Who's your favorite president? Mine is Abraham Lincoln. I have lots of reasons for admiring Lincoln, but two of the most important are his success at preserving the Union and the measures he took that led to the abolition of slavery.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-65).
Talking with Lincoln would be quite an experience. History depicts him as a tall, strong, and intelligent man gifted with a sense of humor that carried him through crisis after crisis, not only in politics and war, but also on a personal level.
The closest you and I will ever come to meeting Lincoln will be this coming Saturday, July 13, on Center Stage, at the California State Fair, in Sacramento. Starting at 11:45 a.m., Lincoln scholar and actor Jim Getty will depict the sixteenth president in a "Conversation with Abraham Lincoln." Lincoln's interviewer will be the Honorable Vance Raye, administrative presiding justice of California's Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District.
Afterward, a military honor guard will escort the President to the California Room, where he will receive visitors, shake hands, and answer questions.
This program commemorates the 150-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's speech, "I Have a Dream." After the conversation with Lincoln, Ken Morris, a descendent of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, will talk about the life of Douglass.
A "Conversation with Lincoln" is part of a civic education and public outreach initiative of California's Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. Other partners include Journey to the Past, the California Judicial Center Library, the California Supreme Court Historical Society, e.Republic, and the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.
Click here for additional details.
How would the history of San Joaquin County have been different without its farm animals? What about now? For more than 150 years, they've played a vital role in the County's way of life. Despite their historic importance, however, cattle, sheep, horses, and other farm animals tend to get overlooked nowadays by a population—especially children—that often lacks direct contact with agriculture.
Livestock judging demonstration, Lockeford, California, 1922.
This summer, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum is offering residents of all ages in the County an opportunity to reconnect. Every weekend this summer, they can visit and pet a variety of live farm animals at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Admission to this new "Critter Corral" will be free to Museum visitors with regular admission, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through September 1, 2013.
Regular Museum admission is five dollars for adults (18–64), four dollars for seniors (65+) and teens (13–17), and two dollars for children (6–12). Admission is free for children five years and younger and for members of the San Joaquin County Historical Society. There is a parking fee for each vehicle that enters Micke Grove Regional Park. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, but closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The San Joaquin County Historical Society operates the Historical Museum in Micke Grove Regional Park. The Society provides education programs for school groups such as "Valley Days" and "Pioneer School Day" (in the 1866 Calaveras School). The Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
For additional information see www.SanJoaquinHistory.org.
Did you know that early San Joaquin County had two other Charles Webers, in addition to Charles Maria Weber, the founder of Stockton? One bore the name Charles Kimball Weber, and the other, his son, Charles Oscar Weber. Neither man was as wealthy or influential as Stockton's founder, but both owned sizable farms and left respectable legacies.
Charles Oscar Weber as a young man.
I learned about these two men through a gift of three portraits—for Charles Oscar Weber and his mother- and father-in-law—that one of their descendents recently gave to the Museum.
The eldest of the two men, Charles Kimball, arrived in San Joaquin County with his wife, Louisa Mohrmann Weber, in the 1870s, slightly more than two decades after Stockton's founding. Charles Kimball and his wife were natives of New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively. They settled on a 160-acre farm south of Clements and had six children, one of them named Charles Oscar Weber.
According to George Tinkham's History of San Joaquin County (1923), Charles Oscar was "a successful California rancher of whom the progressive agriculturalists in San Joaquin County may well be proud" (page 999). Born in 1878, he attended the Brandt, Grant, and Athearn Schools as a youth. In Tinkham's words, he later "benefited from an excellent commercial course at the Stockton Business College."
It doesn't take great leaps of imagination to see that Charles Oscar had an entrepreneurial bent. At an early age, he purchased his father's property. Then he added 320 acres in eastern San Joaquin County, on which he raised cattle, grain, and other crops. He also leased other land. In 1908, he married Marietta Crawford, the daughter of San Joaquin County residents William B. Crawford and Minnie Anderson Crawford, with whom he had two children.
Tinkham describes Charles Oscar, a Republican, as someone "ever ready both to 'boost' the local section and to support any well-endorsed measure likely to work for the prosperity of the country as a whole" (page 999).
I can't help wondering whether residents of early San Joaquin County ever confused these three Webers—despite their dissimilarities. Maybe their mail got mixed up on occasion. And maybe, because of that confusion, they became acquainted with each other.
Who knows? The past is filled with unknowns. If only those portraits could talk.
The San Joaquin County Historical Society appreciates the gift of those portraits, as well as the discoveries and questions they have triggered. It welcomes other depictions of early San Joaquin County residents, as well.
How many women motorcyclists can you remember seeing? Not many, I'll wager. My own eyes were opened about five years ago after learning that one of my nieces motorcycled to and from classes each day while attending college in southern California. Every other motorcyclist I see nowadays seems to be female.
Lodi mayor Mabel Richey (right) honors Edith Ehrhardt (left) as “most popular and typical girl motorcycle rider” for 1953.
Actually, the historical record shows the existence of women motorcyclists for the better part of a century. And they've been riding their motorcycles here in San Joaquin County. Last week, I learned about a women's motorcycle club named the Lodi Comets, thanks to a scrapbook of theirs that a local motorcycle enthusiast has shared with me.
The book is filled with newspaper clippings and photographs, and it includes a copy of the organization's charter. According to that document, the Lodi Comets came into existence in January 1939 as an auxiliary of the all-male Lodi Motorcycle Club. The affiliate had two goals: "to promote better character and better sportsmanship." It apparently also had a third, unstated goal of promoting fun while members pursued their two major goals.
Most of the clippings are undated, so it's hard to tell precisely how tightly the Comets crowded their social agendas. However, they seem to have loaded it with dinners, dances, business meetings, game nights, "motorcycle polo," and excursions to locations within and outside California. They often socialized with men in the Lodi Motorcycle Club. In 1948, the Comets entered a float in the Grape Festival Parade, in which they placed third.
The Comets kept a clubhouse near Micke Grove Regional Park and won numerous safety awards. One of their most noted members was Edith Ehrhardt, the wife of a local police officer. In 1953, American Motorcycling honored her as that year's "most popular and typical girl motorcycle rider." Edith went on to become a poster child for Duckworth Cycle Chain, a maker of motorcycle chains, and her image appeared in publications throughout the United States.
The scrapbook ends suddenly, apparently in the 1950s. It's hard to tell from it precisely how long the Comets survived as an organization. However, the enthusiast who shared the scrapbook with me says that some of its early members are still alive.
A copy of the scrapbook can be found at the Museum, courtesy of its owner. The book stands as a delightful reminder that students of local history should brace themselves for unexpected discoveries whenever they venture into the past.
The San Joaquin County Historical Society welcomes gifts of photographs, recollections, and artifacts related to motorcycling and other sports in San Joaquin County's history.
It was a Saturday night and Mama decided to pile us all into the old Plymouth and head off to the Starlight Drive-in to catch a movie. The Starlight was located right off the southbound 99 near Childs Avenue in Merced. I forget what time we made it back, but we were half asleep when Tio Boogie walked over to the car while we were parked in the driveway to tell us the news: "Papa was busted for bootlegging!"
Everyone in the family called my grandfather Augustine "Papa." He was born September 30, 1893, in Jacona, Michocan, Mexico. To me, Papa was always old. He'd be at all the family functions, eating, or sitting quietly, wearing his sweat-stained felt hat, blending into the wallpaper, almost invisible.
Sometimes I'd come home and find Papa asleep in sitting position on our living room sofa. I'd tiptoe by as quietly as possible because if I woke him up he'd jerk up angrily and cuss me out in Spanish. And if he was awake, he never smiled, he just looked at me like I was a bug. He was Mama's father, though, so I was always respectful.
The news of his bust shook our sleepy heads out of the clouds, especially Mama, whose face took on a frantic horror worthy of the spooky movie we had just seen. "Ay dios mio, what happened?" she asked, almost screaming. Right away, images of whiskey stills, organized crime, and G-Men flooded our senses. When you put the pieces together, though, such a thing happening to my harmless-looking, sixty-seven-year-old grandfather just didn't add up. Papa?
Papa looked like a homeless person as he scavenged through the alleys of Merced collecting bottles and cans in his beat-up wire cart with crooked wheels. He walked in a crouch, dressed in raggedy clothes, and wore thick Coke-bottle eyeglasses. Papa moved so slowly it took him thirty minutes to cover two city blocks.
Whatever hard living Papa may have experienced in his younger days, it had happened long before I was born. I'd heard stories from Mama or uncles and aunts that raised eyebrows, though. One was how he'd kidnapped Grandma Socorro from Mexico when she was thirteen and brought her to Merced. Other stories of his strict, sometimes violent behavior left severe resentment. When Grandma died in 1949, she made Mama promise not to bury Papa anywhere near her.
Despite whatever history he had, he was still Mama's father, and with the startling news of his arrest, the family went into panic mode. On March 23, 1961, the Merced Sun Star and the nearby Fresno Bee had front page stories on the scandal. One headline read: "Merced Man, 67, Blames Insomnia for Bootlegging." Next to the story was a picture of Papa sitting with both hands between his legs, while a detective knelt below him counting various-sized whiskey jars. Just below the picture was a small headline: "Homemade Hooch."
To say this was a total embarrassment to our family would be wrong. We were stunned, but our family was used to bad things happening, so it just added to the mix. Once the news of Papa's arrest sunk in, it became the scandalous hot topic of the week. There was something cool about having your grandfather arrested for running a whiskey still and having it splashed on the front page of the hometown newspaper. Eventually, the local police handed him over to the Feds. "Yeah," my brother said proudly, "Papa hit the big time."
Of course, we all felt bad that Papa was locked up and possibly headed to prison, especially since Mama stressed terribly over it. Maybe he was too old, or the authorities felt sorry for him because, despite the felonious nature of the crime, he was released about a week or two later. The circumstances were typically murky. Of course, Papa had to promise to give up his shady hooch operation and become an honest citizen. He was even quoted in the newspaper that he only sold the whiskey to pay his taxes.
From then on, I saw Papa in a different light. To start with, the beat-up cart and raggedy clothes were a total front. Beneath those thick eyeglasses and that slow-moving hobo exterior beat the heart of a crafty criminal. I'd watch him sitting in the living room now, all quiet and innocent, knowing he wasn't really sleeping but plotting the next big caper.
I learned many years later just how good Papa's homemade whiskey was. According to Boogie and Charlie, the whiskey he sold in pint-sized jars for two dollars a shot was the best anyone ever drank. "Even one of the cops in town came to Papa's house to buy his whiskey," Tio Boogie bragged. Papa had a ten-gallon copper cooker, barrels of mash, and a fruit press stashed behind the house.
"Papa used pickle and jelly jars, anything he could scrounge to fill with whiskey," Tio Boogie said, "He even wrote names on them like 'Tumbayaca,'" which roughly translates Knock the Indian Down. To this day, if I bring the bootlegging bust up to any older family member, they shake their head and smile. "Papa made the best stuff in town."
Toward the end, Papa was confined to a hospital bed. Mama placed his wire cart with the crooked wheels in her bedroom. I looked inside when she wasn't around to see what treasures he hauled in there. Two empty jars, a worn out picture frame, two cans of corn, an old tattered copy of a Mexican newspaper, and some rocks. The rocks, I'm sure, were to throw at the dogs in the alleys.
The big concern among some family members was knowing that he would die soon and not being able to pry Papa's secret whiskey recipe out of him. By then, stories about the quality of the hooch were legendary. Mama told me that Tio Boogie and Tio Charlie asked him for the secret over and over with a tape recorder at his bedside while he was weak and delirious, but he never gave it up. Knowing Papa, instead of revealing the secret ingredients he was probably cussing the hell out of them for trying. Papa took it with him. For some reason, I admired that.
As the decades melted away, the family's scandal of the century was almost forgotten. But every once in a while someone would bring it up during an event or gathering. Someone was always shocked and didn't believe it. Then a cousin or uncle would pull out a crumpled copy of the newspaper clipping and point out Merced's most famous bootlegging bust. The notorious crime wave we called Papa.
(Papa was buried on the other side Calvary Cemetery, far from Grandma Socorro, without a gravestone marker. Mama kept her promise.)
Charles Mariano was born and raised in Merced, California, and graduated from Merced High School in 1970. He is currently writing stories about growing up in the Central Valley for a book titled Piece Work.
In an earlier posting (Feb. 8, 2012), I addressed the importance of Benjamin Holt in the history of earthmoving equipment. Another giant of the industry, Robert G. LeTourneau, also had roots in San Joaquin County. He doesn't have a prominent street in Stockton named for him and he is lesser-known. But he was no less important.
A Caterpillar 60 pulls a LeTourneau tracked telescopic scraper, ca. 1925.
In 1920, Robert G. LeTourneau (1888-1969) borrowed one thousand dollars and bought a used 1915 Holt 75 Caterpillar Tractor (like the one the Museum is now restoring), rented a Schmeiser scraper, and began grading farmlands in San Joaquin County.
In 1921, LeTourneau established a workshop in Stockton and began building and continually improving his own scrapers. For LeTourneau, "each model was a prototype; the successive model, the one that was supposed to be the 'working version,' contained enough improvements to be yet another prototype. And so it went for decades." (Randy Leffingwell, Caterpillar Dozers and Tractors, 1997)
From that little shop on Moss Avenue (now Ninth Street) west of McKinley (the old Highway 50 south entrance to Stockton), the prolific inventor received the first of his 299 patents—he is now recognized as the world's greatest inventor of earthmoving equipment. In 1929, he incorporated his business as R.G. LeTourneau, Inc.
LeTourneau completed many earthmoving projects as a contractor in the 1920s and early 1930s, including the highway from Boulder City, Nevada, to the Colorado River that enabled the building of Hoover Dam. In California, LeTourneau built the racetrack at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, the Patterson Canal in adjacent Stanislaus County, the Lake of the Woods and Starr Bend levees near Marysville, the north approach to the Benicia railroad bridge, the Newhall Cut-off road, and the Santiago Dam in Orange County (at the time, the largest earthfill dam ever built).
When the company started to manufacture equipment for direct sale, rather than for the company's use, it outgrew its Moss Avenue workshop. In 1930, R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. moved to a new welded metal building in northeast Stockton, at the corner of East Roosevelt Street and School Avenue (between Wilson Way and Waterloo Road). Four years later, the company doubled the size of that plant and added a brick office building.
In 1935, Caterpillar Tractor Co. convinced LeTourneau to move its operations to Peoria, Illinois, near the Caterpillar plant—LeTourneau supplied many implements used by Caterpillar tractors and had a marketing agreement with Caterpillar Tractor Co.
R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. grew to become an international corporation with manufacturing plants in Toccoa, Georgia (established in 1938); Rydalmere, Australia (1941); Vicksburg, Mississippi (1942); and Longview, Texas (1946). LeTourneau was the president, chairman of the board, and chief engineer of R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. from 1929 to 1966. He also founded LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.
Robert G. LeTourneau invented many earthmoving machines, including a number of scrapers, bulldozer blades, power control units and cable-operated machines, an electric wheel drive, and the two-wheeled Tournapull tractor. He was the first to use electric-arc welded construction and low-pressure heavy-duty rubber tires on scrapers. "A large percentage of earth-moving science and technology sprang from [LeTourneau's] mind. It grew from his fingertips and took shape under his welding torches. He often was years ahead of everyone else…." (Leffingwell, Caterpillar Dozers and Tractors)
Befitting LeTourneau's roots as an earthmoving contractor in San Joaquin County, well into his seventies he was often seen at the controls of one of his company's machines.
The Museum will present the Robert G. LeTourneau story as part of a long-term exhibition on the history of earthmoving equipment in San Joaquin County. You can now see the "preview" exhibition in the Museum's Brown-Jones Building, which includes perhaps the finest examples of LeTourneau's early equipment. If you would like to donate funds, ideas, stories, photos, or artifacts for the final exhibition, please comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you ever wondered where McLeod Lake, in downtown Stockton, got its name? I did. If you look at the Museum's earliest map of the Stockton area, which dates from the middle 1840s, you can see this very Scottish name right in the middle of what was then very Hispanic territory. How did this happen?
McLeod Lake, ca. 1900.
George Tinkham, the venerated early twentieth-century local historian, offers an explanation in his History of San Joaquin County (1923). He tells us that the lake got its name from a man named John McLeod. Tinkham also tells readers that McLeod was a trapper and a friend of Charles M. Weber, the founder of Stockton.
Historians Thomas Hinkley Thompson and Albert Augustus West give additional details. According to their History of San Joaquin County, California (1874), McLeod worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and in 1827 or 1828 led a trapping expedition from the Pacific Northwest into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. In addition, they claim that McLeod and his group camped on the south side of French Camp Slough during that visit.
What else do we know about McLeod?
For one thing, he may have been a notable Canadian. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography includes an entry for a fur trader named John McLeod who was born in 1795 in the parish of Lochs, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, and arrived in Montreal, Quebec, at the age of twenty-one with a six-year contract to work for the North West Company, a fur trapping enterprise. Soon afterward, North West merged with Hudson's Bay Company, which became McLeod's employer for the next three decades.
McLeod's responsibilities included clerking, overseeing the fur trade, and exploring in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, as well as the Northwest Territories. Over time, he gained the respect of coworkers and superiors. One report stated that McLeod had "steady habits of business and correct conduct" and described him as an "active well behaved Man of tolerable Education." It also found him proficient in the language of the Crees, with the ability to understand Chipewyan.
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, McLeod set sail from British Columbia in 1838 on the Cadboro, a Hudson's Bay schooner, on a mission to search for company trappers lost somewhere in the Sacramento Valley. He found them with the help of Mexican officials and Russians, who were based at Bodega Bay. While there, he paused to discuss the fur trade with Ivan Antonovich Kupeianov, the Russian American Company's chief manager in Northern California.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography sees the record going silent soon afterward. In 1842, McLeod retired at the age of forty-seven and apparently returned to Britain. The date and place of his death are unknown.
So did John McLeod visit this area at least twice? Or were there, perhaps, two Hudson's Bay trappers of the same name who traveled here two separate times? Nobody seems to know.
Whatever the case, whichever person McLeod Lake honors should be seen as one of San Joaquin County's many unsung action figures. It doesn't seem inappropriate to consider the lake named after him as a monument not only to certain kinds of small, wild, valuable furry creatures once found here in abundance, but also to the wave of trappers whose presence helped blaze the path for European settlement shortly before the Gold Rush.
A new exhibit titled "Wherever There's a Fight: A History of Civil Liberties in California" has opened at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. The traveling exhibit, rich with narrative and photographs, animates the history of civil liberties focusing on the hidden stories of unsung heroes and heroines who stood up for their rights in the face of social hostility, physical violence, and economic hardship.
Biddy Mason (1818-1891) won freedom from slavery in landmark 1856 California legal case.
"Wherever There's a Fight" is part of California Council for the Humanities' thematic program, Searching for Democracy. The exhibit is based on the Heyday Books publication Wherever There's a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California, by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi (2009).
In both the book and the exhibit, four central themes are evident: civil liberties are essential for democracy; while civil liberties repeat over time, targeted groups change; civil liberties are in perpetual flux; and although the U.S. Constitution promises rights, every generation must fight for equality and justice to make them meaningful.
Thirteen interpretive panels of photographs and texts tell the stories of ordinary people capable of extraordinary acts, who fought violations of their civil liberties in California, reflecting the prejudices and political winds of the times.
These include Paul Robeson, who told the House Un-American Activities Committee, "You are the Un-Americans and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves." Anton Refregier's colorful murals, targeted for destruction by a 1953 Congressional inquisition but ultimately declared historically protected, depict true stories of Indians at the missions, anti-Chinese riots, and labor strikes. And in 1939, the Kern County Board of Supervisors banned John Steinbeck's instant best-seller, Grapes of Wrath, though six hundred readers had already put it on reserve.
"Banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile," says Kern County's librarian Gretchen Knief. "Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading."
Support for "Wherever There's a Fight" is provided by the Cal Humanities (CCH), whose thematic initiative, Searching for Democracy, is designed to animate a public conversation on the meaning of democracy today through a series of local, regional, and statewide humanities-inspired activities.
Funding is also provided by Exhibit Envoy, which provides traveling exhibits and professional services to museums throughout California.
"Wherever There's a Fight" will be on display at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum through June 16, 2013.
My poor daughter. A lover of animals, she would often ask me as a child to make drawings of them for her. "Daddy," she would say, "draw me a cat." So I would grab my pencil and paper, sit down, and go to it. I don't remember her ever complaining, but her disappointment must have been great since everything I draw almost always ends up looking like either a dog or a truck.
I admire people with artistic talent, including my daughter, whose gifts have blossomed over the years. Another artist I admire is Ralph Yardley, a native Stocktonian who gained fame during the early years of the twentieth century as one of America's leading newspaper illustrators.
Title head for 1899 Stockton High School publication created by Ralph O. Yardley.
Back in 1987, Tod Ruhstaller, the chief executive officer of Stockton's Haggin Museum, put together a small, delightful book on Yardley titled Ralph O. Yardley: Stockton's Inkwell Artist Extraordinaire. The book starts with a brief biography of Yardley, who was born in 1878 to Stockton grocer John Yardley and his wife, Caroline. After graduation from local schools, Yardley junior moved to San Francisco, where he studied art at Hopkins Art Institute and Partington Art School.
Yardley started his professional career as an artist for the San Francisco Examiner. After a short stint with the San Francisco Chronicle, he moved to Hawaii and became staff artist for the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. In 1902, he returned to the mainland and for the next half-century worked for a number publications that included the San Francisco Chronicle, Bulletin, and Call; the New York Globe; Harper's Magazine; and Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. In 1922, the Stockton Record hired him as its resident artist. He stayed there for the next thirty years.
Yardley's portfolio included caricatures, special layouts, and editorial cartoons. I first learned about him through a series of cartoons he drew during the 1920s. He collectively titled them "Do You Remember?" Each installment depicted historic structures, sites, or events based on Yardley's memory and old photographs. So popular were the cartoons that they enjoyed a second run in the Stockton Record during the 1960s.
Two friends of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum were so taken with "Do You Remember?" that they faithfully cut out each daily installment, brought the cartoons together as collections, and gave them to the Museum for preservation. A collection of Yardley originals can also be found at the Haggin Museum.
All too often, we tend to exalt men and women who win battles, transform the land, or come up with inventions that help us control nature. Ralph Yardley is different. Yardley is one of many often-unsung heroes from the past who enriched the cultural life of his community through art. Stockton and San Joaquin County were better places then—and are better places now—because he lived here.
Visitors to the San Joaquin County Historical Museum can look forward to some of Yardley's art being incorporated into redesigned exhibits currently under development.
"The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day…." So begins "Casey at the Bat," the most famous poem in baseball history. It's the bottom of the ninth as the story begins, with two outs and two runners on base. Then "mighty Casey" steps up to the plate. Will he pull it off? Will the Mudville nine overcome the two-run lead of their opponents?
Not the Mudville nine: Members of the Woodbridge, California, baseball team, 1876.
Anyone who has read the poem knows the answer. But a burning question for the better part of a century has asked where Casey and his team were playing that day.
"Casey at the Bat" was written in 1888 by Ernest Lawrence Thayer under the pen name "Phin." A native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Thayer had recently graduated from Harvard University. Among other accomplishments, he had edited the Harvard Lampoon and struck up a friendship with William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate. In 1886, Hearst had hired him as a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner.
Thayer supposedly attended a number of baseball games in Stockton while working for Hearst. To many Stocktonians, his presence at the very least hints that the game took place here in San Joaquin County. Adding to the evidence are three players on the local team who shared names with counterparts in the poem and the unlikely coincidence that a game played in Stockton during the 1887 season featured someone similar to Casey and ended with the same score.
Besides, it's argued, Stockton in its early days was known as "Mudville."
Not everyone finds these arguments compelling. Across the Continent, in Holliston, Massachusetts, people see things differently, claiming their own town as the original Mudville. For evidence, they point to one of their neighborhoods known by that name since the 1850s, and they cite Irish names common to their baseball teams as well as the poem. In addition, they explain that Thayer's family not only kept a summer home just down the road in Mendon, but also owned a woolen mill about a mile away from Mudville.
So who's right? It's hard to tell. Thayer himself didn't really help matters with an assertion shortly before his death that "Casey at the Bat" had no basis in reality.
A couple weeks ago, a student in Massachusetts (yes, that Massachusetts!) sent me an e-mail. She wanted the final word: Was it Stockton or Holliston? Was she taunting me? In any case, what could I say? Call me a traitor if you will, but I ended up sharing both sides of the story. Then I admitted that I didn't know the answer.
I still don't know. But, really, how important is the location? Actually, I think it matters a lot, but not simply as a matter of local pride. To me, the argument over Mudville represents part of an important yearly ritual, one that awakens Americans each spring from a dreary winter and leads them to diamonds throughout the land in search of friendly rivalry and treasured memories.
In the end, perhaps "Casey at the Bat" tells us more about ourselves—wherever we live—than we've bothered to admit.
The author wishes to thank William Maxwell, archives manager at the Bank of Stockton, for his insights into local baseball and the poem "Casey at the Bat."