What do you know about Youngstown, Ohio? Perhaps you read that it was the murder capital of the United States at one point? Maybe you heard Bruce Springsteen’s song about the area’s plight. It has been referred to as “Murder City” and referenced on HBO’s The Sopranos. The mob ran this city for a long time. Congressmen Traficant is both arrogant, troubled, and humorous. He spent time in prison for corruption charges yet some still applaud him. Forbes Magazine called Youngstown one of the “most miserable cities” in the country. I have seen it on lists of terrible cities to live in, next to isolated and uninhabitable places in the Ukraine. I am not going to deny the decline. The steel industry is gone and most of the cities population followed. It turned into a mass exodus. Some though are tough as the steel that was once produced here. The brave and prideful have stayed and I wish them the best. Most of my close family and friends still live in Youngstown today. Neither one of my parents have ever left. It’s a place that builds character. That much is absolutely certain.
I heard about a documentary on my home city and was aching to watch it from that minute on. The work put in to the production is valiant. I commend Ray Mancini and everyone else who put a much appreciated effort into this film. The history on our mob activity is almost unfathomable. It’s both fascinating and horrifying simultaneously. Our mascots are Ed O’Neill, Boom Boom, and Kelly Pavlik. Arby’s was founded in Youngstown. The first malls were designed here. Phantom Fireworks is headquartered in the heart of the city. The Warner Brothers were born in Y-Town. Remember before Walmart was a huge retail monolith? The nation had Phar-Mor, which was based in Youngstown. It was rocked by scandal and slowly went the way of the buffalo.
While I find the documentary entertaining and insightful, I don’t find it to be a definitive statement on Youngstown and it’s historical significance. So much was omitted or sugarcoated. It’s a bit ridiculous that Staughton Lynd was completely left out. He is a radical peace activist who fought to keep the steel mills open in the 1970s. Also, the discussion of race in the film is pretty light fare. There is no talk of the economic and racial inequalities that Youngstown faces. The inner city schools of Youngstown are behind the times and in desperate need of revitalization. Many places in the area need to be restructured with passion and intelligence for modern times; until then a dark cloud will cover the city and penetrate it’s inhabitants.
The dark side is something that can’t be avoided for Youngstowners. Many people in the area struggle with depression. I guess it’s hard not to feel down when the weather is bone chilling for seven months of the year. Even our heroes aren’t invincible. After an epic battle with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, South Korean pugilist Duk Koo Kim tragically and unexpectedly died. Ray is a strong man but that fight will forever haunt his entire being. Kelly Pavlik was WBC and WBO Middleweight before succumbing to the demons of alcoholism. Some people in Youngstown treated him like a piece of dirt after that. It really saddened me to hear people badmouth someone that was a world champion and always represented his city with grace. You don’t have to love the man but respect his work.
I don’t want to delve too far into negative thought because Youngstown has much to brag about. I’ll keep our Brier Hill pizza a secret and instead talk briefly about the arts. If you are over the age of twenty six but under the age of fifty, you most likely went to the Nyabinghi for concerts. Gil Mantera’s Party Dream and Grand Buffet played some of the most epic and absurdly funny shows I have ever seen in my life. Nyabinghi also hosted “Emissions of the Monolith” which at one time was the world’s biggest stoner/doom/sludge metal festival. Youngstown’s own Rebreather played the Nyabinghi and “Emissions” with regularity. It feels weird to even be typing this sentence but Youngstown was a hotbed for metal music.
Like many, I moved away from Youngstown. It’s something I personally had to do for many reasons. I see both the positives and the negatives of a place whose landscape quite shockingly resembles Gotham City (but with more abandoned buildings). I could write so much more and hope to in the near future. The city and it’s history are quite rich and unique. In the end, I will always call myself a Youngstowner.
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