AKRON, Ohio — If you're from Akron or spend enough time there, it's likely you already know the legend of the Miller Road lions—two statues that for years have been the sign that spring has sprung. For those unfamiliar with the legend, it all starts at the end of a driveway.
UPDATE: The lions were officially unwrapped for the season on May 9.
UPDATE: It is now officially spring. pic.twitter.com/RJ3v1NaLJF— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) May 9, 2022
Jimmy Salaheddine's parents own the well-known home on Miller Road. He's grown up with the statues as part of his life.
"It honestly just started off as a chore my dad would make me do," Salaheddine said. "Wintertime wrap them, springtime unwrap them—and that chore has turned into something funner and funner and funner and people just caught on to it."
Decades ago, Salaheddine's parents welcomed the stone lion statues to sit at the end of their driveway. He joked that they chose lions because his astrological sign is a Leo and his mother loves him that much but added that his mother also just really likes the animal.
Unfortunately, a hard lesson was learned with the first set of lion statues when winter in Ohio showed the damage it can do.
"This is actually the second set of lions because the first set of lions got deteriorated by the snow and the ice and all the salt that goes on the roads every year in the wintertime," Salaheddine said. "When the big salt trucks from the city come by, they dump a lot of salt and there's big chunks that put chips in the statues and all also the salt sitting around deteriorates the base of them."
After the first set was destroyed by the harsh conditions, Salaheddine's family learned some lessons to protect them. When the unseasonable weather starts to show up, the wrap comes out.
"They started covering them every year, wrapping them up," Salaheddine said. "You want it to be spongy on the outside so if a rock or ice or salt hits, it bounces off and it doesn't chip."
So each winter the statues go into their own version of hibernation, wrapped meticulously to ensure the elements can't deteriorate them like the first set of lions. That task was one of Salaheddine's chores growing up and has since turned into something much bigger.
"Now it's become a tradition," Salaheddine said. "Just like anything, it turned into a thing."
For people in Akron, passing the wrapped statues in March, April or May means that it's not quite spring. Keep the snow brush in the backseat, don't put away the winter coat and certainly don't pull out the sandals just yet. But once you drive past the house on Miller Road and see the lions unwrapped in all of their glory—get ready for warmer weather and sunny skies to come.
"It's fun. It gets you excited for the weather change," Salaheddine said.
Like Buckeye Chuck on Groundhog's Day or the Hinckley buzzards flying in or even the blooming flowers on Daffodil Hill, the Miller Road Lions have become a predictor for the season change in Ohio. People will drive by to check the status of the statues or ask on social media—and many treat the unveiling of the lions as gospel.
"It's funny. At first, it was odd and then it just turned into a thing. You have horns honking, you're waving to people," Salaheddine said. "It's usual. It's normal. It's cool."
While it's been a local tradition for decades, it took a new life during the pandemic when Hank from 330ToGO started posting "Lion Watch" updates to his page.
"The first time I remember posting about them was I believe in 2018, and the first time I remember using the term Lion Watch was in 2019," Hank said. "It just kind of became a thing."
When the pandemic hit in 2020, a new tradition was started with Hank helping share the actual unveiling online to help spread a little positivity during a difficult time.
"I remember [Salaheddine] reaching out to me and he said 'Listen, we got to give people something to smile about. Get on over here, let's unleash the lions,'" Hank said. "So I popped on over and we went live, and that video got like 65,000 views and it was still when we were we were kind of growing still kind of little back then."
The moment was viewed by thousands, growing the legend of the lions from an Akron-centric tradition to a widespread phenomenon.
"It's a big deal, and when I say big deal, people follow it all over the country. This is no longer just an Akron thing, Hank said. "People from all over the country that grew up here are following Lion Watch, they really have ingrained it into their entire thought process about the fact that this is when spring is transitioning and we're getting ready for summer."
The weather has been fickle like Ohio weather usually is, but the peaks of sun and warm weather didn't trick Salaheddine or his lions.
"Anybody that's born and raised in Ohio knows Ohio weather and one day it could be 78 degrees and the next day literally it's snow on the ground with ice," Salaheddine said."Over the last 20 years I've been covering and uncovering them—I've never been wrong."
A week into May 2022 and the Miller Road lions are still wrapped in their protective gear, but people following Lion Watch are keeping their eye out on the statues waiting for their sign of spring. Salaheddine is embracing the love from the community and beyond and is even hosting a contest online where people can guess the date of the lions' unveiling with a prize of some very special Miller Road Lions treats made by the Mars & Benny Cookie Company in Fairlawn.
Salaheddine said that while the lions are still wrapped, those watching for the season change shouldn't have to wait much longer.
"Coming soon. I can't tell you exactly when but it is very soon," Salaheddine said.
When the time does come, 330ToGO will live stream the unveiling and usher in the official start of spring in Akron.
"You can watch it as soon as soon as we're live, it's going to be happening—and we'll be bringing it to the nation," Hank said.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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