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A View From The Attic


Week of  06/01/2015

     Fremont County Historical Society

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PLAY BALL 

by Harry Wilkins

In the summer of 1911 William Howard Taft was president, porterhouse steak sold for 28 cents a pound, Peter Pan appeared in bookstores as a novel, and baseball reigned supreme as America's pastime.  Iowa was no exception and baseball was a sure bet when it came to summertime fun. 

Beginning in 1900, Tabor had sponsored three-day tournaments in the town park and 1911 was highly anticipated. The event, scheduled for 22-24 August, was essentially a play-off between four invited teams vying for winnings taken from a portion of gate receipts; admission was 50 cents. These games were designed to make money in a carnival atmosphere of sport, music, games in the park, food, and photographers. The Tabor Beacon encouraged local businesses to advertise during the event to take advantage of the influx of visitors, reminding the readers "that there was no better place on earth to witness a ball game than Tabor park." 

Ralph Hillhouse, a 25-year-old entrepreneur and owner of a jewelry store on Tabor's main street was the tournament organizer and promoter.  When asked about the hometown team, he promised to "round up a bunch that would make the other teams sit up and take notice." 

Unfortunately, the 1911 tournament got off to a rocky start when two local teams backed out at the last minute, forcing Hillhouse to scramble for substitutes. The lineup eventually settled on Tabor, Riverton, and two clubs from Omaha, which included a team from the McKeen Motor Car Company, manufacturers of internal combustion engines for railroad locomotives. The weather was fair and held for all three days but the crowds were less than enthusiastic about the substitutions—one Omaha team, the "Invincibles," was apparently below par and played less than stellar ball. During Wednesday's matchup Tabor took them 18-2 in a game described as a "slaughter." The Invincibles were likewise trounced by the McKeen players during the last contest on Thursday, prompting a poetic analysis in the Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! Play Ball! 

"There were errors here and boneheads there, and the [bitter] pill was pounded everywhere.  Men sighed, babies cried and fans looked on weary-eyed."  Other issues further dampened the crowd's excitement: there was a change in the traditional schedule of one match in the morning and one in the afternoon—both games were played after lunch and the promised music never arrived.

 

When organizers tallied the receipts, there was a "small deficit." And because the Invincibles were inserted after the start of the tournament, organizers decided to split the promised four-way purse into two parts: The McKeen and Tabor teams shared first and second prizes, totaling $130.00, and Riverton and the Invincibles shared the third and fourth place money of $70.00.  In their final comment on the tournament, the Beacon noted the missteps and wished the organizers better luck in 1912.

Note: The Tabor Beacon  gave extensive coverage to the three-day event, describing each game in detail. Information on organizer Ralph Hillhouse was obtained through Iowa and Federal census records from the era and archival material held by the Tabor Historical Society.