Saving Superman's House: Comic Book Fans Unite In 1986, the city of Cleveland declared the house where Jerry Siegel thought up the Superman character to be a landmark. But today, the house is falling apart — and a group of high-profile fans is trying to save it, by auctioning art and other work.
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OK, absolutely no way to put lipstick on this transition. Here, we go from politics to something far, far away, Superman's house.


Well, actually, it's the house of Superman's creator. His name is Jerry Siegel. He dreamed up Superman back in the 1930s in his modest home in Cleveland. That home is now under threat, and a group of comic book fans is holding an eBay auction to help preserve it. From member station WCPN, Mhari Saito reports.

MHARI SAITO: As a child in rural Mississippi, Jefferson Gray loved hearing stores about Superman. Gray grew up, moved to Cleveland, got a job in a steel foundry, and got married. Twenty-five years ago with small children to raise and more on the way, superheroes were the last thing on his mind. He went looking in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood to buy a house.

Mr. JEFFERSON GRAY (Owner, Childhood Home of Jerry Siegel, Cleveland, Ohio): I looked at other houses in the neighborhood, but that - then some mind brought me right back to this house, so I said, Honey, we're going to buy this house.

SAITO: Gray had no idea that his family had moved into Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel's old house. In 1986, the city of Cleveland declared the house a landmark, and that's when the fans showed up, some by the busload, some alone, driving hundreds of miles to pay homage to Jerry Siegel. Gray's family always let visitors tour the place where Superman was born.

Mr. GRAY: This is the bedroom where Jerry Siegel was, and this is the closet most people say he wrote most of the Superman stuff in.

SAITO: Gray points to a small space off the back of the bedroom. There's a chair next to the window and some books on a table.

Mr. GRAY: I like to look out that window sometimes. It's a beautiful view at night time, when you see the moon and everything. So, it's beautiful.

SAITO: But Gray admits that the room and, well, much of the house is anything but beautiful. Decades of water damage have marked the house. Plaster is falling off the walls. Mike San Giacomo started writing about the Siegel house in 1989 for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Mr. MIKE SAN GIACOMO (Journalist, Newsarama): It was in better shape then, but I was kind of disheartened that there was no kind of plaque from the city. And so, for the last 19 years I've been talking about the need to do something to honor Superman in Cleveland.

SAITO: But nothing has happened. Then San Giacomo's friend, novelist Brad Meltzer, called up some of the biggest names in the comic-book industry and formed the Siegel & Shuster Society. The nonprofit started collecting original art for an eBay auction. All the money goes to fix up the house. Meltzer says he then called Jerry Siegel's widow, Joan, to tell her their plans.

Mr. BRAD MELTZER (Novelist; Comic-Book Writer; Founder, Siegel & Shuster Society): And suddenly she says to me, Brad, before my husband passed, he signed six shirts and said to me that if you ever need money, sell the shirts. And no one knows these shirts exist. I want you to have one of his shirts for this auction.

SAITO: Other items include a walk-on part in NBC's hit series, "Heroes," and VIP tickets to Stephen Colbert's show, "The Colbert Report." Brian Bendis pens the comic book, "Powers." He says his auction offering is a tribute to Siegel and Shuster. Superman's creators signed over the rights to their iconic character to a precursor of DC Comics, but then spent decades in court fighting to get them back.

Mr. BRIAN BENDIS (Writer, "Powers"): Things have changed so much because of what they did that now I own my own books. I can do whatever I want, and "Powers" is the book that I own, and you can be in it, if you win the auction.

SAITO: Seating on his porch, which is peeling blue and red paint, Superman's colors, homeowner Jefferson Gray says he hasn't looked at the items up for sale. Over the years, he's heard lots of plans to fix up this place, and they've all fallen through. The online auction goes through the rest of the month. Saving Superman's house, comic book fans say, is the least they can do for their hero. For NPR News, I'm Mhari Saito in Cleveland.

(Soundbite of song "Theme from 'Superman'")

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