FanPost

'Professor of Lawnology,' Part 2

Second of 2 posts about the life of Charles Kuhn, celebrated groundskeeper for the Cubs during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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On Wednesday, April 22, 1908, Kuhn was involved in a scheme that went badly awry at the Cubs' home opener.

This was Frank B. Hutchinson Jr.'s account of events in the Inter Ocean newspaper:

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Fifteen thousand delegates of the million baseball fans in our fair city turned out yesterday to welcome home our new world's champions, see the National League pennant flung aloft to the summery breezes, and, incidentally watch the Cubs wallop the Reds, who had been offered as the sacrifice by the schedule maker, to the convincing refrain of 7 to 3.

Charley Murphy's spacious ball yard was filled with improvements, fresh paint, new stands, and people. The lot was comfortably filled with a rather quiet and well behaved crowd, but what was the use of yelling when the Cubs are playing the poor Cincinnati Reds? Too easy!

The principal stunt of the afternoon was the flinging aloft of the National League pennant and, as usual when flags are raised in Chicago, there was a hitch.

When [White Sox owner Charles] Comiskey turned loose his world's championship pennant last May, the pole broke.

Yesterday Murphy, the boss little surpriser, had arranged a stunt by which hundreds of little flags would be turned out of the big one when it had gone nearly to the top of the pole. The pennant was done up in a neat package, warranted to break open at the psychological moment, and the little pennantettes bet turned loose.

Surprise Refuses to Come.

The big flag acted like a Chinese laundry bundle when the owner has lost his checkee. It refused to open.

Flag Hoister Charley Kuhn pulled lustily on the halyard, but nothing doing. The pole wavered and threatened to snap, but still acted like a tight wad.

Finally F. H. Kuhn hauled it down and opened it, the little flags falling to the ground, unnoticed, and unsung

When the flag was fully opened to the 30,000 binoculars which had waited so patiently it caused a belated cheer to rise from the assembled multitude. The cheer would have been a peach had the flag opened on schedule time, but as the spring opening of Murphy's choice stock of pennants had been delayed the edge was taken off the spontaneous outburst and it became only a polite murmur.

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MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS

The Cubs beat the Reds again the next day, then lost to them on Friday.

Saturday's game was rained out, but reporters had plenty to write about.

Here is what Charles Dryden wrote in the Tribune:

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You may scrub, you may paint the coop if you will.

But the odor of ducklings will cling to it still.

This tender little couplet composed by [Reds pitcher] Jake Weimer and other gifted athletes illumines the dark corner of the controversy now ranging between the Cincinnati and Chicago clubs over the dressing room provided for visiting players at the west side park. . . .

President [Garry] Herrmann of the Reds, after an inspection, pronounced the quarters unfit and insanitary and refused to allow his players to dress there.

President Murphy says that barring the bath resorts in the ball parks at St. Louis and Cincinnati, the Chicago quarters surpass anything else in the National League. The piping has been inspected by experts and declared to be the most sanitary in the city.

Winter Home for Ducks.

Putting aside the foregone declaration, the Reds depose and say the plumbing of Charley Kuhn's ducks was defective. They allege the visitors' dressing room was used as a cozy corner for ducks last winter. Hence the present embroglio, which is inflicting large dents in the entente cordiale.

The esteemed groundkeeper, Mr. Kuhn, owns and interested herd of ducks, and that they should butt into cordial relations heretofore existing between two friendly camps is indeed deplorable.

The Reds managed to endure the comforts of home until they turned on the shower bath water, which trickled thither and yon into forgotten angles and aroused unpleasant reminiscences of Mr. Kuhn's most interesting barnyard exhibits.

Clubhouse Fair to See.

To the naked eye the clubhouse is fair to see and will be fairer when the painters have finished. Mr. Murphy is paying double union wages to men who toiled yesterday afternoon and will spread paint today in order to brighten up the club for the Pirates, who play here today. . . .

Lest the paint should not be quite dry in time he has wire the Pittsburg club to dress at the hotel for a couple of days.

"I do not blame Mr. Herrmann for the alleged insanitary report of the dressing room sent to [National League] President Pulliam," said the Cub boss. "Garry was steered through a bunko inspection of the place by members of his own team, who were peeved and piqued by five straight defeats [including 3 to begin the season at Cincinnati] at the hands of my champions. I know what I'm talking about.

Reds Cause Ruin.

"Certain members of the Cincinnati team, led by Jake Weimer, messed up the interior, twisted off locker doors, and tossed them outside, and hauled the ground roller in front of the portal for him to clamber over. No wonder Garry threw up one hand while holding his nose with the other and said: 'Ting a ling -- unfit for human beings.'

"No other teams except St. Louis objected to the accommodations last summer, and Jake Beckley, who lives on canned beans all winter, was the only one who kicked.

"That's right," put in the Peerless Leader [Chance], who was among those present. "Jake set up an awful howl about the baths, and I asked him what he knew about that form of exercise."

It will be remembered that Chance did give the venerable Jake a hard call at St. Louis for submitting to copious interviews knocking the bathing facilities here. Cub officials say the Giants twice tried to set fire to the clubhouse last summer for the same reason that inspired the Reds to put Garry Herrmann through that third degree inspection Friday morning.

Inspector Says O. K.

The day before the season opened we were taken through the clubhouse by the urbane and gentlemanly Secretary [Charlie] Williams. The facilities were excellent and will be more so when the artisans now at work have completed their tasks.

A demonstration of the water pipes showed that liquid flowed simultaneously in both bathing quarters and that the plumbing was perfect.

As for the duck contention introduced by the Reds, we know nothing about that. Neither does Mr. Murphy, who became engrossed when the question was put to him.

Mr. Kuhn is the duck impresario, and he was not among those present at the pro and con discussion yesterday afternoon at the new and handsome quarters of the Cubs president in the Corn and Exchange building.

...

The series opener against the Pirates was rained out, too, but the Tribune offered an update on the hot topic of the day:

"Sec. Locke of the Pittsburg club inspected the disputed dressing room and declared it superior to many of the places the Pirates dress in on the circuit. Three union painters were toiling at the time of the inspection."

Three years later, facilities for players at the West Side Grounds were renovated again.

From the Tribune of April 9, 1911:

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The new clubhouse is spacious and contains all the modern improvements.

Shower and tub baths are installed in a big room at one end and a baking oven for sore limbs is to be put in next week.

Large lockers of steel are installed and the manager has one double in size at one end of the room.

In completeness of equipment the Cubs claim they have the best clubhouse in the National League and the old shack which had served for so many years as dressing rooms for visiting players has been destroyed, along with Groundkeeper Kuhn's chickens and ducks.

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TROUBLE IN TAMPA

The Cubs held spring training in California in 1903-05, then in Champaign, Ill., in 1906.

During the next 6 years, they got ready for the season in the deep South: New Orleans (1907), Vicksburg (1908), Shreveport (1909) and New Orleans again (1910-12).

In 1913, they were lured to Tampa, Fla., by a promise that the city would pay the team's expenses, up to $100 per player. The players would stay at the elegant Tampa Bay Hotel and a baseball diamond would be constructed within a horse racing track just to the north of the building.

When the Cubs arrived, there were not enough rooms for them. That soon was sorted out, but the playing grounds proved a thornier issue.

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In the Tribune's edition of Wednesday, Feb. 19, Sam Weller reported:

"Just before the Cubs reached here the fresh turf [on the infield of the new diamond] was rolled and the roller was so heavy it made billows in the surface

"The local authorities figured it would be easier to take up all the turf, roll the subsoil level, and relay the turf than to try to iron out the wrinkles. An extra force of men (who are to be paid to work) will be put on tomorrow, and it is hoped to have the returfing completed by the Friday."

By Thursday, they had given up, deciding instead to create a "skin" infield.

"In place of the billowy turf, which has all been removed, a surface of clay and sand is to be put on and rolled smooth," Sanborn explained in Friday's paper. "That process is much more rapid, and it is expected to have the diamond in condition for use by Saturday. . . .

"Either the instruction by Supt. Kuhn of the Cub park were not followed by the local landscape gardener, or the ideas which make good playing fields in Chicago won't work in the south. Evidence points to the latter fact to explain the failure to have a green diamond ready for the Cubs this year.

"Mr. Kissetger, Tampa's leading landscape expert, points to a neat green lawn in front of the city hospital which was started at the same time work on the baseball field began. It's a good alibi, too."

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On Feb. 23, the Inter Ocean blasted Kuhn for the problems:

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WHAT WAS KUHN DOING?

The process of preparing the grounds for the use of the Cubs has been a long and tedious one, and it looks very much as if some one has been soldiering on the job.

If any real work has been performed in the last month on the field the place would have been ready long ago.

Just what Groundkeeper Charlie Kuhn could have been doing while here for a month is hard to understand.

The infield was put in, but the soil is so soft that it is difficult to get it stamped hard enough so that the players will not dig into it when playing.

...

After considerable effort, the field was made playable. The Cubs continued to train in Tampa through 1916.

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FRONT-PAGE NEWS

The one and only time that Kuhn's name appeared on the front page of the Tribune was on April 7, 1913 -- in the last paragraph at the bottom of the next-to-last column, but the front page, all the same:

"When Allen sauntered into the west side park yesterday to watch the Cubs play ball, Supt. Charles Kuhn, for whom he used to work and who had dutifully attended his funeral more than nine months ago, signed a mental temperance pledge in a hurry."

Leo Allen, the story said, "formerly was an assistant landscape gardener at the west side baseball park, and followed that calling until he graduated from the automobile lawn mower into the ranks of license chauffeurs.

"Early last June he contracted with the agent of a French taxicab concern to go to Paris, and had only three hours to catch the train that would connect with the last steamer which would enable him to connect with the new job."

Upon reaching New York, Allen wrote a letter to his wife, explaining his journey and enclosing enough money to keep her going in his absence. But the letter went astray.

When a body was fished out of the Lincoln Park lagoon in Chicago, it was identified as Allen by his wife and his sister. A funeral service was held and the body was buried.

After settling in Paris, Allen sent a telegram to his wife, containing his new address. She believed it was a cruel joke.

"For months Allen was employed as a chauffeur in Paris but found the variety of foreign lingoes he was expected to acquire too much for his limited stock of patience," the story continued.

"He checked the whole alien works and returned to discover himself in much the same dilemma as that faced by Enoch Arden in another and earlier century.

"The exceptional feature was that Mrs. Leo Allen still devoutly mourned his loss and had not remarried."

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CHANGE OF SCENERY

After the 1913 season, the Cubs' ownership changed again, with Murphy selling the club to minority owner Charles Phelps Taft, part of the celebrated family that included President William Howard Taft.

Two years later, Taft sold the team to "lunchroom king" Charles Weeghman, who had owned the city's team in the Federal League during its 2 years of existence, 1914-15.

Weeghman had built a new home for his club on the North Side, at Clark and Addison streets. Immediately after buying the Cubs, he moved them from the West Side Grounds to his Weeghman Park -- today's Wrigley Field.

Kuhn was not around for the Cubs' final year at their old park or their first at the new one.

Following the 1914 season, he was "let out by the Cubs management," according to the Tribune. He soon accepted an offer to move to the East Coast.

From the Tribune of Feb. 6, 1915:

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Charles Kuhn, who for seventeen years was [head] groundskeeper for the Cubs, has transplanted himself to the Brooklyn team of the Federal League.

Kuhn started with the Chicago club when it was located at Harrison and Loomis streets [i.e., West Side Park] and moved with it to the present location.

He is rated as one of the best men in his line in the country, the playing fields in his care being excelled by none.

He was the third of the official Charleses to leave the Cubs, [Secretary] Williams going first and Murphy second.

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Dick Carroll was business manager of the Tip-Tops, who had finished fifth, at 77-77, in the Federal League's first season.

On April 3, the Brooklyn Eagle quoted Carroll as saying:

"The field will be one of the best in any league before the spring has gone. Charley Kuhn, the former groundkeeper of the Chicago Cubs, has spent unlimited energy, and has had all the money he needed in preparing the diamond and leveling the outfield, and it will be a pleasure for a ball player to earn his money at Washington Park."

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NAVAL ENGAGEMENT

The demise of the Tip-Tops prompted Kuhn to return to Chicago.

By 1918, he was in charge of new sports facilities at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, near Waukegan, about 40 miles north of Chicago.

A story in the Tribune on April 1 of that year began:

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What Capt. W. A. Moffett intends should be the most modern and best equipped athletic field in the country will be laid out at Great Lakes Naval Training Station this summer.

Plans have been drawn by Civil Engineer Walter H. Allen, head of the public works department. Work will be started today.

The field, which will measure 750 square feet. . . . It will provide for every form of summer and winter amusement.

The baseball field probably will have a grandstand and bleachers with seating capacity of 10,000. A detail of 1,500 sailors will start grading the ball field this morning under the supervision of Charley Kuhn, groundkeeper at Comiskey Park.

This work will be rushed, as it is Capt. Moffett's intention to have the diamond ready for the station nine's opening game.

Another feature will be a quarter mile oval running track with a 220 yard straightaway. The latter will give the naval station one of the few stretches for a dash of this length in the country.

Within the oval will be facilities for holding all field events. Provision also will be made for tennis courts.

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Kuhn never was groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, of course. In 1911, the White Sox did hire E. J. Heisman away from the Pirates. Heisman had been an assistant to Kuhn for 16 years before heading to Pittsburgh.

A one-paragraph story at the bottom of a page of the Tribune on Nov. 19, 11 days after the armistice that ended World War I, said:

"The Great Lakes soccer team has arranged a game with the Lincoln Parks of Chicago to be played next Sunday at the station field, according to announcement today. Charley Kuhn, former ground keeper of the Cubs ball park, has laid out one of the most beautiful fields in the country for the soccer team."

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FINAL YEARS

That was the last time Kuhn's name appeared in the Tribune until Sept. 24, 1935, when the paper published a story about his death 3 days earlier:

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HOLD FUNERAL

TOMORROW FOR

CHARLES KUHN

Funeral services for Charles S. Kuhn, who was grounds keeper for the Chicago Cubs from the early eighties until they moved to Wrigley Field, will be held tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock at St. Edith church. Burial will be in All Saints cemetery.

Mr. Kuhn died Saturday night at his home, 1452 Winona avenue, after an operation. He had been in ill health for a week. He was 77 years old.

Mr. Kuhn was born in Philadelphia and came to Chicago as a child, making his home on the west side. He became grounds keeper for the Cubs when they played at Randolph street and Michigan avenue, while A. G. Spaulding [sic] was president. He accompanied the Cubs subsequently to their later ball parks at Congress and Loomis streets, Polk and Lincoln streets, and Wrigley Field.

He left during the war to superintend athletic fields at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and then retired.

Surviving are his widow, Mary, and three children, Isabelle, Leonette, and Roy.

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As noted previously, Kuhn had not moved to Chicago as a child, doing so when he was no younger than 22.

Nor did he leave the Cubs for Great Lakes.

He had been married to the former Mary Agnes Prindeville for 47 years. She died about 16 months later, on Jan. 5, 1937, at age 71.

Their son, Reginald, died in 1977, at 86, and their older of their daughters, Isabelle, in 1987, at 97.

Middle child Leonette, the Cubs' mascot as a toddler, is variously reported as having died in 1981, at 77, and in 1988, at 83.

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The Cubs have had many head groundskeepers over the past 108 years, most recently Dan Kiermaier, who has held the job since January 2020.

None has been as memorable as Charles Samuel Kuhn, their one and only "professor of lawnology."

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