Apr 10, 2023, 12:01AM

A Hell of a Game in Boston More Than 100 Years Ago

Couldn’t meet up with my 21-year-old grandmother. What year is it (#282)?

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Another skedaddle into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, but this time just for an afternoon at Fenway Park on October 16th, 1912. It’s end of the season, I’m 14, wearing a newsboy cap, a bright red-checked shirt, patched-up gray trousers and high-top sneakers. The Sox, pitching Smoky Joe Wood, have won the final game of the World Series, defeating the New York Giants, four games to three (with one tie due to darkness), and as was the custom then, and well into the 1960s, fans swarmed the field after the last out, provoking the kind of (mostly) harmless mayhem that would get spectators arrested today. Even though Massachusetts was/is very puritanical, I was able to sneak into a nearby saloon, shepherded by one of my older brothers, for my first draft beer, just seven ounces but it did the trick!

And then I was whisked back to the present day, on a drizzly Friday afternoon and lamented that the Chinese cherry tree at our home in Baltimore was shedding petals like politicians drop “g’s” when campaigning in the South, and resumed reading Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way about young Irish protestant men fighting for Britain against the Huns, and getting knocked around, or killed, by their own countrymen, Catholics preparing their fight for independence from King George V.

As it happened, in the trip to Fenway, I didn’t run into my grandmother Catherine O’Neill Duncan (pictured above, really dolled up, in a photo taken by a Foley studio hand at 6th Ave. and 18th St. in Manhattan). Besides, I’m besieged by flippant fantasy, since this portrait of Grandma (who died a year after I was born in 1955), was taken years earlier, not so long after she took the boat from outside Dublin to Ellis Island and made a family in the Bronx with my paternal grandfather, my mom and uncles. I’m not sure why I just referred to the lovely Catherine as “Grandma,” since I never knew her—the only “ancestor” I met was my dad’s father, an old coot whom we’d visit every year in New Hampshire, and even before he was down for the count at 89, he had little interest in me. He did once give me an alarm clock from the 1940s, putting it roughly in my hand without mentioning my name. (I did like those trips from Long Island to New England, however, since we stayed at cool motels and ate cheap and delicious fried Ipswich clams.) It’s not so unusual, I’d guess, that a relatively large family is dotted with dotty oddballs, and since it’s wise to keep a sane mind for as long as possible, there are no complaints from this quarter.

Look at the clues to figure out what year it is: Melvin Fuller was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; the first automobile show opens at Madison Square Garden; the Hershey candy bar is introduced; Agnes Moorehead is born and Casey Jones (the engineer!) dies; Billboard begins weekly publication; Spencer Tracy is born; Verdi’s Aida makes its U.S. debut; “The Duchess of Central Park” is a popular song; and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is published. 

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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