"Willoughby, next stop, Willoughby". This famous quote from a Twilight Zone episode makes reference to an actual place in Ohio, although not one in the same. Many, many, many years ago, when I was a very young mischievous boy, Willoughby was a favorite stomping ground of mine. My aunt and uncle, who I visited often, lived there on a typical suburban street called Chestnut Hill Drive near Willo Plaza. Anyone familiar with Willoughby, then and now, knows of Willo Plaza. Chestnut Hill was a fitting name for their street because, and this shouldn't surprise you, it was built on a hill. The house they lived in was at the bottom of it. Ideal setup for a kid looking for exitement.
We spent many a summer day traversing that hill with our simply built go-karts dreaming of speed records and seeing whose would travel the farthest. Mishaps and crashes were common. We would recount in full detail our experience and near brushes with death. Their backyard was our Cleveland Stadium. We would compete in homerun derby with a wiffle ball or pick up teams to play a quick nine. If you hit it over the roof of the house it was an automatic homerun. When not outside, my cousin Gary and I spent numerous hours crashing model trains into structures we would build across the tracks and fighting battles with tiny plastic soldiers and rubber bands. Sometimes my uncle would put me to work cutting their grass. I almost got my feet cut off one time when the bolt holding the blade on sheared. The huge gash in the grass was the only evidence at which I could point to confirm my harrowing encounter.
Back when, Willoughby was also home to a well known celebrity who every Friday night put on a fake beard and mustache, horn-rimmed sunglasses with a missing lens, blew up things with firecrackers, told everyone to turn blue, and asked the question, "Whose that knocking on my phone." His name was Ghoulardi and he hosted a show that played reruns of scary movies. The house he lived in was old, secluded, and overgrown with bushes and trees. The perfect edifice for a haunting. The house is no longer there, but the story still lingers for those who remember.
"How sweet it is." My Uncle Glen's favorite saying. He was fun loving and still is. Always a ham for the cameras and a prankster. My Aunt Marge was a quiet, hard working mother of two who put up with having a nephew around making a mess and eating their food. My cousin Sandy to this day tells of an outragous story, a pure fabrication that I have no recollection of, where she accuses me of throwing her Raggedy Ann Doll into a lake we vacationed at for many years in Canada. All a part of the memories, real or imagined.
My aunt and uncle no longer live in Willoughby and the city has morphed with time. Some years later, my son lived there for a period of time. We would walk to the main street of old Willoughby to look in the shop windows and visit a place where you could have a glass of wine and a snack. The aged cannon was still there in front of the old school and the sled riding hills were still in use. Willo Plaza expanded and the old, ever popular putt-putt course we played at has long disappeared. Next time you visit the Cleveland area remember the name Willoughby and this story. It's to the east, next to Mentor. If not, enjoy your visit to "The North Coast", home of "The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame" only twenty-five minutes from Willoughby. Here are some links on Willoughby and Cleveland attractions.