OH Really? Investigates the Case of the Missing Apostrophe

Oct 7, 2019

It's a joint that's spun into one of the region’s most popular fast-food chains. But at some point during its 85-year history, something about Swensons changed.  Many people probably never noticed, but one man did, and he reached out to us. In this installment of “OH Really?,” we try to solve the case of the missing apostrophe.

Chapter One:  The Call
The Rubber City: Akron, Ohio. It once smelled like tires, but today is just as likely to smell like hamburgers. I was working the day shift when I got a call from Roger Riddle, Vice-President of Marketing at the United Way of Summit County.

Roger Riddle (right) and WKSU's Kabir Bhatia went undercover at the Swensons on South Hawkins Avenue -- site of the very first Swensons -- to try and get a lead on the whereabouts of the missing apostrophe. Defenseless punctuation has rights, too.
Credit KABIR BHATIA / WKSU

“What's up with Swensons' name? Why is it that it’s plural, but when I look at old photos, there’s an apostrophe?" Riddle inquired.

“I am a Swensons fan, but also I do a lot of writing. I always kind of stumble over what is the proper way to use the name? I know that the founder’s name was Wesley Swenson – without an ‘S’ [at the end] – so why is the name of the company with an 'S' and not an apostrophe?”

He had me flummoxed. Surely there was more than one Swensons. Our records showed a string of 13 from Avon to the suburbs of Columbus. I dropped a dime and tried to answer Mr. Riddle’s question.

But that was a dead end. I called again and again. I even went on a stakeout at their headquarters in North Akron. No dice. But I was a stone's throw from a popular hangout, Gorge Metro Park.

Chapter Two:  A Walk In the Park
I hustled over there for the word on the street -- and to see if that word contained a missing apostrophe. I struck pay dirt with Maya Bishwa. She remembered seeing something missing from the logo.

“I mean, I just noticed it, but it didn’t really bother me.”

I asked if she would like them to have the apostrophe.

“I don't think I really care."

But I wanted “just the facts, ma’am” – the same thing I said to Leia Gallatin from Canton. She had a case of apostrophe apathy when I asked, “should [they] leave it the way it is?”

“Yes, it's been that way for however long it's been there.”

No matter, I still had a trail to follow.

Chapter Three:  You Can’t Fight City Hall
Old photos told me the apostrophe went missing sometime between the 1950s and the 1980s, when a new

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan has fond memories of his time as a carhop at Swensons in the 1980s -- just about the time the apostrophe was officially reported missing. How convenient.
Credit KABIR BHATIA / WKSU

logo appeared. So I hit up one of my informants who – in a previous life – had some dirt on the operation.

“I was at Wallhaven for a long time, then there was Stow and North Hill. And then they opened Montrose.

“You're running hard. In the average, probably seven [or] eight miles a day. And you gotta run and you gotta hustle. But that was the fun part of it, too: it let you eat anything you want.”

That's Dan Horrigan -- aka the Mayor of Akron. He was a carhop back in the 80s. Had lots of information. None I could use.

“That's a good question: I never really paid attention to the apostrophe or whether it was there. I always kind of thought it was there. I didn't think it wasn't. And what does that connotate -- the apostrophe: it's possessive, isn't it? So I wasn't real sure. That would be a good question for one of the historians at the store -- or corporate -- to ask.”

But they still weren’t talking – and the questions were mounting. Was the apostrophe being held for ransom? Who would kidnap defenseless punctuation?

Chapter Four:  Calling in some muscle
I turned to Adam Chandler. He’d spent plenty of time as a newshawk, but I thought his new book “Drive-Thru Dreams,” might contain the clue I was looking for.

Adam Chandler, author of 'Drive-Thru Dreams' -- a look at America's obsession with fast food -- has actually visited Swensons after hearing so much about it from a friend. He says there could be numerous reasons the apostrophe is missing. Or so he would have us believe.
Credit ADAM CHANDLER

“My guess is, in a lot of cases, there’s an issue of copyright or [an issue of] even adapting to a website in recent years. There could be all kinds of reasons for this to happen. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken took a huge leap in the early ‘90s by changing its name to ‘KFC.’ Completely shortened the name of the entire company, because ‘fried’ was such a bad word in the early ‘90s. It became the modern-day ‘F-word.’ It’s sort of a testament to the wild world of American industry.”

But the change at Swensons wasn’t to de-emphasize the food, and it happened long before the internet was widely available. Roger Riddle and I were coming up empty – just like our stomachs. So, we headed to the site of Wesley Swensons’ first restaurant, on South Hawkins Avenue, for a little “good cop, healthy cop.” But they weren’t prepared to spill the beans. So with our bellies full -- our question still unanswered -- we returned to the streets of Akron.

Chapter Five: Coming up empty (at least on the case)

The Stow-Kent Swensons opened in the 1980s -- about the time a script logo appeared without an apostrophe.
Credit SWENSONS

One final trip to Swenson was good for filling our bellies, but it looked like the question of the missing apostrophe was going to go unanswered. “I’m not doing anything weird with the information," Roger Riddle said between bites of his burger. "I’m not going to start some campaign on social media to bring back the apostrophe – I just want to know what happened!”

There are a million stories in the Rubber City. This has been one of them.

To be continued...?

Got a mystery for us, a question you want us to check out?  Ask WKSU's “OH Really?” -- where we make you part of the reporting process.

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