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Issue Date: April 2014 Issue


The Departed

United Airlines may have taken off, but that loss just follows a long history of bad moves for the town.
Jason Brill
brill@clevelandmagazine.com

They always end up leaving. It's part of our origin story. After founding the city, Moses Cleaveland sailed out of town once he caught sight of the swampy cesspool that was then the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. (We got even by dropping that ridiculous first A out of the city's name.) So in the wake of yet another departure, this time by United Airlines, we rank our turbulent history of breakups.

[1] John D. Rockefeller The Departure: 1914 The Tale: Rockefeller helped make Cleveland one of the country's wealthiest cities in the late 19th century. He eventually moved to upstate New York, where he was born, but returned every winter. Yet Cuyahoga County, hungry for his tax dollars, came knocking when he stayed past a February 1914 tax-filing deadline when his wife's health was too frail for travel. The Result: Buried in Lake View Cemetery, Rockefeller only returned to Cleveland in death. The stain of chasing away the era's richest man in America, however, lives on. The Bright Side: Rockefeller's son donated 235 acres of his father's estate to East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights to create Forest Hill Park.

[2] Cleveland Browns The Departure: 1995 The Tale: During the 1995 season, Art Modell announced he was moving the storied franchise that he'd owned since 1961 to Baltimore. Cleveland successfully fought to keep the team colors and name. The Result: Three years of no football for a football town. But the team returned in 1999 — gee, thanks NFL — and has gone 74-151 since. Baltimore has won two Super Bowls. The Bright Side: We'll let you know when we find one.

[3] LeBron James The Departure: 2010 The Tale: Giving this one a name wasn't even our doing. James went on ESPN to tell the world that he was ... nope, never mind. We're not using that phrase anymore. James went to play with his friends in Miami. The Result: We burned jerseys. We conjured things we wouldn't wish on our archenemy. Team owner Dan Gilbert promised us a championship before James got one. James has since won two. The Cavs have been terrible. The Bright Side: Kyrie Irving. But not even The Q is big enough to hold him and all of our expectations for the two-time all star.

[4] Carl Stokes The Departure: 1972 The Tale: During a time of racial strife and unease, Stokes' election in 1967 as the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city seemed to offer hope for Cleveland and beyond. But after consecutive two-year terms, he left Cleveland for New York City to be a TV news anchor. The Result: We'll never know how much closer together he could have brought the city. The Bright Side: Stokes returned to Cleveland in 1980, first as a labor lawyer, then serving as a municipal judge. In 1995, a year before his death, President Bill Clinton appointed Stokes as U.S. ambassador to the Seychelles.

[5] George Steinbrenner The Departure: 1973 The Tale: Bay Village-born Steinbrenner didn't want to buy just any baseball team in 1971. He wanted the Cleveland Indians and had a handshake deal with then-owner Vernon Stouffer's son Jimmy. But old man Stouffer blew it up, saying he thought it was a lowball offer. The Result: In 1973, "The Boss" settled for the New York Yankees, who won seven World Series titles with him as owner. The Bright Side: We never had to deal with Billy Martin, Alex Rodriguez or the expense of all those parades.

[6] United Airlines The Departure: 2014 The Tale: Now leaving from gate CLE: 60 percent of nonstop flights to and from Cleveland, hub status and hundreds of jobs. We all knew this was possible when United merged with Continental Airlines in 2010, but it doesn't hurt any less. The Result: Right when the city is trying to make a name for itself as a tourist and convention destination, United president and CEO Jeff Smisek decides now is a good time to take off. The Bright Side: Frontier Airlines and other budget carriers have added flights.

[7] Alan Freed The Departure: 1954 The Tale: The Cleveland disc jockey is widely recognized as the person who coined the term rock 'n' roll for the music he played on his Moondog radio show in the '50s. But he took off for a bigger radio market in New York City. The Result: He helped establish a breakout music market here, but was gone before the radio payola scandal destroyed his career. The Bright Side: The Rock Hall isn't in New York City, is it?


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