Saturday, July 23, 2016

Character and Characters

After spending last weekend at the Gettysburg National Festival, the Neshanock were scheduled to pay their annual visit to Princeton on Saturday for a match sponsored by the Historical Society of Princeton.  Flemington always gets something out of the event including the addition, one year, of Ken "Tumbles" Mandel to the Neshanock roster - it's safe to say the team has never been the same.  We'll leave it at that.  Today's opponent was unable to participate so 10 members of the Flemington team along with five local volunteers divided into teams and played one match.  Perhaps not surprisingly, that approach isn't without precedent, in fact, on one occasion in 1870 in Jersey City, such an impromptu match apparently made history as one of  the first racially integrated base ball games in New Jersey - an event that got no small attention in the contemporary media.  Today's game was in no way history making, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as "Mango's" Marauders topped "Tumbles" Terrors by a 7-3 count.   Special thanks to Harvey, Jimmy, Nick, Claire and Chris for playing with us today.  Hopefully next year will see the return of a more typical arrangement with somewhat less stifling weather.

Princeton has an important place in the history of early organized base ball because the University (then known as the College of New Jersey) was one of the first colleges where the New York game took root.  Thanks to three young men from Brooklyn who brought not only their books and brains, but also their bats and balls to the college in the fall of 1858, organized base ball was played there before the Civil War.  Known first as the Class of 1862 base ball team, the club eventually took the name of the Nassau club and gradually grew into the school base ball team, competing against both amateur and other college clubs beginning in the 1860's.  It appears that the faculty had some concerns that organized base ball might harm the young men's academic work, but those concerns were allayed somewhat when seven of the first ten academic positions at the Class of 1862 graduation were held by Nassau Club members.  The team's academic performance plus any lack of scandal associated with the players got the relatively new version of base ball off to an acceptable start at the collegiate level, perhaps supporting the idea that base ball builds character.

1866 Princeton Base Ball Team - Condit appears to be the man in the middle in the back row

It's fortunate this first group of, dare I say it, student athletes maintained such a good record since if the example of one young man who followed in their footsteps was more common, there might have been some concern that instead of having character, base ball players were characters.  The player in question is one Edward Augustus Condit from East Orange, New Jersey, a member of the Princeton Class of 1866 who primarily played first base while serving at least one term as club treasurer.  Responsibility for club funds was the not the wisest assignment to give young Condit, although total club expenses of $9.43 in an earlier season suggests there wasn't a lot to lose.  Still, Condit consistently demonstrated an ability to leverage small amounts of money in inappropriate ways so if he had set his mind to it, he doubtless could have done a lot with even that little.  The details of Condit's post college life are sketchy and especially any thing he said needs to be taken with a truck load of salt, but supposedly after college he accumulated $100,000 through some combination of inheritance and speculation only to lose all of it in speculation by 1876.

Condit's infamous telegram - New York Herald - December 12, 1876

Apparently determined to rebuild his finances on a big stage,  the former Princeton base ball player chose Wall Street to make a big killing by fabricating a big death.  Late on the morning of October 16, 1876 the Associated Press's offices in New York City received a telegram over the name of the Rev. Charles Deems, spiritual adviser to Cornelius Vanderbilt, who, if he wasn't the world's richest man, was certainly a contender.  The telegram announced the tycoon's death at a time when the market was concerned about Vanderbilt's health and the news sent some stocks lower until Deems and newspaper reporters  made it clear the report of the railroad executive's death was a complete fabrication.  Although an investigation was launched immediately, it took until December when none other than Edward Condit was arrested as the man responsible for the hoax.  Exactly what came of the arrest isn't clear, partially because it wasn't certain if sending an inaccurate telegram was illegal, but the below article from the New York World gives a sense of some of Condit's other activities including his apparent appeal to the opposite sex which he would later attempt to use in even more creative ways.

New York World - December 19, 1876

Included in Condit's skill set was an ability to get ahead and stay ahead of his pursuers as his next encounter with the criminal justice system came in March of 1883 after a search lasting seven months.  This time the Princeton alumnus was arrested for two years of illegal speculation funded on a grand total of $9 deposited with the Orange Savings Bank.  Condit searched out grain dealers and/or stock brokers who would make purchases on margin (credit).  He would then send the unsuspecting dealer a check for the cash portion of the transaction.  If the value of the stock or grain went up, Condit went to the broker to sell it, reclaimed his check and took the profit from the deal.  If, on the other hand, the value went down, Condit simply left the brokerage firm with the check which they would find, to their dismay, was worthless.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the arrest took place in a "disreputable house." Incredibly, it appears Condit wasn't successfully prosecuted, but in the next year landed in the hands of the Jersey City police charged with swindling Jersey City merchants with, surprise, bad checks.

Either because Condit was recognized as a flight risk and denied bail or he was unable to come up with the cash (one hopes the authorities insisted on cash), he was in jail awaiting trial in early December of 1884.  The enterprising criminal was not without solace, however, as he received regular visits from two "ladies," one claiming to be his wife, the other his sister.  The two provided more than moral support as on the evening of December 2nd, Condit apparently anxious to get home for the holidays attempted an unauthorized egress from the jail.  Equipped, among other things, with a dozen jig saws and a rope ladder, all supplied by his female admirers, Condit cut his way out of his cell, through the bathroom door and was in the process of removing the bars from the window when noise in the cell block alerted the jailer, a Mr. Joyce.  Upon discovery, Condit, always the college educated gentleman, handed over this supplies to Joyce, lamenting that he hadn't had 10 more minutes and bidding the jailer not to "scold me, . . I wanted my liberty.  You would have done the same under similar circumstances."  Condit was wise in trying to escape as this time, he didn't get away with his nefarious deeds with the judge, another Princeton graduate, sentencing his fellow alumnus to four years at hard labor.  Even so the former first baseman wasn't rattled, supposedly receiving his sentence "with a great deal of self composure."

Duluth News-Tribune - September 24, 1903

Condit must have served some or all of his sentence and then dropped out of the public eye although not apparently because he had seen the error of his ways.  Almost 20 years later, in Belmont, Massachusetts, Edward A. Cranston, a real estate broker was arrested for forging checks in a creative manner.  Cranston, through a messenger, would approach banks and brokers with what appeared to be a certified check for an amount slightly more than the price of a stock purchase with instructions that the small overage, typically not much more than $80, be given to the messenger.  Ultimately, of course, the check itself was a forgery.  Confronted by the police, Cranston took to his heels, while demonstrating "a buoyant and cork like agility in scaling fences and dashing over plowed fields, that in a man of his years was nothing short of marvelous."  If the accused's athletic feats suggested a sports background that was the case since at his trial Cranston admitted that he was none other than the former collegiate base ball player, Edward A. Condit.  Cranston was apparently only the most recent alias Condit used to support himself by creative criminal ploys, but this malfeasance earned him a prison sentence of 10-15 years.  Unfortunately no information about Condit's life after that has come to light, but even if he did survive prison, it's doubtful he attended many class of 1866 reunions at Princeton, although if he did, he certainly had no shortage of stories to tell and, perhaps, classmates to fleece.

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