Cleveland State University is a unique institution. As an urban university, we are intimately tied into the fabric of the community we serve. In very many ways, university programs, including the Social History and the City Project, interface directly with the community. But we are also advantaged in that our students largely come from the immediate area and often bring with them very rich experiences upon which they can draw in their academic work.
This is evident in this inaugural issue of Crooked River: Exploring Social and Urban History. The entire issue revolves around the case of Rosa O'Malia, a young Irish woman whose brutal murder serves as a vehicle for the exploration of life in Cleveland's immigrant community a century and a half ago. The initial work sprang from an undergraduate Cleveland History class taught by Professor Robert A. Wheeler in the Department of History. The coroner's inquest into the murder of Rosa O'Malia became the focus of study for a group of students. Three of those studies are published in Crooked River. We are very proud of their work. An examination of the biographies of these writers demonstrates the rich experiences which so many of our students bring to their studies. It is thanks to Jennifer Vincenty that we are able to publish a transcript of the coroner's inquest. She and Deborah Sutherland take the reader into the world of historical invention as they draw upon the historical record to provide fictional ways of presenting the texture of life in mid-nineteenth century Cleveland. Bertoldt Brecht wrote that fiction is often closer to historical truth than history itself and these studies provide two good examples of this perception. For Rebecca Laird the case has become a passion as this case has taken on a life of its own: she has pursued it well beyond the confines of the course. Playing detective, she has pursued the threads of the case, exploring the fate of the Kelleys as they were sentenced to a life of prison. She has tracked Margaret Kelley from prison to an asylum to her numbered grave. Her essay provides a compelling look at the case using a broad range of materials.
In an introductory essay, Robert Wheeler sets the stage for the case by describing Irishtown and the Cleveland of the past. Eric Meany a CSU history graduate contributes an essay which can both serve as a research guide to the use of coroner's reports and an introduction to the seamier side of life in Cleveland. A talented pianist, Eric Meany is another example of the student who brings to his studies a broad set of experiences and interests which then enrich his academic work. Finally, Judith Cetina, the Manager of the Cuyahoga County Archives, graciously contributed a description of the holdings of the Archives, an important center for the study of the history of Cleveland and the repository for many of the documents used in this issue.
In conclusion, the premier issue of Crooked River is, we believe, a good example of social history. It uses "thick description" to explore a wide range of facets of the life of average people and then builds on that to look at other issues. It is our expectation that this process of adding pieces to this particular puzzle will continue and that this issue will not be frozen at this moment but will continue to expand over time while we simultaneously present new puzzles. The record will get thicker as new layers are added. The extant original documents are published so that you, the reader, can become your own historian and construct your interpretation of what happened. For us the issue is not the crime itself but what the testimony and the judicial process itself tell us about life in Cleveland in the mid-nineteenth century. We urge you to look at the evidence and complementary materials and thus share our joy at exploring the past. Maps and archeological artifacts from Irishtown are also provided to further enrich, and complicate, your efforts. The interpretations of others are provided as are discussions of the documents themselves. Dr. Cetina's essay points out where the documents are located and the wonderfully wide range of documents which are available to you.
We welcome you to this inaugural issue of Crooked River and hope that you will share your thoughts and criticisms with us. Cleveland and Ohio is filled with people interested in history - the history of our families, our particular ethnic groups, our neighborhoods, churches, social clubs, sports teams, the multiple communities of which we are a part. The list is endless. We invite you to explore the past with us and to make your own contributions to our understanding and appreciation of that past. The process is both exciting and fun.
If you have ideas about essays which you wish to contribute or comments on this effort, please contact us.