Panels from Action Comics No. 1, the first Superman comic, adorn the site of illustrator Joe Shuster's former apartment building, long since demolished.
Panels from Action Comics No. 1, the first Superman comic, adorn the site of illustrator Joe Shuster's former apartment building, long since demolished. Brian Bull/WCPN
April 18, 2013, is a big day for Superman. The Man of Steel, more powerful than a locomotive, turns 75. Most of us know Superman's story — faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Less well-known is that the superhero is not native to the lost world of Krypton, nor the rural Kansas burg of Smallville. Superman is Cleveland's native son — at least as far as the city's residents are concerned.
As a boy, Jerry Siegel lived at 10622 Kimberly Ave., in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood. He was a young writer full of ideas, and one hot summer night, he looked out his window at the moon and stars, and thought of what it would be like to fly.
Jefferson Gray's Cleveland home, where Superman's co-creator lived as a boy, is adorned with Superman paraphernalia.
Jefferson Gray's Cleveland home, where Superman's co-creator lived as a boy, is adorned with Superman paraphernalia. Brian Bull/WCPN
And then the idea struck him of a man who could leap high over buildings — in a single bound, if you will. The very next morning, Siegel ran a half-mile to the apartment of buddy Joe Shuster, who was an illustrator. Together, the two kids came up with the idea of Superman.
"There's only one Cleveland, there's only one Superman. And why is it that we don't embrace our legacy, our past, our history?" asks Mike Olszewski, who heads the Siegel and Shuster Society. The organization raised $150,000 to fix up this house.
"It's really amazing when you look up and think a child developed this building block for popular culture. And look what it became," Olszewski says. "We really have to make sure Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and, of course, Joanne Siegel, are not forgotten by their own hometown."
For you non-Supergeeks, Joanne Siegel was Jerry's wife — and the inspiration for the comic's Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.
Jefferson Gray, the owner of what's known as Superman's House, says fans from all over the world visit.
"We've had people from Illinois, Kansas City, California, San Francisco," Gray says. "And we had one person came here, he's from London ... He flew over here, and they set up on the porch."
Superman is a global phenomenon and a multibillion-dollar franchise. There are thousands of comic books, numerous TV shows and dozens of movies about the superhero. And a couple of years ago, Action Comics No. 1 — the issue released on this date 75 years ago — sold for $2 million.
Some fans want Cleveland officials to do a better job of promoting the city's Superman roots. The region's tourism office has been pushing for that, as well. Mayor Frank Jackson says Thursday is "Superman Day" in the city.
"The Man of Steel in a steel town, the strength that he had, that's all part of what Cleveland is," Jackson says. "We're a tough community that has overcome many challenges and obstacles, and Superman is a good representative model of Cleveland."
City libraries and malls will host comic-book displays and conventions, and in June, the Capitol Theater will premiere the latest in the Superman movie franchise, Man of Steel.
Local businesses are also promoting Superman's 75th birthday. John Dudas of Carol and John's Comic Book Shop says they're doing commemorative tie-in promotions and handing out maps of local sites relevant to Superman's origins, like Siegel's house, Glenville High School, the site of Shuster's childhood apartment and the Cleveland Institute of Art, which Shuster attended.
The effort has already attracted visitors to the Superman House, who stop outside to pose at the big red metal "S" mounted on the front fence.
Cleveland's Superman fans hope to see a statue, museum or theme park celebrating the comic hero in Cleveland someday. In the meantime, the city will light up its 52-story Terminal Tower in hues of blue, red and gold in early June.
It's the same building Siegel and Shuster saw when they envisioned their Man of Steel leaping tall buildings "in a single bound."