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The debate can now be settled. We know what the greatest championship series in baseball history is. It’s certainly not the 2014 San Francisco-Kansas City match-up, though that’s been entertaining.

What championship am I talking about? The year was 1908. Theodore “Big Stick” Roosevelt was finishing his second term as president. “Big Bill” Taft was running on the Republican ticket to succeed his friend and was taking on William Jennings Bryan, aka “The Great Commoner.” (This may have been the Progressive Era, but it was also the era of the best sports nicknames. Who could ever forget players like “Wee Willie” McGill, “Handsome” Griffin, or “Postscript” Fletcher? Even the head umpire of the series was nicknamed “Dusty”!)

The teams hailed from Chicago and Indianapolis and met on a sun-baked field in Michigan City, Indiana, for the first game. It had all the trappings of the modern game: two teams loaded with stars, two umpires, clean uniforms. See for yourself.Hoo Hoo baseball Chicago vs. Indianapolis

Oh, did I mention that this was the Hoo-Hoo‘s World Series? After all, lumber mills were big sponsors of teams back then. Nevertheless, there were bragging rights on the line. We’ll let our intrepid reporter take it from here:

At 1 o’clock the invading army of black cats took Michigan City without a struggle, the natives firing only one shot, that being from the artillery of a photographer. Immediately upon the landing of the steamer a brass band headed the line and the cavalcade proceeded to the park, where it was successfully photographed, and then steered to a great refreshment hall, where it was very successfully fed. The local accommodations for caring for the big crowd were found to be excellent and the hunger of all was satisfied without serious difficulty.

The chief event of the afternoon was the baseball game. Immediately after the luncheon the Hoo-Hoo and their ladies proceeded in a body to the b.p., meaning not baseball park but boiling point. The Northern Indiana penitentiary formed an appropriate background to this travesty on a baseball field. The sun turned all its calcium effects upon two inches of red hot sand, in which the athletes were compelled to disport themselves. The game itself was a contest between two teams selected from the lumbermen of Indianapolis and Chicago. They were made up as follows:

Two more formidable teams have never taken the field to battle for a title.

Just before the teams took the field E. F. Dodge, of Chicago, called [umpires] C. D. Rourke, of Urbana, Ill., and George Palmer, of Indianapolis, Ind., to the plate and presented one with a horse pistol and the other with a shotgun. Some of the decisions later proved that this was a wise precaution, undoubtedly saving both umpires from the fury of the populace.

Indianapolis won the game in the first inning, the Chicago team going up in the aeroplane a la Wright Bros. The procession of Indianapolis runs took ten minutes to pass a given point.

Pitcher Fox appeared to be a stranger in the neighborhood and was unable to locate the plate. He gave Mercer and Geisel, the first two men up, passes to first, and then Johnson started a grounder to first, which got through Saye’s legs and caromed into right field, Mercer and Geisel scoring. Avery struck out, but a passed ball assisted Johnson to third, from which he scored when Pritchard singled. Pritchard stole third, but expired there on infield outs of West and Maas.

In the third inning Giesel drew a base on balls, but was forced at second, McGill to Larson, on Johnson’s grounder. Avery’s single advanced Johnson a base and he scored when Lewis threw over Fletcher’s head. Pritchard grounded, McGill to Saye. West struck out.

Chicago got its lone tally in this inning and might have had more but for some bad base running. Larson opened with a beautiful two-base hit and went to third on a wild pitch. Matthias struck out, but Dodge singled through the box, scoring Larson. When Fletcher flied to Mercer, Dodge led away off and was easily doubled, Mercer to Pritchard.

During the four succeeding innings the two teams played airtight baseball, but thirteen Indianapolis men and twelve Chicago men going to bat. Fox opened the fifth inning with a single, but was nailed at second when he attempted to steal with the ball in the pitcher’s hands. Hamilton singled in the seventh with two out and was left at first.

The fielding features of the game were supplied by Fox, McGill, and Pritchard. W. H. Johnson, who besides being a good ball player is president of the Indiana Retail Lumber Dealers’ Association, gave a fine exhibition of backstopping. Wee Willie McGill accepted three chances at second without error. Postscript Fletcher did not have a chance at third, or undoubtedly would be included in the special mention column. The managing of Handsome Griffin was also a conspicuous feature. The score:

Box Score 1908

Immediately after the ball game the Hoo-Hoo and their ladies, many of whom had entertained themselves about Michigan City rather than swelter at the ball park or approach so dangerously close to the penitentiary, again boarded the [steamer] Theodore Roosevelt and enjoyed a beautiful twilight and moonlight trip homeward to Chicago. On the way they were entertained with music by talented vocalists and with explanations from members of the Chicago team.

That’s right. The Chicago players spent part of the trip home making excuses for the loss. I wonder what they said after Game 2, played ten days later in Indianapolis.

Chicago Hoo Hoo baseball team 1908

The losers from Chicago.

Because once again, the Windy City Boys turned in a poor performance, this time getting shellacked 23-3, committing 12 errors, and not scoring their first run until the 7th inning. Let’s go back to our reporter, who appears to be making excuses for the Chicagoans:

Because of the wide difference in the score there was not much excitement, but what the game lacked in excitement was made up in fun. The local team is composed largely of big men who do not often indulge in such exertion as playing ball, most of them being office men. Until noon Monday part of the local team had not reported at their offices for work.

Indianapolis baseball 1908

The victorious team from Indianapolis.

The third and final game was played in Chicago. By then, the Hoosiers had already won the 3-game series, so their incentive to play all-out was not very great. Still, Chicago had to rally from 3 runs down to win 8-4.

A week later the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series title. Perhaps instead of a billy goat, their fans should bring a black cat to Wrigley Field to break the curse.

Go Hoo Hoos!

What we like to think might have been the pennant won by the Hoosiers!

The Chicago Hoo Hoo baseball team.

Chicago’s not-so-lovable losers.

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 14, in which we examine Abel Woodman.

“A Character is Coming to Crossett.”

This was the headline on a small announcement item greeting scrupulous readers of the December 1947 issue of Forest Echoes. As our faithful Peeling Back the Barkers know, Forest Echoes was the popular local monthly magazine published by the Crossett Lumber Company of Crossett, Arkansas, between 1939 and 1962. But who was this new character being teased in the magazine’s final issue of 1947? Curious readers were assured of an answer in the new year: “Don’t miss next month’s Forest Echoes, you owe it to yourself to meet this character.”

As promised, the mysterious new character made his debut in the January 1948 issue. Found in a one-panel comic in the back of the magazine was a well-built man with beady eyes, smoking a pipe and holding a large axe. The man was dressed in traditional lumberjack garb (boots, suspenders, flannel shirt) and there was no doubt about his location—a large Crossett smokestack was visible in the background.

Abel Woodman, January 1948

First-ever appearance of the man who would become Abel Woodman, January 1948 (click to enlarge).

The only problem was he had no name. To rectify this, the Forest Echoes editorial staff created a contest, inviting readers to submit their name ideas for the new character. As seen under the cartoon above, the best entry would win a $25 U.S. Savings Bond (side note: The “I ain’t Mr. Hush…” comment references a famed 1946 contest on the Truth or Consequences radio game show, where host Ralph Edwards phoned random people and asked them to identify a mystery voice known only as “Mr. Hush”).

The following month a winner was announced. Thanks to the entry of William “Bill” Preston Haisty, the new character was officially christened “Abel Woodman.”

Winner William "Bill" Preston Haisty, February 1948

Click to view the full February 1948 Abel Woodman cartoon.

Abel Woodman immediately became a regular monthly feature of the magazine. At the back of every issue readers would find Abel delivering a message on forest conservation, job safety, or some other local topic, always in his own humorous way. Like the Forest Echoes publication itself, the Abel Woodman cartoon was a reflection of life in Crossett and Crossett’s view of the world (in this case through the eyes of artist Lee Davis). Abel Woodman cartoons provided a unique commentary on issues specific to Crossett (a new town jail, Crossett High football, a redesigned company logo, the joys of Crossett bleached food board!) as well as more general concerns (taxes, the dangers of drinking and hunting, anxiety over the atomic bomb).

Abel remained a permanent fixture on the inside back cover until the final issue of Forest Echoes in June 1962 (the year Georgia-Pacific purchased the Crossett Lumber Company). For this fourteen-year run, the Abel comic was drawn by artist Lee Davis. In his final year Davis found a way to put himself in the action alongside Abel.

Abel Woodman by Lee Davis, March 1962

Davis did get help from the public along the way. In 1958 Forest Echoes held a “Cartoon Editor” contest, inviting the public to submit “a situation and appropriate remark for an Abel Woodman cartoon.” Ten winners won $10 each and had their cartoon ideas drawn by Davis and printed. The first winning entry (from Lloyd Gardner) was published in March 1958, and is notable in that it foresaw “Moon Trees” a good thirteen years ahead of Stuart Roosa’s journey into space.

Abel Woodman March 1958

The final Abel Woodman cartoon ran in the last issue of Forest Echoes in June of 1962. His glory years seemingly already behind him, Abel had been reduced to company shill—touting the benefits of charcoal made by the Crossett Chemical Company. Despite this inauspicious end, Abel Woodman lives on in Crossett. In 2002 an “Abel Woodman” statue was erected in a small park in the middle of town. The original Abel Woodman also lives on here at FHS in our collection of Forest Echoes magazines, and our other materials documenting the history of the company town of Crossett, Arkansas.

Continue below to view a few more Abel cartoon classics. (more…)

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This week’s Major League All-Star Game in Anaheim, California, brings to mind baseball history as seen through the FHS Library. In the early 20th century, in addition to the two major leagues in the Northeast and the numerous minor leagues around the country, semi-pro baseball teams were sponsored by business owners—including lumber mill owners—and business organizations like the Hoo-Hoos. Baseball was the national game in America, played in towns big and small. In addition to trade publications like American Lumberman, local papers like the New Orleans Times-Picayune covered baseball games between company teams as thoroughly as the large urban daily newspapers did games on the senior circuit. And baseball at this level was big business. In 1908, the trade publication American Lumberman reported rumors of the formation of a “national league of lumbermen” teams. With its collection of trade publications, the FHS Library and Archive is a great resource for investigating this neglected aspect of baseball history.

We’re particularly intrigued by one team, the Patterson Greys (sometimes spelled “Grays”) of Patterson, Louisiana, the “crack amateur baseball team of the F.B. Williams Cypress Co.,” as a 1921 article called them. Built by Frank B. Williams, the F.B. Williams Cypress Co. dominated the cypress logging and milling business in the region and helped establish a national market for cypress. Williams may have built the town of Patterson, but his son’s baseball team put it on the map. The Patterson Greys dominated the sport on a regional level but also had a national impact.

One of Frank’s sons, Harry “H.P.” Williams, described as “an ardent sportsman and particularly addicted to baseball,” organized and managed the team for many years (we’re not sure when the team started or disbanded). The team regularly competed for the Louisiana state championship against other “amateur” teams, and also traveled the Deep South playing other semi-pro teams and even college squads. His players received $150 a month plus room and board. Williams paid bonuses for outstanding plays at the plate and in the field.

Patterson Grays 1921

The Patterson Greys, in 1921, with manager H.P. Williams. (from American Lumberman, click to enlarge)

What’s most fascinating is that the quality of players was such that Williams sold a number of them to the New York Giants and other clubs. This same 1921 article claims that he did not stock his Greys with experienced professional players “but fill[ed] up his string with promising Louisiana boys, some of whom are college students.” Given that F.B. Williams Cypress Company (now Williams, Inc.) was one of the largest lumber companies in the United States in the early 20th century and paid its players well, it wasn’t too surprising that the company team attracted such high-caliber talent from across the South.  The article lists the handful of players Williams had sent to the major leagues who lasted about two years each: Ivy Griffin, Johnnie Monroe, John Paul “the Admiral” Jones, Dick Humphries, Sammie(?) Hale, and a shortstop name Doty. Eddie Morgan and Carl Lind lasted seven and four years respectively with the Cleveland Indians. The one who did have a long, successful career? Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Mel Ott (1934-45), perhaps the greatest right fielder of his era. For Williams, it was an impressive achievement just to send players from his mill-town team to the senior circuit, let alone the man they called “The Little Giant.”

So how did this player pipeline that stretched from rural Louisiana to New York get established? According to Fred Stein, Met Ott’s biographer, Harry Williams was old friends with the Giants’ long-time manager, John McGraw, as well as Philadelphia Athletics’ owner-manager Connie Mack. It’s possible that Harry was introduced to these men by his wife, the famous stage and screen actress Marguerite Clark, one of the most popular actresses of her day. Or scouts working for McGraw and Mack came through Louisiana looking for the next “Georgia Peach”, a.k.a. Ty Cobb, and they met that way.  We don’t know. We’re still trying to find out.

We do know that after the F.B. Williams Company exhausted its cypress holdings (their employees are seen logging cypress in this footage), Harry and his brothers (who took over operations from their father by 1913) started closing down their four mills in 1929 and were out of the lumber and milling business by 1933. As luck would have it, oil and gas were discovered on company land during this time, and the company quickly shifted into those fields along with real estate development. As the mills were winding down, Harry—long fascinated with airplanes—entered the airplane design business with airplane mechanic and designer Jimmie Wedell. Together they built some of the fastest airplanes of the era and became pioneers in the airline industry in Louisiana. Harry died in an airplane accident in 1936. Today Williams, Inc., is owned and operated by the decedents of his brothers.

Enjoy this slide show of some of the teams highlighted in American Lumberman from that era. Note how the various uniforms rarely incorporate a logo.

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