Wendel on the Web is WKYC reporter/producer Kim Wendel's "take" and commentary on the news of the day

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It's the story that is more myth than fact, that the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland caught fire.

But the fact still remains that, on Sunday morning, June 22, 1969, an oil slick near Republic Steel on the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Yes, the severely polluted river caught fire, and became a story that prompted pop songs and lots of change.

The fire -- one of a string of fires dating back to the early 20th century -- was at a time when activists for all sorts of causes -- especially the environment -- began taking front and center.

That is why the 1969 fire resulted in the Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Bet you didn't know that's what prompted the creation of the EPA!

Cleveland didn't need any more bad publicity, especially about all the polluted water from industrial waste. Back then, water pollution was considered to be a necessary evil as a by-product of businesses that helped the city's economy.

The 1969 fire, according to news reports, caused about $100,000 worth of damage to two railroad bridges. That fire changed everything.

And the other attention came from Randy Newman's 1972 song "Burn On," R.E.M.'s 1986 song "Cuyahoga," and Adam Again's 1992 song "River on Fire."

If you've seen the movie "Major League," you know Newman's song. My favorite chorus is: "Burn on, big river, burn on; Burn on, big river, burn on; Now the Lord can make you tumble, and the Lord can make you turn, and the Lord can make you overflow, but the Lord can't make you burn."

But I digress.

Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland named their Burning River Pale Ale after the event.

That summer Sunday my boyfriend and I had taken our customary drive down to Akron, where we spent a lot of time. The fire didn't even make the evening news. But 13 days later, while we were down in Akron -- Fairlawn to be exact -- a terrible storm later dubbed the Ohio Independence Day derecho of 1969 trapped us down there overnight because so many trees had fallen across Route 8. That definitely made the news.

But back to the future.

Cleveland was already in the spotlight because, in 1967, the city had elected Carl Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city. He even held a press conference along the river the next day. This was big news once again in the Best Location in the Nation. (Remember that slogan?)

So, as you relax and unwind from a busy Saturday and Sunday of weddings and parties and such, go back to the future in your mind and think of what's next!!!

Follow Kim Wendel on Twitter @KimWendel

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