CLEVELAND - Among the skills in my youth that were absolutely unattainable, but which I wanted more than anything, were the ability to fly and to have X-ray vision.
I knew no kid in my neighborhood who possessed such attributes. But I did know my television, movie and comic book hero, Superman, possessed them and always used them to benefit humankind and the American way.
So it was a walk along a nostalgic lane when I visited the actual home of Superman. The unofficial story has told us Superman was born in the far-away planet Krypton. Just before that planet exploded, a child's parents put their infant in a rocket and sent him away. In Smallville, USA, the rocket came to rest, and Ma and Pa Kent raised the youngster, naming him Clark.
With skills far beyond mere mortals, the youngster grew into Superboy and later Superman before moving to Metropolis. Well, you know the story of Superman. But that story is not the official story.
Really, Superman was born in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. That's where two high school boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, created him.
Siegel's house on Kimberley Avenue is where most of their writing and cartooning work was done. They were later paid a small amount of money and Action Comics took their creation. Superman became a worldwide hit.
Though both Siegel and Shuster have died, Siegel's house is still on Kimberley Avenue. On the 75th anniversary of his creation, tourists stop by to photograph the house, which is filled with Superman signs and memorabilia. Outside, the big red and yellow "S" points the way.
On the front porch, there is also a woman wearing a blue T-shirt with a big red and yellow "S" printed on it. Hattie Gray is the owner of the home.
"Yes, I am Superwoman," she said, with a big grin.
"I AM Superwoman," she reiterated. Hattie and her husband, Jefferson, own the home.
"When we bought this house 30 years ago, we had no idea who had lived in it all those years back," she said. It was in the 1980s a historian told them the co-creator of Superman did his work there.
Shuster, who lived a few blocks away at the corner of Amor Avenue and Parkwood Drive, worked with Siegel on their "Superman" concept at the Kimberley Avenue address.
Gray's third floor has been turned into a museum with Superman memorabilia all over the walls. Sweat shirts, Superman costumes, comic books, coffee mugs and scores of other items are there in tribute to the Man of Steel.
"This was all my father's idea," said Fannie Gray, daughter of Hattie and Jefferson. "He's got Superman water jugs, Superman headphones, book bags and characters all over the place."
The Grays keep a registry of visitors to their home. They even have comments by a Michigan couple who became engaged in their third-floor Superman room.
"The man actually pulled off his shirt and showed his girlfriend he was wearing a Superman T-shirt," Fannie said. "That's when he asked his girl to marry him." A few weeks later, the couple returned and exchanged their wedding vows in the old room where Siegel and Shuster made history with their fictional character.
The Grays and thousands of others who are celebrating Superman's 75th birthday are quick to tell anyone that the Man of Steel was not born on the planet Krypton. He was born in Cleveland.
His birth was brought by two teenaged boys from Glenville High School. On the third floor of Siegel's house, they drew a picture of a man wearing a red, blue and yellow suit with a cape that trailed him. The man possessed superhuman qualities. He could fly, had x-ray vision, enormous strength, could leap tall buildings with a single bound and could outrace a speeding bullet. One boy drew the character on paper and the other wrote the words that were the first Superman comic strip.
Though Siegel and Shuster are gone, their creation lives on and has been celebrated by many generations around the world. However, in a house on Cleveland's Kimberley Avenue, Superman is celebrated around the clock every day of the year. On every wall of the third floor in the small frame dwelling, Superman is present, giving his strength to a family that had no idea what they were buying when they bought the house where Superman was born.