Carole Close describes the political scene of Coventry in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a political activist in the area and describes the neighborhood not only as a accepting place for hippies, but as an area that experienced a significant amount of political activism.
Close, Carole (interviewee)
Souther, Mark (interviewer)
Mark Souther [00:00:03] Today is June 18, 2011. My name is Mark Souther from Cleveland State University, and I'm doing interviews today as part of the Coventry Reunion. Could you please state your name for the record?
Carole Close [00:00:14] My name is Carol Close.
Mark Souther [00:00:16] Thank you. Where were you born, Carol?
Carole Close [00:00:20] In Coshocton, Ohio.
Mark Souther [00:00:22] Oh, okay.
Carole Close [00:00:23] I moved with my mother to live with my grandparents on the southeast side of Cleveland when I was about 16 months old.
Mark Souther [00:00:32] In the city of Cleveland?
Carole Close [00:00:33] Yes. Yes.
Mark Souther [00:00:37] What neighborhood?
Carole Close [00:00:38] 131st and Miles. It didn't really have a name. It's between Mt. Pleasant and Lee and Harvard. So I grew up on 138th Street between Miles and Harvard Avenue.
Mark Souther [00:00:47] You said you were living there when you first experienced Coventry. Could you tell me a little bit about your first memory of Coventry?
Carole Close [00:00:56] Well, my mother brought me here for corned beef sandwiches, I remember, but I came back to Cleveland in 1966 after I graduated from college. I had been a civil rights worker and I came back here not planning on staying here and got a job as a substitute teacher. And I didn't have a car. And they asked me if I would go to this school that they had built at the corner of this 138th Street while I was in college, and I could walk, so I said sure. And I needed a place to live and wanted to live in University Circle. So at first I lived down near 118th and Euclid and then decided to move up here in 1968. So I moved to Hampshire Road in 1968 with two other people. We had one of those big three-bedroom apartments for one hundred dollars a month. So we paid thirty-three dollars apiece.
Mark Souther [00:01:58] What prompted your move? It's iinteresting that it happened in 1968. A lot was going on in 1968.
Carole Close [00:02:04] Well, in 1967 I went to hear a speaker at the church that I grew up in and she had been to Vietnam, North Vietnam, and she had a cluster bomb. She brought back a bomb that the United States said they weren't using, but she had one. And I heard her speak, and I went to speak to her after it, and she invited me to a meeting on Hampshire Road. And I went and since I was living in University Circle already, I just decided to move up here because this was the only place that political activists and hippies could live in the Cleveland area.
Mark Souther [00:02:52] One thing that's interesting to me is that a couple of people have mentioned--the transition of the so-called counterculture from University Circle up into Coventry, and one person said something that I've never before. She said that the Glenville riot played a role in that, which is something that no one has ever mentioned as a motive, and I wondered if you have any thought on that.
Carole Close [00:03:14] We had an office on Euclid Avenue. There used to be a building. I think it was at 123rd and Euclid, but I don't remember. It was called the Outpost Coffeehouse, and down the street from the coffee house we rented an office where we had what was called the Movement for a Democratic Society because there were SDS people here in Cleveland, and the SDS folks lived in Glenville and on the Near West Side. And we weren't students anymore so we rented this office, and that's where the anti-war movement for Cleveland was headquartered. And it was during the '68, the Glenville riots, we were in that office. But we lived up here because it was close. It was just convenient and it was inexpensive. There had been a head shop down on Coventry, and it was near the leather store. And the two people, and I don't remember the name of the shop, had been arrested for marijuana. And the apartment that I moved into had been their apartment. And the apartment was painted yellow and red, like baseboards, and purple and green and all these weird colors. And the landlord was embarrassed and apologized to us, but we thought it was absolutely wonderful and fantastic. So after I moved there, the first people I lived with left and I ended up living with a woman who was part of the SDS project in Cleveland. And we together were the editors of an underground newspaper that we printed, that we worked in the office in East Cleveland, and also we moved our office then to the Outpost Coffeehouse. And one of the people that worked in the coffee house was Jeanne Sonville, who ended up founding the Free Clinic. So part of the whole folks that started the Free Clinic were also part of that whole thing, and the Free Clinic started on Cornell Road. So we lived up here because you could be a hippie and live up here. And we also edited the underground newspaper from here. So it was a place where people congregated. When I was invited by Carol to this meeting on Hampshire, it was a group of people who were discussing political ideology and SDS philosophy. Some of the Weather Underground lived on Hampshire also.
Mark Souther [00:05:50] You mentioned the underground newspaper. Was it by any chance Cleveland After Dark or... [crosstalk]
Carole Close [00:05:54] No, it was called... It started out as The Big Us and it turned into the Burning River News.
Mark Souther [00:06:02] I've come across that, actually, but I haven't looked at it yet. I've seen that it's at the CPL, so you're the first person who's mentioned it. Can you tell me a little bit about these papers? Some of the content?
Carole Close [00:06:17] Well, there used to be an organization called California Newsreel, and there was also an Underground Newspaper Network. And we would get stories from the Underground Newspaper Network and we would also get movies from Underground, the California Newsreel, and we would show these movies in the churches. Some of them were movies about the Black Panther Party, different groups that were going on, so we could educate people about what was what was happening. During the anti-war movement we had a lot of speakers that would come into our office. We would show movies about what was really going on in Vietnam as opposed to what the news was saying was going on in Vietnam. So it was pretty much a coalition of lots of folks that were in the anti-war movement and then there was a big sit-in at... You know, it started with a lot of teach-ins at Case Western Reserve, and then the kids took over the campus. We moved our newspaper office into the basement of the Baker Building on the campus, and we were active with the Campus Ministry at Case Western Reserve. There was also a coffeehouse down there, the name of which I can't think of right now. So the newspaper printed articles about what was going on in the underground movement in the country. And we also had What's Happening. So we would have a back page calendar where people would know where the movies were, who the speakers were, what was going on in the city, coordinating kind of all the movement people.
Mark Souther [00:07:52] That was all done from here in Coventry.
Carole Close [00:07:58] Yeah, well, we're not there. Well the folks lived in Coventry, but we had the office on Euclid Avenue. [crosstalk] Yeah, no, it was in this little building near the Outpost around 123rd and Euclid. It was only during the student takeover of the campus that we moved office to the Baker Building.
Mark Souther [00:08:19] That was the coffeehouse that you've mentioned before.
Carole Close [00:08:19] The Outpost. Yes. I'm sorry.
Mark Souther [00:08:26] It's OK. You mentioned also the Weather Underground.
Carole Close [00:08:33] The Weather Underground. There were some folks that belonged to SDS that were in Cleveland, two of whom joined the Weather Underground. Terry Robbins and Kathy Boudin. And Kathy Boudin was the best friend of Carol McEldowney, who was my co-editor of the Burning River News. And Kathy spent a lot of time and Terry spent a lot of time in the apartments on Hampshire.
Mark Souther [00:08:56] Is this the same thing as the Weathermen, I'm assuming? There's a group that broke off of SDS that...
Carole Close [00:09:02] Yes.
Mark Souther [00:09:02] I always thought it was the Weathermen, but you mentioned the Weather Underground.
Carole Close [00:09:06] Yes, that's right.
Mark Souther [00:09:07] Are they synonymous?
Carole Close [00:09:08] Yes. Synonymous. Yes. And Terry Robbins died in the apartment that blew up in New York City where they were making bombs or whatever they were doing. And Carol went to prison. I'm sorry, carol died in a car accident coming from San Francisco to Cleveland. Kathy went to prison for an action and I guess was released maybe three or four years ago.
Mark Souther [00:09:39] Fascinating that there was a Coventry connection there [crosstalk] to what happened in New York, and I've never heard that story before, it's really fascinating. What are some of the businesses that you remember most fondly from Coventry Village?
Carole Close [00:09:53] Oh, Carroll Drugstore, Carroll Drugstore, which was on the corner where Hunan's is right now, the best drugstore in the whole world. Of course, Tommy worked in the drugstore that was up here on the corner. You know, I don't know, but the restaurant was in the back of the drugstore. There were like four booths or something there. When he was in high school he worked there. That was before he grew up and opened up a restaurant. There have been so many different businesses. There was a coffee shop that was behind that Coventry, like the Grog Shop and stuff, that little courtyard that was, I think, Carl Jones's first coffee shop. There was the leather store. I really liked High Tide Rock Bottom but that's been here for a long, long time. A lot of the stores that were here when the poultry market and stuff was here are gone. You know, the street's changed a lot.
Mark Souther [00:10:57] Can you tell me why you liked Carroll Drug so much?
Carole Close [00:11:01] Because it had... Because it was... They were very nice. It was like your neighborhood drug store. You could get soaps that just smelled amazing and you could get incense that you couldn't buy anywhere. You see, this was all strange stuff back in these days. You know, you had to get them, and there was just a nice... Whatever you needed, they always seemed to have. And it was an enjoyable time to walk up the street and visit the drugstore.
Mark Souther [00:11:35] Do you remember, someone else mentioned sort of a spirit of give and take, a spirit of bartering, even, in businesses? Do you have any memories of that? One person mentioned, for example, wanting something at an antique shop, an old phonograph set, and he traded the table for it and said that was really something he liked about it.
Carole Close [00:11:59] No, I don't remember. I don't remember a lot of that. I remember that the police wouldn't let us stand on the sidewalk and talk to each other. I remember that we used to have to walk. They had two crosswalks. And as long as... we would just keep making circles around. And there was like a tension between the older Jewish people who were afraid of the hippies, and the hippies and hippies weren't going to hurt the Jewish people, you know. And to me, there's different kind of hippies. I mean, I'm not just talking about drugged out hippies. I'm talking about politically active hippies. And it was a safe place to live because you couldn't live anywhere else in the city of Cleveland or in the surrounding area in those days. So it was a welcoming place. And Irv's coffeehouse, that was an amazing place. I mean, everybody went to Irv's. You could just sit around and run into people and have political conversations and talk. But that was before coffeehouses.
Mark Souther [00:12:56] When you mentioned police harassment, it's interesting because on the one hand, Coventry was the one place that hippies could be, and it was also a place that you faced harassment, so it's an interesting tension.
Carole Close [00:13:09] Yes. And there was Ronald Seltzer, the head narcotics officer, I never forget him. He retired, I guess, a couple of years ago. Yeah. There was there was always a tension. We had FBI people watching us, too, because of the of the underground newspaper and the SDS people. So they were around also.
Mark Souther [00:13:33] Would you say that the police presence and the heavy handedness played any role in sort of killing the scene on Coventry or did the scene play out? Or would you characterize it some other way?
Carole Close [00:13:50] What I remember is... I'll give you, I'll use the Coventry Street Fair as an example. When we had the first Coventry Street Fair, we spent hours cleaning up, I mean, picking up every piece of paper that we could find because we knew that if we didn't do that, they'd never let us have another Coventry Street Fair. But it was because everybody who lived around here worked on that street fair. And then each year they would get bigger and bigger and bigger and drunker and drunker and drunker. And it just got too much. You know, different kinds of folks came. It got rowdier. You had a lot of motorcycles and beer, and it just didn't go with what was happening before. And so the street fair stopped. And, you know, we also got older. And so when you get older, you get a family, you have kids, your life changes. So, you know, I don't remember sitting around on Coventry much after 1980 myself. But a lot of folks did, you know, there was a big active coffee shop scene in the '80s here. But that was not part of my life at that time. My life was earlier here, but it's always been in my heart. I mean, I bring my daughter. I don't live far from here. So when I decided to buy a house, I wanted to live between Coventry and Cedar and Lee because, you know, the Coventry neighborhood is... It's just the neighborhood. I don't know how to explain it. There's nothing like it.
Mark Souther [00:15:34] I live here too, actually, in this same neighborhood. You mentioned the street fairs ceased for a while and it clearly came back. How long was it out of commission?
Carole Close [00:15:45] Oh, I don't remember that. I'm sorry.
Mark Souther [00:15:49] A few years, or was it very brief?
Carole Close [00:15:50] I don't know. I honestly don't know.
Mark Souther [00:15:54] On another...
Carole Close [00:15:54] I'd have to think hard about that one.
Mark Souther [00:15:56] That's okay...
Carole Close [00:15:58] But the merchants will know. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:16:00] Yeah. I just thought I would ask. Do you remember the Hells Angels?
Carole Close [00:16:05] Yes.
Mark Souther [00:16:07] I was assuming so.
Carole Close [00:16:07] The Grog Shop. Whatever was there before the Grog... it had a different name. Oh, my God. I don't remember. But it was where the old Grog Shop was, down towards Mayfield.
Mark Souther [00:16:21] Was it the See-Saw?
Carole Close [00:16:21] Yeah, that's what it was, and that's where they hung out. We didn't have much to do with them. I don't remember having much to do with them, but you have to remember, most of my life was with these political people. And so we were pretty active even though we lived... We also kept... Because we were doing what we were doing, we had to keep that private because it just would open us up to harassment. So we didn't go out on the streets and say, hey, look at us. We stayed in our apartment and did what we needed to do. For example, Jerry Rubin came to Cleveland and he spoke at a Amasa Stone Chapel. So that night he slept in the apartment that I lived in. He was a friend of Carol... of my roommate Carol. But you didn't... You didn't want to say a lot because you didn't want to be harassed. So in that sense, we didn't socialize with the bikers because they would... They were not in the same mindset as we were. They were there. We were... And a lot of folks on Coventry were not politically involved. You know, that was not true for all the folks that hung around. There were a lot of people who just were here because they were young kids and flower children and they wanted to be where things were happening.
Mark Souther [00:17:50] Yeah, that's sort of my impression of the counterculture is that it would have these two strands with maybe a little bit of overlap, but what other businesses would you describe as being places that you frequented in the early to mid 1970s?
Carole Close [00:18:12] You know, I wish I could be more helpful. There was a store on the corner up here where the Inn on Coventry now is. And that was the first kind of like Passport to Peru store that was here. But I don't remember the name of it.
Mark Souther [00:18:30] Cargo, I think. Someone mentioned....
Carole Close [00:18:30] That... that could. Yes. That was an amazing store.
Mark Souther [00:18:35] And I'm mostly interested... I'm not so interested in documenting what was where because I can do my own research and find that. I'm more interested I think in getting any stories that... anything you'd like to tell... along the line of fond memories of the businesses or...
Carole Close [00:18:53] Well, there was Daffy Dan's. Daffy Dan's was on Coventry where you could buy tickets for the rock concerts. That was one really nice thing because you didn't have to worry... there wasn't any Ticketmaster. So you could just come up here and get tickets to all the concerts that you wanted to go to. There was also a Record Revolution, well, Coventry Books. So there was Irv's, Carroll Drugstore, Daffy Dan's, the leather store. The Cargo store here. Most of it... It was just like a downhome neighborhood kind of thing, you know, you didn't have to go to the mall, you know, I don't remember when Severance was built. But you didn't have to go to a mall. Everything was just right here. It was just a nice neighborhood. So that you would go up and you would see people, you'd run into people. There was always fliers. You could always find out the information you needed. There was distribution points for political information. So everything was right here. That's how I remember it. There was... the hardware store was always there, but it wasn't as many restaurants as there is today.
Mark Souther [00:20:09] I have another question. You mentioned--I think if I remember right at the very beginning--you mentioned you were involved in the civil rights movement.
Carole Close [00:20:15] Yes.
Mark Souther [00:20:17] Well, of course, in Cleveland Heights there was the beginnings of African Americans into Cleveland Heights and of course before that Shaker Heights...
Carole Close [00:20:27] Yes.
Mark Souther [00:20:28] What do you remember about either that sort of activity in Cleveland Heights in the '60s and/or '70s and also reactions to it that you observed?
Carole Close [00:20:50] Well [crosstalk], I worked in the Cleveland schools, and so I worked in predominantly black schools. So for me, my activities around those issues were in the city and I didn't... Heights Community congress started, and I know that there were people who were interested in fair housing, but I wasn't involved in those activities. Most of my activities were focused in the school system and after the... There was a group that formed that used to meet in various locations in Cleveland Heights called the Cleveland Women's Liberation Movement, and we... There were a couple of plays that were put on. We would hold meetings. We had focus groups. We had small groups, women's groups. And a lot of the folks who were in those meetings with me decided to be in the health field and started the preterm abortion clinic here in Cleveland. But my focus was in education. So I went that route.
Mark Souther [00:22:08] So you were probably... You were around at the time when things were happening at Murray Hill School.
Carole Close [00:22:13] Well, right, there was... That's when CORE had... Bruce Klunder was run over by the bulldozer. His wife started a preschool at the Church of the Covenant. I can't think of her first name. Joanne Klunder. Betty Eck was part of that group. There was a group that was kind of headquartered in the Heights called Clergy and Laity Against the War. Some of those folks were politically active with CORE, with the Karamu Theater, with producing books. There was a book production company that--the name isn't coming to me--that put together a little paperback books about black history. Betty Eck started the food co-op because people wanted to have a way to buy food, but that was down towards Case Western Reserve. Joanne started the Coventry preschool because people wanted an alternative for their kids that was integrated. I myself have a multiracial daughter. So there was a lot of political action going on. We raised money for the Black Panther Party when the head of the party was arrested. They just have an office down at 79th and Central or 71st and Central, I don't remember right now. And they had an after-school busing program to the prisons for... and so we would support that program and also feeding the children. So there was money raising that went on around here. But as far as actually integrating, I wasn't involved in integrating the neighborhoods. But I but I know folks that lived in the Ludlow area. In fact, a campus minister from Case Western Reserve who was a big activist lived over there. So there'd be meetings about that.
Mark Souther [00:24:16] Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Carole Close [00:24:16] No, I think that's enough. I just think that people don't really... I've been to several meetings where people have talked about the history of Coventry. And they seemed to leave out the political part of what went on here. But it really was an area where a lot of political activists were able to live and have discussion groups and...
Mark Souther [00:24:38] I'm glad you came because you are the only person today who's talked about that and everyone else has talked about the general "hippie" scene rather than political activism.
Carole Close [00:24:53] And also a lot of the Free Clinic people lived around here. When the Free Clinic first started, a lot of the folks that that worked in the Free Clinic lived around Hampshire and Lancashire and some of these side streets, and that was an amazing organization because it met needs that weren't being met in this city whatsoever at the time it started. And Jeanne Sonville, who has since passed away, was a real pioneer and really became a role model, and she was one of my mentors, myself, personally. She just was an amazing person. And so all of that together, all of that action, the anti-war stuff, the women's movement, the Free Clinic, all the kind of--what's the word?--counterculture stuff was kind of around the Coventry area, which is... And a lot of those folks are gone because I came here with a friend of mine and she knows everybody that's outside. But she didn't start hanging around in Coventry till about 1984, so it's a different generation and a lot of people that I would have known aren't here anymore. They're gone. They left to become activists somewhere else. So I guess that's... People don't know that part of the Coventry his... Oh, the Unitarian Church. There are always activist speakers, folk singers. People would be at that Unitarian church. That was... There were a lot of old lefties from the '30s, I should add this part of the story, who have since passed away, whose children were activists at Kent State, during the shootings, because I was working on the underground newspaper when the shooting occurred. There was Ruth and Jack Emmer. They lived over on Sycamore off of Lee Road. Their son Howie was an activist at Kent. So you had all these old lefties from the '30s that were in the union movement, and they were also part of this whole area of Cleveland Heights that we would run into. They would come to the meetings and the Unitarian Church was a place where a lot of events were held around those issues. There was one other thing you made me think of that just left. There's the poet d.a. levy. Jeanne, the founder of the Free Clinic, tried to help him every way she could. There were a lot of activist lawyers also that lived in and around here and Shaker Heights. So that was also another group of folks that were... Because the Free Clinic used to have a runaway place called Safe Space where kids could run, and they would house them and give them legal help and... Also, interestingly enough, just to tell you a little bit, there is a building on at 118th and Euclid that was the first. It was called the Community Health Foundation, CHF, and those doctors were kind of, for lack of a better word, they had a socialist mentality about, well, we're not here to make money. We want to serve the people. And so they had this Community Health Foundation. And when I began teaching, that was one of the options that you could join under the health plan. Those are the original founders of the Kaiser Foundation here in Cleveland. They started out at the Community Health Foundation and then joined the Kaiser network.
Mark Souther [00:28:33] Wow, that's something I've never heard!
Carole Close [00:28:35] And those doctors are all retired because they were my original doctors. And Peter Cubberley, who was one of those--well, I don't know if Peter was in the first part at CHF--but Peter was a Kaiser doctor who ended up then running the Free clinic for a while. So, oh yeah, there's a lot of... Now that man... Oh, Pee Wee! Pee Wee's Bicycle Store.
Mark Souther [00:29:00] That's Pee Wee.
Mark Souther [00:29:01] You need to get him. Yes, you do.
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"Carole Close Interview, 18 June 2011" (2011). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 911056.