Rascals and Rogues: Tarzan, neighborhood badass

This photo is the approximate location where Tarzan met his demise on East 55th Street.Courtesy of Ralph HornerThis photo is the approximate location where Tarzan met his demise on East 55th Street.

During my travels, adventures and travails in 1950s and 1960s Cleveland, I got to know a quite few people who fit into the categories of “Rascal” and “Rogue” very well. Let me tell you about some of the most interesting ones who could be found mostly on Short Vincent in those days.

This story did not occur on Short Vincent, but it is too strange to pass up and I was indirectly involved in it
—Ralph Horner

The Lexington Tavern on 55th Street was a very bad place. It was so bad, the neighbors on Whittier Avenue called it a “bucket of blood.”

My mother said a very bad element hung out there. I heard the neighbors talking one evening about how a man got stabbed there. There was always trouble there it seemed. 

There was one man who hung out there who had the reputation of being the neighborhood badass and premier criminal. He was called Tarzan because of his wild man reputation. I never learned his real name or where he lived, but once in a while, he would walk by the apartments on his way to East 55th Street to carry out whatever nefarious activities he had planned for the evening. 

Tarzan sometimes stopped to talk to the grownups that were sitting on the stoop in front of our apartment, and he always drew a little crowd. The grownups treated him with wary respect and a little awe. Tarzan was congenial, but I could tell by the way the neighbors were acting that they were uncomfortable with him. 

One afternoon a kid that I didn’t know came running down the street and was breathlessly telling everyone that, “Someone just shot Tarzan.” 

Everybody ran up to East 55th Street to see what happened.  I wasn’t allowed to go but I got a second-hand account of what happened later. Someone did indeed shoot Tarzan.  He was very dead and it was a real mess.

Something happened after the shooting that was the cruelest and most heartless thing that I ever heard of. I still cringe when I think of it. Tarzan’s mother was at the scene and a cop who was picking up the Tarzan’s remains asked her if she could identify them as her son’s.  I hope in some way the cop paid for that terrible indiscretion.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.