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On this day: John Brown’s body comes through New York

John Brown John Brown

On the evening of December 3rd, 1859, a steamboat arrived from Philadelphia.  On board was Theodore Tilton, a Brooklyn abolitionist and friend and colleague of Henry Ward Beecher.  The ship carried the body of abolitionist John Brown, executed by hanging the previous day in Charles Town Virginia for his armed raid at Harper’s Ferry.  The body was taken to an undertaker at 163 Bowery, McGraw and Taylor.  A Quaker named Jacob Hopper dressed the body, along with Charley Carpenter, a sexton at St. Marks Church in the Bowery.  The next day, word got out of the presence of John Brown’s body, and many onlookers came to get a glimpse of this figure.  Brown was then shipped up the Hudson River to North Elba, New York, where he was buried.

Brown was  considered a hero by many abolitionists and freed slaves, and praised in eulogies by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He was also vilified by many, especially in the South.  His raid and execution contributed to the tensions that led to the American Civil War less than two years later.

On this day: The first college football game

Painting of the match by Rutgers graduate William Boyd Painting of the match by Rutgers graduate William Boyd

On November 6th 1869 at College Field on the campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey, two teams from Rutgers and the College of New Jersey (today Princeton) met each other to play a match under the London Football Association rules.  The teams were 25 players each and they wore no uniforms.  The rules resembled soccer more than college football–the players were not allowed to carry or throw the ball.  Teams scored a goal (also called a ‘run’ in newspaper reports) by kicking the ball into a goal.  Rutgers won 6-4.  It was the first of two games Rutgers and Princeton played in 1869 in the first ever college football season.

College Avenue Gymnasium, site of the match College Avenue Gymnasium, site of the match

In 1870 Rutgers would play Columbia College in another game under similar rules.  However, in 1874 Canada’s McGill University and Harvard played each other in a game under rules of the ‘Boston game,’ which were derived from the Rugby Football Union in England and allowed carrying the ball.  From there, the college football would evolve into the rules of the gridiron played today.  Nevertheless, the Rutgers-Princeton match in 1869 is considered the ‘Birth of College Football’.

The First Football Game Monument at High Point Solutions Stadium (photo from Rutgers University website) The First Football Game Monument at High Point Solutions Stadium (photo from Rutgers University website)

The site of the match is now Rutgers’ College Avenue Gymnasium, which now has a plaque depicting the Rutgers players in the match.  A statue entitled The First Football Game Monument  stands outside Rutgers’ current home High Point Solutions Stadium, though it inaccurately depicts a player carrying the ball.

The Dead of Antietam: Alexander Gardner’s powerful images from the battle

“ You will see hushed, reverend groups standing around these weird copies of carnage, bending down to look in the pale faces of the dead, chained by the strange spell that dwells in dead men’s eyes.”

— New York Times, Oct 20th 1862

In October 1862 a groundbreaking exhibition happened in New York City.  At Mathew Brady’s studio at 785 Broadway at 10th Street, people lined up around the block to enter an exhibit of photographs taken at the front of the Civil War taken by his assistant Alexander Gardner.  Above the entrance was a sign simply saying, the ‘Dead at Antietam.’   Inside were some of the most chilling and morbid images that had ever been put on public display.  This was to rank as one of the most important visual arts exhibitions in the history of New York, and it helped establish Mathew Brady as the ‘father of photojournalism.’

A field strewn with dead bodies.  Time Magazine chose this photo as one of the 100 ‘Most Influential Images of All Time’.

It was said that during the Vietnam War, television journalists brought the war into our living rooms.  Mathew Brady accomplished this with his photos a century earlier.  The images showed grisly scenes of carnage from the battlefield many of the viewers had never seen before.  Fields littered with dead bodies of soldiers and animals.  Also shown were damaged buildings and a battered landscape.  In today’s era when the military often censors photos of dead soldiers, it is striking that many of the dead bodies had their faces and even their eyes visible with ghastly stares.  An anonymous New York Times author wrote, it was as if Brady had “brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets.”

Gardner made an effort to highlight dramatic contrasts in his photos.  Here we see an unburied Confederate soldier right next to a grave of a buried Union soldier.

The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17th 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle resulted in no significant victory for either side but the Union held the battlefield at the end.  In a single day there were 3,700 soldiers killed and 22,700 total casualties.  It was the bloodiest single day of battle in US history.  The site, like Gettysburg, is now a national battlefield preserved by the National Park Service.

  Sharpsburg Lutheran Chuch, damaged in the fighting.

Immediately after the battle, Brady dispatched his assistant Alexander Gardner to Antietam to photograph the scene.  He arrived two days later and it was the first time a battlefield was photographed with the dead still on the field.  Though Union soldiers were largely buried by the time of Gardner’s arrival, the field was under Union control and thus Confederate soldiers remained largely unburied.  Gardner would return two weeks later, this time photographing Abraham Lincoln’s visit to the site.

Mathew Brady’s ‘National Portrait Gallery’ inside his 10th Street Studio.  It was a popular attraction and a precursor to later museums.

By the start of the Civil War in 1861, Mathew Brady was the most famous photographer in America.  He had studied daguerreotypes in New York under Samuel Morse (of the telegraph), who himself had traveled to Europe and studied under Louis Daguerre.  Brady opened his first photography studio in 1844 at Fulton and Broadway (he later moved uptown).  At the beginning he mostly made studio portraits.  He won a prize in 1851 at the World’s Fair in London for the best daguerreotype.  He became world renowned and people came from all over the US and abroad to sit for photos with Mathew Brady, including Edgar Allen Poe, Daniel Webster, Edward the Prince of Wales, Jenny Lind, and most famously Abraham Lincoln.  In addition to taking photos, his studio was a gallery of photos of famous Americans, which became popular attraction a precursor to later museums and art galleries.

Alexander Gardner in 1863

Alexander Gardner was born and raised in Scotland and worked as a journalist.  He traveled to the 1851 World’s Fair in London and was impressed by Brady’s photographs.  He later immigrated to the US and found work at Brady’s studio.  In 1858 Brady sent him to Washington to run Brady’s Washington studio.  Starting in the late 1850s, Brady’s eyesight began to fail and his work was increasingly done by assistants (though always credited as a ‘Brady’ photograph).  During his lifetime, Gardner took 14 photos of Abraham Lincoln, more than any other photographer, including three at Antietam.  Brady sent his top photographer Gardner to Antietam to document the battlefield.  After Antietam, Gardner would leave Brady and work independently, eventually taking several other of Brady’s assistants.

Through most of his career, Brady had specialized in studio photography, which of course was largely due to the limits of early photography which required subjects to sit for a prolonged period of time to get the required exposure.  In 1851 British photographer Frederick Scott Archer made a significant breakthrough using glass plates and a chemical called collodion, which allowed photos to be taken with only a few seconds of exposure.   Brady would take this technology and develop a travelling darkroom–a carriage darkroom that allowed him to take photos outside his studio.  When the Civil War began he immediately started travelling with his darkroom to battlefields.  In fact he was nearly captured at the First Battle of Bull Run.  Before Antietam he had already displayed several photos from the war at his gallery.  But no battle had been covered like Antietam.

One of Gardner’s most striking photos: the dead horse of Confederate colonel Henry Strong

Gardner took approximately 90 photos at Antietam.  After he transferred the images onto glass plates, he sent them to New York so Brady could exhibit them.  Gardner was not credited at all for the photos, as was Brady’s standard practice with his assistants.  Another innovation Gardner and Brady employed was the stereograph.  For most scenes Gardner took two simultaneous shots.  They could be viewed in stereo using a special viewer Brady set up in his studio.

Lincoln at Antietam

For weeks crowds lined up to see the photos.  For middle and upper class New Yorkers, this was often the first time they were forced to confront the reality of war face to face.  The Times wrote, “ You will see hushed, reverend groups standing around these weird copies of carnage, bending down to look in the pale faces of the dead, chained by the strange spell that dwells in dead men’s eyes.”  Oliver Wendal Holmes Sr, who went to the battlefield to search for his son (Holmes Jr  was injured but survived and later became a Supreme Court Justice), wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, “a truthful sunbeam has delineated in all  their (the battlefield scenes) dread reality….Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations. These wrecks of manhood thrown together in careless heaps or ranged in ghastly rows for burial were alive but yesterday.”

“Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations. These wrecks of manhood thrown together in careless heaps or ranged in ghastly rows for burial were alive but yesterday.”

— Oliver Wendal Holmes Sr,, Atlantic Monthly 1863.

It was not yet possible to produce the images in newspapers (the first newspaper photo was printed in 1880 and it only became commonplace in the 20th century).  Brady’s photos were made available for sale, and he made brisk business from Civil War photos.  Brady did not appear to be concerned with the potential impact his photos had on public sentiment for the war effort.  They were available in different sizes and made their way to mantels and walls of homes in the city.  They were also reproduced in woodcuts and sketches which could reappear in newspapers.  Other than Jacob Riis’ landmark publication  How the other Half Lives, perhaps  no collection of photos has had such an impact.

Gardner entitled this photo, 'The Lone Grave'. Gardner entitled this photo, ‘The Lone Grave’.

In 2012 the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum in Washington DC held an exhibit of Gardner’s photos marking the 150 year anniversary of the battle.  The National Portrait Gallery held a major exhibition of Gardner’s work in 2014, giving Gardner full credit that Mathew Brady had always denied his assistants.  The photos can be be seen at the website of the Library of Congress, and many are also shown at National Park Service’s page for the Antietam National Battlefield.  But many more Americans experienced the Antietam photos through Ken Burns’ monumental PBS documentary The Civil War, which made heavy use of the photos of Brady and his assistants.   Thus, the Civil War was truly brought into our living rooms.

The death of baseball’s first superstar–Jim Creighton

Jim Creighton of the Brooklyn Excelsiors

On October 18th 1862 in a rowhouse on 307 Henry Street in today’s Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, a 21-year-old baseball and cricket phenom named Jim Creighton died from injuries sustained while playing in a baseball match.  He was the sport’s first on-field fatality and widely considered to be baseball’s first superstar.  He was the most feared pitcher of his day.

James ‘Jim’ Creighton was born in Manhattan in 1841 and moved to Brooklyn with his father.  At age 17 he started playing for the Brooklyn Niagaras.  While pitching against the Brooklyn Stars in 1859, he was noticed for his ‘low, swift delivery’ as a pitcher.  Pitchers were required to throw underhand in that era.  Though Creighton’s pitches were considered within the rules, they were perhaps aided by some hidden, but illegal, wrist movement.  Creighton’s opponents were impressed, and soon he was playing for the Stars,  A year later he was playing for the Brooklyn Excelsiors, probably the second strongest team in Brooklyn, and America, behind the mighty Brooklyn Atlantics.

The entrance Creighton’s house at 307 Henry, now an apartment building called the ‘Creighton’.

The Excelsiors were desperate to surpass their crosstown rivals, so much so that in all likelihood the paid Creighton ’emoluments’ under the table, making him what some historians call baseball’s first professional.  Organized baseball was still officially amateur.  The Excelsiors nevertheless became a profitable attraction for the league.  Anchored by their star, they went on a barnstorming tour in 1860 to Albany, Buffalo, Canada, Baltimore, and other stops.

Creighton was not a one-sport man.  Like many baseball players of his time he also played professional cricket simultaneously and starred for the American Cricket Club and the fabled St. George Cricket Club.

The exact cause of Creighton’s death is the subject of debate to this day.  Legend has it he ruptured his abdomen while hitting a home run against the Unions of Morrisania.  The truth is probably a little less dramatic.  Accounts vary but it appears he ruptured his abdomen playing cricket and then aggravated it while pitching against Morrisania.  In any case he died four days after the baseball match at his home.  His Excelsior teammates mourned at their clubhouse at 133 Clinton St a few blocks away.

The mystery surrounding the cause of Creighton’s death is in part because of the rivalry at the time of cricket and baseball as America’s most popular sport.  Baseball was on the rise at the time but it was still far from certain whether cricket or baseball would rule as A

Creighton’s grave

merican’s most popular team sport.  Many baseball officials feared that if the injury were blamed on baseball, the sport’s popularity would suffer.  These fears turned out to be unfounded; in fact, baseball used Creighton’s death as as a means to create a sense of history and nostalgia.  Creighton was immediacy held as the game’s first superstar.  His grave at Green-Wood Cemetery became an attraction, decorated with a baseball carved onto the headstone.

In later years, Creighton’s grave would become a model for plaques used at the Baseball Hall of Fame and at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.  Creighton’s house on Henry Street still stands and is now called “The Creighton.”  The Excelsior clubhouse at 133 Clinton also in Brooklyn Heights still stands and now has a plaque honoring the team and Creighton (Though several details on the plaque are wrong; Creighton is inaccurately credited with inventing the curveball.). The death of James Creighton marked the beginning of baseball celebrating its past, something which the sport loves to do.

Birthday tribute: Atlantics first baseman Joe Start

Joe Start with the New York Mutuals Joe Start with the New York Mutuals

On October 14th 1842, Joseph ‘Joe’ Start was born in New York City.  He would become a baseball star and one of the greatest 1st baseman of the era. Start played with the Brooklyn Atlantics from 1862-1870.  He won four National Association championships and in 1870 he played in the Atlantics’ showdown with the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings in which he starred.

He started his career with the short lived Brooklyn Enterprise club, and then moved to the Atlantics in 1862.  He became known for fast baserunning, good fielding and modest power with the bat.  He is credited by some with being the first to away from the bag at first base, now the standard positioning.  After the first professional league was formed in 1871, Start switched to the New York Mutuals, where he played for six years.  He played one season for the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) before playing for the Providence Grays for six more seasons.  He finished his career at age 43, and earned the nickname ‘Old Reliable’.   He’s buried in Riverside Cemetery in Rhode Island.

In the summer of 1870 the Cincinnati Red Stockings arrived with an 84-match winning streak.  They met the Atlantics in a highly-anticipated game at the Capitoline Grounds in today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant in front of 20,000 spectators.  Start hit a sacrifice fly in the 8th inning to tie the match at 5-5.  In the bottom of the 11th down 7-5, Start hit a triple with a man on, setting himself up as the tying run at 3rd.  He was then knocked in by captain Bob Ferguson, who would ultimately score the winning run for a final score of 8-7, ending Cincinnati’s legendary streak.  Start’s triple was arguably the play of the game.

The Brooklyn Atlantics in 1865.  Joe Start is standing 4th from the left. The Brooklyn Atlantics in 1865.  Joe Start is standing 4th from the left.