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Song/Contemporary Legend – Cleveland, Ohio

My mother was born and raised in Cleveland Ohio.  She remembers very well when the Cuyahogo River “caught on fire”.  It was the day of June 23, 1969.  The river was very dirty, and contaminated.  There had been a lot of waste dumped into the river form the surrounding industrial companies.  However, the day that the river was on fire, the fire is said to have been up to five stories high.

However, according to my mother this event was blown completely out of proportion. Songs, tails and even pictures developed from this event.  This song about the river began to be sung all around the town.

There’s an oil barge winding

Down the Cuyahogo River

Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

Cleveland city of light city of magic

Cleveland city of light you’re calling me

Cleveland, even now I can remember

‘Cause the Cuyahoga River

Goes smokin’ through my dreams

Burn on, big river, burn on

Burn on, big river, burn on

Now the Lord can make you tumble

And the Lord can make you turn

And the Lord can make you overflow

But the Lord can’t make you burn

Everyone knew the song, both the children and the adults.  The song did two things.  First, it scared people away from Cleveland.  My mom remembers kids from her school moving to different cities and outsiders no longer wanted to come to Cleveland.  Second, the song brought forth the real reason why the fire started; people were dumping trash into the river.  This is evident in the lines about the Lord.  The Lord can make the river, tumble, turn and overflow but the Lord can’t make it burn.  Only the people can make the river burn, by dumping their trash into it.

This event, over the years developed into a “haunted story” Cleveland became the town that nobody wanted to live in; it was dirty and contaminated.  Pictures were even found of enormous flames that claimed to be of the Cuyahoga River but in fact were developed to scare the people.

http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=1642

March 2007

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