What A Way To Spend A Saturday, Part 2
After visiting with Cotton Clayton in the morning, I moved on to Raleigh for the next chapter in my Saturday Odyssey. I had known, for some time, that UNC's first football game ever was played at the Old Fairgrounds in Raleigh, but the Old Fair Grounds had not existed as such during my lifetime and the only reference I can remember about the Fair Grounds was that my older brother and sister had attended a Gene Austin concert at the Fairgrounds. I remember nothing about a building existing there and it's quite possible that the GA concert was held in a tent since many traveling acts used tents in the old days. GA was quite the heart throb prior to World War 11 and real old timers might recall his classic recording of "My Blue Heaven." GA was dropped by his fans when his agent staged a "lost at sea" story and GA later showed up in perfect health in Europe. He claimed he just dove overboard from his yacht to another one for the trip to Europe and knew nothing about the report he had been lost at sea, but his fans never forgave him. I had the pleasure of running into Gene Austin in a New Orleans night club in 1963 where he informally entertained a small group of us patrons. There was no advertising of his appearance and you had the feeling he visited the club for old time's sake. GA was from New Orleans originally and helped country singer David Houston (Almost Persuaded) launch his career.
But I'm wandering again. This is not an article about GA but an article about the location of the first football game UNC ever played.
I knew that the Department of Motor Vehicles Building was now located on the Old Fairgrounds site so there wasn't much to see. There is, however, an historical marker which reads that the N.C. State Fair was established on the site in 1853 and that during the Civil War, there had been a Confederate Hospital there. The Hospital was named after a Civil War combatant by the name of Pettigrew and I imagine it is the same person for whom a building is named on the UNC campus. I still anticipate that, at some point, someone will begin a movement to rename all of the buildings on the UNC campus that are named after Civil War participants. The above should not be interpreted to mean that I am in favor of doing this because I am not. Maybe they will leave Silent Sam alone because we all know his rifle has never fired for reasons having nothing to do with the Civil War. :-) By the way, UNC lost the first game to Wake Forest by the score of 6-4.
We then moved on to the site of the Raleigh Baseball Park which was north on Tarboro Rd. on the West side of the street, in the direction of St. Augustine College, formerly the St. Augustine Normal School. There is a Hardees on the corner of Tarboro Rd. and Newbern Ave. and there is nothing left on the lot where the ballpark was to indicate the ballpark was there, and even Raleigh historians don't know of an existing photograph of the site when it was a ballpark. UNC's second football game ever was played on this site on Thanksgiving Day of 1888. it is not clear why the second game was played at the ballpark rather than the Fair Grounds but it may have been because of a conflict with the State Fair. Not likely since the Fair would have insured a larger crowd. UNC lost this game to Trinity by the score of 16-0.
A couple of odd things about the game with Trinity. The Trinity coach was also the school's president and UNC did not have an official coach. After the game, John Franklin Crowell, the Trinity President and coach said the following: "That single game did probably more than anything else to send into limbo the age long habit of condescending attitude with which certain friends of that venerable institution (UNC) were inclined to look at denominational institutions in general and Trinity in particular. That talked about victory added not only to the athletic reputation throughout the state, but it gave the College an indefinable prestige of a general but most effective kind. Nobody realized more clearly than University (UNC) men generally that here was a college (Trinity) with a policy to be reckoned with." It's interesting to note the reference to religious schools and college vs. university. Apparently back then, we were the ones who were intellectual snobs and/or perceived to be by some. My, how times have changed or have they?
The third stop on our journey was at the corner of Boundary and Linden Sts. This was the site of the second UNC-Wake Forest game which was played in March of 1889. UNC lost that one also in a thriller 25-17. Trinity came back from a 17 point deficit which was the largest deficit over come in the series until 1985, 96 years later. The field was 110 yards long, a touchdown was 4 points, the forward pass was 18 years away and here's the most unbelievable feature of this game and others.
Students were responsible for all aspects of the game including officiating. No information has been found which would shed any light on the selection procedure for officials.
The second Trinity game was played at the terminus of the Blount St. trolley line. The trolley began its route south of the capitol, went around the capitol building and continued to Polk St. where it turned east through a newly developed residential area known as Oakwood until it reached the end of the line at the intersection of Watauga and Boundary Sts. The Athletic Park was located diagonally across from the Brookside Park. The trolleys were horse drawn and extra trolleys were needed to shuttle the crowd to the game. Attendance at the games averaged around 1000 and the playing field was roped off to prevent spactators from entering the field of play.
While visiting the site of the third game, I met a nice young lady who was moving into a house on the corner across from the Athletic Field. I explained to her what I was doing and she seemed interested. I told her that I had frequently visited a classmate back in the 40s who lived in the house she was going to occupy I also told her that I remembered shooting baskets at a goal mounted to a large tree across the street where apartments are now located. After we talked for a while, she asked where I lived and I told her, Richmond. We talked on for a while and then she said to her friend "His heart is in North Carolina." I couldn't deny it and I told her about the discussion Mrs. Ramfanatic and I had about possibly moving back to N.C. back when I retired in '91. My wife said she wasn't going to move any where again where she knew no one. I interpreted that to mean she would only move back to her hometown of Durham and that took care of that. Living in Durham once is enough for me regardless of what President Crowell said. I took the young lady's name and e-mail address and hope to continue my research with her on topics of mutual interest.
My friend and I grabbed a bite to eat at the Watkins Grill on Wake Forest Road before heading on over to Chapel Hill. My day had already been a success but the win over Connecticut was the icing on the cake. It was a long time in coming, but I was and am pleased to learn that I grew up in such close proximity to locations so important to the history of UNC and Big Four college football. If I had lived back then, maybe I would have been able to see the games. Admission was just 25 cents and women/children were admitted for 15 cents. I wonder how much a BBQ sandwich would have been, but I don't think there would have been any bottled drinks to wash it down with. You reckon there was any imbibing going on?