Over the course of my cemetery travels the last few years, I have come across a fair share of unmarked graves. Many times, I’ve wished I could do something about it, but I didn’t have the funds or the know-how to make such a thing happen. Now, I’m in a position where I can do something about it — to give a satisfying conclusion to a story that bothered me.
So let me tell you about Ed Williamson — also known as Ned Williamson on Baseball Reference. I’ll tell you all about him soon. But Ed’s claim to baseball fame was that he clubbed 27 home runs in 1884 for the Chicago White Stockings. That almost doubled the old record of 14 homers in a season, set by Harry Stovey just the previous season. And yes, there are some extenuating circumstances behind Williamson’s power display — his home park had laughably short dimensions. But the fact of the matter is that he held the single-season home run record that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919.
The life of a 19th-Century ballplayer could be unpredictable and tragic, and Williamson’s story is no exception. He was badly injured in an exhibition game (in France, of all places), and he never really recovered. His career ended in 1890, and he died in 1894 from a variety of maladies. He was 36.
Ever since then, Williamson has laid in an unmarked grave in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. Fortunately, thanks to some excellent research by the Rosehill staff, we know his final resting place. And with the help of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), we’re going to give Ed some overdue recognition.
Earlier this year, I became the new chair of SABR’s 19th Century Grave Marker Project. The committee, which had been chaired by historian/author Ralph Carhart, has placed gravestones for pioneers James Whyte Davis and Hicks Hayhurst, as well as ballplayers Andy Leonard, Pud Galvin and Bob Caruthers. The committee’s last project was for Luis “Jud” Castro, Major League Baseball’s first Latin-American ballplayer. That grave was dedicated earlier this month and was Ralph’s last project. He’s stepped down to focus on other projects, and I’ve stepped in. Ed Williamson is the first of what I hope will be many projects. I’m already looking at other players down the road.
To me, putting a marker on an unmarked grave does more than honor that particular person. It reclaims a part of baseball history. If you’re interested in baseball history and/or cemeteries (and since you’re reading this on a blog that’s oddly specific in that focus I have to believe that you are), there are a couple of things you can do to help.
First of all, you can donate to the Grave Marker Project. To do so, just go to SABR.org/donate, click on the On Deck Circle, and make a (tax-deductible!) donation to the general fund. NOTE: you MUST write something like (19th Century Grave Markers) in the “Earmark Donation” field.
(I should point out that this website is my personal blog and not is affiliated with SABR or the Grave Marker Project. Any money you donate to SABR stays with SABR, and anything you donate to the website on my donate page goes to the blog. The two funds will not be mixed in any way.)
Second, if you know or find a grave of a 19th Century ballplayer, executive or pioneer that is unmarked or has a badly deteriorated marker, please contact me about it. I make no promises about what the committee can do, but getting us the information is a good start.
Stay tuned for more information about Ed and the grave marker project.