Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Very Intriguing Picture

After Carolyn Willmore and I had finished exchanging information about Lafayette Park and Civil War-era baseball, she sent me the above picture.

What we see here is the lake at the center of Lafayette Park and, just north of that, the superintendent's cottage. To the right of the cottage are two tents. What makes this picture extraordinarily intriguing is the question of what purpose the tents serve. Why are those tents there? Who's using them?

The picture is labeled "'Lafayette Park' 1859 or 1860' and Carolyn, believing the picture to be mislabeled, thought that these were military tents being used by the troops who were encamped in the park. However, after I had sent her some information on antebellum baseball in the park, see sent me the picture and asked if the tents might have been used by baseball clubs playing in Lafayette Park. If this were true, and the date of the picture is correct, then what we're looking at is a picture of the first baseball grounds in St. Louis.

What evidence is there to support this possibility?

An article in the St. Louis Republican, published on April 21, 1895, gave a brief history of the Cyclone Club based on the recollections of Leonard Matthews, Ferdinand Garesche and Maurice Alexander. The article stated that the Cyclone grounds were located at the center of the park and that the grand stand was "a tent which sheltered those who were awaiting their turn at bat or some of the many visitors who came out to see the game." E.H. Tobias also mentioned the use of tents in this era, stating that they were used as a changing room for players and as a place to serve refreshments. So the Cyclone Club had at least one tent set up near the center of Lafayette Park and may have had two, one used as a grandstand and one used as a club house/changing room. The above picture shows two tents near the center of the park in 1859 or 1860 when the Cyclone Club had their grounds at Lafayette Park and there is no other known reason for why the tents would be there. So it is arguable that the tents shown in the picture where those used by the Cyclone Club and that the playing field lay just north of those tents.

I don't think there is any way to be certain that what we're looking at are tents on the Lafayette Park Grounds in the antebellum era but I believe that it is possible. If it is true than this is the earliest pictorial evidence of baseball in St. Louis and a significant find by Carolyn.

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