Weilenmann one of toughest pitchers Ty Cobb faced
(This is the last of two columns on the baseball career of Hamilton native Carl Weilenmannn.)
By Jim Blount
During his major-league pitching career, Carl Weilenmann was especially successful against the Detroit Tigers and their future Hall of Fame inductee, Ty Cobb. A baseball writer called the Hamilton native a "Tiger Tamer" while he pitched for the St. Louis Browns, a team never in contention for a pennant.
Cobb -- the American League batting champion for 12 of 13 seasons from 1907 through 1919 -- called Weilenmann one of the toughest pitchers he faced during his 24-year career in which he had 4,191 hits and a .366 batting average.
Weilenmann -- spelled Weilman in most baseball records -- was described as a modest and retiring person despite his baseball prowess. The pitcher mentioned Cobb in telling a story that acknowledged his shyness and reluctance to face audiences.
Branch Rickey, while managing the Browns, "had an engagement to speak to some boys and couldn't go, but promised to get them a substitute and picked on me," Weilenmann explained. He recalled "mumbling out a few words, which I don't think meant anything, but the boys seemed satisfied. But, believe me, I'd rather face Ty Cobb and all the rest of the hard hitters in the American League every day than make one speech," he admitted.
Weilenmann, a lefthander, joined the Browns in August 1912 and remained through the 1920 season. His career won-lost record was 85-95 in 240 games. His victories included 15 shutouts for a team noted for poor fielding and weak hitting. He had a career earned run average of 2.67 and completed 105 of the 179 games he started.
The Browns, who won their only American League championship in 1944, were in the second half of the eight-team league seven out of the eight full seasons while Weilenmann was pitching for the team that competed for St. Louis fan support with the more successful Cardinals of the National League.
The team had started in 1901 as the last-place Milwaukee Brewers. The franchise moved to St. Louis in 1902 and remained through the 1953 season. In 1954, the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles.
Weilenmann performed for six managers in eight-plus seasons, a reflection of the team’s desperation. During his tenure, the Browns only winning season was 79-75 in finishing fifth in 1916. The previous year the record was 63-91 and the following season 57-97.
In 1921, no longer able to pitch, Weilenmann was retained by the Browns as a scout and paid the same salary as when he was winning games for the team. "Carl met with the business manager of the club," a reporter noted, "and after a conference, they agreed on terms. No contract was signed by either party."
In March 1924, Weilenmann became ill with influenza while helping young pitchers in the Browns spring training camp in Mobile, Ala. He recovered and resumed work as a scout that season. He was checking young players at Bay City, Mich., when he again became ill. May 13 he returned to his Hamilton residence. May 23 he was admitted to Mercy Hospital. He died May 25, 1924, a victim of tuberculosis.
Don Reed, sports editor of the Hamilton Journal during Weilenmann's career, said "when accidents and sickness took their toll and Weilenmann's name was stricken from the active playing list, he returned to us the same cheerful, affable fellow that he was when he left." Reed said "egotism was something about which he knew nothing and the fact that he was a big leaguer never affected him."
George H. Sisler, a teammate whose 16-year career (1915-1930) earned him election to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, also had praise for Weilenmann as a person. "Carl forgot about himself in an effort to help others do well," recalled Sisler. "To all of us, he meant much more than a fellow baseball player.
"He stood for something more than baseball to us. To people who did not have the good fortune to know him, he probably was known as a winning pitcher or a good baseball player, but to us who really knew him, he represented much more than that. He was ever uncomplaining, regardless of what happened to him." Sisler said "it is useless to say that he was a credit to baseball because he would have been a credit to any profession he might have chosen."
# # #
1906 San Francisco earthquake had local impact
By Jim Blount
Fear, suspense and concern gripped Hamilton April 18, 1906, when a major earthquake rocked San Francisco, a tragedy that directly affected local people and local businesses. The severity of the disaster was captured that day in a headline across the top of the Hamilton Daily Republican-News: "Appalling Earthquake in San Francisco is Followed by a Conflagration Which May Be Greatest of Modern Times."
The fore shock hit at 5:12 a.m., Pacific time, with the major quake striking 20 to 25 seconds later. Reports said some victims died in their beds, killed by falling debris as buildings collapsed that Wednesday morning in the city of 410,000 residents.
Fires started immediately, fueled by broken gas and electric lines. Firefighters were handicapped by ruptured water mains and the death of the fire chief, one of the first quake victims. It took at least four days to control the fires. Rescue and relief efforts were hampered by disrupted telephone and telegraph lines.
A news bulletin said "at 9:20 and 10 o'clock there were heavy shocks that did further damage and increased the panic." Another report said "flames are spreading in all directions."
Counts of the dead and missing persons range from near 700 to almost 4,000. Half the residents were homeless, at least 28,000 buildings were destroyed and the loss was $500 million in 1906 dollars. The earthquake produced a 290-mile crack along the San Andreas Fault. The Richter Scale wasn't developed until the 1930s, but estimates range from 7.7 to 8.3 on that measure.
[By comparison, the Oct. 17, 1989, San Francisco earthquake, during television coverage of the World Series, registered 6.9 on the Richter Scale and killed between 60 and 70 people.]
Hamilton-based firms were among the business losers. The Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co., the Niles Tool Works and the Hooven Owens Rentschler Co. had branch sales offices in San Francisco.
Also in question were recent railroad shipments from Hamilton -- safes from Herring-Hall and the Macneale & Urban Safe Works, and machinery from Hooven Owens Rentschler and the Long & Allstatter Co.
Previously, the Black Clawson Co. had "shipped considerable paper machinery to the fated city," and the Champion Coated Paper Co. had sold "a great quantity of paper in San Francisco."
A San Francisco Relief Fund collected $2,800 in Hamilton and $300 in Oxford in a week while families throughout Butler County sought information on relatives who were working or visiting the area when the disaster struck.
An Overpeck family was informed that their 23-year-old son, a hotel employee, had been killed. Four days later he telegraphed "I am still living, but I had a narrow escape" and "lost about all I had."
Other telegrams trickled out of California, relieving the fears of families throughout the area.
The first Hamiltonian to return home from San Francisco was George Black, who arrived April 25, a week after the first shock. He and family members had visited Mexico and were scheduled to start a train trip home the day the earthquake struck.
"I was awakened by the shock of the earthquake and my first thought was that there had been a boiler or other explosion nearby," said Black, who was in the Grand Hotel. "I jumped from my bed and rushed to the window where my eyes were met with the sickening sight of great, tall walls falling like houses of cards."
Black said he pulled on trousers, but no other clothes before leading his group over a bridge that connected the Grand Hotel with the Palace Hotel and an exit, "finally arriving at the street, where our desire was to get as far away as possible from falling walls."
He said on the street, "a new source of terror awaited us. From all parts of the stricken city arose columns of smoke and we knew that the ravages of fire would finish the devastation, which the earthquake had begun."
Black and his companions began walking, stopping briefly at the residence of a former Hamilton woman on Telegraph Hill. They resumed their walk at 1 a.m., about 20 hours after the first shock.
Black said "we caught the last ferry to Oakland," where the travelers met a policeman who "offered us the temporary use of his own room, and there we remained the rest of the night, anxiously awaiting the coming of morning."
"At 9:30 a.m., we took the Santa Fe train out of Oakland, breathing somewhat easier now that we were out of the danger zone," Black explained.
# # #
Book spotlights Cincinnati & Lake Erie interurban era
By Jim Blount
Not many people are old enough to remember the electric interurban system that served Butler County between 1897 and 1939. David McNeil refreshes older generations and introduces younger ones to the traction, as it was commonly called, in his fifth book on the electric-powered transportation network that started transforming lifestyles in the 1890s.
"The electric motor and the gasoline engine were developed about the same time, but the electric motor was improved first," he writes in Remembering the Cincinnati & Lake Erie RR, a 415-page book he describes as "collected and edited by Davd McNeil."
It includes articles from other writers, and a superior collection of photos, maps, illustrations, advertisements, schedules, fares and operating data.
The Cincinnati & Lake Erie was a bold attempt to revive what had been several faltering companies. But the C&LE had terrible timing. It was formed just before the Great Depression. It became operational Jan. 1, 1930, two months after the 1929 stock market crash.
The Cincinnati-Dayton portion that served Butler County "once had the most handsome per mile income of all Ohio interurbans," notes contributor Ed Williams. C&LE components had linked Middletown, Trenton, Hamilton, Cincinnati and rural areas between those cities for nearly 40 years.
The development of the interurban system -- commonly called "the traction" -- brought changes to this area. "Now the rural villager and farmer could send milk and produce to the cities and get newspapers and goods in return, and could enjoy baseball games, plays and city recreation," McNeil explains.
"The interurban went down the streets where people lived, worked and traded. These cars were fast, could carry more than wagons, could go out in between towns, were more frequent and cleaner compared to the steam railroad." McNeil says that era began in the 1890s, "but the gasoline engine soon eclipsed them by the 1920s and 1930s."
"Auto and truck owners demanded good, paved highways and the state built them," he writes. "Now the interurbans lost their advantages as traveling on the crowded streets hindered them and the convenience of the auto and truck destroyed them."
C&LE management took some positive steps as the Depression complicated declining ridership. One of the most popular was the introduction of new lightweight cars with improved speed and comfort.
At first, they were called Go Devils, but they are best remembered as Red Devils. The cars, built by the Cincinnati Car Company, claimed cruising speeds of 80 miles an hour on straight-away sections, but speed wasn't helpful in cities that had imposed speed limits for safety reasons.
A major blow to rider confidence came June 30, 1932, when nine people died in the collision of two trains north of Trenton. It was Butler County's deadliest interurban accident.
At the end of the 1930s, the company cut routes. Terminations included Cincinnati-Toledo Nov. 19, 1937; Hamilton-Mount Healthy Jan. 7, 1939; and Hamilton-Middletown-Dayton May 13-14, 1939. Buses replaced the electric cars the next day, and most C&LE tracks soon were removed and recycled for World War II necessities.
McNeil, a Cincinnati native and in recent years a resident of Berkeley Square in Hamilton, says he has been interested in streetcars and interurbans since early childhood. He spent about three years collecting material for his C&LE book. It is available by mail for $25, plus $4 shipping. Orders may be mailed to McNeil at 29 Wheelright Crescent, Hamilton, OH 45013.
McNeil also has another new book, Letters Mailed Home, available at the same price and from the same source. As the title indicates, it is retyped copies of his 373 World War II letters, "giving the details of the daily life of an enlisted man in the Army Air Force, June 20, 1942, to Dec. 4, 1945."
McNeil, a retired educator, was encouraged to compile the 454-page book by a daughter. Content ranges from training at U. S. bases to service in the Pacific. Its emphasis is army life, but, as could be expected, the book also includes McNeil's observations and experiences on railroads, interurbans and streetcars in the early 1940s.
# # #
Spanish flu epidemic surprised Hamilton in 1918
By Jim Blount
If Avian influenza, also called the bird flu, infects the United States, it won't be a surprise and its cause won't be a mystery. That wasn't the case in 1918 when the Spanish influenza epidemic shutdown Butler County, causing more deaths here than the March 1913 flood.
"The Spanish influenza pandemic is the catastrophe against which all modern pandemics are measured," says the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to HHS, about 20 to 40 percent of the world's population became ill and more than 20 million died. Half a million or more of those deaths were in the U. S.
The flu outbreak dampened optimism that World War I would soon end. Its spread in the U. S. in the fall of 1918 was believed by some the result of germ warfare, a last-minute German effort to win the war. Rumors circulated of German submarines and ships releasing a deadly substance along the Atlantic Coast. Unknown was that the flu killed at least 200,000 Germans in the same period.
The epidemic hit here suddenly. Oct. 5, 1918, officials acknowledged its presence. Two days later Mayor J. C. Smith took drastic action. He ordered all schools and public buildings closed and banned "congregations of persons." By that day, Oct. 7, at least 1,000 active flu cases were reported among the city's 39,000 residents. Business and industry suffered as the number increased.
Mayor Smith prohibited church services Sunday, Oct. 14. For four weeks Hamilton's churches were closed to reduce spread of the flu. "Avoiding crowds" was a protection urged by the Hamilton board of health. "Crowds spread the disease quickly," the warning said.
Local doctors, working seven days a week for at least three weeks, averaged more than 100 house calls a day. The federal government sent two doctors to the city to ease the load.
Symptoms were "chills, fever, general aching of the bones, joints and head, inflammation of the nose and throat with or without cough, or general prostration." Orders were to "keep the patient quiet, in bed and isolated until the doctor arrives." Also, "attendants and others should wash hands frequently and use gauze over nose and mouth."
Mercy Hospital, then the city's only hospital, was filled. Three tents behind the hospital took some of the overflow. Two nuns and an attendant at Mercy were among the dead. When the new Middletown Hospital reached capacity, an auxiliary was setup in the Elks Temple.
"Fresh air is a necessity, so keep your windows open day and night," recommended the board of health. "Sunshine is the enemy of influenza; let it in. Rest keeps the body strong to resist disease. Get plenty of sleep. Keep the bowels open."
"Spitting is dangerous and prohibited, especially in public places," said the health board. "The ordinance against spitting on sidewalks is going to be enforced." City crews flushed streets.
The city ordered local streetcar and inter-city interurban companies to clean and fumigate their cars operating in Hamilton or stop service.
Greenwood Cemetery crews couldn't dig enough graves to maintain funeral schedules. Inmates from the county jail assisted with grave digging. Funerals were limited to immediate family members.
To limit pneumonia, a related illness, the health board suggested that "after recovering from the influenza, don't go to work for a week. Influenza leaves you in a weakened condition; give yourself time to build up before going back to work."
From October through December, at least 247 people died of flu or pneumonia in Hamilton, including 163 of the 205 deaths from all causes in October. Another 100 or more people died in Middletown. There was no estimate of loss in rural areas of Butler County.
Cases began to decline about Nov. 1, easing restrictions for the Nov. 5 election. But public viewing of the vote count and candidate election parties were prohibited. Churches were allowed to resume Sunday services Nov. 10. Hamilton schools reopened Nov. 18, but closed again Dec. 2-16 because of a resurgence.
The armistice ended World War I fighting in Europe Nov. 11. About a third of the 65 Hamilton area servicemen who died during the war were victims of the influenza-pneumonia pandemic.