June 8, 2020
As I sit down to write this post, it only now occurs to me that last year, on this very day - rather serendipitous and coincidentally also Julius Fleischmann's birthday (June 8, 1871) - the Mountain Athletic Club reincarnate held an 1895 rules match with the Bovina Dairymen at the M.A.C. Grounds in Fleischmann Park to celebrate Founders' Day. The ball game was the backdrop for a 150th Anniversary party for the founding of the Gaff, Fleischmann & Company in Cincinnati in 1868 by Julius' father Charles. The tab was generously paid in full by the AB Mauri Corporation - present day stewards of the Fleischmann's Yeast brand. Today, like all other team sports and community gatherings - too many events to count, really - the Grounds are silent amid the fear of the Corona Virus pandemic sweeping the globe with a hot spot only a 2 1/2 hour's drive away.
So, before I get into a tribute for Julius himself, I feel it fitting to recapture the spirit of the events that took place one year ago today. For those who were there, it will be nostalgic (not a word typically used for an event held only a year ago), and for those who were not, you missed one hell of a party...
On the eve of Founders' Day, a reception was held at Spillian - a period-accurate, restored "cottage" on the hill (formerly called the "Park House") and the last remaining structure built by the Fleischmanns in the late nineteenth century. We heard from Official Major League Baseball Historian, John Thorn about the early days of the M.A.C. and the Fleischmann brothers Julius and Max’s ownership interests in the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies. John holds a special place in his heart for this tiny Village - as a boy he vacationed here in a bungalow colony like so many other post WWII New Yorkers and later as a young man before settling permanently in the Hudson Valley. In 2004, he penned an homage to Fleischmanns and the M.A.C. in an essay titled, Mangled Forms for the Woodstock Times. It’s a piece I never tire of reading that inspired former Mayor of Flesichmanns, Todd Pascarella to revive the ball Club in 2007, almost a century after it fizzled. More recently, the essay prompted me to dig deeper into the Club’s history for an official listing in of the M.A.C. Grounds into the National Registry of Historic Places (as you read this, a decision is pending). We heard John explain that the great Honus Wagner may have played here as a guest of the Fleischmann’s in the off-season. And we also heard John read aloud a Founders’ Day proclamation from Jeff Idleson, outgoing President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Village historian John Duda, Spillian owner and cultural mythologist Leigh Melander and AB Mauri’s VP of Marketing Rick Oleshak also had some wonderful words to express about the history and significance of the yeast company and the family as a whole.
The Founders’ Day celebration held at Fleischmanns Park the following day began with a parade fitting of a small country Village led by the Margaretville High School Marching Band, complete with clunking doodle bugs and old trucks from Hubbell Family Farms (one even broke down mid-way!), classic cars with candy tossing politicians, and a policeman on horseback. The final float in the procession was a tractor-pulled hay wagon with the third incarnation of the Mountain Athletic Club - then in our second full season since regrouping in 2017. Along with us was my three year-old son, baseball in hand, sitting on my lap as I sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on pitch and so loudly they could probably hear me on the mountaintop singing over the rumbling of antique engines. The festival in the park was a big-top-tented yeast-feast with a juried bake-off, craft brews on tap and Kimberly Hawkey playing some fine country-swing a’la Django Reinhardt. For our ceremonial first pitch, long-time State Senator, Jim Seward was the guest of honor.
It was a proud and cathartic moment for the ball club and the community at large. After all, the park grounds and ball field were ravaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011, suspending M.A.C. baseball indefinitely and leaving the Village dealing with restoration efforts several years later. Julius would be proud. I know I was...
Now about Julius Fleischmann, the Village's namesake and the man for whom we have to thank for the M.A.C. Grounds and what has become a center of community life and outdoor recreation in the Village....
First off, I suspect Julius was named after his father's friend and financier, Julius Freiburg - a whiskey and vinegar distiller who purchased an interest in the Fleischmanns' patent for the Hungarian Process of fermentation. He was the man who convinced Charles to move from New York and setup shop in Cincinnati as a wave of German and Jewish immigrants were populating the City during the reconstruction following the Civil War.
In 1876, the company setup a Vienna Model Bakery at the World's Fair Exposition in Philadelphia that would catapult the Fleischmann's name into household status and lead the company to establish a bakery/cafe in several major U.S. cities. In so doing, the Fleischmanns had founded America's first chain restaurant.
Julius was sixteen and the company had nearly twenty-years of success, when he dropped out of preparatory school to join the family enterprise in 1887. By the age of twenty-three, with his father Charles' health in deterioration from an acute respiratory ailment and his Uncle Max having already passed away, Julius assumed the role of General Manager and within a few years would take over as its President. It was during these years, that Julius and younger brother Max II would establish a baseball park to the west end of Griffin Corners in a section that the locals were now calling Fleischmann's.
The Poughkeepsie Evening Enterprise April 11, 1897 documents a letter that Julius sent to Granville Whitaker, a backstop for the M.A.C. from Kingston. The letter details the improvements made to the ballpark and their new digs. I suspect that Julius also played on that team; this may also tie in with the Kelly photograph I've referenced in earlier blogs (See "Will the Real Honus Please Stand Up?" and "'Peekskill' Pete Cregan - Little Known Major Leaguer on the Fleischmann's M.A.C.") In fact, Whitaker, Winter and Cregan mentioned in the article also appear in the Kelly photo and their dark uniforms would suggest "maroon trimmings" on blue jerseys. This may date the photo to 1897.
Here's a close up of Julius in the Kelly photo - the only photo I've seen to date of Julius in a M.A.C. uniform:
The Detroit Free Press published a 1913 interview with Guy Harris "Doc" White, former ace of the M.A.C. in 1900, where Doc commented on the fringe benefits afforded by Julius to his players:
"Julius Fleischmann certainly treated us royally. He would take us all down the Hudson in his yacht. This happened frequently during the summer. Then, when there was a game, we would all dress on board and go to the shore in a launch, which was part of the yacht's equipment. There would be carriages waiting to whisk us out to the ball park. This yacht was a corker too; 200 feet long."
Like his father, Julius Fleischmann was very involved in pursuits outside of yeast-making and distilling. He served as president for several other manufacturing companies, two banks and a college. He was also active in the Ohio Republican party, serving on the staff of two Ohio Governors. Aided by the Republican party boss and a City largely populated with a pro-drinking persuasion of German-immigrants during a temperance movement sweeping through America at the time, Julius, at the age of 28, was elected to the first of two terms as the youngest Mayor in Cincinnati history in 1900. As Mayor, Fleischmann promoted education, created public parks and supported continued investment in local railroad lines.
In the Fall of 1900, Mayor Fleischmanns brought his M.A.C. to Cincy in a luxury Pullman railcar where they met the professional Cincinnati Reds in an exhibition game held at League Park to benefit Cincinnati Enquirer sports editor Harry Weldon. Max Fleischmann played right field and three others that day Miller Huggins (alias Proctor), George "Whitey" Rohe and Red Dooin, all went on to illustrious professional baseball careers. Behind solid pitching from "Black Jack" Keenan that afternoon, the M.A.C. downed the Reds with "eleven bingoes" by a score of 4-3 (Source: Wilkes-Barre Record, 10/13/1900).
By 1902, Mayor Fleischmann purchased a controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds along with George Cox and Garry Hermann; his brother Max had been named Vice President two years prior. Then in 1903, the brothers bought stakes in the Philadelphia Phillies – a practice of syndicate ownership that has long since been forbidden in the Major Leagues. The Fleischmanns gave the Chairmanship to Hermann who presided over a National Commission that ruled baseball from 1903-1920; part of the group that created the first modern World Series in 1903. An attempt was made by the Fleischmanns to buy another syndicate stake in the Chicago Cubs in 1912 from Charles Taft, brother of President William Howard Taft, but that never came to fruition and the brothers sold their interests in the Reds in 1915.
By the end of the 1910s, Max was traveling the world on grand excursions and Julius was spending more time in the summers pursuing his other passion of yachting aboard his 170-foot yacht the Hiawatha harbored in Wickford, Rhode Island. On May 11, 1914, Julius sold the M.A.C. Grounds to the newly incorporated Village of Fleischmanns for the sum of one dollar. By that time, the western section of town had become known as Fleischmann’s but had not yet incorporated as such. Therefore, on the next day a letter from the Office of General Counsel for the Fleischmann Company addressed to the Village Attorney inquired on “the corporate status of the Village to which the deed should be made”. Later that week, the local news printed the following:
“The offer of Hon. Julius Fleischmann to convey to the Village of Fleischmanns, the Athletic Grounds for a Public Park, was unanimously accepted by the Board of Trustees…upon the condition that this property shall always be used for a public park and athletic purposes and no
other purpose; that it shall never be sold or sublet; that it shall always be free of access to the public at large…and that they shall always keep the property in good condition…
WHEREAS, the Village was named Fleischmanns, in honor of Hon. Julius Fleischmann and his father’s family for oft repeated acts of generosity which led to the development of the Village, and
WHEREAS, the present Village Board wishes to recognize the generous offer…and in order to do so, have determined to name the Athletic Grounds as Fleischmanns Park, Therefore,
RESOLVED, Further, that the Board of Trustees on behalf of the Village, hereby tender (to Julius) their sincere thanks for his generous and liberal donation and grant, and beg to assure him that this Park will be forever maintained as a monument and credit to himself and his distinguished family.
RESOLVED, Further, that upon the acquisition of said land for the purposes of a Park, the Board shall establish and maintain the same for all time upon the conditions above set forth as a Public Park.”
On behalf of the community, Happy Birthday to you, the Honorable Julius Fleischmanns; thank you for your passion for the game and the contribution of your "athletic grounds" that has enabled us all to continue playing ball there, long after the glory days of the M.A.C.
Sources: Fleischmanns @ 150: Still the One, P. Christiaan Klieger (2019), wikipedia.com, Freeport Daily Journal, 5/19/1899, Skene Memorial Library Archives, Bob Kelly and Jane Ebberts personal interviews, Society of American Baseball Research