Wanted: A living person who could talk about Cannonball

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And now, the long-promised next installment of the mystery of Cannonball Dick Redding‘s (above) 1948 death at Pilgrim Psychiatric Hospital in Brentwood, Long Island …

The challenge, so far, has been to find a first-person source — ideally a family member/descendant of the star Negro Leagues fireballer or someone who knew and/or treated him at Pilgrim — to try to fill the holes in the narrative. So far, that attempt has been futile. Redding himself didn’t have any children of his own with his wife, Edna, and none of his siblings appear to have any descendants either. That in and of itself severely crimps the goal of finding a living, breathing source on the matter.

As for uncovering a fellow patient or staff member from the late 1940s, I would doubt that many at all are still alive, and if they are, they’d probably be at least 90 or so, which doesn’t lend itself to crystal-clear memories.

That leaves the option of trying to find non-direct descendants of Cannonball, perhaps in-laws or relatives of Edna Redding. But in those terms, there seems to be a mystery as to Edna’s background as well as her post-Cannonball life. I’ve been trying to find out where exactly she came from, i.e. her familial roots, as well as what she did after she became a widow in ’48.

That process has exposed a very curious mystery …

Dick Redding died at Pilgrim on Oct. 31 — Halloween!!! — 1948 and, thanks to his Army service in WWI, was buried with honors at Long Island National Cemetery. When Edna died in July 1951, less than three years later, she was interred with her husband at the national cemetery, as shown on this interment card:

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But records of Edna’s death and burial list a William H. Wortham as a the next of kin/other responsible person. One of those documents states that Edna was the wife of Wortham. If that was the case, Edna apparently bounced back from Dick’s death and got remarried pretty darn quickly.

And while I’m not calling her a gold digger … Wortham was a self-made rich man who accumulated wealth through real estate brokerage. He was married to the former Susan Payton, who died in January, 1953 — AFTER Edna Redding died. All of that seems to indicate that … William H. Wortham, who apparently was the second husband of Dick Redding’s widow Edna, was a bigamist. Why would Edna Redding go in for that?

Another puzzler is Dick Redding’s draft registration card, which he filled out in about 1942. In the line asking for the person who would always know his address, Dick Redding didn’t put his wife, Edna. Instead, he listed his sister, Minnie Redding, who lived two streets down from Dick and Edna in Harlem. Why wouldn’t Dick list his wife? Given that Edna Redding, on the surface, seems to have remarried — to a very wealth man, William Wortham — very quickly after Dick’s death and that Dick said he was closest to his sister, not his wife, Edna, were Dick and Edna estranged in the 1940s? If so, that could explain why Dick Redding might have simply been dumped at Pilgrim State Hospital in the mid-1940s or so — his wife, perhaps, didn’t want to deal with him or wanted him out of the picture.

But hold on here. What if Edna Redding wasn’t William Wortham’s wife, but one of his blood relatives? If that was the case, it could provide another avenue — albeit a somewhat iffy one — to look for a living person who might know what the heck happened to Cannonball Dick Redding in Pilgrim hospital.

In the 1940 U.S. Census, which lists Dick and Edna Redding living together on West 137th Street in Harlem (William Wortham and his wife, the former Susan Payton, were on 142nd Street). It also states that Edna was born in North Carolina in roughly 1891.

As it turns out, William H. Wortham was also born in North Carolina, and, apparently, from extremely humble beginnings. The 1900 U.S. Census lists 12-year-old William Wortham dwelling in the Oxford Orphan Asylum in Fishing Creek Township, North Carolina:

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In the same year, an Edna L. Wortham is listed as living in Raleigh, N.C., the 12-year-old daughter of Merrian and Eliza Wortham.

Then, two and a half decades later, the 1925 Census lists Dick and Edna Redding — at 30 and 28 years old, respectively — living together in Harlem on 131 Street:

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All of that provides circumstantial evidence that the eventual Edna Redding, wife of Negro League star pitcher Dick Redding, was, in fact, born Edna Wortham and was some sort of relative of real-estate mogul William H. Wortham, a possible fact that would lend itself to another whole avenue to find someone living who could talk about Dick Redding — one of his in-laws.

Of course, additional questions do remain … Why did Dick Redding list his sister, not his wife, as his contact on his draft card? Why do death records state that the widowed Edna Redding was the wife of William H. Wortham?

I’ll keep at this. In the meantime, I’ll issue a call for anyone who might have known Cannonball Dick Redding or would know anything about his time, and eventual death, in Pilgrim psychiatric hospital.

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2 thoughts on “Wanted: A living person who could talk about Cannonball

  1. Pingback: Cannonball’s grandfather, “Uncle Mose” | The Negro Leagues Up Close

  2. Pingback: The search for a Redding survivor continues, Part 1: The Fords | The Negro Leagues Up Close

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