Industrial and industrious would be good words to describe the city of Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in 1796 on the western frontier of the early United States, it became a center of heavy industry and transportation, before entering into a decline in the early 1980’s, followed by a slow revival from the late 1990’s. Perhaps not the most obvious US city trip destination, but Cleveland certainly has plenty to see and do to warrant a few days of your time. Especially for the space historian it has a lot of cool stuff, making Cleveland a must-see. Follow me on a virtual tour to Cleveland, Ohio:
On approach from the south, the Cleveland skyline offers the typical panorama of many US cities: towering skyscrapers, surrounded by low rise buildings in a vast area of green suburbs. The large Cleveland-Akron-Canton Ohio metropolitan area is home to 3.5 million people. The actual city of Cleveland only has 390,000 inhabitants.
The downtown area of Cleveland is relatively small and can easily be covered on foot from one of the central hotels. We stayed at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, a pleasant 4-star hotel in walking distance of the sites and close to the nice West 3rd Street and East 4th Street bar and restaurant areas. The hotel is directly connected to the Tower City Mall, Public Square railway station and the Horseshoe Cleveland Casino. We only spent a day walking the city, which is enough to see the highlights. For further away sights Cleveland has a good metro and tram system.
This river bank literally was the frontier between the United States and the uncharted Western Territory back in 1796, when general Moses Cleaveland surveyed the area and decided to build a capital town on this spot on the eastern banks of the Cuyahoga River.
This sign marks the spot where the surveyors set up their camp in 1796.
At sunset this is a good place for skyline and bridge photography, as many of the buildings and bridges are beautifully lit.
Tower City on Public Square marks the old heart of town, around which everything was built. It now houses hotels, a shopping mall, a casino and railway station.
The most interesting area for visitors can be found on the shores of Lake Erie. A lineup of four interesting museums will keep you busy for most of the day, of course depending on your interest in the subjects. If nothing else, the architecture of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame allows for a few nice snapshots.
Inside the museum you are taken through seven levels of exhibits, from the very basics of music and the history of contemporary music, to special exhibits about music bands and famous artists. Of course most of the exhibits feature audio, in addition to artifacts. A must-see for music lovers!
Right next door is the Great Lakes Science Center. In addition to a large IMAX theater it features a great space exhibit, which doubles as nearby NASA Glenn’s Visitor Center, including a small space and science gift shop.
The space exhibit here centers around the Skylab-3 command module capsule. This Apollo capsule was the last to service the Skylab space station in 1973 and was the second-to-last Apollo capsule to fly to space (Apollo-Soyuz was the last, in 1975).
Unlike some other Apollo capsules on display around the US (and Apollo-10 in London, see here), you can get very close to the unit, watching all kinds of interesting details, like the hatch. It also has a full interior that can be clearly seen.
Being close to the NASA Glenn Research Center, the exhibit features many items tested there, like this ‘Martian Airbag’ system, developed for the Pathfinder mission in 1997 and later also used to land the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on the surface of Mars. It took several years of testing these airbags at the NASA Glenn Plumbrook Station vacuum chamber before they were deemed functional.
Those interested in more traditional ships can visit the William G. Mather, a 1925-built Great Lakes steamship. It is a leading example of the type of ships that hauled iron ore from Minnesota to the steel mills in the Cleveland area in the era before and during World War II.
If you are interested in more maritime history, you can visit the 1942-built USS Cod Submarine Museum. It saw a lot of action in the Pacific war in the 1943-1945 period, being credited for sinking several enemy vessels. It has been a museum vessel in Cleveland since 1976, moored next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The fourth museum on the shores of Lake Erie is the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, housed in the terminal building of the small Burke Lakefront Airport. It is dedicated to female aviation and space pioneers and has many interesting stories and artifacts.
One of the reasons to visit this small museum are some of the more quirky artifacts, like this original Coca Cola machine that flew on board the Space Shuttle.
Cleveland has an International Airport, making it easily accessible from many parts of the US and the rest of the world. The downtown area has plenty of good places to stay, like the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel on Public Square. I visited in July 2015, when there were not a lot of tourists, making it easy to visit all sights mentioned in a single day.
From the Public Square area you can walk to the sights mentioned in minutes. Taxis are inexpensive and the area is well serviced by frequent buses, trams and an underground metro system. See the Cleveland Public Transportation website for all info on how to get around.