Cycling History

The LAW Comes To Green Bay

” Farmers Are Busy”, ran the headline in The Green Bay Gazette of August 9, 1898, perhaps not surprising at harvest time in a state in which agriculture played so large a part in the local economy. Cucumbers were on sale at three for 5¢, green peas for 45¢. Of other local interest that month were the completion of a new telephone line into Green Bay, Wisconsin, by the Northeastern Telephone Company, the news of the first boats to be guided into the harbour thanks to the new gas buoys installed at the cut, and the ongoing labour dispute between the Oshkosh members of the Amalgamated Woodworkers Union and their employers. Further afield the editors of the newspaper were concerned with events in the Spanish-American war and the land offensive by US troops in Cuba, paying particular attention to the actions of the Wisconsin regiments in Puerto Rico, while tensions between Great Britain, Russia, and China over their respective interests secured by the Treaty of Tientsin regularly featured in the pages of the Gazette.

Against this backdrop of local, national, and international news the Gazette announced in late July that the thirteenth annual meet of the Wisconsin branch of the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) would be be held at the Washington Park track in Green Bay between the 16th and 17th August. The organizers, the local Pastime Cycle Club and the Green Bay Men’s Business Association, had begun to send out the official programme to LAW members in the state, and to riders throughout the US. At 100 pages in length, the programme included a history of the Pastime club, details of the organizing committee, and the list of prizes on offer amounting to the value of $2,500 in cash, medals, and merchandise, these latter to be purchased from local dealers. “The city of Green Bay, showing forth her attractiveness”, was also painted in glowing colours and a programme of entertainments outside the races gave potential visitors an idea of what Green Bay could offer them [1].

Response to the mailshot was swift, with the Gazette reporting the next day that, “Applications for entry blanks for the national circuit race to be held in this city are beginning to come in. These are from amateur riders through the state, many of whom are fast men in their class” [2]. The first formal entries were received on August 1st from riders described as, “fast men and professionals”, among the, “the circuit chasers of the country” [3]. Among the entrants were Tom Cooper, a cycling champion from Detroit who went on in 1902 to form a brief partnership with Henry Ford that resulted in the Cooper-Ford ‘999’ racing automobile, and Floyd McFarland of San Jose, California, a sprint champion who later became a star of the Six-Day racing scene and a well known cycling promoter before his untimely death at the Newark Velodrome in 1915 when he was struck in the head with a screwdriver during an altercation with David Lantenberg who had been placing signs advertising his business along the rail guarding the track [4].

As entries began to flow in, the organizing committee announced arrangements to sell a limited number of season tickets in advance, further deciding to issue coupon tickets to LAW members. Coupons attached to the tickets would be removed at the gates. A mechanism designed to, “avoid all fraud which might be practiced by visiting wheelmen who are unscrupulous”. Complimentary season tickets were sent to newspapers throughout Wisconsin, together with a copy of the programme. The price of general admission each day was to be 50 cents, with a three day season ticket at $1. Children between the ages of 5 and 15 were to be admitted for 25 cents [5].

By August 4th, the committee had selected all the prizes which were to be placed on display in the shop window of Al. Delaporte’s, Mammoth Cash Clothing Store at 224-226 North Washington Street [6]. The proprietor no doubt further hoped that interested parties would be persuaded to part with the price of a men’s ‘bike suit’ made in “first class style” during his August clearing sale. At $2.50 or $3.50 they were competitively priced against the $3.98 to $5.98 charged by his rival at The Continental One Price Clothing House at 125 and 127 Main Street [7]. A few days later the Gazette announced that Mr Delaporte had, “made arrangements with the Pastime Cycle club to give free with every $10 purchase a season ticket to the L.A.W. meet” [8]

The organizing committee met formally for the last time on the night of August 8th in the Pastime club room when they selected the sample rooms at the Beaumont House hotel as the headquarters for the event. LAW members would be required to register there on arrival in Green Bay, upon which they would receive their coupon tickets and a badge. Tickets were distributed among members of the Pastime Cycle Club, who would sell as many as possible before the opening day. A, “crew of workmen” were to be, “kept busy all week putting the grounds in shape”, the grand stand to be repaired, and the track brought up to condition [9].

As the opening day drew closer, a letter from the Milwaukee cycling clubs received by the organizer highlighted another issue that needed to be addressed. Despite rapid growth that saw its population rise from 9,069 to 18,684 between 1890 and 1900, Green Bay could not guarantee sufficient accommodation would be available to meet the expected influx of visitors to the city [10]. “Accommodation will be at a premium”, ran the Gazette’s headline of August 11th, adding that it was, “the most perplexing question before the promoters of the meet”. Beaumont House was fully booked, with rooms at the, “Christie, American house and other hotels”, rapidly being reserved. Plans to provide cots in the gymnasium and other accommodation at reasonable rates were mooted [11]. On August 12th, private home owners were asked to leave their names with Attorney Frank H. Suffel if they were willing to accommodate small or large parties of visitors.

The first riders arrived on the morning of August 15th accompanied by their managers, and trainers, travelling from the Indianapolis track meeting. With Cooper and McFarland  were Eddie Bald, O. L. Stevens, H. B. Freeman, and Marshall “Major” Taylor, all well known professional riders on the American circuit. While the riders spent the day resting, the organizers made final preparations and that evening attended the state L.A.W. annual business meeting in the Pastime club rooms[12]. Due to low funds a resolution was passed that no elections would be held that year, as the Wisconsin L.A.W. could not meet the expenses of printing and posting out the ballots to its members. Membership had dropped by 1,300, as many members had not renewed their subscriptions and the state organization was currently indebted to the tune of $273.02. Interest in state circuit races had been low in 1898, a fact the Chairman blamed on the war, though this perhaps reflects the general decline in the popularity of cycling as the cycling boom of the 1890’s began to draw to a close. Votes of thanks were extended to the Pastime Cycle Club and to the Green Bay Business Men’s association for their work and contributions in making the meet a success, after which the meeting was adjourned [13].

Warm weather greeted Green Bay on the opening day of the meet. From 9 a.m. the reception and information committees were active, meeting arrivals from the trains and escorting them, accompanied by a band, to the registration centre at Beaumont House. By noon the city was, “well filled with people”, eager for the racing to commence. Among the competitors were Rube Shields and George Philips, who, never shy of a financial opportunity, entertained the crowds on the streets with displays of trick riding, “picking up a goodly amount of small change at the time” [14].

By 1:30 p.m., the grandstand and bleachers at Washington Park were packed with expectant onlookers ready for an exciting programme of races. As an event on the national circuit the meet included both professional races, the results of which contributed to the national championship, and amateur open, and state races. The highlight of the day was the one-third mile national championship race. Following three qualifying heats the 20 entrants were whittled down to a select few, including Cooper, Freeman, Arthur Gardiner, Johnny Fisher, and Major Taylor. The race was won by Taylor who beat Fisher by a wheel, demonstrating the, “wonderful speed qualities”, that would see him go on to become American sprint champion and the first African-American to win a World Championship in cycling. Among the amateurs, Nat McDougall of Milwaukee won the two mile state championship race and the one mile open race, a prelude to further success during the event [15].

The second day of the meet continued to draw large crowds, with the Gazette announcing that the number of visitors to the city was, “fully 2,000”. These were boosted by local inhabitants, many of whom had been given the afternoon off by their employers so that they could watch the racing, evidence of the strong support for the meet among the businessmen and women of Green Bay. Nat McDougall continued his dominance of the amateur races, taking the laurels in the quarter-mile, and one-mile state championships, and placing second in the one-mile tandem race with Orlando Weber. A team of riders from Oshkosh, named Hindleman, Idler, and Davis, set a new state record for one mile on a triplet, the only record lowered on the Green Bay track during the meet. Among the professional, honour’s were divided more equally. Freeman won the half-mile professional, Bill Martin the one-mile open professional, and O. S. Kimble the five-mile national championship races, perhaps fortuitously after four of the favourites crashed following Eddie Bald’s contact with a pacemaker. Taylor was in contention in the sprint events but had to settle for third place in the one-mile open professional race. [17].

In addition to the racing, the meet organizers had arranged for a variety of other entertainments to occupy those attending. The Pastime Cycle Club ran morning rides to local places of interest such as De Pere, the cascades situated some nine miles from Green Bay, and to Benderville. A ‘smoker’ was held on the night of August 16th in the Knights of Pythias hall, hosted by E. Alden Arthur, chairman of the entertainment committee. “Pipes and tobacco were furnished freely to everyone in the room. Amid a cloud of smoke and the odor of tobacco, the merriment ran high”. Attendees swapped stories, interspersed with music from a quartette, and a contortionist’s act. Elsewhere, reveler’s enjoyed a concert from White’s Band at Whitney Park, despite the high wind dampening the sound of the instruments and making some apprehensive that a storm was approaching [16]. Other concerts during the meet included a 17 piece set performed by the Trombone band on Washington Street, a highlight being the cornet solo, Kentucky Home. Elsewhere, some 400 people enjoyed a night trip round the bay on board the Eugene C. Hart, and the Athletic Association hosted a dance attended by 75 couples at their gymnasium who enjoyed music by the Trombone band and a luncheon served by William Rupp [18].

Unfortunately the finale of the grand picnic with its $1,200 of fireworks, to be held at Washington Park on the evening of the final day of the meet was not to be. The weather turned sour on August 18th and by 12 a.m., drizzling rain had made the track too wet to safely ride on. Once cancellation was announced riders and visitors departed as swiftly as they could. The professionals to St. Louis for the next big event on the annual racing calendar. The amateurs and spectators to their respective homes. Disappointment was high, especially for those who had made the journey that morning from cities like Appleton and Oshkosh. The presence of the Trombone band, who played from 9 a.m. to noon on Washington Street, was presumably of little consolation to those whose hopes of watching some exciting racing were thwarted [19].

Disappointment notwithstanding, the meet had been a qualified success for Green Bay. Initial reports suggested that the event had come near to covering its expenses, despite the loss of a day’s racing and ticket sales. The organizing committee had successfully delivered a programme of quality racing on a good quality track and competitors and spectators had been provided with an experience that reflected well on Green Bay and its citizens. The chief consul of the Wisconsin L.A.W., Martin C. Rotier, was unstinting in his praise, especially in regard to the entertainment provided. Sentiments echoed by L. G. Schaller, chairman of the state racing board, who tempered his comments by observing that the arrangements for the meet were put off a little too long for comfort. The professional riders expressed their satisfaction with the organization of the event, the racing, and the treatment they received, together with their disappointment that the event had been curtailed by the weather. Inevitably, Green Bay was, “phenomenally quiet in the first of the evening”, of the 18th, but as the night wore on an impromptu party took place on Washington Street which by the morning was covered with spent fireworks and fruit left by the merry-makers [20].

Over the next weeks the Gazette featured several reports on the progress of the finance committee. Despite initial hopes that the deficit would be no higher than 10 per cent of the guarantee fund that had been promised by members of the Business Association, the final accounting showed that total expenses incurred came to $2,680.16, while receipts from all sources of income totalled just $1,812.05. The unfortunate news for the guarantors was that they would be asked to remit 38 per cent of their guarantee [21].

It was perhaps some small consolation to the guarantors that few, if any, LAW meets broke even, let alone made a profit. For a small city, Green Bay had put on a good showing, catering for the needs of several thousand visitors and providing an exciting programme of racing and a variety of much appreciated entertainments. For the residents it had been an enjoyable two days, and a reward for those who had invested their hard work, time and money in the event.

Once the cavalcade of competitors with their supporting cast, and the visitors from out of town had all left, it was back to business as usual in Green Bay. As the Gazette reported, Great Britain, Russia, and China were still at loggerheads. The aftermath of the Spanish-American War continued to rumble on after the cessation of hostilities. The woodworkers strike at Oshkosh had been formally called off and the strikers had returned to work. Cucumbers were now to be had at four for 5¢, green peas at 40¢. Farmers were still busy.

______

Notes:

  1. “Official Programme is Being Sent Out”, The Green Bay Gazette, July 28, 1898, 2.
  2. “Applications Received”, The Green Bay Gazette, July 29, 1898, 2.
  3. “First Entries Are Made”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 1, 1898, 5.
  4. “Floyd MacFarland Stabbed To Death”, New York Times, April 18, 1915.
  5. “First Entries Are Made”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 1, 1898, 5; “The State Officers Here Last Evening”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 2, 1898, 2; “Finances All Arranged”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 13, 1898, 5.
  6. “Bald Will Ride in Green Bay Races”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 4, 1898, 5.
  7. Advertisement, Green Bay Press Gazette, August 1, 1898, 7; Advertisement, The Green Bay Gazette, July 29, 1898, 7.
  8. “L.A.W. Tickets Free”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 8, 1898, 5.
  9. “Final Arrangements Made Last Night”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 9, 1898, 2.
  10. United States Census Office, Census Reports Volume I: Twelfth Census of the United States Taken in 1900: Population Part I  (Washington, D.C., 1901), 479.
  11. “Accommodation Will Be At A Premium”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 11, 1898, 5.
  12. “Fast Racing Men Are Here”, The Green Bay Gazette, August 15, 1898, 5.
  13. “No Election This Year”, Green Bay Press Gazette, August 17, 1898, 1.
  14. “Black Wheelman Was First To Cross The Tape Line”, Green Bay Press Gazette, August 16, 1898, 1.
  15. Ibid., 1, 5.
  16. “Nat McDougall Leads in The State Events Today”, Green Bay Press Gazette, August 17, 1898, 5.
  17. “Nat McDougall Leads in The State Events Today”, 1, 5.
  18. “Races Of Today Are Declared Off”, Green Bay Press Gazette, August 18, 1898, 5
  19. Ibid.
  20. “The Meet A Success”, Green Bay Press Gazette, August 19, 1898, 4.
  21. “Statements Sent Out”, Green Bay Press Gazette, September 28, 1898, 5.
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