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The first college football game. Or was it?

Rutgers University
The First Football Game Monument by Thomas Jay Warren. The statue stands in front of Rutgers’ home stadium. However, the statue incorrectly depicts game-play of the 1869 match.

In front of SHI Stadium in Rutgers University in New Brunswick New Jersey (about an hour ride by train from NY Penn Station), there is a statue entitled ‘First Football Game’. It depicts a young man playing American football wearing a uniform seemingly from the Knute Rockne era, evoking the early history of perhaps America’s most popular sport today. The statue is touched by Rutgers players before their home games. It symbolizes a match played at the campus of Rutgers on this day 150 years ago against the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), which Rutgers won 6-4 (and odd score for a college football game). This match played on November 6, 1869 supposedly marks the birth of college football in the United States.

However, the match was not played under the rules of football Americans know today. It was played under rules derived from the 1863 rules set of the London Football Association, brought over from across the Atlantic.

In other words, they played soccer. Or something like it.

To be clear, there were a number of differences between this match and a modern soccer match. Among other things, players could bat the ball with their hands. Teams were 25 players each. There was no offside rule. And the game was extremely physical. More generally, standardization of rules for organized sports was still in its infancy. Matches for ‘football’ and other sports were often played according to rules agreed up on just before gametime. Almost no sports had a widely agreed upon rulesset that was followed universally.

A drawing by Rutgers graduate William Boyd in 1932 of the match. No photos or contemporary illustrations exist. One possible misrepresentation is the crossbar on the goal. The 1863 FA rules specified a goal could be scored at any height–there was no crossbar.

The match originated out of a fierce rivalry between the two colleges located only 17 miles apart, both founded in the colonial era. Students at both colleges had been playing various pranks, including the theft of a revolutionary war-era cannon back a forth (now at Princeton, anchored in concrete to prevent further theft). In 1866 the two colleges played a baseball match with Princeton winning 40-2. Rutgers was desperate for revenge. Rutgers issued a challenge led by the captain William Leggett, who would go on to become a Dutch Reformed Church clergyman. Princeton answered. Their team was captained by William Gunmere, later Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

A picked 25 of Rutgers students played the same number of Princeton a game of foot ball, on Saturday. After an exciting contest of one hour, Rutgers were declared the winners, the score standing 6 to 4. … On returning from the ball ground, the Princeton boys partook the hospitalities of the Rutgers.

New York Times, November 9th 1869, p. 8

A rematch was held later in the year, with Princeton gaining revenge 8-0. In this match, a rule allowing players to catch a ball and then receive a free kick was used. This was a rule also in use in English soccer at the time. It benefited the taller Princeton team.

Picture of the Rutgers team, with captain William Leggett in the center. This picture now hangs inside the College Avenue Gym which was built on the site of the game. (image Rutgers University)

The two teams would go on to have what could be called the oldest rivalry in college football (now of course played by very different rules). However, the last Rutgers-Princeton college football match was in 1980.

But if this famous game isn’t the origin of American football, what is? At the time, both in England and America, there was a rivalry of a kicking style of football and a carrying style, known as Rugby football. In 1874 McGill University (in Montreal) and Harvard University would play a match under the rugby-style rules. In 1875, Harvard and Tufts University would play another match under these rules (arguably the first US college football match). These games were still very distinct from modern American football, with no forward pass or line of scrimmage. That evolution would come later. But certainly this style of ‘football’ would become the more popular style played in North America.

A side note, the origin of the word ‘football’ is obscure and debated. Some claim it has no relation to kicking the ball. In any event, several sports which are called football involve carrying the ball, including rugby football (now simply ‘rugby’), Australian rules football, and Gaelic football. Outside the US these are sometimes known as football ‘codes’ and are often referred to locally as ‘football’ or ‘footy’.

The College Avenue Gymnasium, site of the historic match. The gym was built on the field used in 1869; Rutgers now play their home football games at SHI Stadium.

Despite the historical inconstancies, Rutgers continues to claim their victory 150 years ago as the birth of college gridiron. Several events are being held to commemorate the anniversary. Princeton is playing a game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday November 9th against Dartmouth. In September students at Rutgers and Princeton held a re-enactment of the match (I don’t know if they played by the actual rules the match was played by). And the statue commemorating the match stands proudly in front of their home stadium.









World Series players buried in New York City

Graves of stars of the fall classic buried in New York City or nearby, from Babe Ruth to Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson’s grave at Cypress Hills Cemetery. Fans often leave baseball bats and balls.
Grave of Babe Ruth at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla NY

The World Series is going on, and while neither New York team is currently in the competition, the city has a strong connection to the annual fall classic.  Countless players who were born in New York City (such as Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, or Phil Rizzuto were born in New York. Of course far too many to mention have lived and played in New York.  And many are buried in New York.

Visiting New York City cemeteries is a wonderful way to connect with the city’s past, and cemeteries like Woodlawn and Green-Wood provide some of the most stunning natural scenery you will see in the five boroughs.  In this post I will list many World Series players who are buried in New York City and in cemeteries in the suburbs all accessible easily from the city. If you visit a former baseball player’s grave, consider bringing some baseball memorabilia to decorate the grave with–baseballs are common.
In this article I’m including a handful of players who took part in the modern World Series’ predecessor. From 1882-1891, the National League Champion would play the champion of the now defunct American Association (there was no American League at that time). It was called the ‘World’s Championship’.   Note that in this article I do speak about several teams that have changed their nickname over the years. For simplicity I will use the franchise’s current nickname only throughout the article.

All photographs of graves are mine; other images are from Wikicommons.

Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn

Jackie Robinason 1919-1972

Not only one baseball’s greatest players, he was almost certainly the sport’s most socially significant player.  Robinson played in six World Series with the Dodgers, helping them win their first ever in 1955. He retired one year later and remained in New York as the Dodgers left for California.  He was an area businessman and civil rights activist. When he died in 1972, his funeral was held at Riverside Church; tens of thousands of people lined up to see his body delivered to Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, the borough where he starred.  

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx

Frankie Frish 1898-1973

Known as the ‘Fordham Flash’ for his time at Fordham University, Frankie Frish was a player for the Giants from 1920-26 and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1927-37, and was a player manager for the Cardinals from 1933-37.  He played in eight World Series and won four times. His most colorful appearance was as the player-manager of the ‘Gas House Gang’ 1934 Cardinals who edged his former team the Giants in the National League and then defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games.  The team also starred pitcher Dizzy Dean, his brother Daffy, outfielder Pepper Martin, slugger Ducky Medwick, and a shortstop named Leo Durocher. Frisch is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, not far from his Alma Mater.

Frankie Frish grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx

Richard ‘Dick’ Rudolph 1887-1949

Rudolph had a 17 year career as a pitcher with the Giants and the Boston Braves.  The pinnacle of his career was 1914 with the Braves, when the team when from last place in the National League in July to first place and then swept the Philadelphia As in four games.  Rudolph, one of the last spitballers, won games 1 and 4 for Boston in that series. He would go on to manage a minor league team and coach at Fordham before dying at his residence on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx in 1949.  

Joe Foy 1943-1989

Joe Foy’s grave

Joe Foy grew up playing stickball 12 blocks from Yankee Stadium, and made a difficult climb up the rungs of organized baseball to the big leagues, starting at third base for the Boston Red Sox in 1966-68, and later for the Royals, the Mets, and the Senators.  With the Red Sox he played six games in the World Series; his personal performance was unsuccessful, batting 133. After he retired he remained in his native city and council troubled children, and sadly died an early death at age 46.

Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn


Gil Hodges 1924-1972

In a city of so many great baseball characters, Gil Hodges was one of the most beloved.  He has a bridge named after him, a public school, and a baseball field. A long-time Dodger, the first baseman appeared in one game in their 1947 loss to the Yankees before he became a regular starter in 1948.  He would go on to appear in five more series. He would later play for the lovable 1962 Mets, and then went on to manage the “Miracle Mets” in their memorable 1969 win over Baltimore in 1969. He kept managing them for two more seasons, but died just after playing a round of golf in Florida before the 1972 season began.  After a wake in Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Midwood, he was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. 

Hodges’ grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush, Brooklyn, decorated with Mets memorabilia

Calvary Cemetery, Queens

Mickey Welch  1859-1941

“Smiling” Mickey Welsh was born in Brooklyn to Irish immigrants.  He was born Michael Walsh but adopted the spelling ‘Welch”–possibly due to a sportswriter’s error.  He grew up in Williamsburg and played for the New York Giants from 1883-1892. Along with fellow pitcher Tim Keefe and shortstop John Montgomery Ward, the Giants dominated baseball in the late 1880s, winning two ‘World’s Championships’.  Welch once struck out 9 batters in a row in 1884, still a record. In 1932 he was given lifetime Elks membership, presented at the ‘Mother Lodge #1”–then on 43rd Street. He is interred in Calvary Cemetery not far from fellow hall of famer Wee Willie Keeler, one of the game’s great early stars that never made it to the post-season. 

Stunning view of Manhattan over Calvary Cemetery

Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island

James ‘Jim’ Mutrie 1851-1938

It’s hard to believe now but until the 1930s, the dominant Major League team in New York, and the nation for much of that period, was not the Yankees, only founded in 1901.  The Dodgers have existed since 1883 but were mostly basement dwellers until the 1940s. The dominant team for much of early Major League baseball were the New York Giants. The co-founder of the club Jim Mutrie later became the manager; he assembled a team of stars and led the Giants to championships in 1888-89.  In 1889 they faced the Brooklyn Dodgers who then played in the American Association; the Giants won this historic series six games to three. Mutrie is credited with coining the Giants nickname (they were originally the Gothams). After a brilliant play in the outfield, Mutrie exclaimed, “My big fellows! My giants!”. He would later live on Staten Island and died of cancer in City Hospital on Roosevelt Island, then Welfare Island. He is buried at the historic Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island, one of the city’s oldest cemeteries. 

Outside New York City

The following graves of notable baseball players can be easily accessed by public transit or car from New York City:

Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Valhalla NY, accessible on the Harlem Line of Metro North

A short trip up the Harlem line from Grand Central Terminal takes you to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County. Fans continue to make the pilgrimage to the grave of the greatest baseball player ever, Babe Ruth. But nearby are graves several other stars worth visiting.


George Herman Babe” Ruth 1895-1948

Alfred ‘Billy’ Martin 1928-1989
New York Yankees 2nd baseman and later very volatile manager who led the Yankees back to a World Series Championships in 1977.

Ralph Branca 1926-2016
Branca had a fine career for the Dodgers and helped them win several pennants but is best known for his pitch to Bobby Thompson in 1951 which gave the NL title to the Giants.

Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla NY (adjacent to Gate of Heaven)

Lou Gehrig 1903-1941
The Upper East Side born Gehrig played at Columbia University before joining the New York Yankees, eventually dying of the disease that bears his name.

Andrew Coakley 1882-1963
Coakley had a 10-year Major League career as a pitcher with the As, Reds, Cubs, as well as one year with the Yankees in 1911. His lone World Series appearance was in 1905 for the As against the New York Giants, where he faced legend Christy Mathewson in Game 3 and lost 9-0, though remarkably he pitched a complete game.

Greenfield Cemetery, Hempstead, Long Island.  Take LIRR to Rockport and NICE bus 41.

Monte Ward

John Montgomery ‘Monte’ Ward 1860-1925
Pitcher and later shortstop for the New York Giants; later managed the Giants.  He founded the first players union in 1885 and would become a lawyer after he retired from baseball and represent baseball players. 

Walter ‘Arlie’ Latham 1860-1952. 
Played mostly 3rd base from 1880-1899, including 6 years with the St Louis Cardinals where they won the then American Association from 1885-88 and appeared in the then ‘World’s Championship’ against the National League champion.  In the 1886 series against the Chicago Cubs Latham stole 12 bases and helped the Cardinals win the series 4 games to 2.

Gate of Heaven Cemetery, East Hanover New Jersey

Yogi Berra 1925-2015
Yogi Berra was arguably the most prolific World Series player in history. The Yankees catcher played in 22 series and won 13, and memorably caught Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956. We went on to serve as a coach for the Mets, helping them win the title in 1969. He then succeeded manager Gil Hodges and led the Mets to the Series again in 1973 after a hard-fought season, though they lost to the As.

England in Philadelphia in 1859: American cricket gains some respect

I’ve written before about the match in Hoboken between the England Cricket Team and the United States in 1859, during England’s celebrated tour of North America with five matches in Canada and the US. England played three matches in the US against sides made of cricketers largely from New York, Newark and Philadelphia. In terms of cricket play, most of the matches were embarrassing for the American sides, despite the English team allowing the North American teams to play with a significant handicap (The American teams played with 22 players vs the standard 11).  In Hoboken, the England 11 won by a full innings, which might be the equivalent of scoring enough points in one half of basketball to guarantee victory.    But from October 10-12, the England 11 did encounter some tough resistance in Philadelphia.  Though England ultimately prevailed by a safe margin, it was the closest of the 5 matches.

Cricketer and Philadelphia businessman Charles Barclay

Philadelphia was then acknowledged by many sports commentators as the center of American cricket, with several of the strongest cricket clubs in the nation including the Germantown Cricket Club and the Philadelphia Cricket Club, both of which still exist. Up to the Civil War, cricket was more popular in the US than baseball. The match in Philadelphia was played over two days (October 11th had no play due to local elections) at the Camac’s Woods Grounds.  Though the US team was largely the same as had played in New York, a number of Philadelphians played in this match, including Civil War officer Charles Collis, Walter S Newhall, author Jones Wister, and businessman Charles Barclay.   Also on the squad was Sam Wright and his English-born son from New York, Harry Wright, who would later have a Philadelphia connection.  He would switch to baseball and manage several teams.  He was the manager of the Philadelphia Quakers, later the Phillies, from 1884-1893, and is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

In the first innings, the Americans scored a respectable 94 runs to the English 126.  Controversy struck when English batsman Robert Carpenter bit a ball that was caught by Jones Wister for an apparent wicket, similar to an out in baseball.  However, the American umpire Henry Sharpe called the ball wide (like a ball in baseball) negating the wicket.  Carpenter went on to score 22 runs.  It was the equivalent in baseball to calling a ball instead of a 3rd strike which could have ended a big inning. Wister claimed the incident cost the Americans the match.  Ultimately, England held the Americans to a score of 60 runs in the 2nd innings and went on to win by 7 wickets, a comfortable victory.  English journalist Fred Lillywhite praised the American performance, noting “they showed excellent points in the way of fielding, and were justly applauded by their opponents.”

Greatest Athletic Feats by New Yorkers: Part II

5: Dick Brown wins the first America’s Cup in 1851.

In 1851 the ship America of the New York Yacht Club arrived in Britain on what appeared to be a hopeless task–to defeat the greatest ships in the world.  The New York Yacht Club was only seven years old at that point, challenging the Royal Yacht Squadron which was over 30 years old.  Great Britain was the undisputed master of the seas.  Newspaper publisher Horace Greeley, who was travelling in Europe at the time, advised the Americans to not challenge the British, for they would surely get embarrassed.

The America’s captain was Richard ‘Dick’ Brown.  He was one of the famed Sandy Hook Pilots, who since the 1600s have guided ships into New York Harbor.  He was recommended by the America designer George Steers and America syndicate member George Schuyler as “careful, reliable, faithful, one of the best men in his position I ever saw”.  Brown selected a younger pilot Nelson Comstock as his first mate–unfortunately little is known about him.

The race in 1851 was around the Isle of Wight, where the Royal Yacht Squadron was based.  It would be familiar waters to the British sailors, but it is unlikely Brown had ever sailed around it earlier.  17 yachts entered against Brown’s America.  Though less familiar with the course, he successfully navigated through the Nab rocks on the east of the Isle, a difficult maneuver the others didn’t attempt.

Dick Brown and the America

The America finished first with such an advantage that when Queen Victoria asked who finished second, she supposedly was told, “There is no second, Your Majesty.”   Queen Victoria and Prince Albert personally boarded the America to congratulate Brown; when Albert boarded, Brown insisted the royal wipe his feat.

The result caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the United Kingdom, many ship designers and sailors studied the race and the ship carefully to understand how to improve their vessels.  In the US, newspapers hailed the victory as proof of superiority over their former colonial master–the New York Herald declared, “We have beaten them on land and at sea.”  The New York Yacht Club was presented an ornate silver ewer, later named the “America’s Cup” after the first winning ship.

4. Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

The English Channel has long been a challenge that has attracted hardy athletes from around the world.  It’s sort of a Mount Everest for swimmers.  First crossed by Matthew Webb in 1875, it was next crossed in 1911 and by 1925 only five people has crossed successfully, and no women had even attempted to do so.  The record time so far was 16 hours and 33 minutes by Argentinian swimmer Enrique Tirabocchi.

Gertrude Ederle

Gertrude Ederle, born in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, first attempted to swim the English Channel in 1925 at age 19.  She was an Olympic champion swimmer and had made many high profile swims in the US, including swimming from Manhattan to Sandy Hook.  She first attempted to swim the English Channel in 1925 but her trainer, former channel swimmer Jabez Wolffe, pulled her out part-way through.  Ederle claimed she had been fine and could have continued.  She switched trainers, and on August 6, 1926 she attempted again.  This time she swam all the way across in 14 hours and 39 minutes, not only becoming the first woman to swim the channel, but beating the record by nearly two hours, the record for both men and women. She later said, “People said women couldn’t swim the Channel, but I proved they could.”

Ederle’s swim was a huge sensation.  She received a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, lined with two million onlookers.  She met President Calvin Coolidge, and starred in a movie about her feat entitled Swim Girl, Swim.  She became a celebrity of the Roaring 20s.

Her record stood for only a few weeks; it was beaten on August 30th by German swimmer Ernst VierKotter, though her woman’s record was beaten only in 1950 by American Florence Chadwick.  Up to WWII, only four people had swum the channel faster than Ederle.  Also, Ederle’s swim had been in very rough sea conditions.  Most faster swims by men or women took place in calmer weather.  In retrospect, it was one of the greatest ever athletic feats of endurance and determination.

 

3.  Babe Ruth smashes the home run record in 1920

Babe Ruth made many accomplishments which could be considered for this list, and to some extent this entry is a stand-in for all of them.  He set a new single-season home run record three straight years from 1919-21.  He set a record in 1927 of 60 whose significance still endures.  He hit four home runs in a single world series game twice in his career (two other players have done this once: Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols).

Babe Ruth in 1920

However, his record of 54 home runs hit in the 1920 season, his first season as a New York Yankee, was what really changed the game.  The previous season with the Red Sox, Ruth had set the record with 29, breaking a record of 27 set by Ned Williamson in 1884.  However, Ruth’s mark the following year made Ruth the first player to hit 30 home runs in a season, the first to hit 40, and the first to hit 50.  Throughout the 20s, he was only player to hit 50 home runs (he did so himself 4 times during that decade).  His mark of 54 would not be surpassed by another player until Hack Wilson hit 56 for the Cubs in 1930; Jimmy Foxx was the next American Leaguer to do so in 1932

Ironically, Ruth’s landmark season started slowly.  He injured himself in April and did little in the first month for his new club.  Then on May 1st he hit a home run completely out of the Polo Grounds (then the Yankees home ground).  He broke the record on July 19th, with over two months left in the season.   By the end of the season his tally of 54 redefined the limits of a power hitter, and ended the so-called ‘dead ball era.’

The next season Ruth hit 59 home runs, and also led the Yankees to their first World Series.  In 1927 he hit 60 which remained the record until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61, aided by a season that was eight games longer than in Ruth’s era.  Since then, three more players have hit more than 60–all of whom have either admitted  use of performance-enhancing drugs or are suspected of it.

2.  Bob Beamon’s record long jump in 1968

Beamon’s first jump in 1968

When Bob Beamon stepped onto the runway for his first long jump in the 1968 Olympics, he was already the favorite to win the event.  The Queens native and former Jamaica High School (located in Queens NY) track star had already won over twenty events that year.  It was seen as possible that he would set a new record, especially at Mexico City’s high altitude.  However, what he accomplished was beyond what anyone could imagine.

His first jump saw him soar past the limit of the measuring equipment.  Officials took over 15 minutes to determine the length of Beamon’s jump.  As he waited for officials to bring out a manual tape, Beamon himself supposed he might have broken the record by a couple of inches.  However, his teammate Ralph Boston came up to him and said, ‘the jump was well over.”

Finally, the length of 8 meters 90 centimeters was announced; however Beamon did not understand metric measurements.  He was finally told his record was 29 feet and 2 1/2 inches, nearly two feet beyond the previous record.  Beamon experienced such an emotional reaction to the news that his legs gave way and he suffered a catalepsy seizure.  He competitors came to him and helped him to his feet.  British 1964 gold medalist Lynn Davies said to Beamon, “You have destroyed this event!”

Beamon’s record would last for 23 years, though many observers felt it might never be broken.  Four-time long jump Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis came close to the record numerous times but never broke it.  However, at the 1991 World Athletics Championships in Tokyo, American Mike Powell jumped 8 meters and 95 cm, two inches past Beamon’s record.  Beamon’s 1968 jump still remains the second longest jump in history, however.  Though no longer the record, Beamon’s jump is frequently cited by sports experts around the world as one the greatest athletic feats ever.

1.  Jackie Robinson destroys baseball’s color barrier

I cannot possibly do justice to Jackie Robinson’s achievement in 1947, the year he broke Major League baseball’s color barrier; nor will I attempt to.  The impact of his achievement would be felt in American society at large, not just in baseball.  It was one of the early milestones of the Civil Rights Movement.

Statue of Jackie Robinson and teammate Pee Wee Reese on Coney Island, portrayed together in 1947

The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson with the intention of making him the first of many African-American signings.  It was well known to any unbiased observer that there were many players in the Negro Leagues capable of competing in the majors.  But as the first to break the color barrier, he was under unprecedented pressure as an athlete.  He was constantly subject to racial abuse from fans, opponents, and his own teammates.  He endured physical abuse on the field.  When travelling hotels often denied him accommodation.  Any player could have buckled in this situation.

Robinson not only endured, he shined.  He led the National League in stolen bases; he was in the top ten in several hitting categories, including 2nd in runs scored.  He deservedly won the Major League Rookie of the Year award. In 1949 he won the National League MVP award.

Like Ruth before him, Robinson led the way during a profound change of the league and the game.  In July of the same year, three more Negro League stars were signed by teams in the American League.  More followed.  When Robinson retired in 1956, almost 7% of Major League players were African-American.  By 1959, it was 17%, and in 1975 it was 27%.

Honorable mentions:

The following list is not meant to be a list in order or a list of 11 through 16.

  • Y.A. Tittle’s passing records in 1962-63 for the New York Giants
  • Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941
  • Carol Heiss’s 5 straight figure skating world championships from 1956-1960
  • Lou Gehrig’s 2130 consecutive games played
  • Joe Namath ‘guarantees’ a Super Bowl victory and wins in Super Bowl III
  • Roger Maris’s record 61 home runs in 1961

 

On this day: John Cox Stevens “The Commodore” was born

John Cox Stevens

On this day on September 24th, 1785, John Cox Stevens was born at the Stevens family estate in Hoboken NJ at Castle Point, the site of today’s Stevens Institute of Technology.  Stevens was a livelong sportsman.  He was a founding member of the New York Yacht Club and later nicknamed “the Commodore”.  He led the ‘America’ syndicate which built the yacht that won the first ever America’s Cup for the NYYC in 1851.  He also served as president of the Jockey Club and was responsible for the Great North-South Match of 1823, won by the Long Island-born thoroughbred American Eclipse.

Stevens also played an important role in the growth of early baseball.  In the 1840s, a number of New York City’s early baseball clubs began to search outside of Manhattan for places suitable to practice.  The city was increasingly difficult for playing baseball.  So, several clubs including the pioneering New York Knickerbockers began to regularly cross the Hudson River by ferry to Hoboken to play at the Elysian Fields.  Stevens ran the ferries and profited immensely.  The Stevens family also owned the Elysian Fields and profited from the teams playing there.

The birth of the New York Times, 166 years ago today

First issue of the New-York Daily Times, later the New York Times, on Sept. 18 1851.   First issue of the New-York Daily Times, later the New York Times, on Sept. 18 1851. 113 Nassau St.  Illustration from 113 Nassau St.  Illustration from “Henry J Raymond and the New York Press for Thirty Years” by A.S. Hale and Company

On September 18th, 1851, an editorial appeared in a new New York newspaper that began as follows: “We publish today the first number of the New-York Daily Times, and we intend to issue it every morning (Sunday excepted) for an indefinite number of years to come.”  The editorial was written by the newspaper’s co-founder, Henry Jarvis Raymond.  The newspaper would later lose its hyphen and the word ‘daily’, and starting in 1861 it would publish on Sunday as well.   But 166 years later, it has so far kept its promise, and remains, despite the struggles of the internet age, one of the most influential news sources in the world.

When one looks at the New York Times’ current headquarters, a 52-floor skyscraper built in 2007 just off of Times Square, it’s hard to imagine the much more humble origins of this institution nicknamed ‘The Grey Lady’.  It was first published in a loft in a brownstone at 113 Nassau Street between Ann and Beekman streets.  The building was then half-finished and the windows lacked glass.  The writers and editors worked by candlelight.  Times writer Augustus Maverick called the conditions ‘raw and dismal.’   The first issue was four pages and cost a penny.

“We do not mean to write as if we were in a passion, unless that shall really be the case; and we shall make it a point to get into a passion as rarely as possible. There are very few things in this world which it is worth while to get angry about; and they are just the things that anger will not improve.”

— Henry Jarvis Raymond, from the first issue of the New-York Daily Times on Sept. 18, 1851

The New York Times was founded in an already crowded newspaper environment by two men–Henry J. Raymond and George Jones.  New York was then teeming with dailies and weeklies, mostly published within a few blocks of City Hall.  In the early 1850s, two papers stood above the others: Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald.  The Times was founded as an alternative to these and other papers of the era–less focused on the scandal and sensationalism of the Herald and others in the ‘penny press’, but also lacking what for some was the moral righteousness and partisanship of Greeley’s Tribune.  Raymond founded the Times with the hope of creating a more moderate, trustworthy news source, though like the Tribune it was pro-Republican once the party was founded in 1854.  Raymond himself held many political positions as a Republican and once became chairman of the Republican National Committee.  During his presidency the paper was a staunch defender of Abraham Lincoln.

Raymond and Jones first met while working for Horace Greeley at the New York Tribune in the 1840s.   Both men were from up north.  Raymond was born in Lima in upstate New York and studied in Vermont.  Jones was born that state.   Both worked at various newspapers in the region and Jones also worked as a banker.   Before founding the Times, the two had together tried to takeover the Albany Evening Courier, then a powerful newspaper in New York State edited by Albany political giant Thurlow Weed, also a friend and ally of Raymond.  In 1848 Weed offered to sell the paper to Raymond and Jones, but the deal was blocked by one part-owner who refused to sell, William White.  Had this deal happened the New York Times would have never been born.

After starting at 113 Nassau Street, the Times moved up to 138 Nassau Street in 1854.  Then in 1858 the Times arrived at its address for nearly 50 years–41 Park Row.  This street become known as ‘Newspaper Row’ and was home to several of the most powerful newspapers in the country.  The first Times building on Park Row was a 5-story Romanesque building designed by Thomas Jackson, the first building ever to be entirely devoted to one newspaper.  It was from here that Raymond and Times part-owner Leonard Jerome defended the newspaper during the 1863 Draft Riots with gatling guns mounted on the roof.

Raymond's grave at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn Raymond’s grave at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn

Raymond died in 1869, at only 49 years of age.  The paper was taken over by Jones who was the publisher until his death in 1891.  Under Jones, the Times led the attacks on Boss Tweed, one of the most corrupt politicians in New York’s history, a man who nonetheless had a great deal of power after the Civil War.  However, the Times’ reporting and cartoons by Thomas Nast helped bring his downfall and eventual arrest.  Tweed once offered the Times $5 million to not publish an article on him, but he was rebuffed.  In 1869, the Times also hired its first female reporter Maria ‘Middy’ Morgan, who covered livestock, equestrian events and horse racing.

In 1889 the Times commissioned a new and larger building at the same location, a building which reflected the growing power of the city’s press.  This 16-floor building (2 floors were added later) by architect George Post still stands today and is currently occupied by Pace University. However, the cost of the building helped contribute to a dire financial situation for the Times in the 1890s.  The paper’s circulation dropped to 9000 and the paper was losing $1000 per day when it was bought in 1896 by Adolph Ochs, whose family still owns the paper today.  Ochs would revive the Times and turn it largely into the newspaper we know today, in part by returning to Raymond’s vision of a paper with a moderate to progressive stance that was above tabloid sensationalism.  Ochs would soon move the Times’ offices uptown to Longacre Square, which was promptly renamed Times Square.  The Times remains near Times Square today.

Remarkably, the rather non-descript original home of New York Times at 113 Nassau survived until 2007 when the building was demolished to make way for a 30-floor apartment building, the Lara.  The Times left the building after only three years in 1854.  The building later served as the Leggats Brothers Bookstore, home to George Cram’s atlas company, an Italian restaurant, and lastly, a McDonald’s.  A plaque honoring Raymond and the New York Times once graced the sidewalk.  However, the building was never considered for landmark designation.  Today, both the building and the plaque, and any other trace of the newspaper, are gone.

Clockwise from top left: 138 Nassau Street--the second office of the New York Times (1854-58), illustration from Clockwise from top left: 138 Nassau Street–the second office of the New York Times (1854-58), illustration from “Henry J Raymond” by A.S. Hale; New York Times Building (1858-1889) built in 1858 at 41 Park Row; Grave of George Jones, co-founder of the Times, at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow NY.; New York Times Building (1889-1904) also at 41 Park Row built by George Post, now occupied by Pace University.