Wandering Crawford Auto Aviation Museum/ Cleveland History Center
As a school kid heading to Cleveland’s University Circle on field trips, the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum was high on my list of favorites. Vintage cars and airplanes, many in life size dioramas, made the museum a toy store to this aspiring gearhead! Downside for younger me, however, was our visit required visiting the rest of the building it shared with Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society. That meant leaving all that motorized glory for the boredom of antique tables, chairs and tapestries… “bleah”, said child me at the time. There have been many changes (some highly controversial) to the museum AND my attitude in the decades since I visited with the schools, and grown up me finds far less to “bleah” about.
Given my interest in all things with wings or wheels, I’m still drawn to the vehicles as my starting point. The Crawford Auto Aviation Museum grew from Fredrick Crawford’s Thompson Products (now TRW) Auto Album, and permanently moved to the Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society mid-1960s. Crawford’s large private collection was unusual in that the vehicles saved from destruction were preserved as original, NOT restored to perfection- the museum’s goal to this day. The museum’s collection is made up of an eclectic mix of unusual cars and planes, most with historical connections to Cleveland. As example, the upper level currently has a section dedicated to the Cleveland Air Races, complete with examples of vintage racing planes. Many more vehicles fill the upper and lower floors, with the more modern cars found in the lower displays. Our guests on this trip, my In-Laws, were fascinated by looped B&W videos of old car ads near the cars. Also on the lower level is Robert Manry’s Tinkerbell, a 13.5′ sailboat he sailed from Falmouth, MA to Falmouth, England. There’s also a full-size mockup of the boat so visitors can climb aboard and appreciate just how tiny the boat was, for an ocean so vast! Back upstairs, the central rotunda was filled with pictures and memorabilia from the 1936-37 Great Lakes Exposition, though I think that display has ended, or possibly added to the new Cleveland Starts Here exhibit. While it’s not huge, one can easily spend a couple hours in the Auto Aviation museum.
If cars and planes aren’t your thing, keep walking past the awesome P51 racer at the edge of the air race exhibit. In a glass room built specially for the exhibit, sunlight strikes the beautifully restored Euclid Beach Grand Carousel that revolves showcased to the world outside. The loving care that went into this restoration is amazing, and the animals and sleighs are gorgeous. I was 6 years old when Euclid Beach Park closed forever, and still remember smiles with Mom and grandparents. A ride on this historical work of art is included with museum tickets, and is not to be missed!
Heading back to the Cleveland History Center, much of the area was closed off on the day we were there. Pictures of the new Cleveland Starts Here exhibit look like it will be amazing, so we’re already planning another trip to the museum to see it. In the meantime, the rest of the center is filled with a fascinating look at Cleveland through the years, with many of the displays intended for family interaction. It’s amazing how years change one’s level of interest in the history, and it helps that the museum has updated their displays to broaden their appeal. One of the current displays is Wow Factor!, 150 years of bold clothing worn by ladies in Cleveland. I admit to having ZERO interest to start, but found it quite intriguing once walking through. Who would have guessed?
The Crawford Auto Aviation Museum is still the draw for me, but the always-changing Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society offers much. Planes and cars, Cleveland history and… bold dresses? Truly something for everyone! We’re looking forward to returning to visit the Cleveland Starts Here exhibit, opened at the end of November 2017, and we’ll be watching to see what’s next on the schedule of exhibits.
Keep Riding Local, Dreaming Global, and we’ll see you on the road- Enjoy!