Tag Archives: L Frank Baum

L Frank Baum and the Hub City Nine

 

L_Frank_BaumL Frank Baum is best remembered as the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), but writing was certainly not his first occupation. Baum was, like many men of his generation, a jack of all trades and a master of none; he’d pursued a number of careers–all with little success. He went to Aberdeen, South Dakota looking for a fresh start…only to find himself running a new baseball club, the Hub City Nine.

A Nascent Metropolis

When Baum arrived in Aberdeen in 1888, the town was rapidly growing, and it wasn’t much like the stereotypical frontier town. Founded in 1881, Aberdeen was populated not with farmers and cowboys, but with college educated citizens who’d come West for cheap land. They arrived by train and immediately set about reestablishing life as they’d known it back East. Aberdeen’s citizens went to local events in full dinner dress. They enjoyed champagne and other delicacies. By 1885, assessment reports show that there were 135 pianos for a town of 2,500 people. Electric lights were available the following year.

Baum and his family moved to Aberdeen because Baum’s wife, Maud desperately missed her family. Her brother, TC Gage, had already settled in Aberdeen, and her sisters lived relatively close by. Baum had read reports of the town’s burgeoning prosperity in the June 2, 1888 edition of the Aberdeen Daily News. Overly impressed, he wrote to his brother-in-law, “In your country, there is an opportunity to be somebody, to take a good position, and opportunities are constantly arising where an intelligent man may profit.” He confided that he planned to open a novelty store, “not a 5¢ store, but a Bazaar on the same style as the ‘Fair’ in Chicago…and keeping a line of goods especially saleable in that locality.”

Baums_Bazaar

Baum’s Bazaar

Baum opened up Baum’s Bazaar on October 1, 1888. Over 1,000 people attended the grand opening. He’d stocked up on all kinds of luxury goods, from amateur photography equipment to sporting goods. There was no shortage of interest in his wares: the Christmas crowd numbered over 1,200. On December 3, 1888, the Aberdeen Daily News reported, “Baum’s Bazaar is an [Aladdin's] chamber of wonders and beauty.”

Aberdeen Gets a Baseball Club

As far as Baum was concerned, Aberdeen lacked only one important thing: a baseball team. Though Baum had never been a great athlete, he’d undoubtedly played the sport casually and watched local club teams play in upstate New York. However he encountered the game, Baum was an enthusiastic “crank,” as baseball fans were then called. As soon as he settled into Aberdeen, he went about rallying support to start a club team.

Baums_Bazaar_Advert

From the June 14, 1889 edition of ‘Aberdeen Daily News’

Baum reasoned that the sport would be great for the community and for his business; he hoped to sell plenty of Spalding sporting equipment during the baseball season. Meanwhile, larger cities like Omaha, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Des Moines, and Sioux City already had baseball teams. Getting a baseball club could put Aberdeen on the map in a new way. The Aberdeen Daily News spoke positively, saying “Nothing creates enthusiasm like base ball, and nothing will draw a crowd so continuously as the national game closely contested and honorably played.”

Baum convinced a group of Aberdeen businessmen that the city needed a baseball club. Baum so impressed the men with his enthusiasm, they named him secretary of the club and appointed him to the constitution and by-laws committee. They named the club the Hub City Nine, a reference to Aberdeen’s nickname as the Hub City because seven rail lines converged there. The first 210 shares sold at at $10 each in three days, and the remaining 90 sold shortly thereafter. Baum also spearheaded an effort to sell advertising space on the baseball field’s back fence.

The group was so industrious and successful in their fundraising, it drew the attention of nearby communities. In the Fargo Daily Argus, baseball club manager Con. Walker complained, “The citizens of Aberdeen contributed $3,000 to their base ball team this season. The Fargo people have done nothing for the club in the last two years.” Walker entreated the town to support the home team if they wanted the club to continue and flourish.

A Promising Start

Spalding_League_Ball_1889

Even an “official” baseball size was new in 1889!

Baum and the other board members believed that organizing a league was critical to their success, so Baum headed up efforts to organize the South Dakota League. When the league was formalized on June 7, 1889, all the participating teams contributed $100. The Hub City Nine also strove to legitimize itself further by adopting the National League Rules. At the time, the rules of baseball had yet to be normalized, and the National League, Western Association, and American Association all had different rules. The National League, founded in 1876, was the oldest and most powerful of these organizations.

When it came time to recruit players, the Hub City Nine offered $50 per month, plus room and board. To sweeten the pot, club president Jewett offered a box of cigars to the first man to hit a ball over the center field fence. Baum threw in another box for the player who hit the first home run. And local grocers Thompson and Kearney promised $25 to anyone who hit a ball into the “Hit Me for $25″ box on the fence where they advertised.

The National League forbade gambling or selling liquor on the premises, along with holding games on Sundays. The Hub City Nine took these rules a step further because they wanted the games to be family- and (more importantly) female-friendly. Profanity was prohibited. Both players and spectators were to treat the opposing team with the utmost respect, and “no unseemly or ungentlemanly conduct [was] allowed on the ball grounds.”

On May 29, 1889, the Hub City Nine players gathered for their first practice. The event was free to attend, and a healthy number of spectators showed up to observe the proceedings. The first game, a warm-up against Redfield, sold over 1,000 tickets. There was not enough room in the stands to hold them all! Baum later managed to get the St. Paul Indians to come to town for a game. The club raised admission to 50 cents, from 25, and though people grumbled, they still purchased tickets for the game. The Milwaukee railroad ran three extra trains to bring the fans into town. The game brought sorely needed funds back to the club.

A Baseball Feud

Indeed, the Hub City Nine games were so popular, “half as many people perched on the fence and on buildings and elevations surrounding as there were in the enclosure,” according to the Aberdeen Daily News. The paper called this a “detestable practice.” Lester J. Ives, in particular, drew the ire of the paper’s editors. Ives’ house was directly across the street from the baseball field, and he would sell rooftop seats for a dime each. Ives was vilified in the local paper: “The antics of this individual…have thoroughly disgusted the people without exception. He is evidently a baseball crank–but of the hog species–without shame or self-respect.”

These interloping spectators robbed the club of vital revenue. So the club installed latticework on top of the fence. Ives responded by outfitting his roof with higher chairs. Infuriated, team manager Henry Marple threatened to turn the stream of a railroad hose on the unauthorized spectators. Finally, the club had to hang canvas over the latticework.Yet Baum came to Ives’ defense. In an article for the newspaper, he argued that “Mr. Ives is not so black as he has been painted” and said that he didn’t deserve insult. Thanks to Baum’s conciliatory efforts, the conflict was resolved by July 25, 1889: Ives agreed to give the club jurisdiction over his property during baseball games.

Short-Lived Success

That inaugural season, the Hub City Nine were the unofficial champions of the Dakotas; they defeated every team in North Dakota and South Dakota. Unfortunately the players still struggled to work as a team, and fans failed to show up in sufficient numbers. Although some of the Ives fans came and bought full-price tickets, the Hub City Nine games didn’t draw enough fans to keep their coffers full. The first season, the club lost about $1,000. Baum was perhaps most disappointed with the season’s outcome; he’d been convinced that Aberdeen could easily support a baseball club. Dejected, he said, “If we are to have a baseball team next year, I am of the opinion that someone else will have to do the work.”

Baum’s Bazaar suffered the same fate. After scarcely a year in business, Baum suffered the “temporary embarrassment” of handing his business over to his creditors. He purchased a newspaper and renamed it the Saturday Pioneer. While the citizens of Aberdeen enjoyed Baum’s writing, the newspaper also folded after only a year. Baum could not handle the stress of being a business owner, and his health suffered. He took a job in Chicago working for a newspaper. The move would set in motion a series of events that resulted in one of the most iconic and beloved stories of the twentieth century, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

 

Related Posts:
L Frank Baum’s Forgotten Foray into Theatre
Rare Books about Baseball Are a Home Run! 
The Rare Books of Baseball
Irwin and Erastus Beadle, Innovators in Publishing Popular Literature

 

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L Frank Baum’s Forgotten Foray into Theatre

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Baum with the cast of ‘Fairylogue and Radio-Plays’ (1908)

Though L Frank Baum is best known as the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the famed author had a rich and varied career. His accomplishments include trade magazines and newspapers, along with an oft-forgotten play based on his sequels to Wizard of Oz.

Early Literary Aptitude

L_Frank_Baum_CadetBorn on May 15, 1856, Lyman Frank Baum was a sickly child. Particularly fond of fairy tales and British authors like Charles Dickens, Baum spent much of his time reading. But Baum found fault with fairy tales because they were so often frightening and gruesome. He would later note, “One thing I never liked then…was the introduction of witches and goblins into the story. I didn’t like the little dwarfs in the woods bobbing up with their horrors.” Thus, from an early age, Baum resolved to write a different kind of fairy tale.

But his first literary exertions weren’t fairy tales: Baum started his own newspaper, The Rose Lawn Home Journal with a printing press purchased by his father. Baum took the publication quite seriously, writing news pieces and editorials, along with poetry, word games, and fiction. The young man’s paper did quite well, and a number of local businesses purchased advertising space in its pages. In 1873, Baum launched two more papers, The Empire and The Stamp Collector.

Meanwhile it had become quite fashionable to breed chickens and other fowl. Baum took up breeding Hamburgs and won several awards with his birds. He also launched The Poultry Record, a magazine devoted to breeding and raising poultry. The publication was rather successful. Then in 1886, Baum published his first book, The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.

A Love for Theatre

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Baum as Hugh Holcomb in ‘The Maid of Arran’

Baum also found time to nurture his interest in theatre. He frequently memorized passages of Shakespeare and even founded a Shakespearean troupe with his father’s financial backing. The elder Baum had made a fortune in the family business and purchased a number of opera houses in Pennsylvania and New York. He entrusted their management to his son in 1880. Baum proved quite adept, even delving into writing his own plays. The Maid of Arran, considered Baum’s first major literary work, met with immediate success.

But with the decline of the Baum’s father’s health and two unlucky episodes with swindling employees, Baum was left virtually penniless. His wife, Maud, suggested that the family move West. They settled in Dakota territory, where Baum opened a general store called Baum’s Bazaar. Soon Baum had made a reputation for two things: storytelling and extending credit. Thanks to Baum’s generous spirit and a drought that left most of his customers destitute, the bank foreclosed on Baum’s Bazaar in 1890, only two years after it opened. Baum established The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, acting as reporter, printer, and salesman all in one. But that, too, failed in 1891.

Return to Authorship

That year, Baum decided to move his family to Chicago. The World Columbian Exposition was there, so employment opportunities were plentiful. First Baum worked as a reporter for the Evening Post, but the paltry pay was hardly enough to support a family. Next he went into sales for the china company Pitkin & Brooks. He was often on the road. His mother-in-law, noted feminist Matilda Gage, moved in to help with the Baum children. It was she who encouraged Baum to write down the fairy tales he spun for his children and their young friends.

Baum frequented the Chicago Press Club when he wasn’t traveling. It’s been conjectured that Baum met illustrator Maxfield Parrish, resulting in Mother Goose in Prose (1897). But so far as we know, the two never actually met; Chauncey Williams of Way and Williams negotiated for Parrish’s illustrations in the children’s book. Williams also served as publisher of The Show Window when the journal was launched in 1897. The magazine gave Baum an opportunity to make a living without traveling as a salesman.

A Serendipitous Acquaintance

L Frank Baum

This photograph considered a fake, merely an actor holding a facsimile version of the 1st edition.

Soon Baum made the acquaintance of William W Denslow. Though the two had disparate personalities, they decided to collaborate on a companion to Mother Goose in Prose. Together they published Father Goose, His Book in 1899. The beloved book spurred Songs of Father Goose. The pair worked on a few more project, most notably The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum had originally submitted the story with the title The Emerald City, which publishers Hill and Company rejected. They finally agreed on a new title, and the first edition appeared in May, 1900.

Two years later, Baum collaborated with Paul Tietjens and Julian P Mitchell on an adult musical adaptation of Wizard of Oz. A major success, the production toured all over America. The country was absolutely infatuated with the land of Oz and its whimsical characters. Baum published a total of thirteen Oz books and six short Oz stories and came to be known as the “Royal Historian of Oz.” The Ozmapolitan, a promotional piece, was issued in 1904 to help Reilly & Britton advertise The Marvelous Land of Oz, which was the new firm’s first publication. Occasional later versions of The Ozmapolitan were also issued.

Baum_Bancroft_Twinkles_EnchantmentThough he indulged his audience with all these tales of Oz, he longed to delve into other projects. Baum often used pseudonyms for these endeavors, so that he didn’t have to worry about their critical reception. One notable project was Aunt Jane’s Nieces, a series for teenage girls Baum published under the pen name Edith Van Dyne. He also wrote under the names Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akres, Captain Hugh Fitzgerald, Suzanne Metcalf, and John Estes Cooke.

Baum also launched a traveling show called “Fairylogue and Radio Plays.” The show featured live actors costumed as characters from several of Baum’s fantasy books, a live orchestra, motion-picture clips, and colored lantern slides. Baum traveled with the show as master of ceremonies. The endeavor proved a commercial failure.

Return to the Stage

In 1913, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz made its debut on the stage. Producer Oliver Morosco inserted three songs he wrote (with music composed by Victor Schertzinger). Billed as “a companion play to The Wizard of Oz, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz met with great success in Los Angeles, but didn’t resonate with other audiences. Chicago critics were particularly unimpressed. Though the show made money, Morosco decided not to keep producing it.

Only an early manuscript of the musical is extant, and the play probably would have faded into obscurity were it not for the published music and advertisements. Promotional materials for the production have proven exceedingly rare; a survey of auction records and other online sources indicate only two extant playbills. One, from December 2, 1913 at the Babcock Theatre in Billings, Montana, comes from the collection of Fred M Meyer and can be viewed at the International Wizard of Oz Club website. The other, from the play’s opening night in San Francisco on April 21, 1913, is pictured here. We’re proud to offer this item as one of this month’s select acquisitions, which features a diverse collection of broadsides.

We invite you to peruse the entire list! Should you have a question about any item, please feel free to contact us.

Many thanks to our esteemed friend Peter E Hanff for his contributions to this article. The Deputy Director of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, Hanff is a great scholar of L Frank Baum. He collaborated with Douglas G Greene on Bibliographia Oziana, the main bibliographic record and resource on Oz literature. 

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