Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture Of The City

I recently found a great book, written by W.A. Kelsoe, with the unwieldy title of A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture Of The City When We Got Our First Bridge, And Many Later Happenings Of Note. Kelsoe, who worked as a newspaper man in St. Louis from the mid 1870's until July of 1919, wrote in the introduction that the book was "a record of the local news in St. Louis..." covering "the twelve months ending June 31, 1875." While Kelsoe used contemporary newspaper accounts from the period, including those from the Times, the Globe, the Democrat, the Globe-Democrat and the Republican, he also certainly based much of the book, which was published in 1927, on his own personal recollections and those of his friends.

The best thing about this book, from my point of view, is that during 1874 and 1875, Kelsoe was covering baseball for the St. Louis Times and he has quite a bit to say about baseball during this period. Besides being a sportswriter, Kelsoe also happened to have been a baseball player, having played with the Old Capitols of Vandalia in the late 1860's when they visited St. Louis to play the Empire Club and the Imperial Club.

While it's definitely a gold mine of information, the book presents some difficulty. Kelsoe was writing the book in 1920's and his memory was faulty in many instances of fact. It's difficult to tell sometimes when Kelsoe was using a contemporary source or was writing from memory. There are enough minor errors in the book to make one question the entirety of the work and there are just enough whoppers (such as Kelsoe's claim that the Union defeated the Nationals of Washington) to make one wonder if Kelsoe was senile when he wrote the book.

One example of the difficulty I have with the book is the report of a game on July 29, 1874 between the Reds and the Atlantics. According to Kelsoe, "the St. Louis Red Stockings were defeated on their grounds, the Compton Avenue Ball Park, by the Atlantics of Brooklyn, one of the best baseball clubs in the country. This Compton avenue park could be reached by trains on the Missouri Pacific railroad, but it was seldom the attendance was sufficient to justify the running of such accommodation trains. Manager Thomas McNeary's club, as the Reds were called, was a member of the National Baseball Players Association the next year (1875), the year 'our original Browns' were organized, when St. Louis was represented in the National organization by two clubs."

I find that paragraph significant for several reasons. First, due to my 21st century point of view and my personal experience with trains and railroad tracks in St. Louis, I never considered the fact that the Missouri Pacific yards at Compton Avenue could be used to bring people to the game. Trains are used to haul freight not people. Kelsoe has caused me to adjust my view of what a game at Compton Park would be like. Second, he writes that "seldom the attendance was sufficient to justify the running of such accommodation trains." This also gives me a great deal of information. It tells me that sometimes special trains were run to Compton Park for games and also that the Reds' attendance, in general, wasn't that great (which is supported by most contemporary sources that have their attendance on average at around 500-1000 people). Also, it's interesting that Kelsoe claims that the Reds were referred to by the name of their manager, Thomas McNeary. There are several references in the book to "the McNeary's" or "the McNeary Reds". I had never seen that before.

But the problem is that the Reds most likely never played the Atlantics of Brooklyn on July 29, 1874. I can find no supporting evidence anywhere that the Atlantics were in St. Louis in 1874. On July 15th, they played a game in New York against the Mutuals. On July 22nd, the Brooklyn Eagle reports that the Atlantics are in Canada. During the first week of August, they played the Dayton Club in Ohio. So while the Atlantics were certainly on a road trip in the second half of July of 1874, I can't find any source that supports Kelsoe's claim that they came to St. Louis and played the Reds. It's possible that the Reds played a team called the Atlantics that day and Kelsoe, writing fifty years after the fact, assumed it was the Atlantics of Brooklyn.

Also, Kelsoe writes that the Reds were a member of "the National Baseball Players Association" in 1875 when he meant the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. That may seem nit picky but the book is full of small errors like that where Kelsoe misidentifies a league or a team. As a reader, you know what he means and adjust mentally but it still makes you scratch your head.

All in all, A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture of the City is a great book and worth reading if you're interested in the history of 19th century St. Louis. As a baseball researcher, I find the book to be both a treasure trove of information and a source of extraordinary frustration.

A Newspaper Man's Motion-Picture Of The City When We Got Our First Bridge, And Many Later Happenings Of Note can be found online here.

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