Thursday, December 17, 2015

Year's End

Recently I finished reading Custer's Trials, A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles, the Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Not surprisingly the book is well written and some aspects of the approach Stiles uses to analyze Custer should help me as I think and write about Charles Ebbets.  One example is the idea that to understand someone, it's essential to understand their contradictions.  Another is that our demons define us as much as anything positive in our nature.  Both ideas are well worth further consideration and application.   The publication of another book about Custer demonstrates once again that well over 100 years after his death, Custer continues to attract a lot of attention.  I recall reading in another book that the fascination with Custer is largely due to the fact there were no survivors at the Little Big Horn and as a result no one knows what actually happened, especially since the Native American accounts differ.  Stiles, in fact, devotes only his epilogue to the massacre and after reading about the rest of Custer's life in more detail, I wondered why I was so interested in him as a kid in the 1950's.  I have a feeling it was due to the legend that was created after his death and which made up much of the content of the youth books written for my generation.

Edgar S. Paxson painting of Custer's Last Stand

Without question, the primary contributor to the Custer myth was his widow, Elizabeth, more popularly known as Libby.  She survived him by almost 60 years, living until 1933 and she used much of that time to write numerous books that helped fuel the romantic picture of her husband who in reality seems to have had few redeeming characteristics.  In his book, Stiles mentions something Libby Custer and one of her closest friends did every year on New Year's Eve prior to her marriage, when the two young women would write a letter to each other including something of their hopes and plans for the coming year.  The letters would remain unread until the subsequent December 31st when they could look back and see how things really came out.  It's an interesting idea and reminded me that in my last blog post for 2014, I wrote a little bit about my research/writing intentions for 2015 and thought it would be appropriate to go back and look at how that turned out.

Charles Ebbets - January 1898 on taking over Brooklyn presidency

Not surprisingly a number of things not only didn't get done, they really didn't get started.  Included in that category was more work on the early days of organized base ball both in New York and New Jersey as well as the African-American experience in that same period.  The one exception in the pre-professional period was the post about the possibility of a base ball club in Jersey City in the 1830's (thanks to Ben Zimmer and John Thorn for getting me started) which attracted more attention than any other 2015 post.  I also hoped to do more second looks at the "My Greatest Day in Baseball" essays, but that didn't happen either.  None of this is surprising because as I said at the time, the major priority for 2015 (and 2016 as well) was, and is, researching and writing the first full length biography of Charles Ebbets.  The long time Brooklyn owner was a topic of a number of posts, but the research also provided the material for other articles related to what's known as the Deadball Era (1901-1919).  Vintage base ball also provided a lot of 2015 content especially the tournaments and festivals like Gettysburg and Old Bethpage Village as well as the Neshanock's visit to the Essex Baseball Organization in Newbury, Massachusetts.

Charles Ebbets in his prime

It's safe to say that 2016 will see much of the same in terms of posts drawn from the Ebbets research, although not necessarily so much about the Squire of Flatbush himself.  The writing process began earlier this month and will take all of 2016 which means the book itself most likely won't see the light of day until early 2017.  However, the research material provides plenty of possible content beyond Ebbets which will most likely begin with a look at some baseball players acting on the stage and then some actors playing on the diamond.  This is the last post of 2015 and the plan is to resume around January 15th and post roughly twice a month until the vintage season gets going in April.  So, thanks to everyone who read the blog during 2015 especially those who have expressed their appreciation in one way or another.  Research and writing is also its own reward especially since writing helps clarify one's thinking - I hope the Ebbets book will ultimately be better because of things I've learned in the process of doing this blog.  Best wishes to everyone for the holidays and for another great year of baseball in 2016, contemporary, vintage and historical research wise.

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