Mayor Ralph Perk’s moment in flames (left) is one of the Press Club of Cleveland’s classic newspaper photos on display at Nighttown (above).
The mayor’s mouth is caught somewhere between a smile and a grimace — teeth mixed with the first pangs of distress. His eyes are hidden behind the black rectangle of welder’s goggles, and there, just on top of his head, rests a small white ball of flame.
You’d have a tough time finding a Clevelander over 40 who doesn’t know the tale of how then-Mayor Ralph Perk set his hair on fire in the fall of 1973 during a ribbon-cutting gone awry at a downtown metals convention. But seeing it here, through the lens of a newspaper photographer’s camera, makes the story feel fresh again.
Frozen moments from the city’s history now line the walls of one of Nighttown’s dining rooms. The East Side establishment, known primarily as the city’s preeminent jazz venue, recently became home to the Press Club of Cleveland’s archive and Hall of Fame: large black-and-white photos capturing the city’s unforgettable moments and small plaques honoring the Press Club’s more than 200 Hall of Fame inductees, which are displayed in a nearby hallway.
The pictures most recently hung inside a room at the City Club of Cleveland, where the Press Club’s board used to hold its monthly meetings. But when those gatherings were moved to the Plain Dealer offices, the pictures stayed put.
“Our photos — our visual archive for all intents and purposes — had been left behind,” says Press Club board member Bruce Hennes. So Hennes, a media-relations professional who counts Nighttown among his clients, asked owner Brendan Ring if he’d house the photos — an arrangement that, for the first time, is allowing the public to enjoy them as well. “Ever since Nighttown opened, it’s been a place hospitable to writers and members of the media,” Hennes says. “Within 10 days [of asking], all the photos had been moved here.”