Cleveland’s independent volunteer militia, The Cleveland Grays, were formed on this day in 1837. Originally and imaginatively called the Cleveland City Guard, the group’s distinctive gray uniforms (complete with a tall, bearskin cap à la the British Queen’s Guard) led them to adopt the name “The Cleveland Grays.”
The group’s original purpose was to aid in law enforcement and defend the still-growing city from an invasion by Canada, a fear that still strikes at the hearts of Clevelanders to this day. The Grays’ long, storied history saw service in multiple wars, including the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the First World War.
The Grays also fought against Pancho Villa’s forces as part of American interventionist actions during the Mexican Revolution in 1916. Most bizarrely, the group helped quell a two-day riot that saw enraged Clevelanders attack and raze Cleveland’s Medical College (now part of Case Western University) over an alleged case of grave robbing by the institution’s anatomy professors.
While the Grays last saw official action more than 100 years ago, they still exist to this day – albeit in a far more ceremonial manner, operating the Cleveland Grays’ Armory Museum downtown, the organization’s home since 1893.