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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cleveland's Free Stamp by Joyce Faulkner

Cleveland from the lake front

I used to work in Cleveland. I remember it as a beehive of activity during the day but at night, we all headed for the suburbs -- literally emptying out the town. The citizens were warm and friendly and full of fun. Lots has changed since 1994. Improvements at the lakefront have revitalized the city and will continue to do so in the future. New buildings have either replaced old ones or squeezed into tiny bits of unused land. Old classics have either been refurbished and repurposed or await their turn for a refresh. The one thing that hasn't changed at all is the warm and friendly folks who work and live in the area.

When we visited Cleveland, I wanted to show my doubting-Thomas friend Pat Avery why I have such affection for the little city on Lake Erie. And just as I knew she would, she fell in love with the angles and curves and the high-arching bridges and Terminal Tower and the U.S.S. Cod, a submarine museum. Looking from the Lakefront Park, the buildings are a mixture of old and new, glass and brick, soaring and squat. The cityscape sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. And as Pat snapped image after image for her giant database of travel photographs, she heard--as I did--the windy whispers of dramas yet to be written and performed in Playhouse Square.

As a newbie to Cleveland lore, Pat was eager to find the best places to photograph -- and Cleveland has so many. I was excited to share with her MY airport -- where I learned to fly enough to write Windshift. Burke Lakefront Airport is still fun to explore what with its Women's Aviation displays and that devilish crosswind that challenges pilots as they land and was the inspiration for the name of my novel about the Women's Air Service Pilots.

Then there are the Flats. The area exudes fun and generational mischief now, but there are lots of stories about industry and the mob and Elliot Ness and murder and resurrection. Partiers sit on the docks provided by restaurants sipping their drinks and pondering the important moments of their day. We joined them to watch a drawbridge groan as it rose  to allow boats docked on the Cuyahoga River (the one that caught fire back in the 1960s) head out to Lake Eerie for evening cruises. As we paused to toast the sinking sun, my favorite moment of the day came to mind -- our visit to the old courthouse where Sam Sheppard was both convicted and freed. Not too far away, on the grounds across the street, sets the infamous "Free" stamp.

The Free Stamp

Note: The Free Stamp is a sculpture created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. It was commissioned by Sohio in 1985 shortly after I began work at East Ohio Gas in Cleveland. It was intended for their headquarters building which was being erected on Public Square. The stamp was designed to stand upright with the lettering of the stamp hidden from view. A Sohio employee said that the message was a reference to the Civil War-era Soldiers and Sailors Monument which would be located across the street.
However,  BP acquired Sohio before the sculpture was installed and the new management didn't like the artwork or the message. There was a bit of a three-way brouhaha between BP, the city, and the artists -- and the piece ended up in storage
In 1991 before I was transferred back to Pittsburgh, BP donated the piece to Cleveland. Modified to lie on its side, Oldenburg reportedly said that it looked as if a giant hand had picked up the sculpture from its intended location at the BP Tower and angrily hurled it several blocks, where it ended up on its side.
I have always thought the sculpture was a gas. I was busy and didn't visit the site often over the years -- or even thought about it. However, as Pat and Johnny and I quickly snapped pictures of the piece, I got tickled. Johnny had just retired and we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted for the first time -- and one of the first places we visited was a Rubber Stamp monument to freedom.

Willard Park (Cleveland park). (2016, March 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:32, August 25, 2016, from

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