It’s the summer of 1885 and an industrious and itinerant hotel man named Frank P. Thompson is making history on Long Island. Working for the season at the Argyle Hotel in Babylon, Frank forms a baseball team for exhibition games and barnstorming through the area. Some say they formed as the Black Panthers but they went on to become the Cuban Giants, the first professional African-American team in history.
On today’s episode, fellow librarian Fabio Montella relates the story of the Cuban Giants and the related history of the Negro Leagues and segregation in baseball up through Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball by Lawrance D. Hogan (Find in a library)
Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson by Bill Kirwin (Find in a library)
We continue our celebration of National Poetry Month with our second Long Island power ballad from the past. This time out we are looking at “A Babylonish Ditty” by Frederick Swartwout Cozzens (writing as Richard Haywarde).
Few will remember New York wine merchant-turned poet Cozzens and his heyday as a humor writer in the mid 1800s (although you should try his Sparrowgrass Papers, something of a 19th-century prototype for the sticom Green Acres.) Fewer still will remember the Knickerbocker, the magazine where he cut his teeth. But that’s where, in 1850, he first published “A Babylonish Ditty,” a quick-trotting ode to a long gone summer romance.
Why Babylon? Well, the south shore of Long Island (“the merry old south side”) had a reputation that drew men out from New York City. Mostly they were merchants and lawyers, amateur sportsmen drawn to the abundant fish and game along the Great South Bay. They came by rail and stage coach and after a long day traipsing through the great outdoors, they retired to one of the many inns and taverns strung along the South Country Road (today’s Montauk Highway).
Listen to Cozzens relive those hazy summer days and wonder to yourself how the “fickle” object of his affection viewed the whole affair. Many thanks to our guest reader, Steve Birkeland.