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 1o. 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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Musings on Images of Detroit's Recreation Park


The University of Michigan has digitized many thousands of images at their "Early Detroit Images from the Burton Historical Collection" web site, including these wonderful photographs of Recreation Park in Detroit, the home of the Detroit Wolverines of the National League from 1881 to 1888.
(Clicking on an image below will open a new window and allow you to view larger versions).








The following image is a detail from the first photo, showing an intriguing poster:



Though it is difficult to decipher, some of the text on the poster reads as follows:
RECREATION PARK
?? 16 17 18 19
CAPT. PAUL
BOYTON
?? ENTERTAINMENT
2,342 MILES

Captain Paul Boyton was an adventurer who specialized in long-distance swimming with the aid of a special rubber suit and paddles. He would propel himself while on his back, something like a cross between kayaking and luging. In 1879, Boyton made his way from Oil City, Pennsylvania to the Gulf of Mexico in just 80 days, a distance of 2,342 miles. No doubt this latter number is the same as seen in the poster. This suggests that Boyton was making an appearance at Recreation Park sometime after his remarkable accomplishment, in mid-to-late 1879 or perhaps 1880.

These fantastic images of Recreation Park spurred my interest in looking for other photos of the ballpark, and in so doing I found that the last of the four photos above was the basis for this woodcut by Charles W. Sumner found in Silas Farmer's The History of Detroit and Michigan: or, the Metropolis Illustrated (1884):



The caption for the drawing reads "Recreation Park Entrance and Reception Building" and an accompanying paragraph describes the park as follows:

As a place for out-door entertainments, Recreation Park affords all facilities that can be desired. It is located on the Brush Farm, the entrance being a few blocks east of Woodward Avenue, on Brady Street. The grounds, embracing eighteen acres, are fitted up to accommodate exhibitions of various kinds. The Reception Building has every needful appliance for comfort and convenience. The Park was opened on May 10, 1879.
Since the book was published in 1884, this corroborates my guess that the photo was taken in 1879 or soon thereafter.

In tracking down still more images of the park, I stumbled on a bit of a mystery. The following photo of Recreation Park comes from page 81 of David Lee Poremba's Detroit: 1860-1899:



The note written near the top of the photograph reads:

BASE BALL GAME
PLAYED AT
RECREATION PARK DETROIT, MICH
ON
JUNE 19, 1886
BETWEEN DETROIT & CHICAGO
13 INNINGS WERE PLAYED ENDING IN A SCORE OF 1 TO 0
IN FAVOR OF THE HOME TEAM. RECREATION PARK
WAS LOCATED WHERE BRUSH ST. IS NOW BETWEEN
BRADY ST. AND ALEXANDERINE AVE. EAST

From the phrase "... where Brush St. is now between ...," we know that the note was not written contemporaneously. So how much do we trust this caption? Well, as it turns out, not much. A quick check of numerous sources reveals that Detroit and Chicago did not play a 13-inning, 1-0 game on that date. Is that date wrong? Or the score? Or the number of innings? Or some combination of any of the above?

At first, I thought the date had to be wrong, as I found the same photo (sans the notation) on page 53 of Picturesque Detroit and Environs, a book available at Google Books and purportedly published in 1883:



Since the publication date for the book was 1883, this would eliminate 1886 as a possible year. But after browsing through the book, I found that the author made mention of facts that took place after 1883. Indeed, various statistics for years up to and including 1892 are cited. It appears that the book was actually published in 1893, not 1883.

So I'm still left with the question: When was the photo taken? Alas, I don't have a definite answer, but my suspicion is that the date of June 19, 1886, is correct. The key is the enormous crowd, clearly evident in the photograph, and definitely on hand for the mid-June game.

That day, Detroit did indeed face Chicago in a much-anticipated game. The Wolverines had not lost a game at home all season: 18-straight victories at Recreation Park! As Chicago came to town, Detroit stood in first place with a record of 30 wins and just six losses (along with a tie game). Meanwhile, the Chicago White Stockings were in second place, just 2.5 games behind, with a 26-7 record (with one tie). A large contingent from the Windy City traveled to Detroit in anticipation of not just a single victory, but a series sweep, moving Chicago into first place. It was an audacious goal given the Wolverines unblemished record at home, but one that was embraced.

Fans of the White Stockings brought brooms with them to the park, each marked with the motto "Record Breakers," predicting the demise of Detroit's impressive victory skein. But Detroit fans had their own retort: a giant broom painted with the phrase "The Big Four and Five More." "The Big Four" was the nickname of the Wolverines' infield (Dan Brouthers, Jack Rowe, Hardy Richardson, and Deacon White), acquired in a controversial deal late in the season of 1885. "And Five More" referred, of course, to the rest of the starting nine.

The crowd was estimated at well over 10,000 and described as the most ever seen at the park. Coverage in The Washington Post of June 20 corroborates what we see in the photo:

The down-town ticket offices were thronged all the early part of the afternoon with people buying baseball tickets. The Woodward Avenue and Brush Street car lines tried in vain by putting on extra cars to accommodate the crowds going to see the first Chicago-Detroit ball game at Recreation Park. It was worse than any Fourth of July. The Chicago procession of carriages was noticeable for the brooms in the ship-socket of each. At 3 o'clock it was estimated that there were 10,000 people on the grounds. Rows of chairs were placed in front of the stand ten deep, and were all occupied by 3 o'clock. It was found necessary to stretch a rope about half way between the diamond at the back fence to keep the crowd back. This necessitated making special rules barring all home runs and three-base hits.
... as does this from The Chicago Tribune:

Ample accommodation had been made at the grounds to seat the immense crowd by placing 5,000 seats upon the lawn in front of the grand stand and open. Extending northward from both ends of the open and circling across the field was a line of spectators ten deep, and at 3:30 the diamond was literally enclosed by a living hedge of 13,000 people.
Chicago topped Detroit 5-4 (not 1-0) in nine innings, though Detroit came back to win the last two games of the series to remain in first.

Though I cannot say for certain that the photo is from this particular game, I think it highly likely.



Research Update: November 5, 2009

Baseball researcher Peter Morris made great progress on the handbill posted outside Recreation Park. He found that a note in the Detroit Free Press from June 15, 1879, confirmed that Boyton was scheduled to appear at Recreation Park from June 16 to 19.

I followed up on Peter's invaluable lead and found that starting in the June 13 issue of the Free Press there were a number of articles and advertisements about Boyton's visit. Apparently, his exhibitions were such a success that additional shows were scheduled for June 20 and 21. Here's the final advertisement from the June 21 issue of the Free Press:



Earlier ads heralded "CAPT. PAUL BOYTON, The World-famed Navigator, in his Rubber Life-saving Dress, in a New Original & Unique Entertainment. This is the first appearance in Michigan waters and his Nautical Exhibition, as given by him in all the leading cities in Europe and America, will be presented in its entirety. A splendid sheet of water, 7 feet in depth, adjacent to the Grand Stand, has been prepared especially for the occasion."

The article on June 15 stated that "Capt. Boyton has been engaged by the Recreation Park Company to give a series of exhibitions at the park next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, at 5 o'clock each afternoon. A miniature lake seven feet in depth and 200x100 feet in area has been provided in full view of the grand stand and good music will be furnished during the exhibition."

This explains the water that is seen in front of the grand stand in the second of the four photographs above. Originally I thought this water was a feature of the park, but in light of the Free Press article it is clear that this "miniature lake" was created especially for Boyton's exhibition. Here's another look:



I think we can now state with certainty that the four photos of Recreation Park that were digitized at the University of Michigan were taken in mid-June of 1879.

I've tracked down a few other Boyton-related links, for those who wish to learn more about "The World-famed Navigator":

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of


One of my favorite films is The Maltese Falcon. I must have seen the film noir classic at least 50 times, and each time it's a thoroughly enjoyable experience. And, like going to a ballgame, I see something new, something I haven't seen before, each time I watch.

So why am I discussing The Maltese Falcon on the Baseball Researcher Blog? What does The Maltese Falcon have to do with baseball?

Well, nothing much ... except for one scene that poses an interesting challenge to the baseball picture researcher. The scene occurs nearly halfway through the film and goes like this:

Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) enters the Hotel Belvedere in order to talk with Joel Cairo. He stops at the lobby desk and attempts to ring Cairo.



While on the phone, Spade notices Wilmer Cook (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.), the "gunsel" that has been tailing him, sitting in the lobby and reading (or pretending to read) a newspaper.



Spade walks over, stares at Cook, sits in a chair next to the young thug and coolly partakes in a bit of verbal sparring:

Spade: Where is he?
Cook: What?
Spade: Where is he?
Cook: Who?
Spade: Cairo.

[Where are Abbott and Costello when you need them?]

Cook: What do you think you're doing, Jack? Kidding me?
Spade: I'll tell you when I am. New York, aren't you?
Cook: Shove off.
Spade: You're gonna have to talk to me before you're through, sonny. Some of you will. And you can tell the fat man I said so.
Cook: Keep askin' for it and you're gonna get it ... plenty. I told you to shove off. Shove off.
Spade:
People lose teeth talkin' like that. If you wanna hang around, you'll be polite.


At this point, Spade gets the attention of Luke, the house detective. After exchanging hellos, Spade calls Luke's attention to Cook.

Spade: What do you let these cheap gunmen hang around the lobby for, with their heaters bulging in their clothes?
Luke [to Cook]: What do you want here? Well, if you don't want anything, beat it and don't come back!
Cook: I won't forget you guys.

And with that, Cook exits.

So, where's the baseball? Well, take another look at the newspaper held by Wilmer:



And here's a close-up of the paper:



There's the baseball ... smack dab in the middle of the paper is a picture of a catcher making a play at home.

And the mystery? Who's the catcher? What's the situation? Where and when was the photo taken? It's a great challenge that was originally posed back in 2001 by baseball historian Jules Tygiel on SABR-L , the listserve for the Society for American Baseball Research:

A friend has posed a somewhat esoteric but intriguing question. Most of you will want to pass on this one, but I know that there are a few movie buffs out there. In the Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) walks into a San Francisco hotel. Wilmer the gunsel (Elisha Cook, Jr.) is sitting there, face obscured by an open newspaper. On the back page of the newspaper is a picture of a catcher. Who is the catcher?

No guesses please. Has anyone ever freeze framed the movie and figured this out?


I thought I'd give it a try.

Unfortunately, the quality of the images I have been able to track down (capturing frames off DVD and reviewing publicity stills) is not good enough to make out the catcher, the sliding runner, or much else about the photo. The research will have to focus on other clues and I figured the best angle of attack would be to identify the exact issue of the newspaper, track down a copy and simply read the caption for the photo. But before proceeding further, we first need address the possibility that the paper is a manufactured prop.

Actually, fake newspapers show up here and there throughout the film. For example, early in the movie, when Spade gets the late night call telling him that his partner Miles Archer has been killed, the camera lingers not on the sleepy detective, but on the night table where his tobacco pouch and ashtray lay atop a newspaper.



Careful examination of the paper reveals it is a racing form, with the words "Yankee Do—" in a prominent headline, the last word cut off at the fold. I suspect this is supposed to be the name of a horse, likely "Yankee Doodle," a rather uninspired name for a fictional mount. (While it is not stated directly in the movie, Spade is a bit of a racing aficionado, as he has pictures of thoroughbreds scattered about his apartment.) The paper was almost assuredly created for the movie.

Another newspaper figures prominently in a later scene, with the front page taking over the full screen:



As one might guess, there never was a "San Francisco Post-Dispatch." The paper and its important headlines were obviously manufactured in order to further the plot.

In the scene in which Spade awakens after being drugged, he pulls himself together and proceeds to turn Casper Gutman's hotel room upside down, looking for clues. He happens upon a newspaper in which the name of a ship (the La Paloma) has been circled.



Bogart is likely holding a real newspaper (above), but the paper used in the close-up (below) showing the shipping news is a fake:



And when Captain Jacobi (played by director John Huston's father, Walter) stumbles into Spade's office with the Falcon, it is bundled in yet another newspaper ... this one in Chinese (the La Paloma had just arrived from Hong Kong).



Whether or not this is a real paper (or papers?) is unknown. (Bonus points if anyone can decipher anything about this paper.)

But, what of Wilmer Cook's paper? Is it, like the others, a manufactured prop? Well, it's not easy, but the careful eye can make out a few headlines.

Most prominent, at the top left is a headline that reads "SEALS OPEN SERIES WITH STARS TONIGHT" with an impossible to read byline. Below the photo of the catcher are headlines for two separate stories. The one at far right reads "OAKS OPEN L.A. SERIES TONIGHT" and the other "PEARSON AND BALASKI TOP HOLLYPARK RIDERS." Another headline that runs over the fold at the bottom-right reads, in part, "DiMag—" and near the very bottom there appears to be a headline starting with the words "FIGURE SKATING." Finally, at the upper right of the folded paper there appears to be a headline that reads (in part) "NICK WILLIAMS," with an accompanying photo.

Obviously we're seeing the sports section, but the headlines are so specific that it simply cannot be a manufactured piece. So, can we determine the date and name of the paper?

The Maltese Falcon was released in October of 1941, but shooting took place in Hollywood during the summer of '41. In fact, the entire film was shot in just about six weeks, starting in early June and ending in mid-July. Thus, the paper must have been printed no later than mid-July of 1941.

I decided to run through the headlines as clues, seeing if any could help nail the date of the paper.

There are two headlines referring to openings of series. Both refer to clubs in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), the top one referring to the San Francisco Seals and Hollywood Stars, while the lower headline calls out the Oakland Oaks and Los Angeles Angels. Conveniently, both stories feature Bay Area clubs, which is important for continuity as the movie is set in San Francisco. But if we assume that the paper is from 1941, when did those teams meet?

I tracked down a 1941 PCL schedule and quickly two dates emerged as the only possibilities. The Oaks and Angels faced each other in series openers on Tuesday, June 3 (at L.A.) and Tuesday, July 1 (at Oakland). Those dates also match when the Stars played the Seals: June 3 (at Hollywood) and July 1 (at San Francisco). The same pairs of clubs also met for two series in August, but those occurred after shooting was completed, so they are not possibilities for the date of the paper.

So, quickly I was able to narrow down the date of the paper to either June 3 or July 1, 1941.

What of the clue that both series opened at night? Perhaps that would isolate one of the two remaining dates. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, series openers at that time in the PCL always started on Tuesday nights, so we make no headway there.

The headline that reads "PEARSON AND BALASKI TOP HOLLYPARK RIDERS" seems promising. Billy Pearson and Lester Balaski were both jockeys at Hollywood Park (often shortened to "Hollypark" to save headline space). Pearson was an apprentice jockey at the time, while Balaski had been riding since the mid-1930s. Perhaps their positions atop the jockey standings would determine the correct date for the newspaper.

The Los Angeles Times generally published the jockey standings on Mondays, so I checked both the June 2 and June 30 issues to see who were the top riders. Alas, both Pearson and Balaski were one-two on both occasions! This nicely corroborated the two dates I had already determined, but (once again) failed to eliminate either.

Thankfully, the "NICK WILLIAMS" headline managed to do the trick. Richard Lloyd "Nick" Williams was a former minor league ballplayer and scout. But he was best known as manager of the San Francisco Seals in the late 1920s and early '30s. His clubs featured future Hall of Famers such as Paul Waner, Earl Averill and Lefty Gomez, along with star players like Frankie Crosetti, Dolph Camilli, and Lefty O'Doul. But more importantly for my research, Williams passed away on June 2, 1941. The headline was for his obituary that ran the next day, June 3, 1941: the date of the paper held by Wilmer!

Now that the date of the paper was settled, I needed to determine what paper it was. My first guess was that it was a Los Angeles-based paper, since it seemed more likely that a real paper used as a simple prop would most likely be obtained near the studio. Furthermore, the headline related to Hollypark seemed to point in the direction of a paper from the Hollywood area. I contacted SABR member Bob Timmerman, Senior Librarian at the Los Angeles Library, and briefed him on the project. He graciously checked numerous Hollywood and LA-based papers from June 3, 1941, but couldn't find a match.

Then I noticed a subtle clue that had earlier eluded me. Above the headline that reads "SEALS OPEN SERIES WITH STARS TONIGHT" there is a smaller lead headline. It is difficult to discern, but it reads: "IN THE LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE." Since the date of the paper is June 3, we know that the Seals are playing the Stars in Hollywood (not in San Francisco, which would have been the case if the paper had been from July 1). Hollywood is "the land of make believe." But it didn't seem likely that an LA-based paper would refer to Hollywood as "the land of make believe." That would be a title that a paper from a different locale would use. Perhaps this paper wasn't from LA after all? My thoughts turned north ... to San Francisco.

Like Los Angeles, San Francisco boasted numerous newspapers in 1941, but I hoped that a match would surface in one of the two biggest: The Chronicle or The Examiner. I managed to obtain a copy of the sports page from a June 3, 1941 issue of the San Francisco Examiner by way of a kind librarian at York College, but it definitely did not look like Wilmer's paper.

Now my hopes were pinned on The Chronicle. While microfilm of the newspaper can be found at many libraries, I managed to make a connection with Ted Smith, librarian at the University of Oregon, and he agreed to take a look. Initially, the report wasn't good. The page didn't match that seen in the movie still. But upon further review, something interesting was revealed. A pair of headlines in The Chronicle of June 3 were identical to those in our mystery paper: "SEALS OPEN SERIES WITH STARS TONIGHT" and "OAKS OPEN L.A. SERIES TONIGHT." Furthermore, the Stars story had a byline: "by BOB STEVENS."

Bob Stevens had covered baseball in the Bay Area since the mid-1930s and was The Chronicle's beat writer for the Seals for 17 years. He then covered the Giants from their first year following their move out from New York until 1978. While the byline under the Seals headline in the mystery paper is impossible to read, it matches the length of the words "By BOB STEVENS." The matchup of headlines and bylines couldn't be a coincidence ... it had to be The San Francisco Chronicle. But the rest of the page didn't jibe. How could this be?

In fact, there was another problem with the June 3, 1941 date altogether. Basically every paper I could track down from that day featured columns upon columns of coverage of a major sports story: the death of Lou Gehrig. How could it be that Wilmer was holding a sports page from June 3, yet there is apparently not a word of Gehrig's demise?

It seems to me there is only one possible resolution. As was generally the case at the time, The Chronicle published numerous issues of their paper throughout the day. Perhaps the early morning edition had already gone to press before news of Gehrig's death had made it to the paper's offices. After the big news hit The Chronicle, they rearranged the paper, cut various stories (Balaski and Pearson, figure skating, and our mystery catcher), and added in the news about Gehrig. The edition that Wilmer is holding had to be that early morning edition, while the edition on microfilm at the University of Oregon, was from later in the day.

And so, I am left searching for an early morning, June 3, 1941 edition of The San Francisco Chronicle, in hopes that my theory is correct and the mysterious catcher can be identified. Ironically, I'm left in much the same position as Casper Gutman and Joel Cairo at the end of The Maltese Falcon, having come so close to finding the Falcon, yet so far. Like them, I'll not give up. I'll track that paper down someday, somehow. But, until then, the mystery will remain "the stuff that dreams are made of."