Monday, September 3, 2012

Base Ball in Paterson - Revisited

In my last post I wrote about two expectations that proved erroneous, first that Paterson would have significant base ball activity prior to the Civil War and, second, that if Paterson didn't have base ball then smaller, more relatively rural Morristown definitely wouldn't.   I also mentioned a warning from Sherlock Holmes about drawing conclusions with insufficient data.  Turns out, I should have paid more attention to the latter piece of advice.
Anyone who read the comments to that post knows that Richard Hershberger alerted me to a Paterson game in 1860 and then wisely suggested I consult the source (New York Sunday Mercury) myself instead of his sending me copy of the article.  Since I needed to look at the Mercury any way, I went to the New York Public Library this past Friday and went through the newspaper's accounts of 1860 base ball matches.

William Cauldwell
This was the second time I used the Mercury so I knew what to expect both the good and the bad.  Under the leadership of publisher, William Cauldwell, the Sunday Mercury was one of the first newspapers to provide extensive base ball coverage - that's the good news.  The bad news is that the quality of the microfilm is frequently poor , bordering on being illegible.  Anyone who has worked with 19th century newspapers on microfilm knows the difficulties, but the Mercury takes this to a new level - a very low level.  And not only is the film hard to read, photo copies are equally hard on the eyes.
In spite of the challenge, I forged ahead and as Richard said there is an account in the May 6, 1860 edition of the paper of a match between the Unknown Club of Paterson and the Franklin Club of New York so there was at least one base ball club in Paterson in the antebellum period.  Reading on I found an account of a second match between the two clubs and then in the July 22, 1860 edition there was an account of a match between the Unknown and the Gotham Junior Club of New York City.  Not only did the article state that both clubs were juniors, but it also mentioned the two clubs had played twice the prior year.  So there is solid evidence base ball activity in Paterson not only in 1860, but also in 1859.
Later in 1860 I found two articles (August 26, 1860 and September 16, 1860) which describe matches between the Flora Temple Club and the Henderson Club which both confirm further base ball in Paterson, but also create confusion.  The first article says that the Flora Temple Club was from Paterson and the Henderson Club from Belleville, but the second one reports the Flora Temple Club being from Bergen (now part of Jersey City) and the Henderson Club being of Paterson. 

As the picture above illustrates Flora Temple was a race horse, indeed a famous race horse of the 1850's and according to one source the "bob-tailed nag" of Stephen Foster's classic song "Camptown Races."  Fascinating information, but not of much help in determining which club was from Paterson.  There was a race track in Paterson during the period so that could be an indication that the Flora Temple Club was from Paterson, but obviously more research is needed.
19th Century base ball teams certainly had fascinating names.  In a recent post to the SABR's 19th century e-mail list, Richard Hershberger reported finding four teams named "Morphy," apparently after a champion chess player of the period.  It's certainly not impossible that some young Patersonians with an affinity for horse racing and base ball decided to promote themselves as the "Flora Temple" of base ball.  But what about the Unknown Club?  Perhaps the lack of local media coverage made them feel unknown and under appreciated in their home city.

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerSeptember 6, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    I can't prove it, but I suspect that the recurring club name (most famously in Louisville, Kentucky) of "Eclipse" is inspired by the famous horse of that name.