Invitation to Cleveland led Dr. Seuss to leave out Lake Erie jab in ‘The Lorax’

Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American author and illustrator best known for authoring children's...
Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American author and illustrator best known for authoring children's book. (Source: Library of Congress)
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 6:58 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - March 2 celebrates National Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, but did you know there’s a Cleveland connection to one of the most beloved authors?

However, you won’t find it in one of his books... anymore.

When Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote The Lorax in 1971, he penned a jab of Lake Erie in the book that chronicles the plight of the environment and the titular character who confronts it.

While it may or may not have served as the direct inspiration for the line, the book was first published just two years after the infamous Cuyahoga River fire of 1969.

The original passage read:

“You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed!

No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed.

So I’m sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary.

They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary

in search of some water that isn’t so smeary.

I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.”

But it wouldn’t stay that way...

The fire prompted the nascent environmental movement that would change Lake Erie for the better.

Years later, two graduate students from the Ohio Sea Grant Education Program thought these improvements were drastic enough for Lake Erie to deserve to have the line changed in The Lorax too.

Claudia Melear and Margie Pless a letter to Dr. Seuss on Dec. 6, 1986, with a request for the text to be changed along with an invitation to the Lake Erie Symposium as part of the National Marine Educators Association meeting in Cleveland.

As soon as he got the letter, Dr. Seuss himself responded to the students with the news they hoped to hear.

Despite not being able to attend the Cleveland meeting to see Lake Erie’s refinement for himself, he agreed that his 1971 statement was in need of a revision.

The Ohio Sea Grant shared that Dr. Seuss’ letter stated:

“I should no longer be saying bad things about a body of water that is now, due to great civic and scientific effort, the happy home of smiling fish.

I can assure you the process of purifying my text will commence immediately. Unfortunately, the purification of texts, like that of lakes, cannot be accomplished overnight. The objectionable line will be removed from future editions. But it could possibly take more than a year before the existing stock of books has moved out of the book stores.

In the meantime, thank your letter and for all the great Loraxian work you have been doing.”

The Ohio Sea Grant said one person could influence the opinion of millions of people, and those reading The Lorax were seeing a viewpoint that no longer fit the environment it was of.

Just over fifteen years after its first publication, “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie” was no longer a line used to be rhymed with “some water that isn’t so smeary.”