Grave Story: Frank Bell (1862-1891)

Here lies Frank Bell, whose major league career lasted 10 games in 1885. After baseball, he doled out violence as a security guard until the violence finally caught up with him. Bell played for the Brooklyn Grays of the American Association. He also had a brother, Charlie Bell, who pitched for several teams in the late 1880s and early ‘90s.

Frank Gustav Bell was born in Cincinnati on December 11, 1862. According to Ancestry, he was the oldest of five sons born to Louis and Sarah (Hinkley) Bell. He also had an older sister, Mary. By 1880, Louis Bell was working as a horse trader at a livery stable, and 17-year-old Frank was employed at a carriage factory.

Baseball Reference shows Bell playing for Grand Rapids of the Northwestern League in 1883, but no statistics are available. There actually isn’t a lot of information about Bell’s baseball career in general. You can assume that he was a part of Cincinnati’s amateur baseball scene in his 20s. In May of 1885, he played multiple positions for the Memphis Reds of the Southern League and hit .201 in 36 games. Bell must have been released at some point, because he was back in Cincinnati when his big break in the major leagues came.

Frank Bell’s grave in Wesleyan Cemetery, Cincinnati. I couldn’t find an actual picture of Bell, unfortunately.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association played Brooklyn on July 7, 1885, in Cincinnati. Brooklyn had a couple of catchers in Jackie Hayes and Jimmy Peoples, but apparently neither one was available for the game. So, the Grays used Bell, described in the paper just as “a local amateur.” He made a good impression by getting two hits, including a triple, off the Reds’ Will White. Now, it wasn’t uncommon in baseball’s early years that a team that was a man short would utilize an amateur ballplayer for a game. Brooklyn, though, decided to keep Bell around for the next month or so, playing him all over the field as needed.

Bell hurt his hand while catching John Harkins in a game on July 14, which led to Peoples taking his place in the second inning. The Grays lost that game to Guy Hecker and Louisville 10-7. Bell moved to the outfield for a while after that, returning behind the plate near the end of July. He committed 7 passed balls in a 6-5 loss to Pittsburgh on July 23 before he was moved to right field for the rest of the game. The Grays tried him at third base on July 31, and he committed an error and managed two hits against the Philadelphia Athletics. It was his first game in Brooklyn, as the Grays had been on a long road trip when he was signed. He played one more game, on August 1 against the New York Metropolitans, at third base. He was removed in the seventh inning with a finger injury. That injury likely ended his time with Brooklyn. The team had injuries to multiple players, and if Bell couldn’t play, then there was no reason to keep him on the roster.

Bell ended up playing 5 games as a catcher, 3 games in center field, 1 in right field and 2 at third base. He wasn’t an especially good fielder anywhere. His best work was in the outfield, where he had one error in 12 chances for a .917 fielding percentage. He had a .739 fielding percentage as a catcher to go with 15 passed balls. He also had 6 chances at third base and botched two of them for a .667 fielding mark. His hitting was rough as well. He had 5 hits in 29 at-bats for a .172/.200/.241 slash line. He drove in 2 runs and scored 5 times.

His professional baseball record ends there. His personal life back in Cincinnati is a little easier to follow, provided you’re reading the crime beat.

There are various reports in the Cincinnati newspapers of a Frank Bell getting into trouble in the 1880s. For example, cousins John and Frank Bell were allegedly responsible for the 1881 shooting death of an African-American man named Pool in Louisville. However, as “Frank Bell” is a pretty common name, it’s not known if it’s the Bell the baseball player or not.

The following description of a fight on October 14, 1885, in Cincinnati’s West End specifically mentions a ball-player named Frank Bell. It also takes place by Lewis (Louis) Bell’s livery stables, so there’s no ambiguity here. Charley Fey and John Birell had spent the afternoon engaging in some gentleman’s club shenanigans (gentleman’s club meaning a society of men, not the modern-day ) and were walking past the livery stables. There, Bell passed by Fey and made some offhand comment about how he “would someday have to carry the bod.” I don’t know what that means, but Fey and Bell were friends, and Fey just smiled and continued on his way.

Per The Cincinnati Enquirer: “At this Bell knocked him down. Birell stepped in to protect his friend, when instantly Bell’s father and “Billy” Bell, his cousin, together with the hostlers of the stable, and a number of others, armed with clubs and weapons of all descriptions, made at Fey and his friend.”

Several other men came to the defense of Fey and Birell, at which point shots were fired. Tom Tallon, one of the people on Fey/Birell’s side, was shot in the shoulder, and another man, Elias Perry, was hit on the head with a brick. Lieutenant Welsh, a plainclothes policeman, came upon the mob and arrested Bell for shooting Tallon (it’s not clear by the report if Bell was the shooter or not). Bell’s friends made threats against Welsh, and he had to take out his service revolver in order to clear the crowd and march Bell away.

“They had proceeded about a square when Bell’s father sprang upon the officer from behind. Another man knocked his feet from under him and several others struck him. His revolver was snatched from his hand, and Frank Bell kicked him in the side and jumped upon him,” reported the Enquirer. Welsh was rescued by some passers-by. I can’t find any follow-up reports to indicate if Bell was charged or not. However, a paddy wagon came and arrested two of Bell’s friends, both of whom were African-American, and hauled them off to the Oliver Street station on charges of assault and battery. Yes, a fight that was started by two white men and involved an officer being assaulted by white men ended with two black men being arrested. Some things never change in this country.

Bell played in at least one more baseball game. The Red Stockings in 1887 were playing Chicago in Cincinnati and sent a “spare” team to play a team from Indianapolis. Bell was the shortstop and said before the game, “I may be a little rocky on ground balls, boys, but when it comes to flies I am right in the city.” Well, he dropped two easy pop flies to let the Hoosiers win.

Bell began working as an umpire around Cincinnati in the late 1880s, and he was said to do a pretty fine job of it. He also began working as a private officer for a number of clubs on Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine area – basically a bouncer/security guard. He was multiple times with assault and battery and at least once with public drunkenness – it may be that he liked his work a little too much.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the following on March 7, 1889: “Mrs. Mamie Schooley, the woman with whom Private Officer Frank Bell had trouble at a ball at West End Turner Hall last Tuesday morning, yesterday swore out a warrant in the Police Court for his arrest, charging him with assault and battery. Bell gave bond for his appearance in the Police Court today.”

What happened was this: Henry and Mamie Schooley attended a ball hosted by the West End Gun and Rod Club, along with her sister and another woman. Sometime after midnight, all four got in some kind of fracas involving foul language and thrown beer glasses. Private Officer Bell tried to throw them all out when they started abusing him. In the process of fending them all off, he pushed Mrs. Schooley down the stairs, leaving her with bruises on her face and body.

In late November 1889, Bell and former ballplayer-turned-private-officer Billy Klusman assaulted Louis Klocke at a ball at West End Turner Hall. Klocke supposedly got out of control and struck a young girl before Bell gave him a taste of his own medicine.

Bell and Klusman made quite a pair. They were both charged with assault and battery on May 15, 1890. But Bell racked up plenty of charges on his own, without any help. He was fined $25 for assaulting Mike Mitchell in May 1890. The Enquirer had to print a correction about Bell’s deeds, when it couldn’t keep track of who he’d beaten up. It reported that he struck a man named Bob Vess at the West End Republican Club when he’d actually struck Ed Clark, who had started the fracas. “There was a general free fight in a narrow hallway and in the excitement everybody was fighting,” the paper said in explaining the error.

In October of that year, a Frank Bell (presumably the same Frank Bell) was confined to a Covington Work House to serve out a sentence from police court – it wasn’t specified exactly which of the numerous charges against him led to the confinement. He tried to exit his sentence early by running out the door as fast as he could, but he was caught by a river bank, brought back and made to finish out the rest of his sentence with a ball and chain around his leg. He was released – officially – a month later.

After he died, the Cincinnati Enquirer said that Bell, who weighed about 200 pounds, was thought to be one of the strongest men in the city. “When sober, no one was more gentlemanly; but when he was drunk he was a terror,” it reported. The paper also called him a good officer and “has had less trouble than any other man who has held the position.” Considering all the assault and battery charges that were filed against him, it makes you wonder how the other “private policemen” acted if Bell was one of the well-behaved ones.

Unsurprisingly, Bell’s life ended in violence. It happened on the evening of April 14, 1891. He recently had been announced at one of the security guards at Association Park in Cincinnati, where the Red Stockings played.

Bell and the other private policemen in the Over the Rhine area tended to meet up at Dave Schoenberger’s Saloon on Vine Street after the work was done. They’d drink, gamble and occasionally engage in a boxing or wrestling match to pass the time until dawn came. Bell had already started drinking before he arrived at Schoenberger’s on April 14, and he sat down with a few other patrons to play cards. His luck (or his judgement) wasn’t in his favor that night, and he soon ran out of money. He asked bartender Joe Hughes for credit and was refused. Bell was angry, but he left the saloon without incident.

Bell next went to Franck’s Saloon, where eyewitnesses said he was “considerably intoxicated.” He talked about an upcoming wrestling match at Schoenberger’s between two of his security friends and, despite the advice of people at Franck’s, returned to the bar where he’d already been thrown out. This time around, Hughes decided to give him a little credit. The two men and another private policemen, Lowenstein, settled in to play a card game called “freeze-out.” It wasn’t long before Bell found himself out of chips again. As Hughes cleaned up from the game, Bell said, “You… you’ve broken me again!” Hughes tried to go back to his station behind the bar, but Bell threw a punch. Hughes dodged that blow, but Bell jumped onto a table at the end of the counter and kicked the bartender in the left temple, cutting him open.

Hughes dropped the cards and tried to run out of the bar, but Bell threw a chair at him and hit him in the back of the head. While the others in the saloon tried to restrain Bell, Hughes dashed behind the bar where he kept a 25-caliber revolver. He called out, “Here, Frank, this has gone far enough.” Bell shook off the patrons who were trying to restrain him and advanced on Hughes, his hand reaching for his own gun. Hughes fired a warning shot into the sink, and when Bell drew his gun, Hughes shot him three times.

One bullet got Bell in the chest near his heart, one entered into his stomach and one went through his liver. Any one of the shots would have been fatal. Bell fell back into the arms of Private Policeman Bob Burns. Bell said, “Bob, I’m gone.” By this time the Cincinnati police had gotten to the bar and carried Bell off to the hospital. He gave out a gasp and died before they got very far. Frank Bell was 28 years old.

There was an inquest held into Bell’s death. Hughes’ actions were ruled as self-defense, and the bartender was freed. He was arrested later that year for participating in a dog fight.

Bell was a member of the Owl Club, an organization made up of former ballplayers. Several members of the club, including former major-leaguers Jim Keenan, Red Bittman and Frank Saffin, acted as pallbearers when Bell was laid to rest in Wesleyan Cemetery in Cincinnati. At the end of the year, the Owl Club used the proceeds from its annual ball to fund a grave marker for him.

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