Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fire At A Baseball Game

The game of baseball between the Browns and Chicagos at Sportsman's Park was interrupted at 4:05 P. M. to-day at the beginning of the second inning by a fire, which destroyed the entire grand stand, pavilions, one of the bleachers, and the club offices and residence of Chris Von Der Ahe, who loses everything.

The total loss is estimated at about $60,000, with $35,000 insurance. Four or five thousand spectators were present. Several persons were injured, but no lives were lost, as was at first reported.

Men were put to work to-night erecting new fences and seats, it being President Muckenfuss's intention to play the remaining games of the series with Chicago here to-morrow.
-From The New York Times, April 17, 1898

I've covered the 1898 fire before (in two posts) but I think it's interesting to revisit it in light of yesterday's post (and my recent focus on Von der Ahe). In early 1897, Von der Ahe sells off his racetrack after reporting a loss of over $50,000 and the following year the ballpark burns down with the "total loss estimated at about $60,000." These are enormous financial losses. I'm not certain what Von der Ahe's total net worth was at the height of his success but he certainly wasn't J.D. Rockefeller. His two divorces since 1895 were costing him alimony in excess of $5,000 and I assume that this was a monthly expense. Add to this the legal expenses that Von der Ahe had taken on in fighting various lawsuits as well as the general economic situation in the United States and his financial situation by the summer of 1898 looks rather bleak. This is the context in which Von der Ahe defaulted on the ballpark bonds and the Browns entered receivership.

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