playing field.
In keeping with his own social conscience, he signed the American League’s first African-American player and continued as a pioneer in civil rights activism throughout his career.
And, of course, it was under his stewardship that Cleveland Indians’ fans last reveled in a world title.
“I think winning the World Series put Cleveland on the map,” Robinson says. “I think Bill Veeck and the stuff that he did during the year, all the promotions he had, I think Cleveland became super big-league in a hurry.”
Cleveland celebrated a baseball champion that fall day, but it also celebrated itself.
The city was a much different place back then. Vibrant. Nationally respected. And much, much bigger.
Cleveland, named an All-America City for the first time in 1949, was also a burgeoning industrial force at the time, built on shipping, automotive and iron and steel before the decline began in the 1960s. With more than half of the North American population within 500 miles of Public Square, Cleveland was considered prime real estate.
But if the baseball championship was what truly defined the city as “big league,” then William Louis Veeck Jr. was the creative mind that wrote and directed the script.
Veeck wound up in Cleveland by way of Chicago, where he was born and grew up in a baseball-happy family. (William Veeck Sr. was a former sports writer who built the Chicago Cubs into pennant winners in the early 1930s.)
Veeck desperately wanted to own a major-league team and apparently came within 24 hours of landing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
According to Paul Dickson’s biography, “Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,” the Pirates’ $2 million asking price was too high. So Veeck set his sights on Cleveland, which was considered a better business location because it wasn’t as dependent on one industry – in Pittsburgh’s case, steel.
Weeks before buying the Indians, Veeck did his homework, taking cabs and streetcars around the city, talking to people in restaurants, bars and social clubs for feedback on the team and their ballpark experiences.
Veeck discovered, Dickson writes, that Clevelanders loved their team but not the group that had owned it since 1928. He was stunned to learn that balls hit into the stands had to be thrown back, that games weren’t broadcast on the radio and that most cab drivers and bartenders had no idea when the Indians were playing in town.
With that as the backdrop, Veeck, on June 22, 1946, got an investor group comprised mainly of Chicago bankers – but also included comedian Bob Hope – to buy the Indians for $1.54 million.
For some perspective, Forbes magazine recently estimated the Indians’ franchise value at more than $400 million. And that $1.5 million for the Tribe in the post-war era? That might buy a team a very low-level free agent today.
The Indians were a fifth-place team the season before. Between that weak finish and the team’s obvious marketing void, Veeck had much work to do. He got right to it.
Veeck talked to fans and, more importantly, he listened to his customers. To draw more fans to the ballpark, no detail was too small.
He added mirrors to the ladies’ rooms when he found out there weren’t any. He often sat in the bleachers with the common fans. When he discovered the ballpark announcer couldn’t be heard clearly way out there, he had the sound system fixed.
Within weeks of buying the team, games began being broadcast on radio. He added special ladies’ days, enticing them with free hard-to-get nylons or orchids imported from Hawaii. He had National League scores posted in the ballpark, added clerks to make it easier to order tickets by phone, spiffed up the stadium ushers in uniforms and polished shoes, ran game-day buses to and from rural areas and paid special attention to the stadium food, especially the hot dogs, peanuts and mustard.
In-game entertainment and post-game fireworks became staples of the Veeck-led version of Major League Baseball, just as they are today.
Veeck also made himself available to any group that needed a luncheon or dinner speaker – and not just in Cleveland, but regionally, from Erie to Buffalo to Cincinnati.
He schmoozed the media and was even more gracious with fans, listing his home number in the phone book and often standing outside the ballpark gates to thank them as they left. He was a player-friendly owner who even threw batting practice at times.
As his plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., reads, Veeck was “a champion of the little guy.”
All along, Veeck fielded criticism from fellow major-league owners who took shots at him. Baseball was serious business, the national pasttime, not a circus sideshow. (As owner of the St. Louis Browns, he once sent a midget to the plate to draw a walk.)
But fans loved it.
Once the Indians moved all their home games to massive Municipal Stadium (where Cleveland Browns Stadium now stands), the turnstiles spun. Previously, the team had played at 22,500-seat League Park on the city’s East Side and in the 78,000-seat Municipal Stadium only on weekends, holidays and when larger crowds were expected.
In 1946, the club finished sixth but drew more than a million fans for the first time in team history.
Veeck and his team also made history in 1947 by signing Larry Doby from the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles, making him the first African-American in the American League. It was just 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers became baseball’s first black player.
Many major-league owners railed against teams hiring black players because they had their own self-interest to protect. Negro League teams rented their ballparks. As black stars moved from the Negro Leagues to the big leagues, the Negro League games drew fewer fans, generating less rental income for the ballpark owners.
Former teammate Eddie Robinson believes Doby, who wrestled with the same racism and for-whites-only segregation, didn’t get the recognition he deserved because Jackie Robinson was the first.
“Doby handled himself well,” says Eddie Robinson, who lived in a Rocky River apartment when he played for the Indians. “He took the jabs and all from the visiting players and the fans, and went right along and did his work just like (Jackie) Robinson did.”
(“It wasn’t very pleasant being a Jew at the same time, either,” says Al Rosen.)
By the time he retired from baseball, Doby, who died in 2003, was a seven-time All-Star outfielder who spent 10 of his 13 major-league seasons in Cleveland.
Larry Doby Jr. was born after his father was through playing, so his impressions are based on stories his dad told him.
While some teammates refused to shake his hand when he was introduced, there were others, such as Bob Lemon, Jim Hegan and Joe Gordon, “who didn’t care where he came from or what color his skin was,” says Doby Jr.
“It was tough, but there were a lot of good guys who reached out to him and made the tough times not so tough.”
Eddie Robinson also remembers Doby being generally well-accepted by the team.
“Well, there was some southern boys, of course, if you were from the South and they were bringing up a black guy on to the team,” he says, “it was something different.”
Eddie Robinson, as his thick drawl reveals, was one of those southern boys. He admits to having to adjust to a black man in the clubhouse.
“Well, it bothered me just like it bothered everybody else,” he says. “It was something that was going to happen, so you sucked it up and went along with it and it turned out to be very good.”
What troubled Robinson more was that Boudreau replaced him with Doby in the lineup just two days after the manager reassured him he was the team’s first baseman.
“That’s how it bothered me most,” he says.
Doby lived with a family in Shaker Heights for part of his time in Cleveland. Although the city was – and largely remains – racially-divided, Doby was welcomed by Northeast Ohio, according to his son.
“I’m going to tell you what he told me,” says Doby Jr. “My father was the kind of guy who didn’t talk about the past much, but here’s what he told me about Cleveland. He said he never got booed there, ever. So that, to me, sums up what he felt about that city and what that city felt about him.”
When the 1947 season ended, the Indians had improved to fourth place and drew 1.5 million fans – second most in the league. Veeck continued to put the pieces together both on and off the field.
“Bill was a great showman,” Rosen says. “Probably the best that baseball’s ever known.”
And the great showman’s biggest show was about to arrive.
The 1948 Indians featured five future Hall of Famers: pitchers Bob Feller, and Lemon, Doby in the outfield, Joe Gordon, a second baseman the Indians obtained from the New York Yankees in a trade, and Boudreau, the shortstop/manager. The team also acquired Gene Bearden, an unheralded knuckleballer who would become the team’s World Series hero.
About midway through the season, Veeck, in another controversial move, would add a sixth future Hall of Famer.
The Indians needed an effective reliever. Veeck’s solution was 42-year-old Satchell Paige, a star of the Negro Leagues who was signed by the Indians on his birthday.
Again, Veeck was criticized. Just another cheap publicity stunt to sell tickets, other owners claimed.
But Veeck’s commitment to civil rights was genuine and deep-rooted. He had joined the NAACP after arriving in Cleveland, according to Dickson’s memoir, and appeared in an NAACP recruiting poster with Doby and Paige.
By the time he sold the Indians after the 1949 season for $2.2 million, Veeck had integrated every level of ballpark operations, from security to ushers to vendors and the front office. In fact, he had hired Olympic gold medal-winner Harrison Dillard in the team’s public relations office.
Fans filled the ballpark, but not because Paige was an over-the-hill freak show with the crazy windup, high leg kick and something he called a “hesitation pitch.” Paige went 6-1 down the season’s stretch run, including a 1-0 three-hitter over Chicago in front of a record night-game crowd of 78,382.
The Indians wound up tied for first with the Boston Red Sox, resulting in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. The Tribe took that one, 8-3, to advance to the World Series against the National League’s Boston Braves.
Veeck’s Indians beat the Braves in six games. Doby became the first black man to homer in a World Series. And Game Five, in Cleveland, drew a record 86,288 fans.
The Indians drew 2.6 million fans that season, a major-league record that stood for 14 years.
“The team began to play well and (the players) believed in themselves,” says Rosen, who got called up from the minors late that season and played behind third baseman Ken Keltner. “It was all very magical, and when someone reminds of it I get chills.”
Major League Baseball has expanded to more cities. Players, who once took part-time jobs in the offseason to help pay the bills, are now extremely well paid, to the point where securing other work isn’t necessary.
Although some of the rules have changed, the game is relatively the same. But fans experienced their Tribe much differently from their family rooms.
Now, all but a few Indians’ games are broadcast on television. Fans can watch every inning of an entire season in their living room if they so choose. No so in 1948. The first telecast by Ohio’s first TV station (WEWS) didn’t occur until 1947. So televised Indians’ games were rare.
“It was all radio,” remembers Carl Parise of Mayfield Heights, describing what it was like to hear announcers Jack Graney and Jimmy Dudley call the games.
“You’d be listening to them on the radio, they’d have you up out of your seat. They were just great,” says Parise, who was 8 years old when the Tribe last won a World Series. “You’ve got to remember, if you were sports fans back then, you were spoiled. The Browns and Indians were winners.”
As was Cleveland – largely because of a fun-loving, risk-taking, marketing genius named Veeck.
East Ohio Gas Co. Explosion and Fire from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
The EAST OHIO GAS CO. EXPLOSION AND FIRE took place on Friday, 20 Oct. 1944, when a tank containing liquid natural gas equivalent to 90 million cubic feet exploded, setting off the most disastrous fire in Cleveland’s history. Homes and businesses were engulfed by a tidal wave of fire in more than 1 sq. mi. of Cleveland’s east side, bounded by St. Clair Ave. NE, E. 55th St., E. 67th St., and the MEMORIAL SHOREWAY. At approx. 2:30 P.M., white vapor began leaking out of Storage Tank No. 4, which had been built by the East Ohio Gas Co. in 1942 to provide additional reserve gas for local war industries. The gas in the tank, located at the northern end of E. 61st St., became combustible when mixed with air and exploded at 2:40 P.M., followed by the explosion of a second tank about 20 minutes later. The fire spread through 20 blocks, engulfing rows of houses while missing others. The vaporizing gas also flowed along the curbs and gutters and into catch basins, through which it entered the underground sewers, exploding from time to time, ripping up pavement, damaging underground utility installations, and blowing out manhole covers. The immediate area surrounding the burning district was evacuated and refugees were sheltered in Willson Jr. High School on E. 55th St. where the Red Cross tried to care for approx. 680 homeless victims.
By late afternoon Saturday much of the fire had burned itself out, electricity was restored in some areas, and the next day a few residents began returning to their homes. The fire destroyed 79 homes, 2 factories, 217 cars, 7 trailers, and 1 tractor; the death toll reached 130. The fire and subsequent analysis of its cause led to new and safer methods for the low-temperature storage of natural gas.
Bill Veeck from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Veeck, William “Bill” Louis (9 February 1914-2 January 1986) was the owner of the CLEVELAND INDIANS from 1946 until 1949, and assembled the world champion 1948 team. He signed LARRY DOBY† as the first African American player in the American league in 1947 as well as legendary Negro League pitcher LEROY “SATCHEL” PAIGE† in 1948. Veeck is often best known as the innovator of stadium promotions, such as fireworks nights and gate giveaways.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, to William Veeck Sr. and Grace DeForest, the elder Veeck became president of the Chicago Cubs in 1917 after a career as a sportswriter. His son broke into baseball working for him as a $15 per week office boy with the team. Veeck Jr.’s most notable contribution to the Cubs was when he planted the famous ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field in 1937. Within a few years, at the age of 27, he purchased his own team, the minor league Milwaukee Brewers franchise in the American Association. By the time he was 32 years old, he led the syndicate that purchased the Cleveland Indians for $2.2 million.
Veeck married Eleanor Raymond in 1935. He served as a Marine in World War II. His right leg was injured at Bougainville in the South Pacific in 1943 and was amputated in 1947.
In addition to bringing the world championship in Cleveland in 1948, Bill Veeck also helped the Indians shatter season attendance figures with 2,620,627 fans that year. Large crowds, which at times topped 80,000 per game, were entertained by fireworks displays and minstrels that wandered around the grandstands. Women were treated to imported orchids from Hawaii and families could enjoy an in-park babysitting service during Veeck’s ownership tenure.
When a night watchman at a local Chevrolet plant, Joe Early, complained to the Cleveland Press that teams spent too much time honoring wealthy players, Bill Veeck decided to honor Joe Early. While much of the night included tongue-in-cheek gags, Veeck made sure that Early received a new convertible and several other prizes.
Veeck made several lasting contributions to the Indians, such as their move to Tucson, Arizona, for spring training in 1947, where they would stay until 1992. No contribution was likely more important than the integration of the Indians and the American League in 1947 with Larry Doby. In his autobiography, Veeck- As In Wreck, Veeck expressed trepidation about the addition of Doby. “If Jackie Robinson was the ideal man to break the color line, Brooklyn was also the ideal place. I wasn?t that sure about Cleveland.” He claimed he received about 20,000 letters that protested the signing of Doby, yet noted that they came from across the country. Veeck actually claimed that he planned to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 and stock the team with African American players, only to be blocked by Major League Baseball. There is no definitive evidence that he ever did more than discuss this move.
When the Indians did not win the pennant in 1949, Veeck held a mock funeral in center field and buried the pennant from the prior year. After the season he was forced to sell the team because he needed to liquidate his assets for the settlement for his divorce from his first wife Eleanor. In the fall of 1949 he met Mary Frances Ackerman, whom he married in 1950.
Veeck did not stay away from baseball for long – he bought the St. Louis Browns in 1951 for $1.5 million. During his first year as owner, he completed one of his most notable stunts when he arranged for 65 lb., three-foot, seven-inch Eddie Gaedel to have one at bat – he walked on four pitches. He sold the Browns in 1953 and they left St. Louis after the season.
In 1958 Veeck and his partners purchased the Chicago White Sox. One of his famous additions to the team was the $300,000 “exploding scoreboard” at Comiskey Park with rockets and rotating pinwheels. Veeck owned the team until 1961 and sold it primarily due to health reasons.
Veeck was coaxed out of retirement in 1969 to run the Suffolk Race Track in Boston. By 1975 he was again convinced to buy the White Sox, which he sold in 1980.
Veeck had eight children from his two marriages including four daughters, Marya, Lisa, Juliana and Ellen and four sons, Michael, Gregory, Christopher and Peter. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, five years after he died of a heart attack in Chicago. His body was cremated after his death.
Veeck, Bill and Ed Linn. Veeck – As in Wreck (1962).
Eskenazi, Gerald. Bill Veeck: A Baseball Legend (1987).
1948 Cleveland Indians Season from Wikipedia
Courtesy of the Plain Dealer. Published October 18, 2004
East Ohio Gas explosions — 60 years later
Edward Krivacic will go to Mass next Sunday because it’s time to remember.
Time to remember the day his neighborhood exploded. Time to remember his dead mother wearing her apron, and his infant niece. And his home destroyed on East 61st Street.
Others will also remember one of the worst disasters in Cleveland’s history: Oct. 20, 1944, the explosions and fire at the East Ohio Gas Co. plant.
Steve Mraz recalls the miracle of his mother’s wedding dress. Anne Strazar, who thought Cleveland was being bombed by the Germans. And Louis Turi, still haunted by parts of a body on a chain-link fence.
It happened 60 years ago, on a bright fall afternoon.
The death toll was 131 people, including 55 employees of East Ohio. Some of the victims were so badly burned they would never be identified.
The first explosion rocked the neighborhood about 2:40 p.m., a Friday.
Krivacic, who had just turned 14, was at Willson Junior High. He did not have to hear the blast. He saw it through the window of his science class.
“It was facing the lake, which was where the fire was,” he recalled. “The teacher thought it was the corner gas station that blew up because it looked that close. But it was probably a mile away.”
“We got released at 10 to 3. I started running down 55th toward my home when I ran across my brother-in-law at 55th and St. Clair. That’s as far as they let us go. They [the fire department] had it blocked off.
“We went down St. Clair and saw everything,” he said. “We saw the manhole covers blowing up, the fire truck blowing up at Norwood and St. Clair.”
The memories of that day are still vivid for the Rev. Victor Cimperman, a Catholic priest who wants to forget.
“I don’t want to remember what I saw,” he said, gazing north from the St. Vitus Village house where he now lives in the old neighborhood. “But none of us can ever forget.”
He can’t forget the devastated wasteland that was his neighborhood. Or the crying children. And frightened adults wandering the streets, looking for relatives, or pieces of their homes.
His sister can’t forget, either.
Anne Strazar, then 18, was working at the nearby Fisher Auto Body when she looked out her window at the “giant silver balls” that housed liquid natural gas at the plant, known as No. 2 works.
“I looked at them all the time, wondered what would happen if they exploded,” she said. “Then, that day, they did. The top blew sky high. There were three or four men on the tank when it exploded. It was horrendous. I thought that the Germans were bombing us, and ran to get away.”
She and her fellow workers ran outside behind the plant to escape, but were blocked by a tall chain-link fence.
“We dropped to our knees and dug in the dirt until we could get under the fence,” she said. “One of my friends died there, she was unable to get under the fence. There were orange and red fireballs everywhere as we ran along the railroad tracks to 71st Street.
It was days before the young woman would be reunited with her family.
The explosion at the plant north of St. Clair Avenue sent a 3,000-degree fireball into the sky, burning, sometimes vaporizing, a square mile of Cleveland’s mostly Slovenian neighborhood. The area looked like Dresden or London after a World War II bombing raid.
Like Anne Strazar, many people thought the explosion was the work of German bombers, or saboteurs.
The disaster was something the neighborhood had always feared.
“People looked at those big gas storage tanks and worried that they would explode someday,” said Father Cimperman, who grew up in the neighborhood. “The gas company always said it could never happen, that the tanks were perfectly safe.”
Cleveland in 1944 was a very different city. Employment was booming, buoyed by war demands for tanks, planes and ammunition.
Fuel for those factories came in the form of liquid gas supplied by East Ohio. Years before, scientists had determined that 600 times more gas could be stored if it was liquefied at minus 250 degrees. At No. 2 works, there were four tanks – three globular and one cylindrical – holding millions of gallons of liquid natural gas.
On the afternoon of Oct. 20, a thin wisp of vapor was seen leaking from beneath the cylindrical tank – No. 4. The vapor wafted to East 61st Street. Somehow, the vapor was ignited by a spark. The exact cause was never determined.
Houses on both sides of East 61st and 62nd streets burst into flames. People in other parts of the city thought the entire East Side was burning. Birds were flash-fried in flight. Houses a half-mile away were blistered by the heat.
The force of the explosion blew out storefronts a mile away and caused the bells to chime at St. Vitus Church on Glass Avenue.
At 3 p.m., intense heat melted supports on the ball-shaped tank next to No. 4. It collapsed and exploded. The ball of flame could be seen at John Adams High School, seven miles away.
Freed from the tanks, liquid gas ran down the streets and disappeared into sewer openings. The gas seeped into basements. Homes exploded. Manhole covers were blown hundreds of feet into the air.
Father Cimperman shudders at what would have happened if the blast occurred a half-hour later.
“Think about it,” he said. “All the children would have been at home or walking home when it happened. They would have been killed along with everyone else if it had happened just a little later.”
Turned away by firefighters, Ed Krivacic, whose father had died of cancer the previous February, went to the home of his sister and brother-in-law in Euclid. His school was used by the Red Cross to house 680 people left homeless by the blast.
Three days later he was able to get back to the neighborhood. His mother’s body was found later that day in the
ruins of a neighbor’s house. “They found her, my mom, on top of my niece,” he said.
Krivacic was not there then. But he did see searchers “dig up four siblings [from the neighbor’s family]. They were all charcoal wood.”
Frank Likovic, a brother-in-law, identified Krivacic’s mother. Likovic had been with her before the fire and recognized the apron she had been wearing.
Krivacic thinks his mother went next door because it was a bigger house and she thought it might be safer.
“But even if she’d stayed home, it would have been the same,” he said. “All the nearby houses were destroyed. If she would have gone out the back to 55th, she probably would have survived.”
Behind four of the incinerated houses was a company called Knock Fire Brick, with stacks of bricks in the open air. The bricks survived.
The Cuyahoga County morgue was besieged by people desperate to know if their relatives or loved ones were among the dead.
Identification took a long time, for many because bodies were charred beyond recognition. Identification was made by clothing, dental work and jewelry.
Sixty-one victims, including 21 never identified, are buried around a monument at the Highland Park Cemetery on Chagrin Boulevard.
Steve Mraz survived.
He was 6, and remembers heading back to the upstairs apartment his family rented in a house at East 61st Street and Carry Avenue. The home was gone.
On Oct. 20, his mother, Ann, had just returned from the grocery store when the first blast went off. She grabbed her son.
“I just got home from the hospital,” recalled Mraz, 66, of Auburn Township. “I had pneumonia. She grabbed me and ran down the stairs. She had lost her slippers and had the choice of running through fire or glass. She chose glass and never got cut. She hailed a cab, and went to my aunt’s, her sister’s, on East 40th across from St. Paul’s.”
His most dramatic memory would come after the fire, “what we call the miracle deal,” he said.
“The entire house was gone except the chimney,” he said. “My dad got a pass to go through the police line the next day, and there at the base of the chimney were my dad’s tamburitza [an instrument similar to a mandolin] and my mother’s wedding dress.”
The dress did not have a scorch mark on it, and his mom, now 86, still has it. And the tamburitza? “I still play it,” he said. Others lost everything.
People cried over tin boxes that held charred remains of their life’s savings. After the Depression, many people kept their money in tin cans. These were incinerated.
Despondent survivors were told the federal government
would only refund bills that were at least 3/5 intact. Anything less than that was subject to a determination by the Treasury Department.
Louis Turi, 81, of Wickliffe, thought he wouldn’t get to see any action in World War II, but he saw plenty in 1944 – without ever leaving Cleveland.
Turi, then 21, was a member of what is now called the Ohio Military Reserve, which backstops the Ohio National Guard during emergencies. He joined the unit after being deferred from World War II.
Turi, now a lawyer, was a college student working at Graphite Bronze Co. on St. Clair Avenue when East Ohio blew up.
“I got the call and dropped everything. I told people I didn’t know when I was going to be back,” Turi said. “We were there four days. They evacuated the entire area from 55th east to 65th or 67th, to just south of where Sterle’s [restaurant] is on East 55th.”
Two sights haunt him still.
“On a fence there were the remains of a human body, a chain-link fence. Somebody tried climbing it [to escape the fire].” he said. The other was a 1935 or ’36 Plymouth that the initial explosion pitched into a lamp pole, slightly folding the heavy vehicle around the pole.
“The whole thing looked like a war zone.”
Neil Durbin, a spokesman for Dominion East Ohio, said the gas company’s most significant safety measure after the tragedy was when they “shifted from liquefied natural gas to a system of underground natural-gas storage.”
Durbin said the technology was developed in the 1940s, and allowed them to convert depleted gas wells into natural-gas storage facilities by pumping the gas into the old wells.
“We currently operate the largest underground storage in North America, much of it in this area.” He said a lot of the gas is stored near Belden Village mall in North Canton.
Cleveland City Councilman Joseph Cimperman, nephew of Father Cimperman and Anne Strazar, said he respects East Ohio Gas for staying in his district and helping to heal the community.
East Ohio Gas paid more than $3 million in damage settlements to the neighborhood and $500,000 more to families of the dead gas company employees. Houses were replaced, new families moved in and the life of the neighborhood continued.
The gas company remains part of the neighborhood. The former location of the tanks is now Grdina Park.
— This article was originally published in The Plain Dealer on Oct. 18th, 2004. It was written by Michael Sangiacomo and James Ewinger.