I wrote this story last fall, but never got around to posting it. Since I now have a somewhat related piece up on ESPN’s SweetSpot on the Indians’ missing 1948 World Series pennant, I figured it was a good time to share another part of the story.
As the final bricks fell to the ground from the demolition of Cleveland Municipal Stadium in late 1996/early 1997, it marked the end of a legacy. Completed on reclaimed land on the shores of Lake Erie in 1931, it earned the moniker “the mistake on the lake” for years of team futility in the structure, even though the Indians won one of their two World Series titles in the building. Once the Indians moved to Jacobs Field in the Gateway District, it left the Browns as the only residents of the cavernous, 78,000+ seat structure. When the Browns left for Baltimore, it finally spelled the end for a stadium that sat on the lake shore for more than six decades. With a new stadium promised for the expansion Browns, Municipal Stadium would be obsolete; a structure that only exists in memory. After demolition was completed a portion of the stadium was placed in several different locations off the coast of Lake Erie to serve as a reef for fish. It was dead and buried…literally swimming with the fishes.
Until the first week of November, 2012.
When Hurricane Sandy lashed portions of Cleveland with high winds and flooding, it unearthed something that had been buried in the murky depths of the lake for almost 15 years. Bricks and other pieces of Municipal Stadium rose from the dead and washed onto the shore near Bratenahl. I was so excited when I first heard about this, there were tons of questions going through my brain – “Where exactly are the bricks? How quickly will they all be claimed? Will people actually be crazy enough to go down in the wind, rain and cold to scour the shore line for them?” Of course I could probably go to eBay, or various other places on the Internet and find bricks for sale that did not spend the past 15 years sitting on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes. What was the fun in that, though? Half of the thrill for this was the excitement of searching for the bricks, of finding something that was considered dead and buried for good. I have been trying to trace the whereabouts of the 1948 pennant for several years now, so this search for bricks somehow seemed to be an extension of that.
I first heard about the bricks magically appearing on Thursday, November 1; on Friday, November 2, I decided I was going to go on a scavenger hunt, even if it was likely they were picked over by that point in time. It had actually stopped raining, but was still cold, windy, and generally miserable outside. Despite the less-than-desirable weather conditions, I managed to convince a friend to join me on my quest for old bricks. We managed to reach Bratenahl on Friday afternoon and I realized – I had no idea where exactly the bricks supposedly washed ashore. We kept looking at the picture posted on the Internet on my phone, looking for any kind of identifying markers or clues as to where we could find the pieces of old Municipal Stadium. (As you can see, this was truly great strategic planning on my part).
After driving around Bratenahl aimlessly for a while, we finally stopped at a park on the lake. Even if this was the wrong location, maybe we could at least establish a vantage point. We’d have a better idea of the coast, and could try to determine our next move. We walked aimlessly down a lakeside trail, realizing that we were obviously heading in the wrong direction. We headed back to the car, hoping to try our luck at a different location. At least we got some exercise, a chance to stretch our legs after being shut in the house for most of the week during the storm. We stopped again at a parking lot a bit of the way down the shore. The parking lot, and the shore line, were both littered with garbage from the storm. We found many fascinating treasures, such as:
- An old diaper
- A bottle of motor oil
- Some non-Municipal Stadium bricks
- Dozens of empty bottles
- Half of a boat
- A very friendly cat
As tempting as all of these items were, we did not end up going home with any of them (the cat had a collar, so we assumed it already had a home somewhere). By this point it was getting dark, and it was absolutely freezing when you factored the wind and the spray from the lake. We took one last look around, and decided to call it a day – alas, without any bricks from Municipal Stadium.
I kept thinking that this whole experience was a metaphor for something, although I’m not sure what. As I mentioned, I’m already working on another story on the 1948 pennant, which has long since vanished after Bill Veeck buried it beyond the outfield wall at Municipal Stadium as part of a stunt toward the end of the 1949 season. I’ve searched for the whereabouts of that pennant for years, and now I can add chunks of the long-demolished stadium to that list. It’s like I continue to chase something that doesn’t exist anymore, hoping to get a small glimpse from time to time. I also considered the fact that this is somehow a metaphor for Cleveland sports. I guess you could look at it from two different perspectives, either you can push them down, even bury them in a watery grave, but they’ll still find a way to the surface eventually (or so we hope). You could also say that it represents bad memories that fans thought were long ago put to bed, yet they keep coming back to haunt us.
Or it could be that they were just bricks, and they happened to pop up during a big storm. If nothing else, at least they provided a fun adventure for a dreary Friday afternoon.