“If you want to go back the Home, kid, just keep riding those bicycles.”

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Gary Cooper and Babe Ruth ride a bike, 1942.

This whole thing should be considered a working draft. It is back-dated to the last major revision in December 2013. Some of the different accounts of Babe Ruth in Fayetteville are contradictory and confusing – more work is really needed to parse through the variations on the stories involving the bicycle. Another version of this post that includes the footnotes can be found in this Google Doc.

Babe Ruth never owned a bicycle growing up in Baltimore. Born at his grandfather’s modest rowhouse on Emory Street in 1895, George Herman Ruth spent his first several years moving here and there in southwest Baltimore. At age seven, he entered St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys – a reformatory and orphanage on Wilkens Avenue established in 1866. At St. Mary’s, George learned to play baseball and at in early 1914 signed a contract with Jack Dunn, the owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles.

By March, George and his teammates had arrived in Fayetteville, North Carolina where he started his life-long love of bicycles. On a Wednesday evening, March 18, 1914 – a little over a week since his first game in professional baseball – George hurried out after dinner to meet a new acquaintance – one of a handful of local boys who biked out to the field to watch the Orioles train. That afternoon, the boy had offered George a chance to borrow his bike after dinner and George lept at the opportunity.

While biking through town and gaining a bit of confidence, Babe Ruth decided to show off. He rode past the hotel where the Orioles had been staying, riding on the wrong side of the road and waving to a group of teammates out front. His teammates saw what George did not — a large truck bearing down on the novice cyclist.

Another account from Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert W. Creame descibes a similar incident:

“One day, barreling around a corner, he missed running head-on into Dunn and Egan only by braking violently and twisting the bike to one side. He smacked into the back of a wagon and ended up on the ground, the bike draped around him, grinning at Dunn with cheerful embarrassment. Dunn looked at him sourly and said, “If you want to go back to the Home, kid, just keep riding those bicycles.”

In a minor variation on this theme, Allan Wood quotes Dunn as shouting, “You wanna go back to that school? You’re a ballplayer, not a goddman circus act!”

After another bicycle accident soon followed, Orioles scout Sam Steinman remarked to sportswriter Roger Pippen, “If Dunn doesn’t shackle that new babe of his, he won’t be a Rube Waddell in the rough, he’ll be a babe Ruth in the cemetery.” Pippen’s next article for the Baltimore American, published March 19, 1914, described a “young fledgling” ball player with the name “Babe Ruth” – the first time the nickname appeared in print.

When the regular season began in late April, the Orioles returned to Baltimore. Like all the players, Ruth received food and lodging during the spring training but did not get paid until the regular season began. When Ruth received his first paycheck, the first purchase he made was a bicycle. According to his recollections from The Babe Ruth Story, told to Bob Considine, Babe later shared:

“I went out and celebrated, just as soon as I got my first paycheck – $100. I bought a bicycle, something that I had wanted and often prayed for through most of my young life. Most of the Orioles, of course, had cars, but none of them was as proud as I was, riding the first possession of my life through the old streets of Baltimore.”

In his book, Robert Creamer contradicted Ruth’s recollections reporting the envelop had only $50 but still “more money than Ruth had ever seen” but reflected on the new bicycle writing: “Tooling around Baltimore on it, [Ruth] felt richer than God.”

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Photo is unsourced and unconfirmed that it is even Babe Ruth but is included in this forum thread as Babe Ruth on a bicycle in Baltimore in 1914.

Ruth’s history of collisions continued even after he bought the new bike (he bought a motorcycle and a car soon after). Newark pitcher Al Schacht was run down by bicycle ridden by a “gangling, moon-face kid” with a handful of hotdogs. Schacht yelled, “Why the hell don’t you watch where you’re going, Rube?” The “kid” replied “Sorry, mister, I almost dropped a hotdog and my hand slipped.” Schacht was even more surprised a short time later when he spotted the kid on the field wearing the Orioles uniform.

A few years later, just days after Babe Ruth and the Red Sox won the World Series in Boston, Ruth picked up his share of the winnings and spent the evening as the official “starter” for bike and motorcycle races at the Revere Beach track.

Ironically, Ruth’s success and the growing popularity of baseball eclipsed the long-standing interest in bicycle racing that made professional cyclists some of the highest paid athletes in the United States in the early 20th century. The circumstances had been quite the opposite a few decades earlier when, after the invention of the safety bicycle in 1885, cycling experienced a boom in popularity that rivaled baseball and even threatened attendance at the games:

“The owners also tried to capitalize on the bicycle craze of the ‘nineties, but without financial success. According to Al Reach, thousands of dollars were lost in laying out tracks for bike races in many of the baseball parks.”


One final note – I pulled this quote from some memoir but now I can’t find the source. Frustrating!

When we got outside, Babe looked around frantically for a taxi but there wasn’t one on the street. Suddenly, two kids on bikes came pedaling around the corner. Babe jumped in front of them, and they hit their brakes so they wouldn’t crash into him.

“Hey, kids, how much for the bicycles?” asked Babe.

“Huh?” the kids said.

“Here,” Babe said, pulling a $20 bill out of his pocket….

“Y’know how to ride a bicycle?” Babe asked me.

“Well, sure…”

“Then let’s go!”

Back when I visited him in 1932, Babe Ruth drove me to Wrigley Field in Chicago. I almost died. Well, he rode a bicycle the same way– like a maniac. He took off and started pedaling furiously, weaving around street vendors, potholes and garbage cans. Little old ladies were diving out of his way. Cars were honking at him, and I wasn’t sure if it was…

 

Kicking off Clean Air Week Maryland 1974 with a bike tour of Mayor Schaefer’s Wall Painting Project

"City of Baltimore / Wall Painting Project / Project Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. A Federal Agency"
“City of Baltimore / Wall Painting Project / Project Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. A Federal Agency”

In September 1973, Mayor William Donald Schaefer led an effort to commission a set of ten murals funded by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 85 artists submitted over 200 designs to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for a competition reviewed by a panel of judges including: Jane Harrison Cone, a curator of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Serena Jordan of Northwest Baltimore Corporation, James Lewis, a professor of Morgan State and founder of the James E. Lewis Museum of Art, M. Jay Brodie of DHCD, Betty Wells, a local artist, and Joan Berska of the Mayor’s office.

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Mayor William Donald Schaefer dedicating the Patterson Park Mural, photograph from “Bringing color, design to some of Baltimore’s blankest, dullest walls” Oct. 12, 1974.

The panel selected ten winning designs and provided each artist with donated paint (Sears offered around 80 gallons), scaffolding, and a a $1000 honorarium. By July 1974 nearly all ten of the murals were complete and Mayor William Donald Schaefer was pleased with how the colorful murals had brightened the streetscape, remarking on a bus tour of the murals in early October:

“It’s a psychological thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard my lecture: If you go into a neighborhood and it’s dull an drab, you’re dull and drab. But if you go into a neighborhood and it’s bright and clean you feel better. You expect big things to be done. But it’s the little things that make the difference between living in a city and just existing.”

Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s bus tour was followed by a bike tour of a selection of eight of the ten artworks organized by the Baltimore Bicycling Club, Citizens For Bikeways and the Better Air Coalition to kick off Clean Air Week in Maryland.

Bill Tashlick, who led the ride, was an architect with the Rouse Company before starting work with the Baltimore Department of Planning in 1971. As the chairman of a joint bicycle task force including government agencies and citizens groups, he worked  with the Maryland Department of Transportation on the design of bikeways across the state.

Gil and JoJo Watson bike touring near Chesterton, Baltimore Sun Archive Photo, BQJ-750-BS
Gil and JoJo Watson bike touring near Chesterton, Baltimore Sun Archive Photo, BQJ-750-BS

Tashlick’s bike tour of Baltimore murals began at Roland and Lake Avenues near the city line at the top of one of the city’s first designated bikeways. Gil Watson – who covered cycling for The Baltimore Sun in the 1970s and by the 1990s worked as the paper’s Sunday editor –  joined the group of 23 cyclists on a chilly Sunday morning and provided an fascinating account that sketches out the 10 mile route:


Down Roland avenue, down University to San Martin, Howard to North. First stop was North and Park avenue where, in huge, cheerful block letters the word “Baltimore” itself is immortalized.

From Park we worked over to the 1800 block McCulloh, where a bold wall of yellow, green, orange and chartreuse (I think) rose from a small expanse of open grass. (All the murals are graced with a bit of open space.) Sunday early-risers eyed us as we eyed the wall.

Behind the Afro-American at Druid Hill avenue and Jasper street, a stylized pair of black dancers frozen on a white background was stop No. 3. No. 4 was the coffeeshop across from the Greyhound terminal on Howard.

Moving out again, some of us still carrying coffee, we headed for the Police Stables on the Fallsway, where a big horizontal design plays perspective games with motorists headed north.

We then chugged up to the corner of Barclay and East Chase. Kids were playing basketball in front of another mural, this one a towering vertical in green and white.

Two more stops, one at Aisquith and Lanvale, the other in the 1600 block North Calvert, and we ended our mural tour at what is surely one of the most intriguing – Robert Hieronymous’s creation at Lanvale and St. Paul. Fantastically detailed, intricate and dominated by a one-eyed pyramid and an eagle, it has to be seen to be appreciated.

For that matter, they all have to be seen. The ride took roughly two hours (skipping one painting in Patterson Park facing Baltimore street and another at West Mulberry and Mount).


This map involves a bit of conjecture as Gil Watson left out some details on their route towards the end of the ride. A few of the murals have survived the 30 years since but most are faded beyond any recognition or lost altogether. The mural painted for the police stables on the Fallsway still sports a small metal sign that appropriately credits funding for the “Wall Painting Project” to the NEA.  Look out for an update with a gallery of the ghosts of surviving murals later this summer or follow the route to see how many you can spot yourself.

Robert Hieronimus meditating in his backyard pyramid, 1974, Baltimore Sun Archive Photo, BHH-896-BS
Robert Hieronimus meditating in his backyard pyramid, 1974, Baltimore Sun Archive Photo, BHH-896-BS

Sources

Banisky, Sandy. “Bringing Color, Design to Some of Baltimore’s Blankest, Dullest Walls.” The Sun (1837-1987). October 12, 1974. Link.
“Other Murals, Other Artists.” The Sun (1837-1987). June 23, 1974. Link.
Watson, Gil. “Wheeling: A Bike Tour of Downtown.” The Sun (1837-1987). November 3, 1974. Link.

League of American Wheelmen parading through Baltimore in 1894

Formed in 1880, the League of American Wheelmen worked throughout the late-19th century advocating for road improvements, fighting for the right of cyclists to use public roads, and promoting bike racing as a sport. Baltimore boasted a large community of cyclists in the 1880s and 1890s and played host to the League’s annual Convention in 1888 and 1896. On a warm July evening in 1894, the Maryland Division of the League of American Wheelmen lined up at Druid Lake for an evening parade through the streets of Baltimore:


League of American Wheelmen, Baltimore, 1888
League of American Wheelmen, Baltimore, 1888

“‘Line up,’ ‘Fall in by twos,’ ‘Don’t jam,’ and then the parade of the Maryland Division, League of American Wheelmen, was off.

The route of the parade was Eutaw Place to Eutaw street, to Monument, to Charles, to Chase street, to Broadway, to Canton avenue and return by the same route. Some of the wheelmen came up Baltimore street on the return trip, but the larger part of the parade returned by Mt. Vernon Pace.

The largest contingents of riders came from the Harlem Wheelmen captained by George Kugler, the Maryland Bicycle Club led by Captain A.L. McMormick and the Baltimore Cycling Club, with 60 riders, led by Captain E.R. Folger. Bike clubs from across the city – Centaur, Clifton, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Patapsco, Riverside, and the Junior Order United American Mechanics – joined the parade.

When the cyclists were ready there was a wavering of the crescent of lamps far out at the east end of the lake. As Chief Consul Albert Mott, who commanded as marshal, came down the line he was received with applause. Club after club fell into line on the right and whizzed past the waiting cyclists on the left.

As Consul Mott went through the Eutaw Place gate after the start he had nearly a thousand wheelmen at his back, and a half-dozen wheelwomen too, who were not to be outdone by their male comrades. The ladies rode to the finish.

The riders passed through large crowds of spectators on each side as they went through the streets and responded to the applause by giving club yells, tooting syren whistles and jingling several bells that sounded as if they had done service as cowbells in the country.”


I’ve traced the route described in the account from The Sun (available through ProQuest) and included some suggested detours that Baltimore’s one-way streets demand. I’m hoping this will be the first in a series of posts that follow along with cyclists from the past in Baltimore and beyond.