Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, first published in 1923, is as an iconic part of newspaper comics as perhaps any strip which has ever been published. Over the years Ripley’s has grown to more than 100,000 cartoon panels with a peak readership of 80 million people a day.
Why does this matter to Twinsburg? Because our small region has appeared in a Ripley’s panel on three separate occasions.
The first was published on December 26, 1962. It featured Moses and Aaron Wilcox, not just because they were Twinsburg first twins, but because of how similar their lives were. Many people remember this particular cartoon panel plastered on the walls of Twinsburg’s classrooms in the 1960s.
The second, published on December 12, 1993, celebrated the Twins Day Parade and the over 3,000 sets of twins who register for the event.
Finally, on August 14, 2003, Ripley’s told the tale of Mark Blumenthal’s Irish Water Spaniel Spencer. It seems Blumenthal had trained Spencer to clear the table, load the dishwasher, climb ladders and fetch drinks from the refrigerator. A lot of parents were probably jealous of Blumenthal.
Ripley’s celebrates some of the most unique aspects of America, and because of that it makes perfect sense Twinsburg has appeared in Believe It or Not! more often than areas easily twice its size. Just another reason for our region to be proud of its history.
The City of Twinsburg, though relatively young, is a wellspring of history that also offers comfort and familiarity—an area that has blossomed and evolved to include new housing developments, beautiful parks, and hubs of commerce while maintaining picturesque views worthy of a postcard. These views did not spring up overnight via the whims of mayors and city planners, but evolved with the natural passage of time to shape the cityscape we know today. Though it shares nearly 140 years of history with the Township, the city’s own unique history dates back just over sixty years. Unlike other, older villages and towns that were carved from the woods and fields of an untamed wilderness, the City of Twinsburg was created in the twentieth century by an act of political secession. The need to collect taxes from the recently announced Chrysler plant sped things along, prompting the separation of township and city and bringing jobs, other businesses, and a torrent of taxpayers to the area.
Much of the history to come would radiate outward from the square: Twinsburg Institute, Locust Grove Cemetery, family owned businesses, farms, school houses, and church after church sprang up within view. The streets lining the square, always the center of festivities. Richner Hardware, Lawson’s, and Roseberry’s took root one-by-one, providing locals with some of the amenities larger cities had to offer, with the comforts of small town familiarity.
No parking spaces to spare on a busy afternoon at the Town Square.
When new housing was needed, Glenwood Acres was created to provide it. Lowcost homes, numbering more than four hundred, began springing up in 1956 following the announcement of the new Chrysler plant. Homes would be needed to accommodate the countless new employees looking to minimize their commute to work and keep their families close. Production at the plant would begin in earnest the following year.
With each development and each alteration another farm, wooded area, and orchard would fall beneath the wheels of progress. The growing village reached the critical five thousand head count by the end of 1969, allowing it to acquire cityhood. City managers begat mayors, volunteer firemen begat paid firefighters, and mainstays of business gave way to corporations.
The 1970s would see two unique milestones come to pass: 1976 would mark the nation’s bicentennial as well as the start of Twins Days, a celebration paying homage to the Wilcox brothers, who laid the foundation for what Twinsburg would come to be. Though it began as a community-centered festival with a parade, food, contests, and a parachuting clown named Thunder Chicken, interest in the event would spread.
Area children lend a helping hand, planting flowers under the sign to Liberty Park.
The new Twinsburg High School opened in January 1999, providing students with a new learning environment when they returned from their winter break. (The “Old School” still stands, though it’s been closed for years.) The park system also received some attention, with Mayor James Karabec securing a letter of intent for the property that would eventually become the three-thousand-acre Liberty Park. The dawning of a new century brought with it many changes: some wanted, some unavoidable. Longtime mainstays like Richner Hardware shuttered their stores in response to big-box stores like Home Depot and Walmart eating away at their customer base. Chrysler, the financial backbone of Twinsburg and employer of many, closed during the summer of 2010. Economic ripples from its closure were inevitable, though the blow to the city’s tax revenues was mitigated in no small part by the foresight of former mayor Karabec, who had set in motion a plan to diversify the city’s income stream, knowing it relied too heavily on Chrysler. Mayor Katherine Procop would continue the work begun by Karabec, helping to secure new tenants and diversify city revenues. Among the new tenants operating out of the Cornerstone Business Park (site of the old Chrysler plant) are an Amazon fulfillment center and FedEx.
Twinsburg’s annual Twins Day Festival was created to commemorate the legacy of the city’s founding twins, Moses and Aaron Wilcox, and was kicked off with a flag raising and dedication of the Wilcox Monument. A comparatively inauspicious beginning (to the current incarnation), it launched in August of 1976 on a rather humble scale, as only 37 sets of twins participated in the inaugural event. It was an byproduct of the local bicentennial celebration, intended initially as a one-off event. In the years that followed, expansion was steady, so much so that today’s version bears little resemblance to the first iteration.
The first festival, held on the square, was “very rural, very Mayberry/ RFD type of event.” (Andrew Miller). Attractions ranged from sack races to a firefighter battle of the barrels. A children’s parade was held, with the wee little ones riding their colorfully decorated bicycles in a pint-sized procession. There were a few food and arts and crafts vendors peddling goods. Most notable may have the appearance of the world’s only skydiving clown, Thunder Chicken. After he landed, a magic show was performed for the children and then he was whisked away in a Wizard of Oz themed hot air balloon.
The festival may have been diminutive in scale, but proved a huge success leading to plans for a second festival the following year. By the second installation of the event, the locale was moved to the park.
In 1976, during the inaugural Twins Day Festival, a peculiar sight was observed: the only skydiving clown in the world, Thunder Chicken, hurled through the afternoon sky, safely landing on Twinsburg soil to the delight of all who were lucky enough to glimpse it. The man behind the greasepaint and guise of Thunder Chicken is Dallas Wittgenfeld, who improbably came up with the idea of a skydiving clown while serving in the army during the Vietnam War in 1969.
Wittgenfeld figured that Vietnamese orphans would never get the thrill of seeing an American clown, so he donned some makeup and deployed from an airplane high above the cheering throng. After the war he continued to delight children and adults alike with his skydiving chicanery at fairs, air shows and shopping center openings. His one-of-a-kind career was almost cut short in May of 1985 due to an arrest at Deland Municipal Airport (located in Central Florida) for flying while intoxicated.