Grave Story: Alfred Goshorn (1833-1902)

Here lies Alfred Goshorn, a renowned Cincinnati businessman who also organized the 1876 Centennial exposition in Philadelphia. His claim to fame as far as baseball goes is that he was the first president of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, helping to give rise to professional baseball.

Alfred Traber Goshorn was born in Cincinnati on July 15, 1833. He graduated from Marietta College in Ohio in 1854 and the Cincinnati Law School in 1857. He joined the Union Army during the Civil War on May 2, 1864, as part of the Ohio 137th Infantry, Company F. He was mustered out on August 19 of the same year in Camp Dennison, Ohio, having advanced to the rank of Captain. He did not see action; his time in the Civil War was spent working at a Confederate prisoner of war camp near Baltimore.

The Goshorn Family Monument at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati.

Goshorn, a lawyer by trade, practiced law both before and after the Civil War. However, his organizational and leadership skills would lead to many opportunities throughout his life. He became a politician in his hometown of Cincinnati and was vice president of Anchor White Lead Co. when he entered into the world of base ball — two words back then.

Relatively speaking, Goshorn’s role as the first president of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club is a small part of his public service career. He joined the new club in 1866 and departed in 1869, just before the Red Stockings would tour the country and defeat all comers. But during those three years, the team grew from a local ball club to a nationally recognized powerhouse that could compete with the best teams on the East Coast. As Baseball Reference notes, Goshorn formed an affiliation with the Union Cricket Club in 1867 and oversaw the construction of a grandstand at Union Grounds, making it a home to both baseball and cricket in Cincinnati. Harry Wright deserves the credit for assembling an All-Star team with the 1869 Red Stockings, but Goshorn gave the team a venue and the visibility to become a sensation.

After he and the Red Stockings parted ways, Goshorn started the occupation that defined the rest of his life. It became fashionable for cities to host industrial expositions. Goshorn organized a series of expos in Cincinnati from 1870 until 1888, as an American equivalent to the World’s Fairs that were hosted around the world. The Cincinnati expositions showcased local businesses, as well as music, art, new inventions, and cultural exhibits. The 1871 edition, for instance, had a Cultural Hall that served as a massive bazar, a Horticultural Hall, a Fine Art Hall and much more.

Source: New York Public Library

“There is presented to you the largest variety of the products of skill, labor and of scientific ingenuity ever exhibited in America,” Goshorn announced at the opening ceremonies of the 1871 exhibition. “Artisans, mechanics and producers from every section of the country have been attracted thither by the unusual facilities offered for presenting their products to the public.

“There is here, systematically arranged and displayed, a beautiful combination of the useful, artistic and pleasing; a labyrinth of art products and mechanisms, of infinite variety, at once attractive and full of instruction. It gives us an enlarged idea of the industry of our country – its arts, its implements and its products – an excellent school for studying the social, political and domestic economy of the nation.”

The success of the Cincinnati exhibitions prompted the city of Philadelphia to come calling. The city was planning a Centennial Exposition in 1876 and hired Goshorn as director-general. He moved to Philadelphia to help oversee the fundraising and planning efforts. The result was a massive undertaking that was unprecedented in America: there were 250 pavilions across 285 acres of land. Thirty-seven countries took part in the expo, and 10 million visitors attended from May 10 through November 10, 1876. Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his new invention, the telephone, by setting up two telephones at either end of the Machinery Hall for curious attendees to use. The right arm and torch of the under-construction Statue of Liberty was displayed. The typewriter was shown for the first time, and ketchup and root beer were introduced to American appetites. Also, kudzu debuted in the U.S. as an erosion control plant. You can ask the South how well that worked out.

A gold coin with Goshorn’s likeness, commemorating the 1876 Centennial Exposition.

As a result of the Centennial Exposition’s massive success, Goshorn was recognized by countries around the world for his efforts. Most notably, he was knighted by Queen Victoria, making him one of a relatively few Americans who could lay claim to “Sir” as an honorific. He was also awarded by the following countries: Belgium (Cross of the Officer of the Order of the Leopard), Netherlands (Knight of the Netherlands Lion), Sweden (Knight of the Commander of the Swedish Order of the Polar Star), Persia (Knight of the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Ignatius), Italy (Commander of the Order of Corona d’Italia), Turkey, Spain, Tunis and Japan. France struck a gold coin with his likeness.

The citizens of Philadelphia were so grateful for his organization of the Centennial Expo that they presented him with a trophy and a library of 5,000 books. Each book featured an inscription on the inside page that read, “Presented to Alfred Traber Goshorn at Independence Hall May 11, 1877, by Citizens of Philadelphia in grateful remembrance of his faithful, courteous and efficient services as Director General of the International Exposition, 1876.”

Those books can be found in the library of his home, located at 3540 Clifton Avenue in Cincinnati. The house was designed by famed local architect James McLaughlin, and it was declared a historic site in 1973. Along with a well-stocked library, Goshorn filled his house with art that he acquired from his numerous trips to Europe. Much of it was bequeathed to the Cincinnati Museum Association upon his death.

Goshorn traveled the world, adding to his art collection along the way. For all his global friendships and adventures, Goshorn always returned to Cincinnati, where he was devoted to the city’s cultural growth. He was the first ever director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, a position he held until his death. Goshorn was also a member of the Cincinnati Literary Club, which included President Rutherford B. Hayes and Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.

Alfred Goshorn, wearing many of the medals he received from countries as a result of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

At various times in his life, Goshorn was a trustee of Marietta College, trustee of the Woodward Endowment Fund, president of the Union Board of High Schools, president and member of the Cincinnati City Council, trustee of the Springer Music Hall, vice president of the Cincinnati College of Music and director of the Cincinnati Museum Association.

In 1888, he married Mary Louise Langdon, who was a popular socialite in leading Cincinnati circles. Sadly, their marriage was a short one, as she died in 1891 after a months-long illness.

Alfred Goshorn died on February 19, 1902 at his mansion in Cincinnati at the age of 68. The official cause of death was arteriosclerosis, but he had suffered a stroke eight years before his death and never fully recovered from it. He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

At his death, the Cincinnati Enquirer noted, “Mr. Goshorn was in all respects an ideal citizen and carried to the grave with him the consciousness of a good life well spent. His charitable and kindly disposition and his intellectual, artistic and business qualities of mind will long serve to keep his name green in the city which he loved so well.”

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