The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) 19th Century Grave Marker Project completed its latest grave marker installation on Saturday, November 6. We held a dedication ceremony in Rosehill Cemetery to honor 19th Century home run king Ed Williamson (also known as Ned Williamson). There will be a full story about Ed’s life and times available on this blog soon, but for now, let’s talk about the day and the group that gathered in his memory.
Scheduling an outdoor event on a Saturday in November in Chicago is always a risky proposition, but the weather was just beautiful — sunny and unseasonably warm. A sizable crowd of baseball historians, Cubs fans and even a few token White Sox fans showed up to pay their respects. As chair of the Grave Marker project, I welcomed the crowd and gave a few introductory remarks before turning it over to the real baseball experts. Dave Stevens, a historian and author who happened to live in the area, spoke a little about Ed Williamson and his friendship with fellow ballplayer John Montgomery Ward. Dave had written an article about Ed for a SABR publication, and it was called “The Home Run King without a Headstone.” He was happy that, more than 15 years after the article was published, we finally ruined his great headline.
Chicago SABR member Richard Smiley then gave an excellent, compelling story about Ed’s life and career. He mentioned that many of Ed’s contemporaries called him the best all-around baseball player they ever saw. It’s an accurate description, too. Ed wasn’t the best at any one particular aspect of baseball — though you could make the argument that he was the best defensive third baseman of his era. What he did do was be very good at every aspect of the game. He was a good hitter, he had patience at the plate, and he could hit for power — regardless of the dimensions of his home ballpark. He was an outstanding fielder and had a cannon for an arm. In spite of his size, he was a good baserunner too. And he could play practically any position on the field. His versatility was invaluable, and though he was sometimes overshadowed by the Hall of Famers and other superstars who were on his Chicago White Stockings teams of the 1880s, he was a key part of one of baseball’s first great dynasties.
I thanked a few people in my opening remarks, and I would like to repeat those thank-yous now. This was my first time taking the lead for a grave marker project, and the one thing I came away with is that it’s much easier to do it when you have a good team. So:
Thank you to the other members of the Grave Marker Project: Ralph Carhart, John Thorn, Peter Mancuso and Bob Bailey. Since I first started doing the detective work into Ed Williamson’s whereabouts and later became chair of the Project, they have all given me good advice, words of encouragement and valuable resources. Ralph, as the past chair of the committee, walked me through all the details and steps when I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s a privilege to associate with some of great experts and good people.
Thank you to my new friends in the SABR Chicago chapter, especially Bill Pearch and Richard Smiley. They enthusiastically jumped into this project and helped create a very successful dedication. Thank you to everyone at SABR HQ who helped promote this event, and the writers like Jordan Bastian and Tony Andracki who boosted the signal as well. Thank you to David Stalker, who made a beautiful grave marker for Ed, as he has done for all the other markers that the Grave Marker Project has placed. Thank you to the Chicago Cubs, who expressed gratitude and interest in what we do. It’s wonderful to see a major-league team be so aware of and appreciate its own history.
Lastly, thank you to the staff of Rosehill Cemetery, particularly my contact Diedre. This would have all come to a screeching halt if the cemetery had refused our request or been unwilling to search its records. Instead, Diedre went into the cemetery archives to pore over the original internment records, eventually locating Ed’s present location. Rosehill is a beautiful cemetery, and its grounds hold the final resting places of captains of Chicago industry, mayors, aldermen, a vice president, Civil War veterans and other war heroes, actors and — this being Chicago — gangsters. There’s a strong baseball connection there as well, as it’s the final resting place of Jack Brickhouse, Jerome Holtzman, participants in the Black Sox scandal and several other ballplayers as well. Some are marked, some are not. But for those who wish to pay their respects, Ed Williamson is easy to find in Section 6, by the fence on Peterson Ave.