As far as the Browns and their superfans, John “Big Dawg” Thompson was one of the first to become a national symbol for Cleveland. Others have been Dawg Face, Captain Cleveland, D. Dawg, Mobile Dawg, The Macho Fan, Dawgpound Mike, Pumpkinhead, and the Bone Lady.
Each of these has been featured on the Jumbotron or is a fan favorite. Photo ops from fans are a continual process when a Cleveland Browns fan decides to ramp up their fandom and become a local celebrity. Being a superfan takes a lot of commitment, preparation, and continuation.
The Bone Lady has been a Cleveland institution since 1999. A lot of folks believe that becoming this alter ego made her rich. Not hardly. She wrote a book in 2015 that is available at this link:
Dawgs By Nature published Part 1 of our interview with her, and now we present the conclusion in Part 2. Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed our time with this Browns icon.
DBN: You were honored in the Visa Hall of Fans at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton as the “2001 Fan of The Year” for the Cleveland Browns. How did you find out about this award, who was the first person you told, and how many reunions have you made?
Bone Lady: Everything is about money and sponsorship. Somebody told me to enter and let them know about me and so I did. Big Dawg had been in the initial class and this was the third class. What’s interesting is that my mom passed away in the year 2000 and then I received the letter I was to be honored. I really believe in synchronicity and all that kind of stuff. What is strange is I really just showed up and if someone suggested something I just did it. I told my brother and sister. Then the President of the Association Arrowman (Monte Short) of the Kansas City Chiefs said they wanted to get together every year and so they started this reunion. Then because I live near Canton, Ohio, they put me in charge of getting together some kids involved so I started with the United Way. The whole thing just grew and grew. Those kids were so appreciative that we wanted to now build a relationship with them. I attended seven reunions and I stopped going because of events going on in my life at the time. I just got a message from them about the 25th Anniversary coming up.
DBN: Recently you sold the iconic Bone Mobile. It appears to be in the hands of two Browns fans who plan on restoring her. How many calls did you have to buy her, and what were you feeling right before placing the ad?
Bone Lady: That car is what started all this. It was the largest piece of art I ever made. Emotionally I was very tied to it. I wasn’t able to take care of it any longer and had parked it at a friend’s paint and body shop outside. It was really in a state of disrepair and I couldn’t deal with it emotionally.
The Bone Lady’s Bone Mobile is for sale.— Barstool Cleveland (@BS_Cleveland) February 11, 2023
$500 feels like a steal for this gem pic.twitter.com/eZubHpLC4S
I didn’t know what I was going to do with it and I don’t have the money to fix it. I wanted it to go to a Cleveland sports museum because sports are so big in the city. And it wasn’t like finding a historic vehicle outside that’s been sitting in grandma’s yard for 10 years. Then my friends called and said they had sold the shop and were moving to Florida and told me that I needed to move it. At that time I was ready in letting this go. I’m into honoring what I’ve got in my life. I popped it up there on my Facebook page for sale and there was this man Brian Grill and his son Otto who were the first two to respond. Brian, who owns Pace Tire Supply in Twinsburg, Ohio, said they wanted to restore it back to how it should be. That made me so happy because I don’t have the funds to do it myself and you know it’s like a creation.
I was ready to have somebody else take over and they’ve been so great and send me little videos of their progress. They had to work on everything and basically take it apart. I got so many emails about this car. I had no idea that this car meant so much to so many fans. One restaurant wanted it. I am really happy to think about what legacy am I leaving the world that has a really good message.
Editor’s note: The Bone Lady’s legacy will be a reality when a nine-foot-long coffin is built. That beehive has to go somewhere!
DBN: So tell me about the time the bone fell off the top of the Bone Mobile.
Bone Lady: I had stopped at my cousin’s restaurant in Madonna at the Square, when I went to my car there was a note from FOX 8 in Cleveland and the note said, “We love your car, we love your car. Call us, call us, call us.” This is when the Browns were coming back so this was the day of the parade and pep rally in downtown Cleveland. I told them I had a little outfit that I put. So they come and film me driving into Cleveland all morning and when we were finished I’m like a block away from downtown Cleveland. I walked down the street and I was walking around and instantly the media surrounded me. And this woman came and said I had to be in the best fan contest. So I come up on stage, I proceeded to turn around and moon everyone with my “Art Sucks” on my biker shorts to the whole city of Cleveland. And the crowd just went crazy laughing. That woman was Tracy, who ended up as one of my best friends. In 2003 I moved to Lakewood, Ohio. One night it was snowing on a January night and my friend Tracy was with me after we got our asses kicked by Pittsburgh. On the Shoreway headed back to Lakewood, all of a sudden I hear this big “whoosh!” And I turn to Tracy and said, as I am crying, “I think the bone just fell off!”
She burst out laughing and I am traumatized. I said we could have killed a family. I told her to stick her head out of the window to see if the bone is still on top of the car while I am still driving. And she said, “Nope, it’s gone.” We get my other car and drive back and found the bone laying next to the median. Two Browns fans fixed the bone for me and reinstalled it. What was strange was that I had driven that car through thunderstorms, windstorms, and snowstorms but nothing had ever happened. I had to drive without a bone for a while.
DBN: Okay, we know you graduated high school with Jeffrey Dahmer. We have a zillion questions to ask you about him and the school years you spent around him, but we are only going to ask one question about that. Your photo is right next to his in the yearbook being alphabetically with Dahmer then Darnall. In early editions of the tabloids, the only photos they had of him were in your yearbook. How did you find out that your yearbook photo alongside Dahmer was being shown in almost every tabloid?
Bone Lady: People that I hadn’t talked to in years were calling and said they had seen it in a tabloid in the grocery store or on TV. That was a very surreal thing. I feel very horrible for the victims. That whole thing is just beyond a sad story. He was a former classmate. I knew him all through junior high and high school.
DBN: You make your living as an artist. What type of medium, where is your work sold, and how many magazines has your work been featured in?
Bone Lady: I started out as a decorative painter and my mom was in the antique business. We moved to Bath, Ohio, and with my mom’s influence, that’s how I grew up. My aunt was opening up a restaurant in Brunswick, Ohio called the Cellar Master. She was doing the décor in a primitive style and wanted something decorative in the bathrooms. My mom volunteered me to help her with the design.
I had been doing some home renovations with wallpaper and other things. I went to the library to get some ideas and literally a book fell off the shelf and opened to these Rufus Porter murals. And I just knew I said, “I’m doing that.” I went back and I just started painting and did a farm scene in the ladies’ room and a townscape in the men’s room with a cow standing over the urinal looking back. Then my mom wanted me to paint a mural on a backdrop for her booth at an antique show and that’s how I got my first big job. A couple from Stockbridge, Massachusetts hired me. Right out of the gate Early American Life magazine contacted me because they knew my mom and did an article on me as an artist. I have been in Country Home, Country Living, House Beautiful, and House and Garden. I did a job for Ralph Lauren in my third year of being in business. Usually, I would live with my clients and paint their walls. They used to do that back in the 19th century. People found me through antique shows and these magazines. Eventually, I became connected to a decorative painting studio where I learned other techniques.
DBN: If Jimmy and Dee Haslam were to hire you as team president and you are now in charge of the Browns for a week, what changes would you make?
Bone Lady: I have a problem with how many families can’t afford to go to a Browns game. You know by the time you pay for parking and everything else that goes into it, a lot of Clevelanders can’t afford to go. And certainly not buy four seats, so that makes you have to choose who stays home. I’m glad I grew up in a time where players enjoyed playing football and you got to know them. During the off-season, they had a second job. We have seen a lot of regime changes and the constant has always been the fans. The fans are always the story. I grew up a Browns fan and what happens now is the business of football. This is a great city. But fans don’t get to decide who plays for the team or who coaches the team. You don’t get to decide the plays. You are in love with something that you have no say in - that can be really frustrating. So much has happened with the business of football the way the NFL is run. I am not speaking out on anything except I’m an advocate of fans. Because you know it used to be about your city and your players. Now it’s just you know watered down because the guy that played for you all those years is now playing for your rival. I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy with the NFL. I’m just a fan like everybody else is a fan. The NFL is just now on a bigger scale. I’m just talking from my heart. My experience of being a fan is like being a part of a community and that’s really wonderful. The great thing about Browns fans is they’re all over the world so if you travel to any away games there is always a group you can join up for a day or so and have a good time. The owner I would like to have it’s the one that cares about the fans - their customer base.
DBN: Since 1999, Cleveland has been through so many head coaches, GMs, owners, and on-and-on since becoming the new Browns. Some folks think that finally, things are different. The Browns appear to have a strong foundation and a solid roster and have a recent playoff season and playoff win under their belt. Are the team and the league headed in the right direction?
Bone Lady: I used to listen to every sports radio show, but I just don’t follow it the way I used to. My life has changed in so many ways. I think the NFL is a big bunch of hypocrites. I’m sorry. What they did to Colin Kaepernick made me sick. And they have the Rooney Rule where if you have a head coaching vacancy you have to bring in at least one African-American qualified coach. You know what? Where are the black owners? I will tell you the one thing that just irked me beyond belief. With Randy Lerner, it was the legacy of his father. I’ll never forget with the Haslams, it used to be kinda homey when you went in there. Now there’s a bunch of cubicles and nobody under the age of 25. Now when you go upstairs it looks like a corporation. Oh yeah, this is where this is going. This is what businesses do - it’s all marketing to the fans and feel good but there’s nothing to back it underneath. And when groups come to the game they no longer get to sit in the Dawg Pound. They have to sit in nose bleed. The business gets in the way too much.
DBN: Today the ticket prices are expensive and several cable stations own the rights to show NFL games like the Browns making folks have to leave their homes to watch at sports bars and such. Does this make fans give up, or has the complete opposite effect in that the fan loyalty deepens?
Bone Lady: People need to make decisions for themselves. The game has become a sport that’s out of reach for a lot of people. Cleveland is a great sports city that loves their Browns. The secondary ticket sources are buying up all the extra seats and then making them too expensive for regular fans to buy. So, fans must choose which games to go to instead of back in the day when they went to them all. And now with games on NFL Network and Amazon, fans can’t see their team that they have supported for decades in their homes without paying these fees. Now we are living in a world where we have to make a lot of changes about a lot of things.
The owner of the team can change it. They could begin by not selling large blocks of tickets to these ticket houses and make them individually available to Browns fans. Tickets would then be affordable and you can buy that $12 beer or $8 hot dog. And if everybody keeps going, “Oh well, that’s the way it is”, nothing will change and it’s only gonna get worse. Do you wanna know what that would do for people in the city? I think that would be huge. They own the team - they can do it. Everything can’t be just about the money.
DBN: Speaking of this, in today’s NFL, the league gets a ton of money from the TV networks, player salaries are enormous, NFL franchises are worth into the billions, and ticket prices are expensive. Is the NFL pricing the everyday working fan out of the live game experience?
Bone Lady: Nothing stays the same, everything is always constantly moving. When you price fans out of the game, they find other things to do. Especially these younger fans who have never seen the Browns become a winner. With social media and this technological age they can find something different to do on their iPad or tablet. There are other distractions and they have other sports. It’s just lucky that Cleveland doesn’t have a beach. What happened to the old-school spirit of the game? It’s a league run by billionaires. You have that kind of money and you’re not eradicating child hunger? How many fewer tents under overpasses could we solve?
DBN: There are numerous Browns fans that have mentioned they haven’t seen The Bone Lady in quite a while. Is she on sabbatical? Doing a European tour? Sprained her ankle? Retired?
Bone Lady: I have never officially retired. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life. She still makes appearances just not as frequently and not necessarily putting my focus there. So those fans are right they have not been seeing me lately, and if they have seen me let me know because that’s not me. We do know that she no longer has a ride. I was 40 years old when I started The Bone Lady and I still feel the same - it’s still me. I have evolved a lot in my life. And when you reach a certain age, I used to think that everything was so ahead of me. I don’t have as much time so what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do with this? My time is filled with art and writing. I would love to do some sort of podcast or radio again where I have more of a voice because I miss that. There was a time when I did everything that people asked me to do. In the beginning, I didn’t even charge for appearances. But then my friend said I needed to because it was costing me time and gas. Plus, it was easy to ask me to come to an event for free. I was advised I can’t do it unless I charged. There isn’t a handbook to tell you how to do this. I did get to the point where I felt that if I didn’t succeed at this monetarily, I failed at it. I put a lot of time and energy into it. Just like my art, it’s feast or famine. I’ve lived like this for 38 years. At one point you feel like you’re gonna reap the harvest for all this work and time where I won’t have to stress, and that hasn’t happened for me. After a while, it was a lot easier to say I’m gonna put my energy into something else. Was it worthwhile? It’s interesting to hear when people say that The Bone Lady really mattered to fans.
DBN: Did The Bone Lady ever take over?
Bone Lady: She hasn’t completely taken over my life. She used to take over my life and traveled across the country. I’m just not at that place now. But I love the fans. I had my ride, but I have learned not to go to every opportunity that’s offered to me. If somebody had come from the future and told me what was going to happen when I was working on making my car into a Browns fan mobile, it would have blown my mind, and probably have not believed them. But that was the fun part because I didn’t plan on being on the ride. I was constantly being bombarded with new things - all Browns related.
DBN: What is your fondest moment of being a Cleveland Browns fan?
Bone Lady: I never hung my beehive on what the Browns were doing because I don’t have any control. I did a commercial for CBS Sports and when the PGA was happening in Akron at Firestone, my brother is a huge golf fan. And the two of us got to do events and activities including going into the producer’s trailer as they were putting the show together. We did things that we couldn’t have done otherwise but because of The Bone Lady I got to share it with him. Golf was his thing, and he was able to do that. The Bone Lady opened doors that I didn’t know even had doors. I’ve always laughed, and I’ve always had fun. I’ve gotten to do big things, like nationally, and a lot of little things that were just so unexpected and wonderful.
Here at Dawgs By Nature, we love The Bone Lady! And we have acquired five of her books that we are giving away that she has graciously autographed.
To win one of these signed books, just answer the five questions below and email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject section put something bone-related like “Bone me up, Scotty!” You can’t use that one because we now own it so get your own.
The most correct answers will go into a Browns hat and four entries will be drawn by this Browns fan’s babysitter’s dad whose friend Ralph used to run a fishing boat on Lake Erie whose business partner’s daughter dated the guy who just re-did Brian Sipe’s privacy fence. So there, since we obviously know someone who has a direct link to Brian Sipe she will pull out the winners.
The fifth signed Bone Lady book will go to the email with the wittiest bone-related subject line entry.
List your five answers, plus name, address, city, state, and zip in the email body. Good boning!
- Which former Brown was The Bone Lady’s favorite while growing up?
- How does The Bone Lady prefer her meat cooked: grilled or baked?
- What do The Bone Lady’s friends call her?
- The Bone Lady has a message displayed on her behind. Who is the intended person this message is for?
- Which of these three things are NOT attached to her beehive wig: a) a tiara, b) a picture of Marge Simpson, or c) a trophy?