Lorain, Ohio: The real Marseilles, sort of—and Toni Morrison’s old town, on top of that


The Washington, D.C., area gets the most ink in The Solomon Scandals.

But Scandals also contains flashbacks to the steel town of Marseilles, Ohio, a fictionalized version of Lorain, where I wrote features and worked the poverty and public housing beats for the Journal, the local daily.

imageThe phrase “factory town” applies. In Scandals even D.C. comes off the same way, as a hierarchical place with the bosses in firm control most of the time. Most. There is the occasion when Juan Garcia, “a malcontent of a steelworker in Marseilles…tampered with some machinery at U.S. Steel, so that a sadistic foreman became part of a twenty-ton ingot shipped to a Chevrolet foundry.”

“Everybody in the area looked down on Marseilles,” recalls Jonathan Stone, the narrator in Scandals with a crush on a medieval studies major from Oberlin. “The Cleveland papers said Marseillans wed in bowling shirts. Oberlin students condescended toward the Marseilles the way some missionaries from the school must have sneered during the nineteenth century toward the Chinese.” Marseilles is “as large a city as can exist without anyone having heard of it.”

Sense of humor despite bleak times

image Luckily some natives of the real Lorain share Stone’s sense of humor, and in that vein, I recently ran across a delightful group on Facebook, called You Know Your From Lorain When… Here are some sample entries, thrown together in one paragraph to save space. “Your idea of a luxury car is a Ford Escort GT. Every time you hear Spanish music, it brings back fond memories of South Lorain. You find yourself hanging out at Super K in the wee hours of the morning. Before you went to Super K you were at Rebman’s Bowling Alley. Your high school football team doesn’t win more than 3 games a season. You cried when the last Ford Thunderbird was driven down Broadway.”

The latter line is especially significant since Lorain has been in a recession for years, and D.C.’s elite-driven trade policies just may have contributed to the shutdown of the huge Ford factory. Current population is 68,652, as reported in Wikipedia. I suspect it was much greater when I lived in Lorain during the ’70s.

Toni Morrison ties—plus a giant concrete Easter basket

imageLorain is also the hometown of Bill Schroeder, the ROTC cadet and ex-Eagle Scout killed at Kent State. But Lorain is much more than a city of victims. Toni Morrison, for example, the Nobel Prize laureate, once lived there, and Michael Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, is a Lorain native. Lorain is even the inspiration for a hypertext poet. And on top of that, as shown by another Facebook group, it is the setting for one of the world’s largest concrete Easter baskets. What’s more, I have wonderful recollections of the Lorain Public Library system, which, by the way, has created a memory project online (source of the basket photo). Perhaps there’s more than a little connection between the quality of the library system and the Morrison Nobel and Dirda Pulitzer.

imageAbout the other images: The bridge photo is Creative Commons-licensed from ronnie44052, on Flickr. Lorain is in northeast Ohio, where the Black River flows into Lake Erie. Caption reads, “The Yosemite from Monrovia, Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, enters the port of Lorain…with the assistance of the tugs Illinois and Iowa.” The steel plant image is is CC-licensed from ronnie44052, the number being Lorain’s ZIP code. Wikipedia is the source of the GT photo. Toni Morrison’s picture is also from Wikipedia and includes modifications by Entheta.

Related: ‘What Would Google Do’ with my old steeltown newspaper? Here’s what I’d do.

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David Rothman

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