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Christmas on Public Square

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The holidays always make me wax nostalgic about family and friends in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Besides the snow, the potholes, snowmen, snowdrifts and snowball fights, I recall Christmas and Public Square downtown.

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I was still a punk back around 1960 or so, but I was old enough to appreciate the once a year Public Square experience with my Mom, my Nana and my sister. A day downtown then stopping at the Corvette Lounge on Lorain in Fairview on the way back so Nana could get a shot of her “Medicine”.

Cereally though, if I recall correctly I don’t think Interstate 71 was completed yet from the west side to downtown in 1960. That meant a drive through Lakewood to take the Shoreway downtown. Or load up the family and park at the Triskett Rd. station and take the Rapid downtown to the Terminal Tower.

Anyway, trips at Christmas time to Public Square were the bomb. The Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument with icicles adorning the statues. Electric busses traversing the Square and if I was adventurous I would sneak off toward East 9th and Chester and catch a glimpse of the giant posters of showgirls with tassels and everything hanging above the Roxy Burlesque House.

But once you stepped out on to the Square your Holiday dreams were assaulted by the spirit of Christmas. So much so that the classic “A Christmas Story” was filmed on the Square in 1982 to recapture the magic of Christmas in post-war Cleveland.

It was the elegance of the Sterling-Linder tree standing in the window of the forgotten department store. A 60-foot Norway spruce adorned with a 1,000 yards of tinsel, floodlights and over 2,500 ornaments. The store closed in 1968.

Higbee’s was the cornerstone of downtown Christmas. A department store landmark of holiday tradition from 1860 to 1992, generations of Clevelanders know of the Silver Grille restaurant and its koi pond and the Twigbee Shop, a mysterious land of retail for kids only, to buy a tie for Dad and salt & pepper shakers for Nana all by themselves. (It wasn’t until about 2003 I found out there were peepholes in the walls for parents to spy on you). If you took the Rapid downtown Higbee’s had wooden escalators and at the bottom was the original Frosty stand. Not a Wendy’s Frosty, a real Frosty. If you went up to the 10th floor, the Silver Grille was the first with kid’s meals, always served in a cardboard mini-oven, a train locomotive or a space capsule. Higbee’s is now a casino.

There were other landmark stores along Euclid Ave. May Co., O’Neil’s and Polsky’s. And then there was Halle’s Department Store.

“Mister Jingeling-How you tingaling,

“Keeper of the Keys.

“On Halle’s seventh floor-We’ll be looking for,

“You to turn the Keys.”

Cleveland had Captain Penny and Barnaby, but Mr. Jingeling was the star during the Yuletide season. And downtown the rotund Mr. Jingeling with his wide black belt and key ring hanging was more popular than Santa himself. In real life, his name was actually Earl Keyes and every afternoon he did a 5-minute spot on the Capt. Penny show in black & white sandwiched between violent cartoons and Three Stooges shorts. Ah how I miss the color, cartoon violence and pageantry of Christmas on kids television.

Anyway, that was Christmas growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.

This year when your kids and grandkids are decorating the tree or opening up the presents, think back to a simpler time when we were young at Christmas.

Check out the video and slideshow for some memories of the Christmas past.

Happy Christmas everybody!



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