Friday, May 27, 2011

Bertrand Gardel - Immortalized by Eakins

In Victorian Era Philadelphia, there were many high and prominent people that were feted as a “Patron of the Arts”. These were wealthy members of society who gave support, encouragement, and most importantly, financial backing to both up and coming artists and established artisan for the benefit and enrichment of society (which often meant upper class society, since much of the great art was inaccessible to the poorer masses). Patrons, though, did not always give their wealth just because of an innate artistic altruism; they would receive great acclaim and renown in their own right for their arts patronage, and, often times, they were repaid by the artists in ways that would give them a permanent place in the arts world. One such Patron was a French-born Philadelphian named Bertrand Gardel.

Born in Paris in 1806, Bertrand Gardel rose in Philadelphia society as a Professor of French who was known for spending his money on a number of artistic works. It was in this capacity that a man named Benjamin Eakins came to him and asked to tutor his son in the French language. In doing so, Bertrand Gardel met a young man who would eventually become known as the greatest artist Philadelphia produced in the 19th Century – Thomas Eakins. Gardel and the Eakins became friends, and, being the “patron” he was, Bertrand took a strong interest in Thomas’s artistic career, giving encouragement and money to young Thomas. As the artistic relationship grew with the Eakins, a sad event in Gardel’s life would eventually lead to Thomas Eakin’s fulfilled maturity as an artist.

In 1859 Bertrand Gardel’s wife died in Damascus, Syria while on a World Tour. Brought home to Philadelphia, a grieving Bertrand determined to give her what he perceived as a fitting memorial. Drawing on the example the tomb of world famous Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova (who had designed his own mausoleum), and using the talents of noted Philadelphia architect Napoleon LeBrun and Belgian sculptor Guillaume Geefs, Gardel had created a 25 foot pyramid at his wife’s grave, using classic mourning sculpture to ring the base. It is widely believed that he also got involved Thomas Eakins in the project - it is definite that it was the first exposure Eakins had to the sculpture form of art – one that he had never been closely associated with. The effect was profound, and Eakins wanted to learn more on this to further his art.

The monument was completed and erected in 1865 at the cost of $30,000 (a cost of a $422,238 in today’s money). The next year Thomas Eakins was sent to Paris to study arts there, a trip encouraged and financed by Gardel. He stayed in France from 1866 to 1870, learning art, human anatomy and sculpture under a number of the best teachers in the country. While there, he would send back to his financial mentor the latest Parisian newspapers, and the latest gossip from French society. The results of Eakin’s study in France would mature his skill in portraying the human body in motion and detail, which he did through the rest of his career on canvas and photography to great acclaim and often great controversy. In thanks to his mentor, a few years after his return to Philadelphia he had a gift to give back to his “Patron of the Arts”.

In 1876 Eakins painted an oil on wood panel work called “The Chess Players”. Situated in a typical upper class Victorian parlor, the painting shows three men, an older man on the left with the white pieces, a younger man on the right with the black, and an elderly man in the middle watching the progress of the game. Eakins chose his subjects well for this work. The man in the middle is his father, Benjamin Eakins, the man on the right playing the black pieces is a fellow artist, George Holmes. Playing the black pieces, permanently crouched over the board, is Patron of the Arts Bertrand Gardel, the man whose money, support and encouragement gave to Eakins was now fulfilled. Eakins thanked Gardel the best way he knew how - by forever immortalized him in what is considered a classic painting.

Bertrand Gardel eventually retired from his Professorship, and lived until in Philadelphia until his death in December 1883. He was buried with his wife at the massive pyramid monument he created for her in Philadelphia’s Mount Vernon Cemetery, where the sculptures still stand today tall despite the weeds, trees and neglect that sprout around it today.

Today “The Chess Players” can be viewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York.

Friday, May 20, 2011

W.C. Fields' Civil War Legacy

One of the best known performers in the first half of the 20th Century was comedian/actor W.C. Fields. From the time he was 15, when he started a juggling act interspersed with comic elements, until his death in 1946, he nurtured a comic persona of an alcohol loving, egotistical misanthrope that somehow remained sympathetic. His career spanned the heyday of Vaudeville, the Silent Movie Era, and the birth of the “talkies”, and is most remembered today for his comic performance in the 1940 film “My Little Chickadee” with Mae West. An oft told but wholly false legend states that he wanted on his tombstone “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia”; a story that at least reflects his strong roots to the city where he was born William Claude Dukenfield in 1880 and where he grew up. Looking back at the family he was born into, though, reveals a Civil War tale that many families of the time experienced, and a real legend W.C. could look to in his life.

The man who would become the father of one of the earliest screen legends was born James L. Dukenfield in England in 1840. One of at least thirteen children, his family immigrated to Philadelphia in late 1854, where they settled in, supported by their father’s comb making business. The family must have thoroughly felt themselves to be Americans, or at least Philadelphians, for they were swept up in the Secession Crisis that afflicted the United States only seven years later. The family watched as the Nation split apart in the early months of 1861, saw the war started in April 1861 when the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and read the accounts of the green Federal troops defeat at the hands of green Confederate troops at Bull Run in July of that year. All these signs belied the early belief that the war will be short and glorious, and it was realized that the effort to defeat secession would be much greater. The call went out for thousands of more men to volunteer to preserve the Union. In the later years of the war, many men were enticed to enlist by huge monetary bounties, and their patriotic ardor came from dollar signs. In August 1861 though, the deep patriotic ardor was real, and the men who enlisted to fight the nascent Confederacy in that month truly cuild be considered patriots. Two of those men were English-born James and his younger brother, George.

On August 10, 1861 both men went to a recruitment station and enlisted in the Union Army. The regiment they joined was being formed by a man named DeWitt Clinton Baxter, and consisted mostly of men who served as firemen throughout the city. So many men had flocked to serve that the unit reached its full complement of 1000 men in only a week. Their uniforms were styled after the “Zoauve” soldiers of the French North African Army, and they were popularly known as the “Fire Zouaves”. James and George drilled with the rest of the men at Philadelphia’s Camp Lyon, but when time came to join the rest of the Federal army, the two brothers were split up – James assigned to Company M, George to Company I. Despite being from Philadelphia, the regiment had been raised under the auspices of West Coast businessmen, who wanted California to be represent in the fight against Secession. Thus, at the start of their military service, the brothers marched to Washington DC in September 1861 as part of what was designated the 2nd California Volunteer Infantry. There they joined three other Philadelphia-recruited units also assigned under California designations, and were brigaded under command of General William F. “Baldy” Smith.

Battle Flag of the 72nd PA
More drill and military routine follow for James and George, as the regiment was kept in constant fighting trim to eventually face the enemy. One of the brigades regiments – the 1st California saw the Confederates first in October 1861 when they were in the center of what would be the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. There, an ill conceived attack on superior Confederates forces was made by Colonel Edward D. Baker, who was a US Senator serving to enhance his political standing with military glory, and had been the commander of the 1st California. The attack failed disastrously, with Colonel Baker being killed. The 1st California was part of the attack, and suffered great casualties. The resulting fallout from the disaster brought a number of changes for James and George Dukenfield, including the dropping of the “California” designations. Late in October 1861 the 2nd California was re-designated the 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and the brigade itself became known as the “Philadelphia Brigade”.

In spring 1862 the first real fight in the East began in earnest. A massive army under Union General George B. McClellan was transported to the Yorktown Peninsula, with designs to move upland to capture Richmond, the Confederate Capital. The 72nd Pennsylvania marched up the peninsula, seeing little actual action but witnessing the carnage of war as they were held in reserve during the Battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks in May 1862.  In the later battle James, George and their comrades were shuttled around several times to various parts of the battlefield to meet perceived threats, but never came about meeting the enemy. Still, their discipline and readiness of the Philadelphia Brigade impressed their commander, General William W. Burns, who reported “I am entirely satisfied with the conduct of my brigade. It has been christened under fire, and will do what is required of it”. Hard fighting lay ahead for the Dukenfield brothers and their brother soldiers.

The next month, June, saw McClellan army remain in the Richmond area, as the general attempted to figure out what to do in the face of an imagined horde of Confederates against him (erroneous intelligence reports fed his fear that his massive army was actually outnumbers and vulnerable). For most of the month the Philadelphia Brigade was in constant contact with the rebels, fighting in various small skirmishes and taking casualties. It was in one of these skirmishes on June 27th that the fortunes of war would secure a future for the man who we would come to know as W.C. Fields. On that day the Confederates attacked the 72nd Pennsylvania’s picket line three times, and were thrown back three times. In one of those attacks, Private James L. Dukenfield was shot in the left hand, which carried away two of his fingers. Disabled, he had to leave the company of his men and went to a field hospital. He would miss the Brigade’s subsequent action in the Seven Days Battles (June 27-July 1), where the 72nd Pennsylvania lost 159 men killed, wounded and captured. After two weeks in the hospital, doctors determined that James’ injuries prevent him from further useful field service. He was discharged on July 18, 1862 and returned home to Philadelphia. His war was over, and he left George to continue the fight.

Private George Dukenfield slogged on with the men of the 72nd Pennsylvania without his brother, the worry of his family now focused on him with James safe at home. They had good reason to worry over the next few months, as the Philadelphia Brigade would gain a hard fighting reputation won by being involved in brutal combat and taking terrible casualties. In the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, they were thrown unsupported into the West Woods area of the battlefield, and were crushed by superior numbers; the 72nd losing almost half its men in a number of minutes. At Fredericksburg in December 1862 they were part of the waves of Union soldiers sent against the impregnable Confederate positions south of the town along Marye’s Heights, saved from great slaughter only by the fact that they were a later wave and the failed results of the earlier attacks made them more cautious. George Dukenfield lucked out in the May 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign as his brigade remained in reserve, and took no casualties – a welcome respite. However, George’s fate was to come to its nadir soon after wards in a small town in his home state.

The July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the largest land battle in the Western Hemisphere, with 93,000 Union troops fighting 73,000 Confederates over three terrible days, producing nearly 8,000 men killed. The Philadelphia Brigade themselves were placed at the epicenter of the most famous action of the entire war – Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the engagement (July 3). Situated at “The Angle” on Cemetery Ridge, the men from Philadelphia stood tall and took crushing casualties as the remnants of the Confederate charge crashed over them, and then were finally repulsed. Private George Dukenfield’s comrades – old comrades of his discharged brother James – covered themselves with eternal glory that day. However, George was not among those men. His war ran out – and the fears of his family were realized – the day before. In the very same place where they would stop Pickett’s rebels the next day, the 72nd Pennsylvania helped repulse an earlier, much smaller charge by Georgians under General Ambrose Wright. There, Private George Dukenfield fell, killed by a Confederate volley. He would never know the fame his brigade would enjoy for the rest of their days.
While his brother was marching towards his destiny at Gettysburg, James L. Dukenfield applied for a US Army disability pension; he would receive fifteen dollars a month for the rest of his life. He married Kate Felton in 1879, and started his family in 1880 with the birth of William Claude, the first of four children. During his entertainment career W.C. Fields would tell many stories of his domineering and sometimes cruel father, painting a grim picture of the Civil War veteran. However, subsequent interviews with his siblings, and other anecdotal evidence suggests that they were simply stories made up to 
enhance his career. James and Kate did support their son’s entertainment aspirations, even seeing him off when he took the train to New York City for the first time. A few years later James actually travelled to see his son while he was performing in England – probably the only time he returned to the land of his birth. Still, the experience in the war, especially with the loss of his brother, must have weighed heavily in his life, as other stories show him to be “distant” and not fully able to relate to his children. It was a shadow that the great entertainer W.C. Fields must have grown up under. Private James L. Dukenfield, Company M, 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry, died on April 15, 1915, and was buried in Philadelphia’s Greenwood Cemetery, where his broken gravestone mentions he was a “Great Scout” in reference to his Civil War days.Kate Dukenfield lies next to him, her grave unmarked.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Private George Dukenfield’s body was first buried on the farm owned by Peter Frey. Later, they were removed to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where they lie today in Row C, Grave 18 of the Pennsylvania Plot.

72nd PA Monument at Gettysburg

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Strength of the 19th Century Woman: Priscilla Decatur McKnight Twiggs

The 19 Century America wasn’t easy time for women. By the middle of the century 80 to 100 babies in a 1000 died in infancy, and childbirth itself was sufficiently dangerous that many women looked upon it with equal parts excitement and dread. Everyone knew someone whose child or children died before adulthood, and the indescribable pain of losing a child was common. Add in the general mortality rates of adults via disease, war and other dangers, and the picture of life for anyone in early America was one of hardship. One woman, Priscilla Decatur McKnight Twiggs, dealt with incredible loss from her very beginning to her very end, but by all accounts she survived with strength that can only be imagined.

Born in Philadelphia on January 26, 1802, the fourth child of Anne Pine Decatur McKnight and James McKnight, her mother was a sister of Captain Stephen Decatur, who would become of the United States first Naval Heroes for his bravery during the Barbary Wars and War of 1812, and her father was a Captain in the United States Marine Corps serving on board the famous “USS Constitution”. On October 14, 1802, Captain McKnight was involved in a duel with another Marine officer in Livorno, Italy, and was killed, leaving baby Priscilla fatherless at only eight months old. It was the first tragic event in her young life; it wouldn’t be the last by far.

She and her three siblings were eventually taken after her father’s death by her Uncle Stephen, who doted on them and became the father-figure to the children. Her mother eventually did re-marry in 1808 to Dr. William Hurst, having two children with him. When she was only 10 the War of 1812 began, which would bring her family triumph and tragedy. During the war on the sea her uncle, commanding the “USS United States”, captured the powerful British warship “HMS Macedonian”. Later in the war, while commanding the “USS President”, he fought a valiant and bloody battle against three British vessels that ended with his capture. While he was a “guest” of the British, word came that Priscilla’s older brother, Stephen D. McKnight, then serving as a Lieutenant in the Navy, was lost at sea on board the “USS Wasp”.

Rough times followed Priscilla. After the war ended her beloved uncle came back safe, and a National Hero. Just a few years later, though, her mother Anne died in September 1819, which facilitated Priscilla and her sister Mary to eventually move in with Uncle Stephen. Then, less than a year later, on March 22, 1820, war hero Commodore Stephen Decatur met death at Bladensburg, Maryland, in a famous duel with another Naval officer, Commodore James Barron. Priscilla tragically lost the only father figure she knew the same way she lost her actual father – through the folly of dueling over honor – only months after losing her mother. Despite the terrible beginning to the decade, the 1820s would prove to be a happy time for young Priscilla. In November 1822 she married Lieutenant Levi Twiggs of the US Marine Corps. Lieutenant Twiggs had served with Commodore Decatur on the “President” during the War of 1812, and had been held in captivity with him. Thrown into to the life of a Marine Corps Officer’s wife, she made a home wherever he was stationed, and had three children – daughters Anna McKnight in 1823 and Augusta Chauncey in 1825, and son George Decatur in 1828. The 1830s, though, had a turn for the worse for the Twiggs. Promoted to Captain in 1830, Levi Twiggs home station was now the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC. The city proved unhealthy for newborns, and death became again a constant companion for Priscilla and her family. She bore four children in the decade, and none of the them lived past childhood. Daughter Julia was born in 1830 and daughter Mary Elizabeth was born in 1833, but both children died within two weeks of each other in April 1833. In 1836 daughter Arabella Louisa was born, but she lived only a year and a half, dying in August 1837, while Priscilla was pregnant with her seventh child. That baby, born a son in April 1838 and named William Coleman, lived only nine months, dying in January 1839. All four infant Twiggs children were buried in the same plot in Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery, where they rest today. The worst tragedy a mother could have, the death of a child, had struck Priscilla again and again over the span of six years.

She carried on. On February 21, 1840 she and Levi had what would be their last child, a daughter named Frederica Constantia. Death did not take her away in childhood, as they had her older sisters and brother, and the family gained some respite from the terrible scourge. Still, for Priscilla, more tragedy was yet to come. In 1846 the United States declared war on the Empire of Mexico, and the nation as a whole marched off to war for the first time in thirty one years. Now a Major in the Marine Corps, Levi Twiggs unquestioningly felt it was his duty to serve his country in the field during the time of crisis. Priscilla, probably always dreading the day, nevertheless had lived the life of a Marine’s wife for twenty four years, and knew such a day would come. The war held more than just worry for her career military husband’s life, though. Her only living son, George Decatur Twiggs, had volunteered for the army, and was a Lieutenant on the staff of Major Folliot T. Lally, 9th United States Infantry. When Major Twiggs sailed to command the Marine detachment in General Winfield Scott in June 1847, their young son was already in Mexico. On August 12, 1847, only days after the Major had arrived to lead his Marines, the fear of a Soldier’s mother was sadly realized. In an attack on a place called Puente National, young Lieutenant Twiggs was assisting under fire an effort to place an artillery piece in position when he was shot in the head and died instantly. Priscilla lost a fifth child to the conventions of war. It would not be the last stab of tragedy the war would send her.

After learning of his son’s death, Major Twiggs continued on, doing his duty despite all odd like a marine would. He led his men as they participated in General Scott’s celebrated march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, where on September 12, 1847 United States forces were stymied by strongly entrenched Mexican resistant in and around an ancient structure called Chapultepec Castle. There, while his marines were pinned down by Mexican gunfire, Major Twiggs stood up to rally his men for a charge, and was shot down, dying instantly (his men would eventually charge the castle, and that event is what is referenced by the line in the Marine Corps Hymn that goes “From the Halls of Montezuma…”). Priscilla Decatur McKnight Twiggs, in the space of a little over a month, again suffered multiple loss in her life. At the age of 45, she had now lost both her parents, the uncle who was a father to her, her brother, five children, and her husband of twenty-five years. Life and fate had taken so much from her by the time she buried her husband and son next to each other in Philadelphia and erected an elaborate sandstone monument over their graves. No one could have blamed her had her will to live been finally exhausted at that point. Yet, she still lived on, and still saw even more tragedy visit her before her time was over.
Her three remaining children, daughters Anna, Augusta and Frederica, remained close with their mother. Anna married Francis Murray Wynkoop, who like her father served in the Mexican War, commanding the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer regiment. In December 1857 he was killed in a hunting accident, adding a son-in-law to Priscilla’s list of lost loved ones. Anna later re-married Charles Rueben Hale, a clergyman who served as a Navy chaplain and rose to be an Episcopal Bishop. In 1884 Reverend Hale and his mother-in-law Priscilla saw one final loss, as eldest child Anna died that year. Remarkably, and almost beyond belief given what befell her throughout her whole like, Priscilla Twiggs persevered another six years in until January 28, 1890, when she died just two days after her 88th birthday, a lifetime of tragedy over.

Augusta and Frederica, together with their families, had her interred on a wintery 1890s day next to their father, brother and sister in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. Augusta lived on until 1909, and Frederica until 1914. They too repose in Laurel Hill, although in different sections than their parents. The sandstone monument that marks Levi and Priscilla’s final resting spells out the heroic deaths of Father and Son.  The long life of tragedy and perseverance of Priscilla got no mention.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Morrie Rath and the Black Sox

It can be argued that the most famous scandal in all of American sports history is the “Black Sox” scandal. Eight players from the American League champion 1919 Chicago White Sox, after colluding to accept payoffs from gamblers, intentionally threw the World Series that year against the Cincinnati Reds, and found themselves permanently banned from Baseball after the scandal was revealed. Mountains of literature has been written since then about those players and the impact of the scandal, but little has been written about members of the team that had their championship forever tainted by it. One of those Reds players, Morris Charles “Morrie” Rath, was a Philadelphia native, and played an inadvertent key role in the whole affair.

  Born in Mobeetie, Texas, on Christmas Day 1886, Morrie Rath’s family moved to the Upper Darby section of Philadelphia when he was young. Growing to adulthood playing baseball in the neighborhood, he was a natural second baseman. He attended Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia, but had to look outside of school for further development of his skills, as there was no baseball program when he attended. The path to the Major Leagues in those days was rarely a straight line from college, Minor Leagues, then the Big Show. Hundreds of men with varying skills played in independent semi-pro clubs that had popped across the country, hoping to be plucked from that relatively obscurity when a Major League team manager or owner got wind about their talents. Morrie Rath followed this path, playing in a number of Philadelphia-area teams, as well as teams in North Carolina and Virginia, honing his second baseman skills. In 1909, while playing for the Reading Pretzels of the semi-pro Tri-State League, he finally got his wish – a member of this hometown Philadelphia Athletics came to scout him. Apparently impressing them, he was signed to the team’s roster, and made his debut as the season was winding down on September 28, 1909. One can only image what a thrill it must have been for him to step up to the plate in the newly built Shibe Park in an A’s uniform under the watchful gaze of legendary manager Connie Mack. Unfortunately, his career with his hometown team would last a total of  twenty five games, as the A’s already has a stellar second baseman named Eddie Collins, a future Hall of Famer.

After riding the bench though the first half of the 1910 season, and getting a smattering of playing time, he was traded to the Cleveland Naps (as the Indians were called at the time) with a player to be named later for outfielder Bris Lord (seven days later the other player needed to complete the trade would turn out to be a young Joe Jackson, not yet known as “Shoeless Joe”). Despite being a superior infielder, his glaring flaw became apparent once he faced Major League pitching – he had great difficulty hitting it consistently. In twenty four games with Cleveland in 1910 he had a miserable .194 batting average. An old baseball axiom goes “glove men with strong arms are a dime a dozen”, and Morrie Rath was a glove man who couldn’t yet hit, but showed promise, so the Naps sent him to the minors, where he toiled through the 1911 season. Drafted out of the minors by the Chicago White Sox at season’s end, he was again given a chance to play in the Majors. He responded by having a vastly improved year at the plate for Chicago, hitting .272 in 157 games as their lead-off hitter, and led all American League second baseman in fielding percentage and assists. Significantly, although he had only 19 runs batted in, he scored 104 runs and had 30 stolen bases. The next year, though, he again stumbled, batting only .200 as his hitting problems returned. The White Sox then gave up on him, giving him his release. For the next five years Morrie Rath struggled to perfect his hitting on minor league teams. In 1917 he seemed to get it together again, leading the International League in hitting, but his return to the Bigs had to be delayed, as he spent all of 1918 in the United States Navy as the nation was at war. Receiving his discharge, and given an opportunity by the Cincinnati Reds to play for them, 1919 would be the nadir of Morrie Rath’s baseball career, and indeed,  possibly his whole life.

Winning the starting second baseman job in spring training, he was installed as the Reds leadoff hitter, and became a crucial part of the team’s strong run for the National League pennant by hitting .264 and, more significantly, drawing 64 walks. He found ways to get onto base so the team’s big hitters like Ed Roush and Heinie Groh could drive him in. The team slogged it out through the season, eventually capturing the League title nine games ahead of the New York Giants, and making the World Series for the first time in their history. In the AL that year, the White Sox held off their competition, capturing the Pennant by three games. However, internally there was missive discontent amongst the Sox players over the almost criminally cheap ways of White Sox owner Charlie Commisky, discontent that would be the undoing in various ways of all involved in the upcoming Series.

The Series itself was fraught with irony for Morrie Rath. Since his debut in 1909 he had spent more time in the minors than the majors, but now found himself the leadoff hitter for the National League Champs. The team he was facing was the one that gave him his first full time playing spot seven years before, and a number of present White Sox players were his teammates back then. Their starting second baseman was Eddie Collins, the same player who blocked Morrie’s way with the A’s in 1909. And, most ironically, the Sox’s biggest star player was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who had blossomed into one of Baseball’s most feared and dangerous hitters after being a throw-in player in the trade that sent Morrie Rath from the A’s to Cleveland. One suspects that a Reds championship might have proven to be that much sweeter to him given all of these circumstances. He could not have known that what was to come.

The sun was shining brightly at 3PM at Redland Field in Cincinnati on October 1, 1919. In the bottom of the first inning, Philadelphian Morrie Rath stepped up to the plate as the baseball world watched. On the mound was 29-game winner Eddie Cicotte, who had been a teammate of Morrie’s back in 1912. Cicotte stretched, threw, and his first pitch sailed straight into Morrie, plunking him. Rath dutifully tossed his bat without ever swinging it and trotted to first base, totally unaware that the ball that hit him was the signal from Cicotte and seven other Sox players to gamblers that they were going to intentionally lose the Series for payoffs. The Fix Was On, and Morrie Rath was the conduit to let them know.

Through the rest of the Series he led off for the Reds, batted .226, scored five runs, and got seven hits as the Reds captured their first Championship 5 games to 3 over the heavily favored White Sox (from 1919 to 1921 the World Series was a best of nine competition). The team and city celebrated, justly believing they slew a goliath. While he was playing the next year the scandal broke out about how the Sox players took bribes to lose the Championship, and the Reds title became forever tainted. Morrie Rath had a mediocre 1920, and he was shipped off – again – to the minor leagues. He spent the next few years playing on the West Coast, trying to get back to the Majors before hanging up his spikes for good. His one shining moment in Professional Baseball had tarnished by the greed of others.

He returned to his Upper Darby hometown, where he ran a sporting goods store for a number of years. Plagued with ill health, and with a sense that his accomplishments had their glory stolen from him, he committed suicide in his home at the age of 57. He was buried in Drexel Hill’s Arlington Cemetery, just south of Philadelphia, where they rest today in Lawnview Section, Lot 946, Grave 3.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Harry Shelmire Ross: The War Stays Home

In the aftermath of World War I, the official number of American casualties was a butcher’s bill of 116,516 dead and 204,000 wounded. Given the images we  know today of muddy, water filled trenches, bombed out blighted landscapes, and rows upon rows of white crosses that mark the final resting places in France of thousands of those casualties, it is easy to think that everyone who gave their lives for their country did so on European soil. The story of at least one young Philadelphian can show that this wasn’t always the case, and some of those that died in service during the Great War did so at home.

Young Harry Shelmire Ross could be given as a perfect example of the “Cream of American Youth” that took up the call to arms to fight in World War I. Born on December 13, 1894, he was the son and grandson of prominent Philadelphia lawyers. As part of the Philadelphia “elite”, he enjoyed the benefits an upper class upbringing. He attended the prestigious Central High School, where he was captain of the football team, and served as President of his class in his senior year. Graduating with top honors in 1912, he moved on to the University of Pennsylvania, where he became one of the institutions most distinguished athletes. As the halfback for the Quakers, his name regularly appeared in newspaper accounts of Penn football games, and in 1916 he anchored the Penn rowing crew team as their stroke oarsman. A member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity, after graduation he entered Penn’s Wharton School of Business. Young, handsome and popular, he seemed destiny to a life of prominence and accomplishment. Then, the terrible war in Europe intervened.

On April 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson, prompted largely by Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare on the U.S, asked Congress for declaration of war on the Central Powers, throwing the Nation into the carnage that had been raging since 1914. Thousands of young Americans rushed to enlist, hastily filling the ranks of an Army that was only 200,000 strong. Soon after the President’s declaration, young Harry Ross left his semester to enlist with hundreds of other Penn students. First sent to Allentown, Pennsylvania to train with the Ambulance Corps, an old football injury had him declared “unfit” and he was sent home. Possibly through the influence of his father, he was then accepted into the only service branch that still had retained some measure of glamour despite three years of war  – the Army Aviation Service.

At the start of the conflict the belief of a “great adventure” was to be had and a “glorious victory” was to be won prompted many young German, French and British men to enlist in their respective services. That rose-colored image of war was soon shattered permanently when throngs of the same young men were hurtled headlong from trenches into open fields and then cut down by the thousands by machine guns. By 1917 the images and accounts of the slaughter on the ground offered Americans none of the illusions from 1914. Yet the newly-minted idea of the “Aviation Ace” - flying high over the miles of trenches and the corpse filled fields, engaging in aerial combat, shooting down their foe in thrilling dogfights - only grew in renown and prestige as the war crawled on, helped considerably by the fact that most flyers were selected from the “elite” class that Harry Ross came from. Young, virile, and educated, it is no surprise that he was accepted for aviation duty, perhaps enamored by the “flying knights” image that World War I aviators had obtained in the public eye. His first training was the ground school that was set up at Princeton University, where he completed his courses with ease in early 1918. Sent to Texas to complete his aviation training, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Unlike many of his comrades, he was not then shipped off to test his mettle against the Aces of Germany. At age 23 his flying acumen was as such that the United States Army decided to keep him home to train other pilots.

While the soldiers of the US 1st Division were facing German machine guns at Cantigny in May 1918 and US Marines were being blooded at Belleau Wood in June 1918 in France, Lieutenant Ross dutifully carried out his assignment of getting other pilots trained and ready for air combat. His duty station, Call Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, had been established only a year before, and eventually would produce 500 pilots and two full squadrons that saw service oversees. However, it also saw a total of 34 men lose their lives in accidents. On July 11, 1918, young Lieutenant Ross, cream of the Philadelphia elite, possibly destined for a life of prominence, tragically became one of those 34 casualties. Flying in his Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny”, his plane went into a tailspin on a training run and fell less than 100 feet before crashing, killing him instantly, but leaving his co-pilot and trainee relatively unharmed.  On a hot July day in Texas, he gave his life for his country the same time hundreds of his countrymen were doing the same in France.

His remains were sent home to Philadelphia to be received by his grieving parents, and his funeral was held in their residence in Angora Terrace. He was laid to rest in Northwood Cemetery in northwest Philadelphia, where his grave marker is topped with an engraving of his pilot’s wings.

Call Field, where he gave his life, continued after the war to be a flying school until the mid-1920, when it was dismantled. Today Wichita Falls’ University Park subdivision occupies the site. In 1937, near where the field’s gate was located in present day Rotary Park, a monument was erected to honor the 34 men who died in training flights during the war. The name of “H.S. Ross” can be found on the monument, fourth from the top.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Underground Stories from the City of Brotherly Love

Welcome to the Buried Philadelphia blog. In my years of crawling around Philadelphia-area cemeteries, I have found dozens upon dozens of stories about those that lived in the past and now reposed - some marked, some not - the soil in and around Philadelphia. This blog will be my attempt to highlight a few of those stories, and hopefully spark an interest in many of those that have fascinating life tales and are now obscure.

Enjoy... and happy graving!