Comic strip's creators remembered in house

Posted at 8:22 PM, Jun 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-06 20:22:52-04

The Spring flowers are in full bloom on Cleveland's Kimberley Avenue.  The voices of the children on the street in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood sound as young voices have always sounded when youth are coming home from the final days of school before the doors open for vacation.

It was much the same sound 80 years ago when a couple of schoolboys raced to the third floor of one of Kimberley Avenue's homes where they sharpened their pencils and unfolded sheets of notebook paper.  That was the time of the birth of a superhero who would shortly become known worldwide. 

Superman was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who in the early 1930s began to create a homemade comic book character who could fly, had a strength to lift locomotives, see through solid objects, and withstand bullets which simply bounced off his chest.

The house on Kimberley Avenue is now in the hands of Jefferson Gray who bought the structure in the 1980s.  At the time, he was unaware of the Siegel family which had lived there 50 years before and where their son and his classmate, Joe Shuster, would sequester themselves and allow their fantasies to come from their fertile thoughts to the pages of a comic strip.

"We didn't know anything about it when we bought the house," said Gray.  Wearing a Superman T-shirt and baseball cap, Gray sat comfortably on his front steps as he watched the afternoon traffic move along his street.  Often, some of the traffic will stop with occupants in a car snapping pictures of the historic house where Superman was created.

The house is easy to see.  The iconic "S" worn on Superman's suit is part of the fence in the front yard.  There are plaques detailing the story of Siegel and Shuster and Superman on the fence.  In every window facing the front of the house are pictures of Superman in various poses -- flying, lifting heavy objects, or saving lives of people in trouble.

With Gray is Mike Olszewski, a member of the Siegal and Shuster Society, which celebrates memories of the two boys who grew up in Depression Cleveland and fantasized about a hero who could make life better for all people. 

"Superman was created in the minds of 14-year-old kids up in a bedroom in Cleveland, Ohio," said Olszewski.  "They created a billion-dollar entertainment empire," he added.

The youngsters were described as timid and soft-spoken boys.  They were students at Glenville High School, which is just around the corner from Kimberley and from Amor Avenue where Shuster lived. 

One homeowner Gray discovered the history of the house he bought, he began to build tributes to the boys and their creation.  In the third-floor bedroom where the boys worked, it is everything Superman.  There is hardly a spot where something of the iconic superhero is not represented.  Superman toys, comics, DVDs, T-shirts, and games.

Shuster died in 1992.  Siegel died four years later.  Because they sold the rights to their creation early in their lives, they never received the huge monies which eventually came from the "Man of Steel."  In later years, the comic book creators did receive some money, but it was nothing like they would have received had they held to their properties.

"But when you're offered a contract and you're going to get ten dollars a page for 13 pabges and a contract to do the strip after that, it looked like a pretty good deal," said Olszewski, describing the scene in 1936 when the first Superman comic book was published.  Olszewski emphasizes it is important to remember the boys' families were in the depths of the Great Depression and money was scarce.

Still, what the two boys created has had a lasting impact on the world.   Superman is considered by many as one of the top five recognizable figures throughout the world.  The boys patterned Superman's adopted home of a great American city, Metropolis, after their hometown of Cleveland.  The Daily Planet newspaper where Superman, in the disguise of the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, worked was based on the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The early issues of Superman were based in Cleveland and the boys used actually local addresses in their strip, later electing to set the storyline in Metropolis, which came from their creativity. 

Gray sits easily on his front porch, waving to passers-by, some of whom shout out words about Superman.  Gray is comfortable in his home, perhaps feeling their is a great protection which hovers around the modest three-story frame dwelling.   After all, Superman lives there, too.