Almost 40 years ago, artist Mark Gubin climbed up to the roof of his home —which happens to be in the flight path for airplanes preparing to land at General Mitchell International Airport—and generously painted the words, “Welcome to Cleveland.”
Clearly, Gubin wanted people, whether they were coming in for a vacation or just passing through on the way to somewhere no doubt less exciting, to feel good about arriving in his city. You see, Cleveland is a cool, cosmopolitan city in which you can visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the house from A Christmas Story. Gubin knows all of this, and that’s why he wants to welcome passengers to the
Mistake by the Lake Sixth City.
Oh, what’s that? Gubin doesn’t live in Cleveland? Well, where the hell does he live?
Wait, why is this dude who lives in Milwaukee welcoming people to the city that’s about a seven-hour drive away? Turns out, Gubin just likes to screw with people.
“There’s not a real purpose for having this here except madness, which I tend to be pretty good at,” Gubin once told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Here are the story’s origins, from the Journal Sentinel:
Gubin, a nearly retired photographer, has an art studio in this building that once housed a movie theater here on the corner of Delaware and Rusk avenues. And his living quarters are where the balcony used to be.
And above that is the roof, where he was having lunch one day in 1978 with a woman who worked as his assistant. Taking note of all the low-flying planes, she said it would be nice to make a sign welcoming everyone to Milwaukee. “You know what would even be better?” Gubin said.
The next thing you know, he’s out there on the black roof with a roller and white paint creating the sign that would bring more notoriety than anything else in his long career. A story about his confusing message ran in thousands of newspapers and magazines, on national TV news, “The Tonight Show,” Paul Harvey, all over.
Cleveland wanted to know if he was making fun of them, a favorite sport back then. The answer was, yes, a little.
From what Gubin has been told since he first took to the rooftop 37 years ago, there was a Northwest Airlines flight that regularly flew from Denver to Cleveland, using Milwaukee as a stopover, that would make sure its passengers knew that they weren’t yet to their final destination.
The Common Council president at the time, Ben E. Johnson, also once sent a tongue-in-cheek letter that the sign was causing “outrage and panic,” but that the city of Milwaukee wasn’t going to try to stop him.
“It was all tongue-in-cheek, just for fun,” Gubin said. “Living in the world is not a dress rehearsal. You better have fun with it.”