Coming Home to Mother

(originally appeared in Cleveland Magazine June 1979)
The day of the Great Rip Van Winkle, Roots, You Can Go Home Again, Best Location in the Nation, Get to Know Your City Contest dawned raw and rainy. It was, in other words, a vintage Cleveland day. I remember that someone on the magazine staff made the remark that “even the gods seem to be conspiring to produce the kind of weather appropriate to a celebration of Cleveland.” That’s how crummy it was.

You may remember that back in March, this magazine announced it was running a contest for people who had not been downtown in a long time and wished to take a tour of the city. The magazine felt that this was a commendable act of civil boosterism. There are those among our community of readers who feel that we are often unduly critical of the town. We who work here think that this is a bad rap. We think we have demonstrated time and again our affection and faith in the city of Cleveland. After all, we named our magazine after it. Who else has done that?

Still, at a time when our city is suffering from gloom and depression, we thought it would be nice to do something to cheer people up and make them feel better about this town. So we decided to run this contest and we asked WKYC-TV to help us.

Now it was not a perfect contest. It had some flaws. They were not fatal flaws, perhaps not even serious flaws. Around here, we like to think of the flaws in the GRV-WRYCGHABLITNGTKYC contest as interesting flaws.

For example, We indicated in our advance publicity that all a person needed to do to win the contest was write us a note telling why he or she wanted to come downtown and how long it had been since he or she had been here. We thought that was a simple invitation, direct and to the point. We soon discovered, however, that it had a loophole.

Straight away, a letter arrived from Bill Gabriel, who lives in Solana Beach, California. Gabriel had not been in downtown Cleveland since June of 1973, which made him quite eligible to come back. But it was obvious from his letter that, after reading about our contest, he expected us to bring him back. Yes, and his wife too. “I want to prove to my California bride that everyone in Cleveland is not broke by you paying our way back,” he wrote. “Best regards and hope to see you soon.”

When the Gabriel letter arrived we presumed his request was a fluke. But this was wishful thinking. Many readers scattered around the globe were counting on us, it seemed, to ferry them back to downtown Cleveland for a day and then put them back where we had got them. Some of the writers seemed to have ulterior motives. Many of them were in the service. Several of them assumed we would be willing to smuggle them out of the Army to bring them back to their hometown. One fellow wistfully hoped he would win so that we would remove him from an aircraft carrier currently plying the waters of the Mediterranean.

This became rather a sticky wicket for us. We were not funded to move people halfway around the world. Yet, as our entries piled up (we received nearly 100), it became obvious that long-distance readers were a significant part of our circulation. And we felt they ought to be represented. Francis Ferrell, student at the University of Minnesota, solved this problem for us. Ferrell wrote to say that he had purchased a copy of our magazine at the “Dinkytown News” in Minneapolis. He said he wanted to come back for our tour and would get back, somehow, under his own steam. Then he called us three times long distance (at his own expense) to see how he was doing in the running. He hadn’t been downtown for six years, he said. All things considered, nobody around here was astonished when he was declared one of the winners.

On the rainy day of the tour, we arrived at work to find Francis camped out on our doorstep, having arrived sometime during the night. He joined the list of other winners:

Mrs. Bertha S. Hein of Rocky River, who hadn’t been downtown since 1939, when she came down to buy her wedding dress.

Ms. Grace Fedor of Twinsburg, who has last been downtown four years ago when she took her daughter to a Singing Angels rehearsal.

Ms. Joan Albers of Olmsted Falls, who wrote that she had been trapped in that suburb for six years and wanted release.

Mr. Carmen Petrello of South Euclid, who last came down six years ago to buy a coat at the May Company.

Ms. Barb Mraz of Willoughby Hills, who hadn’t been down in ten years.

Mrs. Rosaline Horvath of Fairport harbor, who came down two years ago with her daughter Beth.

Everybody gathered at the Communicator’s Club in the Cleveland Plaza for lunch. Mrs. Hein was the only no-show, and we missed her. John Herrington of WKYC came over to film a report on our tour for the evening news, and then we all boarded a tour bus donated by Cleveland Southeastern Trails and piloted by the incomparable Dwelle Butts, who loves Cleveland and is capable of making it sound like a cross between Paris and Oz.

“You folks are all from the suburbs,” Dwelle told us as we explored Public Square, the Flats and Ohio City. “Well, it’s very nice in the suburbs, but this is the Mother City. She has been a very good mother to her children, they couldn’t survive without her.”

After the tour, the winners were taken to a party hosted by the magazine at John Q’s on Public Square. It was a crowded, exuberant party, and its theme was “An Affair to Remember.” Our contest winners soon disappeared into the throngs of revelers and the GRVWRYCGHABITNGTKYC event ended on a joyous and boozy note.

Later that night we saw Francis, standing under a streetlamp waiting for a bus that would start him home on his journey back to Minnesota. He looked tired and happy and at peace with his homecoming. And so, we are pleased to say, were we.
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