Mama Says
by Laura Fratus

(Plain Press, August 2006) With the smoke detector still bleating, you decide to grab just one possession before you flee the burning house.

The scrapbook of the kids’ baby pictures and your grandmother’s hand mixer — the one you’ve used to mix every batch of birthday cake batter for 20 years — are both within your reach. Which one will you take? And how long will you hesitate before making the choice?

Chances are, you pick the baby pictures. Most people would. The artifacts of a working life, no matter how practical and precious in their own way, would rarely be chosen before the irreplaceable and unique.

I ask you this by way of lead-in to the sensitive topic of what to do with the Huletts.

Many of our readers know the story of the marvelous Huletts — those machines that revolutionized the way ore carriers were unloaded and, by extension, dramatically changed the fortunes of Great Lakes port cities. They were once landmarks all along the North Shore.  Now the last two remaining Cleveland Huletts are in storage on Port Authority land near Whiskey Island.

Are they worth saving? Sure, and so is my grandmother’s mixer. But should we save them even if it means leaving behind something else of even more irreplaceable value?

There is indeed a choice to be made.  The energy, funding and physical space needed to preserve a Hulett on the lakefront would be drawn from the same pool of available resources that might be used to secure public access to lakefront green space.

In my analogy, hand mixer is to baby pictures as Huletts are to Whiskey Island. In each case, I don’t believe that you’re really going to be able to save both.

Yes, it’s true that Whiskey Island was purchased by Cuyahoga County in 2004. Exciting plans have been drawn for the new Wendy Park recreational space and for preserving the decaying Coast Guard Station. Some construction has begun.

But the future of Whiskey Island is still far from secure. A major chunk of it could still become a decidedly un-scenic bulk storage facility, if the Port Authority prevails. Securing Whiskey Island for posterity will require a lot of human effort, cash, and public will. Cleveland’s supply of any of these things is finite.

As it happens, the Port Authority also owns what remains of the last Huletts in Cleveland, and it’s tired of having them around. This summer, it announced that the land on which the Huletts are currently stored must be cleared. Councilman Matt Zone, long a Hulett devotee, made it clear that he has lost hope of gathering the resources to save them.

The Cleveland Huletts will be lost, but unlike Whiskey Island, the Huletts are not actually unique. Two of them still operate in Chicago, where the Steel Heritage Project is dedicated to preserving them. How many Hulett Museums can the Great Lakes region actually support, do you think?

However, if physical preservation is impossible, there are still other ways to hold on to the collective memory of what these machines meant to our region.  Here’s just one idea: For years, anti-racism organizations have been demanding that the Cleveland Indians change their club name, and especially their logo. How about the “Cleveland Huletts” instead? Seriously.

By changing from the “Indians” to the “Cleveland Huletts,” we replace what has become yet another object of community controversy with something about which we all seem to agree. The Huletts are an emblem of Northeast Ohio’s efficiency, industry, and power. Unlike, say, the “Cavaliers,” it’s a distinctly Cleveland reference. Make the change, and for a while every sports commentator in the country will mention the big machines that inspired the unusual name. Won’t people laugh? What else is new?

Instead of the ongoing bickering and historic revisionism about why the “Indians” identity was ever selected in the first place, we’d be able to set the record straight while simultaneously reminding sports fans everywhere about our region’s rich industrial history.

If we hesitate and debate too much longer, there’s a pretty good chance that both the effort to keep the green space intact and the effort to reconstruct the ore unloaders could go up in smoke. It’s time to grab Whiskey Island and get out of the house.

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