Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
Eighty years ago Friday, baseball player Joe DiMaggio, then with the San Francisco Seals, ended a 61-game hitting streak. That means, in 61 consecutive games, he hit the ball and made it to at least first base. Not a bad accomplishment for an 18 year old batter trying to make a name for himself and get a shot at the Major Leagues. For DiMaggio that would happen almost three years later when he made his debut with the New York Yankees in May, 1936. He would go on to have another amazing 56 game hitting streak in 1941.
But in Great Bend in 1933, no one was talking about DiMaggio yet. On the front pages of the Tribune, the team to follow were the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Several references were also made to local baseball games, as well as “punkin ball games.”
It’s not often we can stump the volunteers at the Barton County Historical Society, and even though it looked like this question might do the trick, researcher Karen Neuforth managed to continue her batting streak. We were about to admit defeat in our search for an explanation of what “punkin ball” actually was, when she found an internet article at Chicogology, a website dedicated to all things Chicago, (http://chicagology.com/baseball/16insoftball/).
Thanks to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, softball played with a softer, 16-inch ball became all the rage. The ball, larger and softer than the typical 12-inch softball, didn’t go as far when hit, and didn’t require mits to catch. This made it fun for all ages, and economical during the height of the Great Depression. The game is still played today, especially in Chicago.
In the summer of 1933, from the sounds of it, retailers in Great Bend lent their names to an entire town league of teams. This run-down ran in the July 27, 1933 edition of the Great Bend Tribune.
“Although seven innings is the regulation length of a punkin ball game, the Wagaman Clothiers and the Coca Colas played nine innings last evening at the City park before either team gained a one-run lead. The Wagaman team lost the punkin ball league decision to the Coca Colas 4 to 3.
In the other league game at the park last evening, the Dillon Store team won from the Thompson Clothiers 5 to 2.
“The batteries were: Noel Wilka and Orville Baldwin for the Dillons, Velmar Gagelman and Fred K Reasoner for the Thompsons, Frank Hoy and “Fuzzy” Brewer for the Coca Colas and Ted Irwin and Dean Cornish for the Wagaman team.
“This evening the Barbers will play the White Eagles and the Great Bend Poultry company will play the J.C. Penney store team.”
We were unsuccessful in finding any photographs to document these games, and with an 80 year time span, it would be a long shot to find someone who can remember playing punkin ball. As BCHS volunteer Rose Kelley said, it was well before her time. We’re hoping, however, someone might remember their parents or grandparents reminiscing about the game, and maybe even have in their possession some memorabilia they’d like to share.
The terms punkin ball, pumpkin ball, and kitty ball were all interchangeable, and have all gone out of style today. Not only that, pumpkin ball today refers to a type of 12-gauge shotgun shell. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case in 1933--it would have taken a little friendly competition between rival businesses to a whole new level.
Getting people back to work
President Roosevelt was campaigning for support from American businessmen for his national recovery plan to pull the country out of the Great Depression. He asked the nation’s business people to make a pledge to do their part to get more people back to work--the government, after all, couldn’t do it alone. And according to stories in the Great Bend Tribune, the local business owners and the Chamber of Commerce wanted to do their part. The Tribune story, “Move Made Here to Adopt the N.R.A.,” discussed the minimum wage and maximum number of hours a person could work, as well as expectations for the hours a business would be required to be open each week..
“As the result of a general meeting of business men of Great Bend held in the courtroom this morning to discuss the provisions of the National Recovery Act to give employment to the unemployed, a resolution was passed that the stores of Great Bend, except groceries, open at 8:30 each weekday morning and close at 5 p.m. each day except Saturday on which day they will remain open until 9 p.m. as in the past. (Another addition to the motion was that no Sunday opening be permitted. All business men agreed to mutually observe the agreement in order to ensure there was no unfair advantage.)
“This meets the limit of 52 hours per week demanded by the government and provides naturally for the employment of more help.
“ The government’s main concern, he said, is in the matter of employment and not the hours a business was to be open except that the weekly scale of hours existing in the past was not to be shortened, but that hours per week of labor for employees should have a maximum point so that more labor must be employed. The minimum wages was also plainly stated.”
New mascot brings out wins
This week also marks the beginning of the 1933 NFL season, which made history because it was the first year that the league split into two divisions which led to the first ever playoff games. Before that, the championship was determined by statistics. In 1933, the Chicago Bears won against the New York Giants. Football was beginning to rival baseball in popularity at the time, but still had not reached the heights it would later in the 1960s and 1970s when the American Football League competed against the National Football League, the Super Bowl was born, and the two leagues eventually merged.
However, While looking for local baseball history for this week, we picked up a copy of the 1933 Great Bend High School Rhorea. While only 1932 baseball information was available, ample information and photos of the GBHS football team was handy. So was an overview of the year in sports at the high school. This was an important year for GBHS because it is the year the school adopted the panther as the school mascot.
According to Bill Townsley, who happened to be a descendant of Great Bend Tribune founder CP Townsley,
“It seems as if the fact that the Great Bend High School athletic teams name was changed from the Redbirds to Black Panthers might have something to do with the more successful seasons this year in the complete field of sports...The Panthers had a most excellent football record, and a basketball and baseball record that is hard to beat. Large black panthers crouching on a limb were chosen as the representation of the new mascot.”