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Street Level

This is the first-ever museum exhibit to tell the full story of Cleveland—and it's a page-turner


Interested in learning more about Cleveland's rich history? Point your GPS toward Cleveland Starts Here, the new permanent exhibit opening tomorrow at the Cleveland History Center at the Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 East Blvd. in University Circle.

According to director Angie Lowrie, Cleveland Starts Here will cover the time period from the city's origins in the 1790s all the way through the Cavs taking home the gold in 2016.

"We used to have a core exhibit that talked about the early history of the Western Reserve, but the history [coverage] ended at the Civil War," says Lowrie. "There was no one place that you could get the full story of what Cleveland is all about. Cleveland Starts Here is an opportunity to show a lot more of our stuff and do it in a way that shows people the story of Cleveland."

Among the 879 objects on display are "Miss Barbara" Plummer's looking glass from "Romper Room," a peace pipe given to Moses Cleaveland by the Massasago tribe, a traditional dress worn by a young Czechoslovakian immigrant, and the practice podium from the 2016 Republican National Convention. Lowrie's personal favorite is a lunar descent engine partially made in Cleveland by TRW that was "used to help the lunar module land on the moon." There is also a giant DeLorean inside the entrance.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation. Lowrie says that the Cleveland History Center team has been working on compiling the exhibit for three years, but the concept has been in the making for decades—and the timing for its debut couldn't have been better.

"Who knew that Cleveland would be in this upswing when we started this journey of planning this exhibit?" says Lowrie. "It's a wonderful time because there is a sense of pride in our community and Cleveland Starts Here gives people some groundwork on why we are so proud to be where we are today."

Interactivity is one of the hallmarks of the exhibit, which is intended to be a starting point for deeper exploration of Cleveland's past and present (hence the name). For instance, visitors can utilize an interactive map table showing the transition of various areas over time with maps from 1775 to 2000—featuring 13 different "hotspots" from Public Square to the Lake Erie Shores to Warren, Ohio (the first capital of the Western Reserve). The display also offers suggestions on places to go to further research each geographical area.

Genealogy is another strong focus of the exhibit. Visitors can engage with an interactive display detailing Moses Cleaveland's family tree, then start to research their own family tree inside the center's research library. "We see the exhibit as a portal for doing a deeper dive into your area of interest, whether that's transportation, family, art, history, or photography," says Lowrie.

Visitors can also curate a gallery via touchscreen, which will then be posted in a dedicated photo album on the exhibit's Facebook page for social media sharing. "We have 150 items that are digitized that can be used to make your own museum gallery," says Lowrie. "Themes might include: 'Which objects best define Cleveland? Which items would you put in a time capsule? Which items would you want in the case of zombie apocalypse?'"

More than 600 donors and supporters are expected at tonight's invitation-only opening event, which will feature locally themed food such as pierogies, a West Side Market charcuterie station, and baked lobster mac-and-cheese from Fahrenheit.

Looking forward, Lowrie says that many of the items will be rotating throughout the 3,500-square-foot space, sharing the ever-evolving history of Cleveland as well as its little-known artifacts. "The takeaway that we are looking for the community to gain is that everyone is a part of this story, this narrative," says Lowrie. "History isn't about looking back, but looking forward. We can use the past to move us forward."

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

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