Update on progress of Dick Redding hospital records

Being someone who infamously lacks patience, especially when I have deadlines approaching, I decided to call Pilgrim State Hospital to find out the status of my request for release of records for Negro League legends Sol White and Dick Redding, both of whom died in NYS psychiatric hospitals in the mid-20th century.

I postal mailed formal requests for said release of records about a month ago and was subsequently told that all further communication with the matter would be made via postal mail. Right. Like I have the patience for that.

So today I called the Pilgrim records department — which houses historical records for the two Long Island hospitals at which Sol and Dick were committed — and asked about the status of my requests. I was told by an administrator that, basically, it could take a while. Why? Because, he said, it’s basically out of his hands at this point and on the desks of bureaucrats in “different offices,” most of which are in Albany, the capitol of New York. He said, “Any hold up in the the process will be a hold up in the whole system.”

That system apparently includes a “group of people” who make such decisions about the release of this type of files. He said there is currently a “backlog in information requests” and that my request is “a strange case because [the request] is not being made by family members or other genealogical researchers.”

Other than that, he acknowledged that he’s basically out of the look at this point and that I’m at the mercy of the glorious, tangled, inefficient bureaucracy known as the New York State government. Yippee.

While all this is pending, I PROMISE I’ll have a big post tomorrow about more details of Cannonball Dick Redding’s last years and the developments that took place in his family immediately following his death. In my quest to find any sort of living descendant of his, I’ve come across some very peculiar and seemingly conflicting records about the subject. So come back tomorrow if you can.

Ben Adair 1925 murder update — the dreaded FOIA request!

Just a quick update on the progress toward nailing down what exactly might have happened on the night in 1925 when a Harlem resident named Ben Adair was murdered by an as-yet unknown assailant in the apparent presence of three Negro Leagues stars — Oliver Marcell, Frank Wickware and Dave Brown …

I called the NYPD looking for the Cold Case unit. I was bounced to the Press Relations office, which in turn directed me to the Records Department office that handles Freedom of Information Act requests, a process I was hoping to avoid.

The Freedom on Information Acts in various states are ultimately very good things, because they force government agencies to turn over files and documents to the public that would otherwise be hidden from public view. Usually the FOIA process is used by investigative reporters who are looking into possible corruption, wrongdoing or other hinky business behind the walls of bureaucracy.

But FOIA can also be used by historians to force government officials to dig through long-forgotten archives that are collecting dust in some warehouse or other storage place. That process is almost certainly no fun for said officials, because it’s most likely a pain in the butt.

But it’s also a pain in the butt for historians and researchers who must wait patiently while those government bureaucrats to root through piles and piles and boxes and boxes of yellowing documents and files. That doesn’t include any fees the person making the FOIA request must incur for the process. Overall, it can be quite a challenge for everyone.

Sooooo, that’s what I’m going to do today — formally e-mail my FOIA request to release any and all NYPD records related to the 1925 murder. I’d say stay tuned, but it might be a while …

Memories of the Skipper

OK, this is absolutely the last one today … It’s just so good that I really want to get it in ASAP.

I’m frequently in touch with Rodney Page, son of Allen Page, who was pretty much the patriarch of the African-American baseball scene in New Orleans for almost a half-century. In my mind, Allen Page’s contributions to and influence on the local baseball picture is terribly unrecognized and overlooked. Maybe that will change after this. We shall see.

The Pages, including Allen’s offspring, were intimate friends with Wesley Barrow, a manager and mentor for decades who ranks right along side Allen Page in terms of importance here. About a week or two ago, I blogged about the depressingly shoddy state of the cemetery in which Wesley Barrow is buried. I forwarded the link to the blog post to Rodney, who in response had nothing but warm recollections and fond memories of the skipper.

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In fact, Rodney was asked to contribute a brief essay about Wesley Barrow when the baseball stadium in Pontchartrain Park was rededicated a couple years ago in honor of Barrow and the arrival of Major League Baseball’s latest Urban Youth Academy, which is now headquartered in Wesley Barrow Stadium. Rodney shared with me what he wrote for that special day:

A DISTANT MEMORY OF WESLEY BARROW

08-24-2012

 The ball field was on the West Bank on a road near the river, nothing fancy, yet a place for fans and players to gather and enjoy a Sunday afternoon of baseball.  It was a hot, sunny, Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1964 and the stands are packed with at least several hundred fans.  I’m not certain who drove us across the river as my dad no longer had an automobile. At my father’s request, I had been invited to play with Wesley Barrow’s semi-pro team that day. 

Hearing the crack of the bat, I drifted back slightly towards the left-field fence with my eyes clearly focused on the baseball coming swiftly towards me.  Upon catching the ball, I immediately and in one motion stepped into my throw to home plate.  It was a beautiful throw – a Roberto Clemente type, or so I thought.  Yet the voice and words came quickly:  “Little Page, hit the cut-off man.”  It was the teaching and the words of Wesley Barrow.  And yes, that would have been the correct throw, instead of the spectacular.  It was a basic fundamental of baseball related to throws from the outfield.  Always aim for the cut-off man for a relay or the ball to reach the catcher/plate on the bounce.  It was the call to attention and proper mechanics.  It was the strong, firm, yet affirming voice sharing the finer points of his craft.  It was Wesley Barrow, baseball purist and the man who had a love affair with baseball.  Even the times when the game did not love him back, his love for baseball remained unconditional and enduring.

This is now a very distant yet profound memory, cherished in the recesses of my heart, mind soul and spirit.  It is an infrequent memory that was re-awakened by the Wesley Barrow Stadium dedication.  I knew him well as he was frequently around the many baseball promotions of my father, Allen C. Page.

Wesley Barrow – a baseball purist; a love affair with baseball.  A good man, a good soul!  May his love for the game of baseball continue beyond the pearly gates.

Many, many thanks to Rodney for being willing to share his touching tribute to a man who, like Rodney’s father, helped the NOLA blackball scene thrive for decades.

White marker ceremony goes splendidly

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Just wanted to add a quick update on the dedication this past Saturday of the grave marker placed at Hall of Famer Sol White’s previously unmarked burial site in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island. I wrote about the event in, no pun intended, advance for the Staten Island Advance newspaper.

Sol White was a remarkable Renaissance man in African-American whose influence on the game was immediate and continues to be felt today. The fact that he was buried in a pauper’s grave — after dying in a Long Island psychiatric hospital, no less — was nothing less than tragic, and thanks to the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project, that tragedy was rectified Saturday.

I wasn’t able to be there, but Patricia Willis, head of the Friends of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park, a group dedicated to rehabbing the cemetery in which Sol White lies and that partnered with the NLBGMP on the White marker effort, e-mailed me this description of the ceremony a few days ago:

 The ceremony was wonderful. The clouds went away, there was just the right amount of people there, the music was so enjoyable and the speakers and their remarks were absolutely on point and inspirational. Everyone said it was beautiful! I hope Sol White is saying the same thing.
 
We’re working on getting some pictures of the event posted within the next few days, so keep checking back!

 

Mr. Simpson goes to Seattle — again!

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Found out that the ever-youthful, spry and handsome Herb Simpson (above, in his playing days), NOLA’s most famous surviving Negro Leaguer, will again be the guest of the Seattle Mariners at the team’s annual African-American Heritage Day, which this year is scheduled for July 27. It’ll be the second year in a row Herb travels to Seattle to be honored by the major league team.

Herb is the last surviving member of the Seattle Steelheads, that city’s entry in the short-lived and ill-fated West Coast Negro Baseball League in 1946.

In addition, I’m about to work on an article for the Spokane Spokesman-Review about Herb and his half-season with the Spokane Indians (details in the link above) in 1952.

Plus, and this simply humbles me, the Mariners’ RBI booster club has invited me to attend the festivities in July as a media representative. I’m incredibly honored by the invite — but, as you can see, not above bragging a bit about it 🙂 — and if there’s some way we can pull off the finances of it, I’m headed to the Jet City in a couple months! Hopefully while I’m there I’ll see Nancy and/or Ann Wilson, and possibly Geoff Tate. We’ll see.

Binga marker dedication June 28!

Got a bunch of hot items today …

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The first is that the dedication of the William “Bill” Binga grave marker (above) has been scheduled! It’s slated for Saturday, June 28 at 11 a.m. (CST) at Crystal Lake Cemetery in Minneapolis, according to Peter Gorton, the Minnesota baseball guru who has headed the project up for the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project.

Bill Binga was a star and crucial figure in pre-Negro Leagues African-American baseball in the first couple decades of the 20th century. But in addition to being a top-notch ballplayer, he was also part of an accomplished and influential family and heritage, which I discussed in this article for the Hour Detroit magazine Web site.

The Binga’s grave marker has been funded by the Dave Winfield Foundation; Hall of Famer Winfield, of course, played for the Twins for several years.

Will Herb Simpson be a token in NOLA?

I recently published a post about lifelong New Orleans resident and former Negro Leaguer Herb Simpson being inducted a couple weeks ago into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. I also posted about the apparent sorry state of local baseball legend Wesley Barrow’s grave in New Hope Baptist Cemetery in Gretna, La. Well, I’ve got a couple updates about those topics …

Regarding Barrow, I drove past the cemetery yesterday (Sunday), and it appears that the facility was cleaned up a little recently, i.e. mowing was actually done, etc., and there were a handful of people visiting the park as well. Of course, yesterday was Mother’s Day, so maybe that’s what all the hubbub was about. Maybe …

About Herb and the Hall of Fame … a couple weeks ago, I sent this e-mail to Dave Sachs, the PR guy for the New Orleans Zephyrs, who sponsor the local hall:

Hi Dave,
Does the induction of Herb Simpson — the first Negro League figure to be so honored — mean other such figures will be considered in the future, i.e. Allen Page, Oliver Marcell, Dave Malarcher, Wesley Barrow, etc., etc.?
Ryan
I have yet to receive any response whatsoever, which is a little unsettling. To be fair, Dave has said in the past that he’s not really the precise contact person for the Hall. However, also in the past, I’ve had trouble contacting the person who is the precise person for that. That all makes me nervous that Herb Simpson was inducted as a sort of token representative of the Negro Leagues. I’m certainly glad that Herb was given the long-overdue honor, but he should only be the first.
Here’s a baseball card that in recent years recognized Herb. It’s from Legends of the Negro Leagues:
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Malloy early-bird deadline

Trying to get in two or three short-ish posts today …

This one is just a reminder about the Society for American Baseball Research’s Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues conference this August — Thursday is the deadline for the early-bird registration.

It should be a very interesting gathering; the topic is African-American baseball in Detroit and the rest of Michigan, much of which remains a somewhat unexplored topic. Plus I’ll be giving a presentation there on Detroit native William Binga.

Sorry, had to get that little personal plus in. 🙂 Hope to see you in the Motor City!

Another “unknown” in Douglass park

Tomorrow a large group of fans, philanthropists, historians, community activists, political officials and clergy will gather at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island to officially dedicate the grave stone that has been placed on the previously unmarked burial place of black baseball legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Sol White. Here’s my story on the event in the Staten Island Advance.

But there is much, much more work to be done at Douglass park, which is currently being nurtured back to health by a dedicated group of community advocates. But in addition to the massive task of bringing this historically vital cemetery back to life — which includes, for example, cleaning up and placing a marker at the grave of classic blues singer and “Queen of the Blues” Mamie Smith — there’s another significant Negro Leaguer who lies in an unmarked grave in the park.

That would be Elias “Country Brown” Bryant, a clever, slashing hitter in the 1920s or thereabouts. He was also one of the more famous “baseball comedians” in history, able to both change a game with his timely hitting as well as crack up the crowd with comic antics. Here’s what a 1926 article in the Amsterdam News said about Country Brown (he was playing for the Bacharach Giants at the time):

“With Country Brown and Roy Roberts on the coaching lines the fans are sure to be kept in good humor [in a game against K.C.] with their comedy antics and clever coaching. Brown, without a doubt, is the most comical player in the colored ranks and aside from his clowning stunts he is capable of playing a splendid article of ball.”

Unfortunately, Bryant’s saga didn’t end well whatsoever. At Christmastime 1937, Country Brown was killed when he was crushed in the head by his brother-in-law. Bryant was pronounced dead a short time later at Harlem Hospital and buried in a pauper’s grave on Staten Island at Douglass park, just like hundreds, if not thousands, of poor African-American residents of New York City. For more info about Country Brown’s death, check out Gary Ashwill’s blog entry on the subject, which includes the following vintage article:

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Help is needed to bring dignity in death to Country Brown, just like it will be tomorrow for Sol White. Please consider supporting either the Friends of Douglass Park or the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project to further the effort.