Elephant Stairs, More Trains, Wind Turbine

I knew I wanted to go on an excursion while visiting my parents in hometown Cleveland for Christmas. They had been looking out for infrastructural opportunities for me in the approaching weeks and I settled on a few in the University Circle area, not far from their house.

First of all, this excursion gave Indiana’s a run for its money in terms of temperature – it was in the 20’s with wind chill. I’m getting sick of these hurried, freezing outings. It feels quite limiting. Could I get a warmish day soon? 40 degrees would be just fine!

I feel the need to give some background first since this outing felt much different to me than others. For me, these explorations deal with ideas of point-of-view (for example, they’re often places I’ve seen frequently from one vantage point and want to visit from another); the meaning of spaces through accumulation of experiences in them; and exploration, childlike¬†curiosity. This one touched on all of these things in such a different way because of my different relationships and history with these places than New York ones.

My dad graduated from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU, the institution that University Circle is named for) twice, before I was born. I went to preschool and kindergarten just blocks away. Then, in high school, I took classes at CWRU my senior year of high school and attended their science fiction marathon with my boyfriend at the time. My best friend and her future husband also attended school there and I visited at least once. At some point I took the Rapid (Cleveland’s commuter train) to or from the University Circle stop.

All of these things make me feel that I have a relationship with the place, both in literal ways since I can recall times I was there, and also in a more intangible way. It’s as if the people close to me who have close relationships to the space bring it closer to me too, as if I can feel being there through their memories and experiences.

But the place feels more distant too. I no longer remember my way around as well, I hadn’t been there in a while. I feel like I have to reach back through time and into my memories in order to access a connection for it. In contrast, all of my New York place memories were made in the past ten years and some much more recently. It’s just seems like a different set of emotions.

Now to my actual excursion! Dad and I started by driving into the CWRU campus. We walked between dorms at the top of the hill. He pointed out the window of the room where he used to live. Everything was deserted, the university was on winter break.

Dad’s old dorm at CWRU

We walked along a sort of ridge at the top of the hill. It’s clear from here how Cleveland Heights got the “heights” part of its name! It’s definitely an incline down to the city of Cleveland proper.

It wasn’t long before we reached our destination: the top of a big staircase dubbed “the Elephant Stairs”. Dad thinks this is because of their depth in some places, the size of an elephant’s stride?

At the top of the Elephant Stairs

Dad heading down the Elephant Stairs

Looking down the zigzagging stairs

The style of the awning over the staircases reminds me of the ones over some stairs down to Rapid stops, particularly along Shaker Boulevard is what comes to mind. It looks a bit 70’s, but I suppose it’s functional to keep snow and rain off of the steps and pedestrians.

The stairs are in a number of sections separated by round-floored, hexagonal-ceilinged landings. The landings’ perimeters are flanked with benches, which must be quite nice in warm weather but seemed strange to see in the cold.

One of the landings

Looking up at where we started

Down the second flight of stairs

Thinking about it now, I’m sure Dad took us to the top and not the bottom by design. Climbing down was easy but that’s a long way up!

Especially as we advanced further I noticed the pathway and construction of the stairs from the outside. If it were up to me I might call them the snake stairs, since the flights wind back and forth down the hill and each of the wooden supports forms a full circle around the steps and awning.

The first stretch of stairs

Looking down the stairs

When we reached the bottom, cold as I was, I wanted to see more! Dad offered to walk back up and bring the car around. I walked the two blocks or so around the corner to the Rapid station. Here, the tracks run parallel to freight train tracks. I remember watching freight trains from the car as we drove underneath the train bridge as a kid.  As I approached I heard the roar of a freight train and started running towards it to catch a glimpse. I peeked through the chain link fence as it went by. Freight trains have so many cars and make such a satisfying, powerful noise.

Dorms at the bottom of the stairs

Freight train

Freight train

The Rapid station is at a bend in the road, on a bit of a hill. I stood in its tiny employee parking lot and waited for a Rapid to come. A transformer buzzed overhead and I was cold.

Loud transformer

Rapid station and bridge over Cedar Road

Dad pulled up shortly, and I knew this leg of the excursion would be over soon. I took refuge in the car for a few minutes and looked up the Rapid schedule on my smart phone (always a handy companion on excursions). I hopped out just in time to watch one pass, then another. Sometime I think I would like to ride the rapid again. I remember taking it with friends in high school to Tower City Center, the mall made out of an old train depot at the base of the Terminal Tower.

The Rapid Train

Rapid train in the station

Rapid train approaching from the other side

Before we had to leave I got to see one more freight train go by. If it was warmer I could have stood out there all day watching the trains.

Another freight train

Freight train

I hopped in the car and tried to warm up as we drove to our final stop not far away: a wind turbine recently installed on a lawn at CWRU. Mom had posted photos of it being assembled, including of its blade sitting on the ground. This was another facet to my different experience of this place: seeing somewhere I was familiar with transformed by a new object first online and then in person.

I walked right up to the turbine. The scale of it was huge, like a cold, mechanical redwood tree. It vibrates inside as it does its work.

Wind turbine

Standing at the base of the wind turbine

I walked all the way around, observing the blades from each angle. It was plenty windy giving it lots to do.

Wind turbine

Wind turbine

Back of the wind turbine

Before hopping back in the car I snapped a picture of a couple of CWRU buildings and a power plant, right across the street from the turbine. This view is as if I were walking to the class I took in high school, or into the Sci Fi Film fest, and had just turned to look at where I got dropped off.

CWRU buildings and power plant

See a map of Elephant Stairs, trains, and wind turbine

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3 Responses to Elephant Stairs, More Trains, Wind Turbine

  1. jess says:

    Those stairs are too neat. They’re like kinda kitschy but really cool. I think I could hang out on/in them for a long time!

    Also very cool to kind of revisit your family’s history, and your own a little bit!

  2. Jim says:

    I think the elephant stairs got their name because the round cross-section makes them look a bit like an elephant’s trunk.

    • Tracy says:

      I attended Case from 1976 – 81, and they were called Elephant Stairs back then, too. There was no cover whatsoever, just concrete stairs open to the weather. They were a real bitch in winter.

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