Friday, October 23, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Polo Grounds


Just over 100 years ago, the duo of Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth wrote was has become baseball's unofficial anthem: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Within days of its release, the tune became a popular sing-along at movie theaters, with magic lantern (or "song") slides advancing the story and displaying the lyrics. While the projectionist was busy switching reels, the audience was entertained with singers performing the song and encouraging a sort of "group-karaoke" form of entertainment.
While most everyone is familiar with the song's famous chorus, very few know the full lyrics. Here's how the song goes:
Katie Casey was base ball mad.
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go,
To see a show but Miss Kate said, "No,
I'll tell you what you can do."

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."

Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."
Happily, original "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lantern slides still exist. The slides are hand-colored glass positives and measure about 3¼"×4" in size. The beautiful images preserved on these slides are interesting fodder for the baseball researcher.

On May 2, 1908, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was submitted to the United States Copyright Office. The song quickly took hold. As early as mid-May, the song and perhaps the accompanying slides were featured at The Nelson Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts. Note of this comes from the Springfield Republican of May 18, 1908:
The musical features of the week will include a "Kid song festival," in which Lillian Payette will be heard in three costume songs, with electrical effects and illustrated songs by Charles L. Taylor of New York, who on Wednesday and Thursday will sing "Take me out to the ball game."
Unquestionably, the song and accompanying slides were playing in theaters by the end of the month, as evidenced by a note in the Boston Globe of May 31, 1908:
The moving pictures at the Star theater this week will include new films in comedy and drama. The patriotic program yesterday drew a crowd at every performance and a similar show will be given this evening. The songs "Nobody's Little Girl" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" will be sung by able singers and illustrated by colored slides.
The song proved so successful that, within a month, a rip-off titled "Take Your Girl to the Ball Game" was already available and was most definitely being confused with Von Tilzer and Norworth's gem, no doubt cutting into sales. The composer was none other than George M. Cohan.


Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

The first slide for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is an image of the cover of the original sheet music for the song, but with one important difference. The sheet music cover can be seen here:


Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

And here is the first lantern slide:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

There were numerous sheet music covers printed, each featuring an inset photograph of a vaudeville star. Some covers show lyricist Jack Norworth, others feature Henry Fink, Susie Fisher, Sadie Jansell, or the popular Nora Bayes, who married Norworth in 1908. But the inset on this lantern slide simply contains information about the producer and manufacturer of the song set: DeWitt C. Wheeler.

Wheeler was a major manufacturer of lantern slides, producing sets for songs such as "Pansies Mean Thoughts and Thoughts Mean You," "You Have Always Been the Same Old Pal," and "Brother Noah Gave Out Checks For Rain." The latter is a somewhat obscure baseball tune with the unforgettable (or utterly forgettable?) chorus:
Eve stole first and Adam second;
St. Peter umpired the game.
Rebecca went to the well with a pitcher
And Ruth in the field won fame.
Goliath was struck out by David;
A base hit on Abel by Cain.
The Prodigal Son made one home run
Brother Noah gave out checks for rain.

Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

In 1912, Robert Grau wrote in The Stage in the Twentieth Century (Vol. 3):
The name of Dewitt C. Wheeler is, and has been for a generation, something to conjure with. Mr. Wheeler made song slides long before the advent of cinematography, and he has maintained his position to this day as a leader. It is interesting to note that through Mr. Wheeler alone hundreds of singers without reputation with the public, have found a lucrative field. It is estimated that there are three thousand singers of illustrated songs in this country—and the demand is increasing every day.
In the spring of 1907, the Manhattan-based Wheeler moved his offices from 1215 Broadway to new digs just a few blocks away, at 120-122 West 31st Street. It is this latter address that is found on the first slide. What I find intriguing about Wheeler's newer location is that it may point to the location where some of the "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" slides were shot.


Collection of the National Baseball Library


Collection of the National Baseball Library

In the two slides above, Katie Casey is seen with "her young beau" outside what appears to be a home. We'll assume that Wheeler intended this to be a shot of where Katie lives. Note that the address above the doorway is 121. It is slightly clearer in this detail:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

When I first saw the address, I didn't think much of it. Assuming the photos were taken somewhere in the New York City area, I figured there had to be literally hundreds (if not thousands) of locations with an address of 121. But as the address of Wheeler's headquarters is 120-122 West 31st, it dawned on me that perhaps the photographs were taken right across the street, at 121 West 31st.

I was able to track down a New York City Atlas from 1899, published nearly a decade before the photographs were shot, that shows that the building at 121 West 31st was a stable. Clearly that is not the building where Katie and her beau are standing. An atlas from 1911 shows the lot to be empty, also not the case in our lantern slide. By 1912, the brand new, 16-story Cuyler Building was erected in the same spot. But exactly what the situation was in 1908 I have not been able to determine, as I have not yet had a chance to review a New York City atlas from that year. Anybody have access to a 1908 New York City Atlas?

Another slide in the set is a photograph showing Katie Casey reading the "Baseball Extra" edition of the paper:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Here we see that "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lantern slides must have been a low-budget affair, as they simply took an existing newspaper and crudely painted "BASEBALL EXTRA" across the top. Thankfully, the quality of the slide was much better than that of the prop. Here's a detail from the slide:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

I set out to determine the date and make of the newspaper. The page Katie holds provides a number of clues, but the most obvious are the multiple advertisements for automobiles. Stearns, Lozier, and (partially obscured by Katie's hand) Northern are fairly easily discerned. Additionaly, given the fact that the actress portraying Katie appears at the Polo Grounds in other slides in the set, there's little doubt she's holding a newspaper from New York City. Armed with this information, I searched for a newspaper page that matched the one held by Katie.

Happily, I managed to track down the exact newspaper: The New York Times of Monday, May 11, 1908:



Not only do the various advertisements match perfectly, but it turns out that the page really did contain baseball content. In fact, Katie happens to be pointing to coverage of a Cardinals vs. Reds doubleheader played on May 10. Just under Katie's hand is the following note:
GIANTS LEAVE FOR WEST.
National League Eastern Clubs Invade the West---Yankees Home To-morrow

The Giants started for Pittsburg last night, where they will begin the first of the Western series. Four games will be played in that city, and then Cincinnati will be visited. ... The trip will last a trifle over two weeks, the team returning to the Polo Grounds on June 4, when they will play St. Louis.
At the very least, we now know that this studio shot of Katie holding the newspaper took place no earlier than the date of the paper: May 11, 1908. But what of the slides that show Katie at the Polo Grounds? Here's one:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Compare this photo with that of boxer Terry McGovern seen below. McGovern, the former bantamweight and featherweight world champion, was also a gifted baseball player who often practiced with the Giants.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [LC-DIG-ggbain-02294]
Note the dark colored doors in the picket fence, similar to those seen in the lantern slide. Clearly, Katie and her beau are rooting for the home team at the Polo Grounds, on the third base side of the grandstand. It is worth noting that both Katie and her beau are wearing the same outfits seen in the earlier discussed slides. This suggests (though does not prove) that the photo sessions at Katie's place and at the Polo Grounds took place at or around the same time.

A few other slides in the set show baseball being played at the Polo Grounds and provide useful information. The following slide helps determine who was playing the Giants the day of the photo shoot:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Note the uniforms of the players in this detail:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

The third baseman (and other players in the field) are wearing dark caps, light-colored uniforms, and stockings that are light with a single, dark stripe. This matches perfectly to what the Giants wore at home in 1908.

The third base coach is seen with a gray uniform and jacket, dark stockings, and a dark-colored cap. Note, however, that the cap has light colored piping on the seams that separate the panels of the cap crown. This uniform matches that worn on the road by just two clubs in 1908: Boston (NL) and Cincinnati (NL).

Since the lantern slides were available by the end of May, we are left with the following question: When in 1908 did either Boston or Cincinnati visit the Polo Grounds prior to the end of May? A check of the daily results of the Giants in 1908 at the handy and indispensible Retrosheet web site quickly reveals only one possible date: Boston's visit to the Polo Grounds on Saturday, May 9.

Boston was to play a four-game set at New York starting on Wednesday, May 6, but the inclement weather washed out the first three games, leaving just Saturday's contest between the clubs. Indeed, the game of the 9th was started in the rain, but the sun soon came out and, despite a shaky start by the Giants' ace pitcher Christy Mathewson, New York ultimately earned a 7-3 win. Here's the box score from the New York Times of May 10:



Taking a look at the Giants line-up, we get the following identifications for the players in the field: running in from left field is Spike Shannon; at shortstop is Al Bridwell; the third baseman is Art Devlin. Assuming that is the right fielder seen just to the right of the third base coach, that would be Mike Donlin. And assuming the rightmost Giant in the photo is the second baseman, it would be Larry Doyle. The umpire on the bases that day, seen at far right, was future Hall of Famer Bill Klem. Just who the third base coach for Boston was remains a mystery.

Another slide from the set shows the fans on the field after the ball game, as they head toward the exit in the outfield:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

An important clue that helps corroborate the early May date is found in a detail from the image:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Note that the advertisement for Luna Park states that the popular amusement park at Coney Island would open on May 16. Though billboards at ballparks rarely were altered in mid-season, one would guess that after May 16, this particular ad would change. Indeed, that is exactly what occurred. The following image taken on September 26, 1908, reveals that very change:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

This photo was taken at the Polo Grounds late in the season, on September 26, 1908. In between games of a doubleheader, the Giants presented Mike Donlin with the gift of a loving cup, in honor of his winning a popularity contest. Of interest to us, however, is the Luna Park ad in the background. This enhanced detail clearly shows how it has changed since the early May photo:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Though the angle is somewhat different from the lantern slide, it is clear that the O.F.C. Rye and Clysmic ads remain unchanged, while the Luna Park ad no longer declares that the park is opening on May 16. It now says:
THOMPSON AND DUNDY'S
LUNA PARK
A WORLD OF FUN
As guessed, they did indeed change the sign after the park opened and thus we've further corroborated that the slide was shot on May 9th.

So, the slides shot at the Polo Grounds were shot on Saturday, May 9. Then, perhaps as early as Monday, May 11, the slide of Katie holding the newspaper was shot. Just when Katie and her young beau were photographed outside "her house" (quite possibly across the street from DeWitt Wheeler's offices) is unknown, though it's likely it was around the same time.

One more slide from the "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" set is of interest. It depicts Katie and her young beau arriving at the Polo Grounds.


Collection of the National Baseball Library

A close examination of the image reveals that this is none other than the Polo Grounds entrance along the 155th Street entrance to the park. Note the signs above the doors at the far left in the slide read "GRAND STAND":


Collection of the National Baseball Library

And the flag seen at the right of the slide is the very same one that is seen hanging from the flagpole in dead center field in the other lantern slides. Note also the Tudor style building, the opposite side of which can be seen in the slide showing the fans.

Finally, what to make of this next slide?


Collection of the National Baseball Library

I can only assume that Katie is about to bite into some Cracker Jack. Is this what the candy looked like back in 1908? Any Cracker Jack experts out there to confirm this?



Each of the lantern slides seen in this blog is from the photo collection at the National Baseball Library (NBL) and I encourage anyone interested in purchasing quality reproductions to contact the NBL in Cooperstown, New York.

8 comments:

  1. I love this blog. Exquisitely researched, beautifully written and great fun too read. Absolutely fantastic!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You, sir, are a photo research god. Great detective work.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Simply awesome work. Tim Wiles

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh sure, all very impressive -- but you neglected to identify the guy in the bowler hat underneath the "Grand Stand" sign. Hmmph!
    ;-)
    Seriously, fantastic work as always, Tom!

    ReplyDelete
  5. A somewhat overly active synchronization of this slide set to a 1908 recording of the song by Edward Meeker is available on YouTube here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. THANK YOU!!! You answered every question I've had for years about this historic slide show, except for one. Were you able to place the location of the wooden sidewalk they were strolling down? The only thing I was certain about before is that the ball park was the Polo Grounds. They should consider you for the Hall Of Fame?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Al - If the wooden sidewalk you are referring to is the one seen in slide shown above, then (as noted) it is right outside the Polo Grounds at the 155th Street entrance to the park.

    ReplyDelete