"You Really Should Have Been Here Yesterday" Sharkey's Hill
A reprint from our second year, Volume 2 Issue 1
Last week a Lakewood Observer reporter asked why Lakewood didn't have a good sledding hill.
"Sledding Hill!" I turned and said, "Sledding Hill! We had one of the best."
"That little hill at Kauffman?" the reporter queried.
I looked and stared deep into her eyes and said, "No, Sharkey's Hill."
The room fell silent. A couple of the long time residents turned pale with a look similar to that of a child who just saw a ghost.
"That name sounds a little scary," she said.
"That's nothing compared to the Real Thing," I remarked.
Sharkey's Hill, for those who do not know, ran down the side of the cliff on Riverside Drive. That's right, straight down the cliff on a slight angle with only a small curve at the end. But again it was down the cliff from Riverside Drive right down to the river, and hopefully not in it!
As a person that grew up near "The Hill," I soon became a little jaded about riding it down, after breaking my cherry at a very young age.
Growing up on Riverside meant that you could climb the cliff like the monkeys of Malta.
We often joked, "You know what they a call a kid stuck on the cliff?"
"Tourist" we would all chime in.
Each year the city would pull off kids from Rocky River, Bay, Cleveland, but almost never one from Lakewood.
A Lakewood kid would rather fall down and break a leg or collar bone, than get dragged off the cliff by the police.
After sliding down the cliffs in summer, I found Sharkey's was easier on the pants, bones and hands. But to the wash-a-shores and "tourists," Sharkey's was unbelievable.
Imagine the look tourists give the surfers at Waimea Bay in Hawaii during Big Surf. Sure we all want to ride one, but at what cost?
Every day another group of kids would show up, walk to the edge and just turn white. You would see them mumble. Catch that nervous laugh. Then half the time the group would leave. I mean, who wants to die sledding?
And death was everywhere on "The Hill."
There was always the talk "¦ "You really should have been here yesterday." "I heard a kid died yesterday." "They took a guy out of here on a stretcher, wasn't moving much."
This talk always uncorked around the fire located at the top of the "short" hill. I say short because it only really chopped 30 feet off the top, but what a 30 feet that was.
What added to the total mystique of the place was the fact that the hill was a real sled-breaker. As riders broke their sleds they would throw them up into the trees where they would hang looking like skeletons of the dead. At dusk these sled skeletons would come to life in a macabre dance of death moving back and forth through the trees as the fire flickered.
Before any ride you would first climb down to a lower level. From there you could see the condition of the hill"”icy, powdery, rutted or just plain nasty.
As you slid down the side and approached the fire, someone would yell "off." Then another coated person was off down the hill.
Along the left would be those who had made it, trudging up the hill. What always made this interesting was the possibility that at any minute a sled and rider could separate. Worse yet, the rider could lose control, smashing into anyone or anything.
Hazards included other sleds, rocks and trees. Or the rider might simply go over the cliff!
At one point the city put a barricade up to stop sledders. Seeing this as a kind of ski jump, inventive kids would make the barricade into a small hill.
But the pros, real pros, mind you, would start at the top, push off and even take a running start. Then they would throw their sleds down with a thud and jump on.
In a matter of seconds you had to make a life-and-death choice. Jump the barricade and with luck miss the large posts. Or turn hard right and go up the cliff around the post and down the cliff again.
To jump the barricade and head up the hill added speed to the ride. To move up the cliff and back down was tougher, however, always leading to incredible speeds.
There was always talk of speeds in excess of 50 mph. Nobody, at least to my knowledge, ever put a radar detector to the sleds on Sharkey's Hill.
Just as you would get control of your body and sled back, there was a dip that threw you to the right and back to the center. You would hold your breath as you entered another depression before sending you up and over a small jump that would turn into a full JUMP as the snow and sledding continued.
The landing was actually smoother than the ski-style jump over the barricade, and it is easy to understand why. By this point you are traveling three times faster, and the sled would stay airborne for 10-30 feet! And then the sled might possibly settle down. For the forces were so incredible on the sled and rider that this point was where they usually separated, or simply fell apart, wishing they had never started.
Once you made it into the bottom depression and the ride was over, you had to apply full brakes, drag your body, and stop the sled before it ran into the icy river. Each time a rider made it to the bottom without carrying into the river, even the most experienced ones would let loose a huge sigh of relief. You would catch your breath, look around, smell the air, wildly thankful you were still alive. Getting up, you would brush off the snow, grab your sled (or what was left of it) and head up the hill ready to dive out of the way if someone lost control. Just to tame "The Hill" one more time.
Sharkey's was legendary, our Waimea Bay. Sharkey's was where men went to feel alive.
I looked over to the reporter and smiled, saying, "Yeah we had a hill. You really should have been here yesterday."
Publisher, Lakewood Observer, Inc.