Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Love a Parade

Well, Andy Strasberg has done it again. Last year he sent along a few photos from his Fantography web site that provided great fodder for baseball research. Now he's sent along another beauty that, I must say, has been incredibly fun to research. Check out this photo:

Andy had no information about the image at all. What you see is what you get. So what do we see?

First, a quick perusal of the picture reveals the following information:

  • some sort of parade is going on
  • a baseball float dominates the scene
  • given the size of the street and buildings, the location is likely a good-sized city
The float is adorned with autographs of numerous baseball players. Here are the names that can be discerned and the years they played in the big leagues:

  • Babe Dahlgren (1935-46)
  • Eddie Lake (1939-41, 1943-50)
  • Pee Wee Reese (1940-42, 1946-58)
  • Bob Feller (1936-41, 1945-56)
  • Dizzy Trout (1939-52, 1957)
  • Birdie Tebbets (1936-42, 1946-52)
  • Pat Mullin (1940-41, 1946-53)
All seven men played for different clubs, so apparently the float isn't meant to honor a specific team. And the years the players have in common are 1940, 1941 and 1946. Given the predominance of military uniforms worn by men and women both on the float and lining the streets, it's a good guess that the photo was taken either during or after World War II. This would point to 1946 as the most likely year, but at this point that's just an educated guess ... nothing more.

Not much more can be gleaned from the float. Some of the kids on top are wearing uniforms with words or letters across the chest, but nothing definitive can be discerned. And the words on the side of the float are extremely difficult to read, though I suspect the upper words read "JUNIOR BASEBALL."

Let's move to the street. An address, street sign, or business sign would be helpful, but very little jumps out. Indeed, I could find only three clues in this vein.

The first clue is the advertising on the side of the building behind the float. Here is a close-up:

We are seeing just the left half of the advertising on the wall, so it is a challenge to determine exactly what is written. At the top are the letters 'CUNNI." Below that is a circle with just a few letters visible: "DOW" and "D" and "ST." (I wonder if this might not read something like "DOWN THE D--- STREET?") Below the circle are the words "BUSH & LANE" displayed vertically and "PIA" and "AND" and further down "SAL" and "5" displayed horizontally.

Thanks goodness for the unobstructed vertical "BUSH & LANE." This was the name of a piano company, which means that the "CUNNI" is likely "CUNNINGHAM" (also a piano manufacturer) and the "PIA" is assuredly "PIANO." In short, the wall is probably an advertisement for a store that sells pianos. Alas, this information does no help determine a date, location or explanation for the photo.

A second clue is the presence of two strange towers, one at the right side of the photo and the other behind the float. Here's a close-up of one:

The image on each tower appears to be a movie reel floating above an automobile. Could this be a sign for movie parking? If so, why are there two signs? And why such an elaborate sign for such a mundane purpose.

The final clue is tough to see. It is hidden far down the street and sits atop a building on the left side. Here's a detail from the photo:

Above the roof of a building, a sign with three letters reads, from top to bottom, "FOX." It's not a unique word, but it is one that is often associated with theaters. Could this be a Fox Theater?

Following this hunch, the next move is to search for theaters named "Fox." As one might guess, there are quite a few. In fact, the folks at Cinema Treasures, a web site devoted to classic movie theaters, has cataloged nearly 200 theaters with the word "Fox" in their name, half of which were known simply as "Fox Theater." From the Fox in Spokane, Washington to the Fox in Hollywood, California to the Fox in Hackensack, New Jersey to the Fox in Pensacola, Florida: it seems that the four corners of the country and everyplace in between has had (or still has) a Fox Theater.

Continuing with the hunch and putting everything together, our Fox Theater was located in a decent-sized city during the 1940s. While that should help eliminate a number of theaters, it still lays before us a daunting task: which Fox is our Fox?

After hours of "Fox hunting," I managed to track down this image of the Fox Theater at 2211 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo courtesy of

The vertical "FOX" sign on this building is slightly different than that seen on our mystery image, but the above photo was taken in recent times, not back in the 1940s. It is reasonable that the FOX sign may have changed a bit over the years, so I decided to dig a little further and found another image of the Fox Theater in Detroit:

Photo courtesy of,_Michigan)

What is interesting about this modern photo of the theater is that across Woodward Avenue and down a block or so there is a church with a steeple. Referring to our baseball float photo, we see a similar church and steeple on the other side of the street from the building topped by the "FOX" sign. A quick look at a map of the area reveals that the church is the Central United Methodist Church at 23 East Adams (the corner of Woodward Avenue and Adams).

So both the Central United Methodist Church and the Fox Theater are still standing on Woodward Avenue. If only we could go to Detroit, walk down Woodward Avenue and see if any of the buildings we see match those in our mystery photo. Well, thanks to Google Street View, we can virtually take a walk down Woodward Avenue, so I did just that.

I started at the Fox Theater in Detroit and "walked" southeast on Woodward. Here's the view southeast with the Fox Theater on the right:

After "walking" few blocks southeast, I got to the Central United Methodist Church. Here's the view looking back (northwest) at the Fox Theater (on he left) from the church (on the right):

And, after "walking" a number of blocks further southeast, I turned around and looked back (northwest) at this scene:

We're just about half a block south of John R Street, looking northwest up Woodward Avenue, and voila! It's a perfect match with our baseball float photo. (Click here to enter Google Street View at the above location).

Revisiting the float photo, let's explore some of the distinctive buildings seen here on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

A) Fox Theater, 2211 Woodward Avenue.

B) Central United Methodist Church, 23 East Adams Avenue (corner of Woodward and Adams)

C) Fyfe Building, 10 West Adams (corner of Woodward and Adams). Here's a great photo:

Photo courtesy of Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, LC-D41-40

D) David Broderick Tower, 10 Witherell Street (corner of Woodward and Witherell). Here's a picture of the Broderick Tower (on the left):

Photo courtesy of

E) Wright-Kay Building (also known as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music), 1500 Woodward Avenue. This is an absolutely gorgeous building and, apparently, the first in Detroit to have an electric elevator. Here is a photo:

Photo courtesy of

F) St. John’s Episcopal Church, 50 East Fisher Freeway. Hard to see in the baseball float photo as it is pretty far away. Here's a photo:

Photo courtesy of

So there's no doubt exactly where the photo was taken. But when was it taken? When was there a World War II-era parade on Woodward Avenue? Here's the answer:

Back in 1946, Detroit held the Automotive Golden Jubilee, a two-week celebration of the end of the war and war-time related manufacturing and a return to doing what Detroit did best: making cars. On June 1, 1946, the World's Fair-like celebration reached a climax with the Motor City Cavalcade, a parade down Woodward Avenue.

The Detroit Public Library has an excellent online exhibit about the Jubilee. The site features the following image of the cover of the Jubilee program:

Recognize the logo? It's the same "movie reel" floating above a car seen on the towers in the baseball float photo. But that's not a movie reel, it's a wheel orbited by electrons, a symbol of the automobile industry moving into the atomic age.

The following image of the parade is from Life magazine in 1946:

Note the numerous towers topped by the Jubilee logo, identical to those seen in our float photo. There's no question that our mystery photo was taken at this parade.

Amazingly, there is even footage of the parade on YouTube.

So, the baseball float photo was taken during the Motor City Cavalcade parade on June 1, 1946, from a location just about half a block south of John R Street, looking northwest up Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

But what of the baseball float? What is its story? Alas, I have been unable to find any information about that particular float. Perhaps one of my readers can help solve that final mystery.

Monday, April 12, 2010

That Famous Yankees Logo

For a number of years now, the New York Yankees (and numerous others) have repeated a story about the origin of their famous interlocking "NY" logo. Here's what they said in their 2009 media guide:
It wasn’t until 1909 that the most recognizable insignia in sports—the interlocking “NY”—made its first appearance on the caps and left sleeves of Highlanders uniforms. The design was created in 1877 by Louis B. [sic] Tiffany for a medal to be given by the New York City Police Department to Officer John McDowell, the first NYC policeman shot in the line of duty. Perhaps because one of the club’s owners, Bill Devery, was a former NYC police chief, the design was adopted by the organization.
We've just passed the centennial of the famous logo and the story intrigued me, so I thought I'd take a further look.

First, I wondered, where did the story (true or false) come from? My search for the origins of the story was surprisingly difficult and, to date, the earliest version I could find was in an April 11, 1992 article in the New York Times by Douglas Martin titled "For 14 Bronx Workers, A Small, Small Token." It reads, in part:
For the 16th straight year, New York City employees who work in the Bronx and who demonstrated valor will receive gold-plated medals. They are based on a medal of valor designed for the Police Department by Tiffany's in 1877. The stylish "NY" on that medal later became the symbol of the Yankees.
Surely the story must predate that Times article, but I can't seem to track it down.

By the way, the nickname "Yankees" would not truly take hold with the New York American League ball club until the 1910s. In the first decade of the club's existence it was more often referred to as the New York Highlanders or New York Americans. However, for purposes of this blog entry, I'll be calling them the Yankees.

Having come up short on the history of the story, I next decided to delve into the story of Officer McDowell. After reading a number of contemporary newspaper accounts, I was able to piece together what happened:

At 3 o'clock in the morning on January 8, 1877, Officer John McDowell was walking down Seventh Avenue when he noticed something amiss at Courtney's Liquor Store. A light was on and the door had been forced open, so the officer entered. There he found three burglars with their loot: $120 worth of cigars. One of the burglars, a 19-year-old named James Farrell (sometimes referred to as George Flint), attempted to escape. As he rushed past McDowell, the policeman struck him with his club. The burglar drew a revolver and fired, the bullet hitting McDowell behind his left ear and passing out his right temple. While the other burglars escaped, the seriously wounded officer managed to wrestle Farrell to the ground, at which point a number of other officers came upon the scene and arrested the burglar. The heroic police officer eventually recovered from his wounds and was given $1,000 for his bravery by the Trustees of the Riot Relief Fund. Additionally, McDowell was awarded the New York City Police Department Medal of Valor.

In short, Officer John McDowell was indeed shot in the line of duty and did receive the Medal of Valor.

Now what about the claim that McDowell was "the first NYC policeman shot in the line of duty?" As it turns out, that statement is most certainly incorrect, as that ignominious distinction belongs to one James Cahill, shot and killed on September 29, 1854. This is made clear in this otherwise somewhat confusing article that appeared in the New York Daily Tribune of September 30, 1854:
Yesterday morning, shortly before 3 o'clock, two burglars, who had broken into Mr. Logan's bakery in Ninth st., near Avenue C, were discovered by one of the inmates of the premises, and made a hasty retreat, pursued, however, by the individual who first saw them. He called for help, which attracted the attention of policeman James Cahill, of the Eleventh Ward, who, seeing the rascals running off, gave chase and came up with them on the corner of Tenth st. and Avenue B. He immediately closed in with them and a struggle ensued, and during its continuance of a few minutes several pistol shots were discharged, when the two men, who had been struggling with the officer by a female from the upper window of Mr. Simpson's residence near by ran off. The reports of the pistol being heard by officers Lake and Vermilyea, of the same district, they hastened to the spot, and saw their associate holding on to a small tree and staggering as if about to fall. They asked him if he was shot, in response to which he gave a groan, sank to the pavement, and expired in a few seconds afterward. His dead body was immediately conveyed to the Police station by the officers, where it awaits the holding of the Coroner's inquisition.
Now what of that medal? Not many were awarded (the particular medal design lasted just about a dozen years before being revamped), and still fewer are extant. But by good fortune, I was able to track down not only a contemporary New York City Police Department Medal of Valor, but the very one that had been awarded to Officer McDowell back in 1877. The little treasure resides at the New York City Police Museum in Lower Manhattan, and the good folks at the museum graciously allowed me to share these images of its front and back:

Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Museum

Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Museum

The reverse reads:
Presented to Patrolman
John McDowell
For Bravery.
In pursuance of resolution
of the Board of Police of
New York.
Dated January 12th 1877.
Wm. F. Smith D.W.C. Wheeler
J.B. Erhardt S.P. Nichols
As a side note, one of the Police Commissioners listed is a gentleman named DeWitt C. Wheeler. I have been unable determine the relationship between this DeWitt C. Wheeler and the DeWitt C. Wheeler who produced the song slides for Take Me Out to the Ball Game in 1908 (see my blog entry on the subject). I suspect that the two were indeed related.

A close examination of the lower left edge of the medal reveals the words "TIFFANY & CO., N.Y.," so it seems a safe bet the medal was designed and produced by the famous company, though it was almost assuredly not designed by Louis C. Tiffany himself.

Now let's take a closer look at the portion of the medal that we are interested in the most:

Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Museum

Certainly the letters are centered and interlocking, like the Yankees logo. But is this unique? Actually, no. In fact, the Yankees dabbled in an interlocking, though not centered, "NY" logo back in 1905. Here's a photo showing the interesting design on the shoulder of Yankees first baseman Hal Chase (who you can read more about at my blog entry):

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-003882. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

So, interlocking letters were nothing new in baseball. What about interlocking letters that are also centered atop one another? Actually, that wasn't new either. In fact, a year before the Yankees took the field with their new logo, the New York Giants introduced an interlocking and centered "NY" logo. Here's an image of Giants catcher Roger Bresnahan in 1908 showing the design on his left shoulder:

The next year, the Giants altered the look of their interlocking NY, with a fancier version that was the Giants logo for decades to come. Here's the 1909 design as worn by Giants coach Arlie Latham (by the way, that's Wilbert Robinson in the background with a mustache):

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-03271

So, in 1909 there was really nothing new about interlocking and centered letters as logos in baseball. Both New York teams were using them, as were the 1909 Cardinals and even the 1909 Pirates ("PBC" standing for "Pirates Baseball Club"), as seen at the National Baseball Hall of Fame's online exhibit, Dressed to the Nines.

Now let's take a look at the "NY" as worn by these early Yankees. Here's a picture showing Willie Keeler wearing the Yankees logo on his sleeve in 1909:

Getty Images preview image #82985601

And, while this next photo of infielder Bill Stumpf (misspelled Stump on the image) is from 1912, when the Yankees "supersized" their logo on their left chest, it shows essentially the same "NY" as adopted in 1909:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11311

Here's a detail from the above photograph clearly showing the logo:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11311
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the medal and the Yankees logo:

So the question is: Does the look of the "N" and "Y" on the medal match (or come close to matching) that of this early Yankees "NY" logo? That question is, to some extent, a matter of opinion. However, it seems to me that there are a number of distinct similarities:

  • In both the medal and the Yankees logo, the "N" has concave vertical "bars"
  • In both the medal and the Yankees logo, the point where the two separate elements (the "V") at the top of the "Y" join occurs just above the angled cross-member of the "N"
  • In both the medal and the Yankees logo, the bottom of the "Y" features a distinct concavity, as do the bottoms and tops of the "N"
Interestingly, the modern Yankees "NY" logos (they actually have a few that differ slightly) have lost the last of the above distinctive characteristics: the concavities at the ends of the letters. Here are those logos:

Finally, what of the supposed link between the medal, the logo and Yankees co-owner Bill Devery? Most sources state that Devery joined the New York City police force in 1878, the year after McDowell earned the Medal of Valor. Twenty years later the man known as "Big Bill" had worked his way up to Chief of Police. Along with Frank Farrell, Devery was co-owner of the Yankees starting in 1903 and ending with the sale of the club to Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston in 1915.

So, Devery was indeed with the Yankees at the time the logo was adopted for the 1909 season. But why would Devery (or anyone else for that matter) harken back to a somewhat obscure police medal as an inspiration? That question remains unanswered.

I've found no "smoking gun" to help solve the mystery. Indeed, there doesn't appear to be a single reference to the Yankees adopting a new "NY" design in newspaper coverage in 1909, let alone a reason for the introduction of the logo. Perhaps one of my readers can shed additional light on the story?

Friday, April 2, 2010

A "New" Role for Mike Donlin

I was watching a Buster Keaton movie the other day when I was somewhat startled to see a former major leaguer make a cameo appearance. The baseball-player-turned-actor was none other than Mike Donlin.

Donlin spent 12 year in the big leagues with six different clubs, but is best known for his time with the New York Giants. For the World Champion 1905 Giants, Donlin was the starting center fielder, pacing the club with a .356 batting average and a league-leading 124 runs scored. Here's a photograph of Donlin at Chicago's West Side Grounds, home of the Cubs prior to their move to Wrigley Field:

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-003778. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

In five seasons during his career, Donlin finished with one of the top three batting averages in his league, and when he finally hung up his spikes following the 1914 season, his lifetime .334 average was in the top 20 all-time.

But back to the movie ...

What startled me was not that Donlin showed up in a movie. Indeed, most baseball historians are familiar with Donlin's Hollywood career. Following his days as a big leaguer, Donlin appeared in numerous motion pictures, most notably in a role as a Union general in Buster Keaton's beloved 1926 film The General. He also made appearances in films such as Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman (1917) featuring Donlin's friend John Barrymore, She Done Him Wrong (1933) starring a very young Cary Grant, and a pair of movies starring Walter Huston scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies on April 6, 2010: The Star Witness (1931) and The Beast of the City (1932). With roles in over 60 movies, Donlin was no stranger to the silver screen.

What startled me was that Donlin was in this particular movie: Spite Marriage (1929). IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) doesn't make note of Donlin's role and neither do any other sources I could track down. Yet, about 50 minutes into the film, there is Donlin, manning a ship's engine room along with Keaton. Here are a few stills from the film showing Donlin:

And here's a close-up of Donlin from this last still:

I've submitted this new information to the folks at IMDB. Here's hoping they add Spite Marriage to Donlin's list of acting "accomplishments."

Update of December 11, 2010:

I just checked and found that IMDB has indeed made the update that Mike Donlin had an uncredited role in "Spite Marriage."

Also, blog reader Meho Midjich commented that Mike Donlin appears in John Ford's "Up the River." Indeed, Meho is correct. Here's a screen shot of Donlin from the movie:

Once again, I've submitted this new information to IMDB.