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SABR Chicago gives 19th Century star Ed Williamson a deserved remembrance

More than a century after his passing, Williamson now has a proper grave marker.

Ed Williamson in 1887
Getty Images

A dedication ceremony took place at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago last Saturday, November 6, at which a headstone was unveiled for 19th Century Cubs (White Stockings in his time) legend Edward Williamson. This was a project funded and commissioned by the 19th Century Grave Marker Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

Twenty people, a sizable turnout for a ceremony of this kind, attended the unveiling, including two representatives from the Cubs organization: Cubs Historian Ed Hartig and Mike Lufrano, Executive Vice President for Community Affairs.

Speakers at the dedication were Sam Gazdziak, Chicago native and Grave Marker Committee chairman, David Stevens, local author and researcher, and Richard Smiley, vice chairman of the Chicago SABR chapter.

There is a sense among some baseball people, both professional and casual, that SABR exists primarily for inventing metrics with the intent to anger the Old School. This is hardly SABR’s mission, or its primary accomplishment. In its 50 years, the organization has advanced knowledge of the history, biography, and, yes, the metrics of the game. Much about baseball was unknown when SABR was founded, its various committees have discovered everything from the simple names of major, minor, and Negro leaguers (hundreds of previously “unknown” players have been documented), to the play-by-play of decades past (the database can now tell you the full PBP of over a century’s worth of MLB games).

One of the more eclectic SABR groups is the 19th Century Grave Marker Committee, which strives to recognize the unmarked or neglected resting places of baseball’s early players and pioneers. The belief is that cemeteries are “museums of the culture” and that proper recognition of these past worthies of the game rights an injustice. Two players buried in the Chicago area have now been marked by the Committee: In 2018 a headstone was dedicated in Graceland Cemetery for Robert “Parisian Bob” Caruthers, one of the star pitchers of the 1800s.

This is an adjunct to the SABR Biographical Committee’s long work to fully document every major-league player from the National Association (1871-75) forward. Birth, death, physical attributes and resting places have been confirmed for all but a relative handful of the twenty-thousand-plus men who have played in MLB. As of the last accounting, there are still 38 for whom even the names are not confirmed, this is an ongoing, and probably never-completed saga.

Williamson’s bio is well covered by the speakers in the video below, suffice it to say that Ed Williamson was a linchpin of the great White Stockings dynasty of the 1880s. Cap Anson said Williamson was the best all-around player he had ever seen. Ed’s fame has a tag that is easily remembered, never underestimate the value of such a mark. His single-season home run record, 27 in 1884 (freakishly aided by a one-year ground rule), was the standard broken by Babe Ruth (29) in 1919, the Babe’s first home run record. Indeed, Williamson’s record stood longer than Ruth’s far more celebrated 60-homer season of 1927.

Here are some photos from the event, as well as a photo of Caruthers’ marker, laid in 2018:

Why Williamson’s resting place remained unmarked is now hopelessly lost in the mists of time. He was moved to his present location, a section set aside for infants and the indigent, in 1910, though Williamson was hardly a pauper. Now those who wish to honor and pay respects have the proper place to do so.

Many thanks for all attention.