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Dirty Little Secrets: Foundations From the Past

In the early 1920s, construction began on a new city center complex that we now know as Tower City in Cleveland Ohio. At the time, engineers were faced with building a 52-story tower, which would become the tallest building outside of New York City. Not having the kinds of tools we use today to determine how to support such a structure, they used what was available to them: deep earth core samples. These samples were taken from the exact site of the building, as well as other areas in the vicinity. The samples were meticulously labeled and charted, and helped the engineers to locate the bedrock layer of sediment upon which the building would rest. 

Recovered only recently by a team of local geologists, paleontologists and glaciologists at Cleveland State University and The University of Akron, these samples hold the region’s geologic record of events over a 20,000-year period. 

DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS: FOUNDATIONS FROM THE PAST, a Western Reserve Public Media production, reports on the joint scientific project underway by scientists at UA and CSU. The team’s research includes looking at how old the various layers are; studying variations in waters levels of both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River; and determining what clues the vegetation holds about climate, water temperatures and the greenhouse effect. 

The 1920s core samples were kept by the Cleveland Union Terminal Company (the company that was building the new tower), and were then passed on to what is now the Tower City Archives. In 1999, the archivists decided they no longer needed to retain these samples, and they were donated to Mike Tevesz, professor at Cleveland State University. Tevesz put together a multi-disciplinary team to study the samples to see what information they could uncover in regards to the history of the Cleveland area and its relationship to Lake Erie. In addition, the results of these studies also will reveal information regarding the glacial activity of the area and help in the prediction of future weather patterns.

“It’s a real scientific treasure,” said paleontologist and research team leader Tevesz. “As you go down the sediment, you go back in time. It’s like turning back the pages of history.”

Among the experts featured in DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS are Michael J. Tevesz, Ph.D., Professor, Cleveland State University Dept. of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences; John Szabo, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, The University of Akron Dept. of Geology; William C. Barrow, Cleveland State University Special Collections Librarian; Nate Fuller, Geologist, State of Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey, Lake Erie Geology Group; David Ball, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Cleveland State University; Kristine Bradley, Graduate Student, The University of Akron Dept. of Geology; and Mark Tumeo, Interim Dean, Cleveland State University College of Graduate Studies and Research.

A PBS Western Reserve production, 2001.

Educational Resources

Subject Area: Science

Grade Level: Middle and High School