Andrew Poulson arrives with a van and a pickup truck full of more than 5,000 flowers. It’s just after midnight on March 20 at Edgewater Park and he’s got a team of six friends and family members here to help him bring his vision to life.
He scurries over to the Cleveland script sign, a popular selfie spot, ready to turn the statue into a vibrant, bursting floral arrangement.
A perpetual doodler since architecture school, Poulson shows his team of novice designers a loose sketch of what he has in mind. As he assigns them each a corner, he encourages them to embrace their own creativity. But as the owner of Andrew Thomas Design, a company that creates flower arrangements for weddings, corporate events and funerals, Poulson acts as captain, in charge of blending each individual section into a cohesive piece.
“We want to pay ode to the sign,” he reminds his team. “We want to make it big and bold, but we don’t want it to block the view of the city.”
He situates a 10-foot birch tree, for example, just left of the sign so it won’t obstruct the skyline from photos. The group spends the next three-and-a-half hours hunched over, fastening each individual bunch of flowers — daffodils, lilies, tulips, carnations, hellebore and more — to the base of the sign using foam Oasis blocks, chicken wire and zip ties — loose enough for onlookers to take, but tight enough not to blow away in the lakefront wind. Luckily, the cool weather ensures the flowers won’t be dehydrated by the time early-morning runners hit the trails.
“Flowers have always given me so much joy,” Poulson says. “It’s so easy to fall down that dark hole right now with these scary times, but I want to send the message that joy prevails.”
However uplifting, these flowers were never supposed to be here. Weeks ago, they were scheduled to be the final touch that completed a wedding reception, brightened up the drab conference hall of a corporate event, congratulated a high school or college graduate or served as a reminder of a family member’s vibrant life at a funeral. But since the coronavirus crisis forced Gov. Mike DeWine to shut down the state in mid-March, these significant events have been postponed, drastically altered or canceled completely. Weddings have been held on front porches, corporate gatherings have switched over to virtual chatrooms and end-of-life services have been held in empty funeral homes, without the comfort of a handshake or a hug.
It’s not just major milestones that look different. Life has changed. Parents have become multitasking experts, working from home while their children take virtual classes, all while grocery store employees and delivery drivers work every day performing essential jobs to keep industries in motion.
Doctors, nurses and first responders have been working against the clock to save a city. While they risk their health to save others, life desperately hangs in the balance. Since
COVID-19 has spread throughout our nation, Ohioans have lost more than 1,600 friends, family members and coworkers.
The first death in Cuyahoga County, and the third in the state, was reported March 21. He was 91. On April 8, Kimberly Rew unexpectedly received a text message saying her father Robert Campbell, a 71-year-old military veteran, had died alone at Glendora Health Care Center in Wayne County, where he was staying temporarily to receive physical therapy. That same day, John Dawson, a 55-year-old officer at Marion Correctional Institution, became the first Ohio prison staffer to die of the disease. On April 21, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Catholic parish on Cleveland’s West Side, grieved the loss of 81-year-old Rev. Arcangelo Manzi, an Italian native who had recently celebrated his 50th year in the priesthood.
The nationwide death toll, which as of May 15 surpassed 87,000 among 1.5 million cases, will likely never be fully known. But each and every life in Cleveland has been affected in this moment of crisis, and Clevelanders have proven every cliche T-shirt slogan about resiliency true as we’ve marched ahead and found new ways to work, play, thrive and survive under more than 50 days of government-mandated stay-at-home orders.