Contrary to popular belief, the origins of baseball are not found in Cooperstown, NY. The truth is, baseball’s origins can actually be found on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ. Today, we address the interesting history that took place before a game was ever even played there.
The Elysian Fields was located on the waterfront of the “Mile Square” city, Hoboken, NJ. After a minor skirmish between the British and American soldiers in the Revolutionary War took place, it became known as a place to hold duels.
the first recorded duel was mentioned in the Delaware Gazette of September 6, 1817:
“On Wednesday last, a duel was fought at Hoboken – On Sunday another and on Monday another! Shortly after the third duel, some persons attracted by the noise of the pistols went to the fatal spot, where they found the body of a man about 43 years of age: A ball had entered his shoulder. On the corpse was written a piece of paper with a pencil, J. Gibbs, Esq.”
Many other duels were fought, namely ones in 1824, 1827, and 1837, according to the American Watchman (Wilmington, DE). The last mention of the Elysian Fields as a place for dueling appears in the account in the New York Herald of March 27, 1837.
It was quite the location for people to settle their differences.
THE ORIGINAL CENTRAL PARK
The location attracted the attention of the townspeople on a sunny July weekend in 1836, when it was reported that thousands of people took ferries from the crowded and dismal New York City City to the open field at Hoboken:
According to The New York Daily Advertiser:
“A Gentleman of our acquaintance, familiar with estimating numbers, and who had the opportunity to be judging, calculated that there were twenty-five thousand persons resorted to the grounds of Hoboken on Sunday…” (Alexandria (VA) Gazette, 2 July 1836).
Apparently, some enterprising individual saw the enormous potential to provide New Yorkers a place to play, and by early 1837 had begun to develop Elysian Fields into a formal park.
As it began to be developed in late 1836, early 1837, as is always the case, people had concerns which prompted a notice published in the New York Morning Herald on June 20, 1837:
“HOBOKEN – The impression that the beautiful walks of this place have been destroyed by recent improvements is quite erroneous. Very little alteration has been made in the Walks except in the immediate vicinity of the ferry. The Norway Maples, Dutch Elms, and Basswood Trees, that adorned the Lawn around the Hotel, have been transplanted, and the new form a beautiful avenue leading from the ferry to Elysian Fields.’
Elysian Fields was New York’s first Central Park, where people could get away from the city and surround themselves with music, food, and nature.
By the fall of 1837, boat regattas were being held on the Hudson River, drawing big crowds and offering prizes to the winners. Entrepreneurs also brought in bands and singers, and on one occasion, on July 1, 1837, had a fair that featured Indian dancing including the Fairy of Angelina, vocalist Delia Emons, marionettes, and magic tricks for the crowd.
The party ended with dancing to the sounds of the New York Brass Band.
The Elysian Fields also hosted cricket matches, and as we know, an early game of baseball on June 12, 1846.
A print from 1859, predating the famous Currier and Ives lithograph, shows both games in action.
Elysian Fields was probably best described in a news article in the New York Herald on June 21, 1842:
“THE MOST DELIGHTFUL RESORT. Of the citizens of New York is beyond doubt HOBOKEN. The most fashionable and favorite excursion in the summer, is to its extensive and beautifully diversified public walks and grounds. These have rendered more lovely than it ever was before. At the Elysian Fields, there is the additional attractions of excellent instrumental music, in the afternoon, on Monday’s, Wednesdays and Saturday’s. The Hoboken Ferry Boats are handsomely prepared for the summer, and ply constantly from Barclay, Canal, and Christopher Streets. A ferry boat runs to Canal street in the evening until 1 o’clock.”
A part of Elysian Fields, which was situated right across the Hudson River from NYC is shown in an illustration (below). You can see why the close, green space overlooking the Hudson River was an attractive location for New Yorkers. .
THE ORIGINS OF BASEBALL
In 1845 Alexander Joy Cartwright founded the New York Knickerbockers. He was a fireman for the Knickerbocker Company #12 and borrowed that name for the team. The engine company itself borrowed the name from THE fashionable loose-fitting pants that went down to just below the knee. They are still used in baseball and were common apparel for golfers as well until recently.
The Knickerbockers first played for several years with the New York Gothams in a vacant lot in downtown Manhattan. It was located on Allen Street, between Pump (now Canal) and Hester Streets. The location is now a part of the Chinatown neighborhood of New York.
Sometime in the summer of 1845, the owner of the lot on Allen Street offered it for sale, and with nowhere to play in the city, the Knickerbockers decided to rent a space at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.
In order to legally collect money to pay the rent on the field, they had to become incorporated. On September 23, 1845, they were formally organized, with Duncan F. Curry, president, William R. Wheaton, vice-president, and William H. Tucker, secretary-treasurer.
Alexander Cartwright wrote up the first set of rules for the new game.
It has been written that the first officially recorded baseball game was on June 19, 1846. This point is wrong, by a whole year. The first recorded game appeared in the New York Herald on October 25, 1845.
Although they had to formally organize on September 23, 1845, by their own admission, they began to play on or about November 9, 1843, two years earlier. This is revealed here for the first time by an advertisement in the New York Herald, November 8, 1845:
In the end, Elysian Fields was doomed when Central Park started being built in 1857.
There was no longer a necessity for New Yorkers to pay for a ferry to go to cross the river anymore. Soon, the area was developed for housing. A small section, thought to be where the home plate of the original baseball diamond was, has been preserved in Hoboken and memorialized with a monument.
So, now you know, when they say there was a “duel” on the field, there really was!
For more in baseball history, check out Ken’s Column by clicking HERE! As always, leave a comment below!