In those days there were various traveling shows which played in small towns for several nights. Some of them sold patent medicine before the show and between the acts, and were called medicine shows. One man would speak from the stage of the wonderful cure-all for headaches, lumbago, stomach & kidney trouble, and whatnot. Other men would go through the hall selling patent medicine, soap, shampoo, pills, liniment and other cure-alls—a forerunner of the present TV commercials in between the show. A different play was produced each night which was mostly light comedy, but occasionally heavy drama with a hero and heroine.
My father liked shows of all kinds, so on Sundays, we would get on the streetcar operated by the Aurora and DeKalb railroad at Maple Park a little before 1 o’clock, and arrive in Aurora in time for the vaudeville show at the Fox Theatre. The Fox had at least six or so different acts, which to me always seemed the best. The show started with a short news movie, completely silent. It was a big thrill when the orchestra, of about six pieces, would find their place in the pits and start tuning up. I liked the drummer, but some boy told me that he was so good he must have had an electric drum (whatever an electric drum is). The violinist was the leader of the group.
This must have been at a time when there was a good market, and the farmer wanted to take advantage of it by quick shipment into the stockyards. The passenger train always had an express car as well as a mail car. The steam locomotives, of course, used coal, and there were water tanks at various spots along the right-of-way.
Except for barn dances, all dances—which were mostly church affairs—were held in the town hall. Palmer’s orchestra from DeKalb was an old-time favorite. The big feature was a midnight supper prepared by the women of the parish. Dancing was stopped while the supper was served downstairs. When all had been served, dancing would resume until an early hour in the morning. Waltzes were the early favorites, and later in the evening, square dances would take over. Later, of course, came the two-step, foxtrot and various forms of ballroom dancing.
As I remember the early dances, most of the boys came by themselves or with their family, and would gravitate towards the back of the hall. The boys would approach the girls standing around the walls. Most of the single girls came with their families or brother or other male relative. As the evening progressed, the men would gradually develop courage, and before long, and be seated with their favorites.
As a means of fundraising entertainment, the box social had few equals. For the uninformed, a box social was a kind of combination auction, blind date, and supper. Some few days before the affair, each of the single girls would take a cardboard box (either a shoe or hatbox) which she would cover with colored paper, and decorate with ribbons and whatnot. Inside the box, she would place a sandwich, cake and other cookies—just enough for her and one other, the other being the man who would buy the box when it was auctioned off by the village auctioneer. Inside the box, the girl would enclose her name. The auctioneer would auction off each box to the highest bidder, who would then discover the girl’s name. The girl would then be sought out, and the couple would then sit down for an enjoyable supper. The proceeds of the auction would go to the church or school of the sponsoring organization. Of course, many of the girls would tell their favorites which box they had prepared, and as a result, lively bidding would frequently take place.
There was a water tank in Maple Park, and the kids gathered round when the train stopped so the funnel could be pulled down for the locomotive to take its water supply. That’s how the name “tank town” originated.
The trains going through the town threw off their mail sacks on the fly at the depot. Lots of times, kids would put a penny on the track awaiting a train to run over it and flatten the coin out.
Another sport was walking on top of the tracks to see who could walk the longest distance without falling off.
Hobos would ride in the empty freight cars, and would occasionally get chased off at Maple Park. When an empty freight car was left on the switch track, the kids would play around it and climb up on the top. My father would chase me home if he knew I was doing it.
As far as I can remember, we always had a phonograph or some talking machine of some kind in our house. The first one was a box of about eight or nine inches high, with a metal horn attached to it. It had a spring in it, and had to be wound by hand with the crank on the side. After the record was placed on the spindle, we then placed the arm with the needle on the record. This then had to be removed when the record was finished. The selection was only on one side of the record. The other side was blank. It was a great development when they put recordings on both sides of the record.
My father liked band music, so we had lots and lots of stirring marches such as the Stars & Stripes Forever and King Cotton March. Numerous recitations of comical songs were quite popular at our house. One of them was [I’ve Got] Rings On My Fingers, which went something like this:
Bells on my fingers
Rings on my toes
Elephants to write upon
My little Irish Rose.
Wait until you see me
On next St. Patrick’s Day
Under the Yumbo tree
It’s the yummiest place to be, when you
Take your sweetheart by the hand.
It’s the place to be, down in the Yum-Yum lands.
Under the Apple Tree was also a favorite.
I laughed at the record called: Cohen on the Telephone. Cohen is speaking with a heavy Jewish accent:
Last night I called the “carpender” on the telephone
To tell him the “vind” blew down the shutter.
I did not say “shut up,”
I said the “vind” blew down the shutter
We laughed every time it was played.
Later we bought a larger sized Victrola which was really made by the Columbia people. My father bought wholesale in Chicago. We used steel needles in those days, which had to be changed frequently. I remember hearing one of the early Edison phonographs with a cylinder record. It was played in Snyder’s grocery store, and the “funny” records would be played over and over again to entertain those who were sitting around in the store. Having seen a man lead a band, I used to stand in front of the phonograph and lead the stirring marches which we so often played. Later on, we bought lots of records of Isham Jones, who played at the College Inn around 1918 or 1920. Al Jolson was also a favorite, as his songs had a lot of humor.
We had the records of that famous Irish tenor, John McCormick, singing Mother McCree, The Last Rose of Summer, and some waltz music such as The Blue Danube Waltz. Harry Lawder was a very popular Scotch comedian appearing on the stage in kilts and Scotch regalia. His favorite was Roamin’ in the Gloamin’:
Sure it’s lovely Roamin’ in the Gloamin’
With your lassie by your side
When the sun is gone to rest
That’s the time I love the best
Oh, it’s lovely, Roamin’ in the Gloamin’
Everybody Works But Father was another popular one:
Everybody works but Father
He sits around all day
Smoking his pipe of clay
Mother takes in washing
So does sister Ann
Everybody works at our house
But my old man
But the all-time favorite was Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Baseball, Baseball, Baseball: it truly was, as the sportswriters called it, The National Pastime when I was a boy. I played it in the dirt streets, in the fields, in Maple Park, and in DeKalb. We chose up sides by one boy catching the bat, and then by another boy placing his hand on top of the first boy’s hand, and the process would be continued: The first boy, then the second boy, then the first again, to be followed again by the second, until there was no more room at the top of the bat. The one who had placed his hand last had the first choice to choose a boy for his team. If you were a poor player, you were always the last to be chosen.
My cousin, Joe Clyne, had played second base on the Maple Park team. My cousin, George Dobson, pitched for the Elburn team. There was a bitter rivalry between the teams. Sometimes, the game had to be called off because of fights. Once, on the Fourth of July when the teams played, an umpire was brought from Chicago or another city to umpire the game.
When I was sixteen, I played second base on the Maple Park team. When we played Elburn, we would hire a picture from Chicago or Aurora to help us out. One time we had hired Tom McGuire, who was the regular pitcher for a fine semipro team, the Joliet Standards. It was the big game for the July 4 celebration at Elburn. We won three to nothing. I played second base, and I had at least one double play. Elburn hired Evar Swanson to pitch for them that season, 1921. Evar was from DeKalb, and had pitched for Maple Park the year before the next year. Elburn hired him away from Maple Park. Evar later played in the major leagues, first for Cincinnati and later for the White Sox. He also was a great football player, and played for the Chicago Cardinals. I considered it a great honor to have played on the same team with a fellow who became a major league ballplayer. My claim to fame!
When we played Elburn on that great day in my baseball life, the Elburn team and their rooters did not know for sure who our pitcher was. Some said it was Swede Risburg, would played shortstop for the White Sox, and later was thrown out of organized baseball for “letting” the Cincinnati Reds win the World Series, I believe the 1917 or 1918 series.
Maple Park paid Tom McGuire fifty dollars for pitching the game. It was during the week, and the Joliet Standards pitched him on the following Sunday.
I also played on St. Mary’s Grade School Team. We played against the public schools of DeKalb, after school was out. We played against the Elwood School, the Haish, the Glidden, and the Teacher Training School of the Normal School. We were the smallest of all the schools, and had trouble winning. The schools were named after Joe Glidden, the inventor of barbed wire, Col. Elwood, and Jake Haish, all natives of DeKalb who had made fortunes in the sale of barbed wire. I was also on the team of Normal School when I was a student there.
In the summer time, my father took me to see the Aurora semipro baseball teams play. At different times, they belonged to a league, but it seemed they played teams from Chicago—the Normals, the Spaldings, and the Logan Squares. In those days, there were many semipro teams around Chicago. I was pretty young then, and watching a baseball game was not much fun, but I liked what it came with—popcorn and peanuts. After the game, we went to Riverview Park near the baseball grounds to ride the merry-go-round and see the mechanical fortuneteller. I stayed off the roller coaster: my father said it was too dangerous.
My father was a great baseball fan. When I was small, he took me to Chicago to see the great White Sox. I can remember the lineup:
- Ray Schalk, catcher
- Chick Gandil, first base
- Eddie Collins, second base
- Swede Risburg, shortstop
- Buck Weaver, third-base
- Happy Felsch, centerfield
- Shoeless Joe Jackson, right-field
I believe Shano Collins or [Nemo] Liebold played left field. The pitchers were [Eddie] Cicotte, [Claude “Lefty”] Williams, [Dickey] Kerr and Red Faber. I have forgotten the others. Baseball players weren’t paid very much in those days, and of course, they had no pensions. Nobody had pensions! The owner of the Club had the power to make his own deals with the players, who had to accept them, try to get traded, or quit. Most of the players had little schooling. When the professional gamblers offered money to players of the White Sox to “throw” the games, many of them accepted. Cincinnati won, although the White Sox managed to win at least two games. Not all the players took the bribe.
It was not discovered until the following year. Those that had taken the money were thrown out of organized baseball, and had a hard time making a living the rest of their days. Baseball brought in Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge in Chicago, to head up the National and American leagues, and keep baseball free from scandal. They also brought in a new kind of baseball—one that would make it easier to hit a home run. Before the days of the new ball and Babe Ruth, it was not easy to hit a home run. A man called Baker hit five home runs one whole season, and they called him “Home Run Baker!” Over the years, the baseball has become “livelier” and “livelier.” The fans come to the game to see “home runs.”
On Sundays, we sometimes went to Aurora to see the Aurora team play against some of the semipro teams from Chicago. Chicago had many semipro teams in those days, such as Spalding, Logan Square, The Blues, and the Staleys. DeKalb also had a baseball team called the Grays, owned by Jack Killian. The Chicago White Sox played the DeKalb team one time, and scored six runs in the first inning. At a Knights of Columbus picnic, I met Ed Walsh, one of the all-time great pitches of the White Sox.
All games were played in the afternoon. None of the big parks had lights, so there were no night games. There were no Blacks playing the Major Leagues. The Blacks had their own League. The American League had eight teams, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Boston. The National League also had eight teams: Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Brooklyn, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The cities on the West Coast did not join the Major Leagues until it was possible to travel by plane to the West Coast . There were no numbers or names on the back of uniforms. You needed a scorecard! No organ music either, such as we have now.
As radio was unheard of, we read the newspapers for all the details of the games. Chicago had many newspapers in those days: the Tribune, Daily News, Examiner, Herald, Inter-Ocean and some others. There were many fine sportswriters—Ring Lardner, Jr. had the most followers. There was no professional football, basketball or hockey. (A few tournaments of golf and tennis were followed, but only by the “elite”). Ring Lardner and other writers had a great love for baseball. There was no detail of the game they would not share with their readers.
The Saturday Evening Post, a national weekly (five cents a copy) ran a story by Lardner consisting of a series of letters written by a rookie with the White Sox, boasting of his great success as a player. The letters always finished with this expression: “You know me, Al.”
Franklin Adams wrote a poem about the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants. The Cubs had a great double-play combination consisting of Joe Tinker at shortstop, Johnny Evers at second, and Frank Chance at first base. The closing lines of the poem were:
It was Tinker to Evers to Chance,
And the Giants were out.
When Tony Cermak became mayor of Chicago, he replaced the Irish in the City Hall with Bohemians, so the lines were changed to:
It’s Cermak to Simgcak to Zintak
And the Irish were out.
Dick Daley changed it all back.