Cleveland: Birthplace of Superman, the World's Greatest Hero

Ralph DiMatteo

Cleveland Superman Exhibit

When I started working in the wholesale beer business as a helper on the delivery trucks in the early 1980s, I was paired with a driver who had Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood as part of his route.

Three days a week we would start our day with breakfast at a diner at the point where Broadview and Pearl Roads intersected. At that intersection, a local sign company had created a beautiful and vibrantly colorful tribute sign to the Man of Steel - Superman - and Cleveland as his birthplace.

There was a real sense of pride, and there still is all these years later, in knowing that without a doubt the world’s greatest superhero calls Cleveland home. So we decided to take a trip down memory lane to see just how it all came to be.

How Superman Was Created in Cleveland

The year was 1933 and two boys named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who lived in the Glenville area of Cleveland’s east side, dreamed up a hero larger than life with powers far beyond any mortal man. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and more powerful than a locomotive - sound familiar?

Sadly, even as Superman’s popularity grew in comics and on screen in various serials and shows, the forward-thinking city that Cleveland was at the time didn’t really celebrate the creation of the two of its own. Over time that has changed in a variety of ways.

Siegel and Shuster met in high school and as their idea grew, Siegel seemed to become the driving force in moving their dream forward to reality.

In 1938, they sold their dream and all rights to it to DC Comics for a mere $130, seeing no additional royalties after the sale until roughly 37 years later.

A lawsuit filed in 1975 on their behalf ended with them seeing a reward of $20,000 each for life and, probably more important to them personally, got them the credit for the Man of Steel’s creation. From that point forward and to this day, all officially licensed products include the phrase “Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster."

After both Siegel and Shuster passed away in the 90s, the city began a campaign for local recognition of the two in their home, spearheaded by local writer Michael Sangiacomo.

When he teamed up with Siegel’s widow, the pair probably thought it would be an easy sell, but sadly no one seemed to embrace the idea of having some of Siegel’s ashes and even the typewriter that many of the Superman adventures were created upon.

It wasn’t until famed writer Brad Meltzer came to town and asked Sangiacomo for a visit to Siegel’s boyhood home that things began to move forward.

It wasn’t until the two saw the house, at 10622 Kimberly Avenue, in such disrepair that they decided swift action was needed. Meltzer released a video of the house and its history and its current condition that got the attention necessary to get it restored as the landmark it deserved to be.

Sangiacomos’s and Meltzer’s actions brought the Siegel and Shuster Foundation into being and formed a a partnership with the Glenville Community Development Corporation that ensured its ongoing care. The family owning the house, who were not interested in selling it, did participate in the dedication of a plaque acknowledging the home’s historical significance.

Shuster’s home down the street no longer stands, but there is a fence with several life-sized posters commemorating Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics. One last poster at the site lets visitors know that “On this site once stood the home where Superman was turned from words into pictures... With the creation of Superman, these two friends showed the world that the most ordinary of us can turn out to be the most heroic.”

As a parting thought, I would just say that when LeBron James left Cleveland for the last time, his mural downtown was quickly removed and a big discussion ensued about what should replace it.

I don’t know if it ever became part of the discussion, but maybe it needs to be revisited. Wouldn’t the large red Superman shield look spectacular at that spot where James’s mural once hung across from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse?

Who’s with me on that?

(Image source: Tim Evanson)

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