Did you catch Monday’s This Place, This Time feature by Mark J. Price about the 1984 swingers convention in downtown Akron?
For me, the story triggered fond memories.
No, I wasn’t registered to attend the weekend bash, a two-day orgy (literally) that was set for the Cascade Holiday Inn (now the Akron City Center). In fact, a public outcry eventually got the whole thing canceled.
The story resonates with me for two reasons.
For starters, I had just taken a job at the Beacon Journal, and this was the first civic controversy I encountered. “Wow,” I thought. “This is an interesting town!”
Second, our news coverage at the time — recounted by Price — contains one of the funniest lines I have read during my entire three decades at this newspaper.
Lynn Slaby, then the Summit County prosecutor and today a commissioner of the state Public Utilities Commission, was among those leading the charge to run the happy hedonists out of town. At one point, he intoned:
“I believe it is necessary to make every effort possible to ... keep our community from being known as the sex capital of the world.”
Akron, Ohio: Sex Capital of the World.
Try to read that without laughing. I can’t.
In retrospect, given the rapid denouement of our halcyon days as the Rubber Capital of the World, that was rotten strategy on Slaby’s part, because we have spent the interceding three decades frantically trying to become the SOMETHING Capital of the World.
Scheme after scheme has been trotted out in an attempt to boost tourism, everything from a $38 million Inventors Hall of Fame to a short-lived bid by the Akron/Summit County Convention & Visitors Bureau to turn Akron into the Gay Tourism Capital of the World.
You might remember it. In 2007, the CVB wanted to identify and market gay-friendly businesses to prospective tourists. It announced a big meeting for interested business owners. The response was so meager the meeting was canceled.
The problem: We needed to be more inclusive. We needed to become not just a destination spot for gays, but rather The Sex Capital of the World, catering to gays, straights and everyone else across the entire sexual spectrum.
Talk about tourism! What other topic is the subject of so many thoughts, desires, conversations, schemes, fantasies and expenditures?
As the capital of sex, we would have boasted an industry that is absolutely recession-proof.
Imagine all the potential revenue streams! Imagine the possibilities for cross promotion! Imagine the constant, worldwide publicity! By now, Akron-Canton Airport would have been busier than O’Hare and Hartsfield combined.
But no. Lynn Slaby killed our future.
I wondered whether the years have made him wiser, whether he tosses and turns in the middle of the night, regretting his misguided stance. So I rang him up at the PUCO.
“In retrospect,” I asked, “given all of Akron’s failed attempts to become the SOMETHING Capital of the World, did you make a horrible mistake?”
For some reason, the question struck him as humorous, and he laughed at length.
“I have to say, even in retrospect, no,” he finally responds. “I know we want to be capital of the world on something, but I think we can pick things other than the sex capital of the world.”
The 1984 dust-up made a big impression on him. “We had some crazy things happen in Summit County over the years,” he says, “but I’ve gotta say that was probably the craziest thing that I’ve ever come across.”
Even after 30 years, people still occasionally approach Slaby and tell him they voted for him in subsequent elections specifically because of his stand against the swingers.
Asked why the event would have been illegal if the activities involved consenting adults who just wanted to consent with strangers, he says the downfall of the “Frontier Frolic” can be traced to one fatal blunder by the sponsor, a magazine called Ohio Connection.
“They charged for registration, which under Ohio law would have been promoting prostitution. Candidly, if they had not had that fee to register to participate in sexual activity, I might not have gotten an injunction.”
Well, that makes things even more disheartening. But for a little greed on the part of a magazine publisher back in ’84, Akron almost certainly would have blossomed into — all together now — The Sex Capital of the World.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.