CLEVELAND - When James Jessen Badal walks through Halloran Park on Cleveland's West 117th Street, he contemplates what could have happened to a 10-year-old girl who walked the same plot of land 63 years before, bound for her home. She was just a short walk away but never made it.
In fact, Beverly Potts was never seen again. It was as if the air had swallowed her.
It was August 24, 1951 when Beverly wanted to hear the live music and singing and see the dancing which would be presented off the stage of the Showagon, a local traveling entertainment show which toured a circuit of parks and playgrounds in Cleveland. It was sponsored by the City of Cleveland's Recreation Department and the Cleveland Press newspaper.
With her parents' permission, Beverly and her best friend, next-door neighbor Patsy Swing, 9, walked the two blocks to Halloran Park. It was early in the evening as the Showagon was setting up for its performances featuring amateurs who tap-danced, played instruments, and sang. A crowd of 1,500 people had gathered at Halloran Park, one of the centers of activity in the West Side blue collar neighborhood.
"A lot of the acts were high school kids who would try out for a spot on the roster," said Badal, an English and journalism professor at Cuyahoga Community College and the author of a book, "Twilight of Innocence" on the Potts girl’s disappearance.
From their homes on Linnet Avenue, the girls had ridden their bicycles to the park. However, because of the crowds, they thought they could better maneuver through all the people if rode their bikes home and returned on foot. They did that.
Badal said as the skies began to darken, Patsy thought it better if she go home.
"At about 8:45 pm, Patsy got a little nervous and said, 'It's getting late; I think we better go home,'" said Badal. He added Beverly remembred her mother said she could stay for the whole show, so the two girls said good night to each other and separated. Beverly stayed for the entire Showagon performance.
The Cleveland sky turned purple. There were no lights at Halloran Park. When the Showagon pulled the plug on its stage lights, the glow from the entertainment was gone.
Beverly did not show up at home. Her parents, frantic, called police. There was a wide search for the girl, but police could turn up nothing. Days went by and still nothing. As police broadened their investigation, they interviewed a 13-year-old acquaintance who said he remembered seeing Beverly walking diagonally across the park, headed in the direction of Linnet Avenue, presumably intent on going home.
There were no other people who noticed anything else.
There was little local television news in 1951. However, the three Cleveland newspapers showed up to follow the story. Reporters with The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Press, and Cleveland News were on Linnet Ave. Radio reporters also showed up. "The reporters and the photographers were camped out here for about two weeks and it was a circus," said Badal, standing in front of the house where the heartbreak was so heavy 63 years before.
There were hundreds of tips which came in, but nothing panned out. Someone said they thought they saw a girl in a car. The witness got only three letters and numbers on the Ohio license plate. Using those numbers, police went through every license plate and tracked down the owners. Still, nothing.
Beverly was a student at a Cleveland elementary school. Officers interviewed the children in her school.
"I wonder how traumatic some of the poor kids must have been because a good friend had disappeared in 1951," said Badal. "What did police know about protecting the feelings of a traumatized child?”
Police cleared the members of the Potts household of any wrongdoing. In fact, while Beverly was at the Showagon in Halloran Park, her mother, father, sister, and her mother's cousin were all watching a Cleveland Indians baseball game on television.
Badal said because the August evening turned cool with an expected low of 47 degrees, there were fewer people sitting on their front porches who could have seen the girl going home. Those residents of Linnet were inside their homes that evening.
"I can't imagine that anyone saw anything that they did not report to the police," said Badal. "I just can't imagine that happening in a neighborhood like this."
The disappearance of the girl sent reverberations through Cleveland and beyond. Parents watched their children more closely and Halloran Park was almost an off-limits place for many children. Across the city, the story was told.
"KJids were not allowed out of their houses at night," said Badal.
Beverly's mother, Elizabeth, died in 1956. Those who knew her said she was so traumatized, she died of heartbreak. Her father continued to live in the frame house until his death, which came about many years later. Although there were tips police followed and individuals interviewed, there were never any arrests which led to charges. There was never a body found.
Beverly Potts vanished that August evening.
At her parents' gravesites, there is a memorial marker. It reads, "In Memory of Beverly Rose Potts". However, beneath the marker, there is no body buried. Beverly Potts simply vanished 63 years ago as she walked home.