Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Babe is Back! (Babe Ruth)

Maynard mural by Jack Pabis, September 2018. Click to enlarge.
The long-empty Murphy & Snyder building at the corner of Waltham and Parker Streets is now graced with murals on both sides – an abstract-to-real portrayal of a hummingbird approaching a flower on the south side; swooping colors, mosaics of birds in flight, and Henry David Thoreau looking down out of a window to see Babe Ruth in a Rex Sox uniform on the north side. The latter is a creation of Jack Pabis, an experienced muralist working out of Maryland, who has an intriguing website statement “I can paint anything. I can paint anywhere.”

Why Ruth? Because he was here. During the off season of 1917-1918, George ‘Babe’ Ruth and his wife Helen rented a small cabin on the shore of Willis Pond, Sudbury. At that time Ruth, age 22, was well-off, but not rich, his pay for the 1917 season had been $5,000 ($98,500 in today’s dollars). He had been with the Red Sox since late 1914. In 1917 he was a pitcher, his at bats only in those games he was pitching. His win/loss record was 24-13. Only later did he switch to being an every-game player lauded for his home run hitting – the “The Sultan of Swat.”

George 'Babe' Ruth, with Red Sox
from 1914-1919; then sold to Yankees.
From north Sudbury, Maynard was the closest place with shopping. According to one account, George ‘Babe’ Ruth and his wife Helen would drive to Maynard, where Helen would shop at Woolworths and other places while George would buy cigars and play pool at the Maynard Smoke Shop. Ralph Sheridan, younger brother of the owners, recounted that he recognized Ruth the first time he walked into the store. At times, Sheridan and other young Maynard men would walk to Willis Pond. Once they got there George and Helen would invite them inside for hot cocoa and cookies. Helen would play piano and everyone would sing along.

The Babe also drank in Maynard. According to an account from Bob Merriam, heard from his grandfather, Ruth would show up at Bughouse Corner, a small bar on the south corner of Waltham and Parker, buy everyone drinks and stay till closing. (Meanwhile his wife of three years was alone back at the cabin.) Sometimes Ruth was too drunk to make his way home, and would sleep it off on a couch at someone’s house. Years later, with the Yankees, Ruth was required to sign a morals clause addendum to his contract, promising to abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors, and to not stay up later than 1:00 a.m. during the training and playing season without permission of the manager. 

Henry David Thoreau looking out of a
window (detail from Maynard mural)
And for that matter, why Thoreau? Again, because he was here. Thoreau and a friend walked through Maynard before it was Maynard. The date was September 4, 1851. Their plan was a roundtrip walk of about 20 miles to Boon Pond and back. Approaching what was ‘Assabet Village,’ at the time a hamlet in growth mode because of the woolen mill that had started operating in 1846 and the railroad in 1850, Thoreau wrote in his journal of passing the gunpowder mill and the paper mill, the latter standing where the Murphy & Snyder building is now, then proceeding south on Waltham Street. He turned right on Old Marlboro Road to the pond. On the way home he walked the railroad tracks, crossed the Assabet River at the White Pond Road bridge, made a connection to Concord Street, and so back to Concord.   

Hummingbird mural, Maynard, MA August 2018
The opposite side of the Murphy & Snyder building was recently graced with a mural “Hummingbirds,” painted by Eric Giddings and Ben ‘Berj’ Braley. Together, the murals are a first effort of “Maynard As A Canvas.” This concept was brought to fruition by Erik Hansen, a Maynard artist, who had been impressed by public murals during a visit to Iceland. His proposal was acted on by the Maynard Cultural Council. An announcement in 2017 for proposals from experienced murals artists yielded 80 entries, winnowed down to six finalists, and then two winning entries. The result represents a commitment from the Town of Maynard to support public art and the recent Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognition of the Assabet Village Cultural District.

Children, waiting for a bus to take
them to the United Co-op day camp.
(Maynard Historical Society)
Alpert Murphy and John Snyder started their printing business in 1917, and for many years printed the high school yearbook. They were in several Maynard locations, the last being a move to this building on Waltham Street, in 1957. The business closed its doors in 2003. The building has been empty since then. Prior to Murphy & Snyder, it had been a branch store of the United Co-operative Society, constructed for the Society in 1936.

Not in the newspaper column: The Co-op had its beginnings as the Kaleva Co-operative Association in 1907, started by Finnish immigrants who worked at the mill. The name was changed to United Co-operative Society of Maynard in 1921. At its peak, the Co-op operated a supermarket, bakery, dairy delivery, coal and fuel oil delivery, gas station, ice delivery, restaurant, educational programs in Finnish and English and a children's summer day camp.The Co-op's existence continued into the 1970s. Two columns about Babe Ruth and Maynard posted November 2013.   

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