America’s Great Pastime
As spring finally makes its appearance, “Take me out to the ball game – America’s Great Pastime,” was the focus of a special exhibit at Allison-Antrim Museum. Baseball artifacts and memorabilia from the collection of James H. Craig Jr., dating from the 1920s, forms the core of the exhibit and his father’s glove and shoes. From the museum’s collection, the Greencastle Athletics’ uniform of John Bear, and photographs of local ball teams that were loaned to the museum for use in the pictorial history book are on exhibit.
2004 marks the 81st anniversary of the opening of the Jerome R. King Playground. In 1922, David D. King, a Chicago businessman, donated five acres of land to Greencastle which was named for his deceased brother, Jerome R. King. This land was to, “be used as a public recreation ground for the people of Greencastle.” The playground and ball field were designed and built during 1922. The new playground was then dedicated and opened during Old Home Week 1923. Eighty-one years later, during another Old Home Week year, the ball field is still the site of exciting games between area ball teams.
Before WWI, Greencastle had produced three major league baseball players – Albert “Bert” Goetz, Charles Reno “Togie” Pittenger, and Charles “King” Lear. Albert “Bert” Goetz, a pitcher, is thought to be the first person in Greencastle’s history to throw a curve ball. He played for the National League’s Baltimore team for a while.
During the 1890s, Togie Pittenger played with minor league teams in Martinsburg, W.V., Carlisle and Chambersburg. He was then signed by the Boston Braves during the later 1890s and was one of their top pitchers in 1902. Pittenger pitched right and batted left. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies making him one of the first major league players to be traded. Pittenger died at the age of 37 after developing Bright’s disease, which affects the kidneys.
It is said that Charles “King” Lear, a pitcher, invented the knuckle ball. He played for the Mercersburg Academy and Princeton University and was then signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1914. Two years later, Lear injured his throwing arm during training camp, which brought his career to an early end.
A number of Greencastle-Antrim men played in the minor leagues. They included J. Kieffer “Bugs” Snyder both a player and a manager; and Guy Glaser who played outfield and infield positions for the Phillies’. Others included Theodore Brumbaugh, I. J. Stine, Ralph Pefley, Glen Ogle, Robert Ogle, Ray Bear, Seibert Zimmerman, Robert Walck, Jack Wells, and Wayne Berger
Tom Zullinger was a major league scout and managed local teams along with Nelson “Nellie” Fox who was from St. Thomas. In 1950 and 1951, Zullinger arranged for major league all-star teams to play post-season exhibition games against local all-star teams at King Playground.
The Greencastle Athletic Club was an all-star team that evolved out of the Sunday School League, which was active between 1921 and 1923. The Athletic Club was part of the Blue Ridge Baseball League and played against teams from other towns in the valley. The Athletics’ home games were all played at the Jerome R. King Playground from 1923 on.
After WWII, interest in adult teams declined. It was during the post-WWII era that high school teams were established and comprised the make-up of the Blue Ridge League.
Jack Dixon, one of the town’s barbers, formed a softball team called Jack’s Giants (pronounced Gints, with a long “i”). The Giants team is the only known all-black sports team to have existed in Greencastle-Antrim. Their schedule of games was played at King Playground against other teams in town during the years preceding WWII.
The Rescue Hose Company HOCO Softball team was organized on April 5, 1949. During that year their games were played on the Holstein lot, which is now the Rescue Hose Company Special Events Center grounds.
On January 1, 1950, the fire company leased, from Mrs. Strickler, a field behind where the old Ice and Cold Storage was located on North Carlisle Street for $75 per year. Many improvements were made to the field, which was named HOCO Field. HOCO Field is now part of the Greencastle-Antrim Youth Baseball complex. Bylaws prohibited the use of the King Playground ball field on Sundays, so HOCO field was used by some of the area’s teams for Sunday afternoon games. The HOCO team disbanded in early 1953. At that time the softball equipment was sold and the money (about $400) remaining in the treasury was put toward the organization of the Greencastle Little League.
Bonnie A. Shockey,
· Conrad, W. P., Conococheague – A History of the Greencastle-Antrim Community 1736-1971, Greencastle-Antrim School District with the Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library, 1971
· Conrad, W. P., Glory Land, Beidel Printing House, Inc, Shippensburg, Pa., 1983
· Middleburg/Mason-Dixon Line Historical Society, Inc. archives
· Rescue Hose Company archives
The Jerome R. King Playground Circa 1925
The Jerome R. King Playground had its origin in 1922 when David O. King, a prosperous business man from Chicago and strong advocate of Old Home Week, made available $5,000 for the purpose of establishing a playground to memorialize his brother Jerome. A five acre plot was purchased with Mr. King’s gift and through local funds, secured through a community-wide drive, the play area became a reality in time for the Old Home Week celebration of 1923.
This gift to Greencastle has expanded from that early tract to a recreational center of fifteen acres. In 1941, a wooded plot, donated by Jessie McLanahan Nelson, as atribut to her son, Daniel, became a picnic area, with a rustic shelter house and a band stand that serves as a memorial to the veterans of the Greencastle-Antrim community.
Lands to the north of the original playground represent legacies to the community by Mrs. William R. Davison and Mrs. J. Edward Omwake as memorials to their husbands. The last land acquisition came in 1973 when the area adjacent to the railroad bridge, along North Carlisle Street, was purchased from the Penn Central Corporation through public contributions and a grant from the Borough Council.
Today’s Jerome R. King Playground, with its picnic facilities, play areas, tennis courts, softball field, basketball court, and a baseball field, stands as one of the leading recreational facilities in the Cumberland Valley.
Mark Noe has selected for his subject, the area that has dominated the playground since its inception – the baseball field with its grandstand and bleachers. Since 1923 it has occupied the major part of the original tract. His rendition of a game being played before a crowd of fans truly represents the popularity of baseball in 1925. (See the photograph of the 1925 Greencastle Athletic Club team below) It was America’s game. It was Greencastle’s game – played with hometown players against hometown teams from the valley’s boroughs or villages on a hometown diamond.
The artist has caught a moment that could have happened a thousand times over in the years since 1925, but not always before so many fans. The uniforms are typical for that era as teams played on the only grass infield baseball park in the region.
We know not the inning portrayed, but if it resulted in the winning run for the local club, the fans could have been heard cheering for miles in all directions. If it represented victory for the visitors, the silence of local fans that followed would resemble that of the artist’s final touch as his brush stroked the dandelion dappled grass for the last time.
Written by William P. Conrad