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In this Tuesday, April 2, 2013 photo shows street signs where Jerry Siegel lived in the Glenville neighborhood in Cleveland. The Siegel house has become a mini-pilgrimage site for Superman fans and it's easy to pick it out on a street with a mix of renovated and dilapidated homes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Superman’s 75th puts spotlight on Cleveland roots

First Published Apr 17 2013 08:17 pm • Last Updated Apr 17 2013 08:17 pm

Cleveland • Superman’s 75th anniversary is giving his creators’ blue-collar hometown a renewed chance to claim the superhero as its own.

Fans hope Thursday’s anniversary, including lighting city hall with Superman’s colors, will raise the profile of co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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The city is making a start with a Superman day proclaimed by the mayor and giving out birthday cake at the airport’s Superman display.

The June release of Hollywood’s latest Superman tale, "Man of Steel," also should renew fan interest. The film offers a fresh start for the kid from Krypton, with Henry Cavill as the boy who falls to Earth and becomes its protector.

Siegel and Shuster labored on their creation for years in the throttling grip of the Great Depression before finally selling Superman to a publisher.

The Man of Steel became a Depression-era bootstrap strategy for the Siegel/Shuster team, according to Brad Ricca, a professor at nearby Case Western Reserve University who uses Superman in his classes.

"They really just saw it as a way out," he said.

In his upcoming book "Super Boys," Ricca says the story of Superman’s creation is mostly about their friendship: two boys in the city’s Glenville neighborhood dreaming of "fame, riches and girls" in a time when such dreams are all the easier to imagine because of the crushing economic misery.

Ricca said Siegel and Shuster reflected Cleveland’s ethnic mix: both were sons of Jewish immigrants, struggled during the Depression and hustled to make something of themselves.

Superman’s first appearance, in Action Comics No. 1, was April 18, 1938.


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The first and greatest superhero has gone on to appear in nearly 1,000 Action Comics and has evolved with the times, including a 1940s radio serial, a 1950s TV series and as a reliable staple for Hollywood. Pop culture expert Charles Coletta at Bowling Green State University said Superman ranks globally with George Washington and the Super Bowl as American icons.

But it wasn’t just hardscrabble circumstances that tempered the Man of Steel, Siegel’s daughter said.

Laura Siegel Larson said Cleveland’s public library, comic pages and high school mentors all nurtured her father’s creativity.

"The encouragement that he received from his English teachers and the editors at the Glenville High School newspaper and the literary magazine gave my dad a real confidence in his talents," she said by phone Monday from Los Angeles. She plans to be in Cleveland for the Thursday anniversary.

The tale of Superman’s first moments begins in Siegel’s bedroom. He once recalled coming up with the idea while looking up at the stars and imaging a powerful hero who looked out for those in distress.

Today, Siegel’s home is easy to pick out on a street with a mix of renovated and dilapidated homes: a stylized red Superman "S" adorns the fence and a sign identifies the home as "the house where Superman was born."

And like the Man of Steel, the neighborhood is tough.

"You better have ‘S’ on your chest if you come out after dark," grinned Tommie Jones, 50, helping move furniture several doors away.

Hattie Gray, 61, who moved into the home nearly 30 years ago unaware of its history, has gotten used to the parade of Superman fans walking by or knocking, trying to savor a piece of comics lure.

"I get people all the time, people all the way from Japan, from Australia," she said. "It’s a great joy to live here."

The top floor, where Siegel went to write, still offers the nighttime view of the sky over Lake Erie that inspired Siegel.

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