Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chapter 2

George, Katie and the Babe

On June 24, 1894, George H. Ruth (1871-1918) and Katie Schamberger (1873-1912) married.1 He was 23, and she was 21.  It is likely that Katie was 7 weeks pregnant at the time.  A son was born 7½ months after the wedding on February 6, 1895 at Katie’s parent’s house, 216 Emory Street.  Named after his father, George H. Ruth, Jr. would later become known to the world simply as “Babe.” 

Did George marry Katie because she was pregnant?  Why else would a Lutheran (George) marry a Catholic (Katie) at Fulton Avenue Baptist Church?  Yet Babe would have a Catholic baptism at St. Peter the Apostle Church on March 1, 1895 with his aunt, Lena Fell (Katie’s sister) as godparent.2

                After the marriage, Babe’s father is listed in Baltimore City directories at 622 Frederick Avenue (extended) where John A. Ruth moved his family in the early 1890s.  The house on Frederick Avenue was far removed from Emory Street where Babe Ruth was born.  It is a frame house at Frederick Avenue and Font Hill Avenue cater-corner from Mount Olivet Cemetery.   Babe Ruth lived there during the first two years of his life on the western outskirts of Baltimore nearly two miles from the waterfront.  The house was remodeled into a church in the 1920s and still stands (although vacant in 2013).  It is now known as 2819 Frederick Avenue.

Installing and repairing lightning rods was the primary business of Babe’s grandfather, but he was also an inventor.  In addition to the patent he received for a lightning rod insulator in 1884, he received four patents between 1888 and 1896:  one for a new type of wagon, one for a fastener for garments, and two for safety casings for oil and gas stoves.  He advertised his garment fastener in the Baltimore Sun stating, “To Motormen, Conductors, Police and others that have outdoor employment.  Use J. A. Ruth’s Fastener for plackets of garments.  It will keep the cold and wind out and save you from the grip and many other sicknesses.  It is like a stove in front of your clothing.  Apply at 622 Frederick Avenue Extended.  Make your tailor put it on for you.”3

It is doubtful that John A. Ruth profited from his other inventions as he remained in the lightning rod business until his death in 1897. The house at 622 Frederick Avenue extended also included a saloon – but land records indicate the saloon was run in conjunction with the Twenty-first Ward Industrial and Social Club, incorporated in 1893 by five businessmen including John A. Ruth and his eldest son, John    Jr.4  An agreement filed in Baltimore City Land Records turned the property over to the social club including fixtures, chandeliers, tables, chairs, glassware, decanters, buffets and spittoons.5  In return, the club employed Ruth as a caretaker, paid rent for the premises and allowed his family to occupy the living quarters.  Around the same time, the two oldest Ruth brothers, John and George had other business dealings.  They unsuccessfully bid to produce tin licenses for the City of Baltimore in 1894.6

                Shortly before Babe Ruth’s second birthday, his paternal grandfather, John Anton Ruth died on January 31, 1897.7 The executor of Ruth’s estate, his brother-in-law, Herman Strodtman, sold the house on Frederick Avenue, divided up the proceeds evenly among the surviving children and became the legal guardian of his minor children, Annie, Joseph and William.8 In 1898, Annie Ruth married Milton C. Brundige, a first cousin of William E. Brundige who had married Annie’s older sister, Augusta, seven years earlier.9

George and his oldest brother, John, continued to run the lightning rod business their father had started.10 Like their father, they ran regular newspaper advertisements announcing themselves as the successors to their father’s business.  The two brothers bought adjoining row houses at 339 and 341 South Woodyear Street in southwest Baltimore just west of the B&O Railroad’s Mount Clare Yards.  The houses had deep lots stretching to Carey Street on the east.  The lightning rod shop was built behind the houses with access to Carey Street.  A newspaper article, “Death From The Skies,” discussed lightning rods and the dangers from lightning strikes.11   The article provides a quote from Babe’s father, “Lightning rods should be placed upon country houses and tall buildings in the city.  An unpainted metal roof with down spouting and good connection throughout is sufficient, provided that the highest points, as the chimneys, for instance, are also coppered …”

Although some biographies state that Babe Ruth grew up in a saloon environment since infancy, between 1897 and 1901 (when Babe was age 2-6) he lived in a predominately residential working class neighborhood.  His father and uncle were self-employed in a building trade.  Their lighting rod shop was on the premises, so they worked close to home.  Babe’s Uncle John and Aunt Mary lived at 341 South Woodyear Street next door to George, Katie and the Babe at 339 South Woodyear Street.   By 1900, John and Mary had five children:  Nellie (born in 1890), Lottie (born in 1892), John A., Jr. (born in 1893), Mammie (born in 1896), and William E. (born in 1899).  George and Katie shared their house with George’s sister, Annie, and her husband, Milton C. Brundige, a teamster.  Annie and Milton had a daughter, Ellen who was born in 1899. 12

Within these two adjacent rowhouses, young Babe Ruth, lived with his parents, two aunts and two uncles, and six cousins – all within 5 years of his age.  Two other uncles, an aunt, and two cousins (both born within a year of Babe) lived two blocks away.  Babe’s Aunt Augusta Brundige, lived at 308 South Norris Street with her husband, William and two sons William E. Jr. (born in 1895) and John A. (born in 1896).  Uncle Joseph, Augusta’s 17 year old brother, who was a varnisher lived with his sister on Norris Street. 13

The 1900 census indicates that Katie was the mother of three children, but only one lived.  Babe had a baby brother, Augustus, who was born on March 15, 1898, but died at the age of 1 year and 1 day.14  While Babe Ruth’s autobiography mentions an older brother, John, this is unlikely since Babe was born 7 ½ months after George and Katie were married.  It is possible that another sibling was born between Babe and Augustus, but died shortly after birth.  In her book, The Babe and I, Claire Hodgson Ruth, wrote “Mamie tells me that John was younger than Babe and died when Babe was an infant.”15 Babe’s sister, Mary Margaret (Mamie) was born on August 2, 1900.  She is the only sibling of Babe to survive infancy and lived in Maryland until 1992.  Mamie also stated she had a twin sister who died in infancy.16

Fifty-six, two-story row houses were built in the 300 block of South Woodyear Street in 1885.17 Field books of the 1900 census provide a snapshot of the neighborhood.   Over 250 people lived on the block with many young children around Babe’s age.  Most of the households were made up of a father and mother, several children with an in-law and/or a boarder here and there.  The heads of households were primarily employed in blue collar work or were craftsman:   laborers, iron moulders, carpenters, cabinet makers, hucksters, boilermakers, painters, machinists, marble cutters, etc.  Mount Clare Yards of the B&O Railroad was just a block away.   Surely many Woodyear Street residents were employed there. 

Nearly half the households had some German background, but there was a smattering of Irish ancestry as well.  Not a single African-American lived on Woodyear Street in heavily segregated turn-of-the century Baltimore, but one resident had Cuban ancestry. 

Each of the four corner houses of the block housed grocery stores:  two were located on the north end of the block at the intersection of Woodyear and McHenry streets, and two on the south end of the block at Woodyear and Ramsay streets.  A bakery operated on the street, five houses south of the Ruths.  Families lived over the grocery stores and the bakery.  One resident of the block is listed as a saloonkeeper in the 1900 census, but there were no saloons on Woodyear Street. 

Babe Ruth spent his early childhood years on Woodyear Street living in a house, not rooms over a bar.  It was not the rough waterfront neighborhood that most biographies describe.  Babe was surrounded by an extended family that no doubt watched over the growing Ruth clan to keep youngsters out of trouble.  Large families lived in close proximity.  Corner stores catered to local residents.  Recreational opportunities abounded at Carroll Park, a few blocks to the southwest across the nearby railroad tracks.  But Babe’s living environment was soon to change.

For reasons unknown, in February 1901, shortly after Babe’s sixth birthday, his father sold the house on Woodyear Street and left the partnership with his brother in the lightning rod business.18 George Ruth, Sr. bought a saloon at 426 W. Camden Street, a block away from Camden Station and the recently built Camden Yards Warehouse.   

In the early 20th century, Babe’s parents were constantly on the move, primarily living over bars in the general neighborhood of Camden Yards.  In comparison, Babe’s Uncle John bought back his brother’s former house, 339 South Woodyear Street, in 1902 maintaining two houses for the extended Ruth clan.  He lived in the house at 341 South Woodyear Street until his death in 1932.19   The home stayed in the Ruth family until 1969, when it was sold by a surviving son-in-law ending more than seven decades of the Ruth family occupancy on the street.

1 Babe Ruth - The Dark Side by Paul F. Harris, p. 23
2 Babe Ruth - The Dark Side by Paul F. Harris, p. 4
3 Baltimore Sun, October 21, 1895, p. 3
4 Baltimore Sun, June 17, 1893, p. 10
5 Baltimore City Land Records, Liber JB 1451, Folio 523, June 17, 1893
6 Baltimore Sun, January 18, 1894, p. 8
7 Baltimore Sun, Feburay 3, 1897, p. 4
8 Baltimore Sun, Feburay 9, 1897, p. 3
9 Baltimore Sun, March 24, 1898, p.10
10 Baltimore Sun, March 20, 1897, p. 3
11 Baltimore Sun, July 31, 1900, p. 7
12 U. S. Census Records 1900; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 617; Page 15A; Enumeration
   District 262; Sheet 15
13 U. S. Census Records 1900; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 617; Page 10B; Enumeration
   District 262; Sheet 10B
14 Baltimore Sun, Death Notice of March 17, 1898. 
15 "The Babe and I," by Mrs. Babe Ruth, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:  Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959 p. 41.
16 "Babe's Sister" People Magazine, September 16, 1985, vol. 23, no. 12
17 Baltimore Sun, November 24, 1885, p. 4
18 Baltimore Sun, February 4, 1901, p. 11
19 Baltimore Sun, February 14, 1932, p. S9

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