Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Great Lakes Expo showman, Playhouse Square host Herman Pirchner dies at 101

Herman Pirchner, the last great character from Cleveland's Great Lakes Exposition of 1936 and 1937, died Sunday at age 101.

Pirchner owned the Alpine Village supper club in Playhouse Square, booked Cab Calloway to perform, hosted Frank Sinatra in his private Eldorado Club, and made "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" for sliding across the floor while carrying dozens of steins of beer without spilling a drop. He'd honed his stunt-balancing talents as a clown and aerialist in Austrian circuses. Alana Baranick's Plain Dealer obituary is a must-read about his fantastic life.

When Cleveland dreamed up the Great Lakes Expo, our city's almost-World's Fair and ultimate spectacle, Pirchner took his showman's flair to the lakefront, building a second Alpine Village on the Expo grounds. He hired sexy fan dancer Faith Bacon to defy the Expo's second-year ban on nudity (or did she?).

I interviewed Pirchner two years ago for my article about the Great Lakes Expo. His retirement-community apartment in North Olmsted was decorated with memorabilia from the expo and his restaurant, including a photo of him smiling while sitting next to expo star Johnny Weissmuller. His feathered Alpine hat, his signature accessory for years, sat on an end-table. Pirchner's hearing was bad, and his sight wasn't great either, so I interviewed him by writing simple questions in big letters on a notebook. That got him talking. I remember his grin when he read Faith Bacon's name.

(Photo from Cleveland State University's Cleveland Press collection.)

1 comment:

Adrianne said...

I love all the Great Lakes Expo information I get from reading Cleveland Magazine and this blog.