Jim Sweeney, author of the book “What’s the Deal with Dead Man’s Curve? And Other Really Good Questions About Cleveland”

I became enamored of almanacs after my husband started buying “The Farmers’ Almanac” as stocking stuffers. (It’s best to know what kind of winter the experts, or animals, are predicting for our region.) I found the essays ranging from weather patterns to the position of the planets and gardening advice by zone to be very informative. I had the same reaction to Jim Sweeney’s new book, “What’s the Deal with Dead Man’s Curve? And other Really Good Questions about Cleveland,” Gray & Company, 2023 (pp.181.) It’s a compilation of short articles answering questions (some vexing) about our city and region, including: Why is it called Whiskey Island, What the heck is the Free Stamp, and How did Cleveland become a national punchline? And there are many others beyond its beckoning title.
Sweeney is a native Clevelander who has lived on both sides of town (he also tackles the East Side vs. West Side rivalry) and worked as a reporter for “The Plain Dealer” and some of the former Horvitz newspapers, including the “Journal in Lorain” and the “News-Herald” in Willoughby. When asked what prompted Sweeney to embark on this project, he says although he knew the city well from being a reporter, as a native he took some things for granted, such as Dead Man’s Curve. So when visitors or others asked about it, he found himself wondering “How did it get this way?” Something as distinctive as an almost 90-degree turn in America’s interstate highway system is unusual. It’s likely drivers crossing the country on I-90 from Boston to Seattle will not encounter another kink in the freeway like it.
It was a collaborative effort determining some of the other really good questions about Cleveland. “My publisher came up with some [questions]; my brother-in-law, who’s a local history buff and even my wife,” Sweeney explained. And while “What’s the Deal…” is a must-read for newcomers trying to figure out the lay of the Land, Sweeney thinks it’s equally informative for residents who are curious about the origins of some of our quirky habits and landmarks. This reporter agrees. I learned some new things about my almost hometown (my family moved here when I was two), including the backstory to the pink silos along interstate 480 near Malley’s Chocolates. Think creatively about how Dan Malley got around Highway Beautification Act regulations prohibiting billboards too close to the Interstate. Find out if those silos ever contained the Milk, Cocoa and Sugar on their labels. “He [Dan Malley] wanted a billboard but came up with a landmark,” Sweeney notes.
Some of the articles seemed too brief for this almost-native who was raised in the age of newspapers. For instance, I felt sure there would be a reference to Daffy Dan’s T-Shirt Printing (now Cleveland Printwear) in the essay titled “Why Clevelanders wear so many T-shirts.” There wasn’t. And the essay “Do we really need all these suburbs?” doesn’t cover the origins of the anti-sprawl movement started by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission in the 1990s, when it pushed for weighted voting at the region’s transportation planning agency (NOACA) against the widening of interstate lanes into Lorain and Medina Counties. That said, the article provides enough information about this important topic for readers to conclude our voluminous suburbs are a drain on our gross regional product and we’d be better off in terms of economic development with a metro-county form of government. Plus the list of Cuyahoga County’s least-populated communities at the end is eye-opening: The infamous ticket-issuing community of Linndale has only 108 residents!
Like any almanac or compilation of diverse facts, “What’s the Deal with Dead Man’s Curve” need not be consumed in one sitting. Keep it handy to peruse an article or two when you’re wondering “What’s the deal with…” in your beloved hometown or the city you’ve adopted, despite its many unanswered questions. It will be a curiosity-quenching experience.
“What’s the Deal with Dead Man’s Curve and Other Really Good Questions about Cleveland” is available at Fireside Books in Chagrin Falls, Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry, Loganberry Books on Larchmere, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and on Amazon.