Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chapter 1

Family Background

Babe Ruth’s paternal grandparents were John Anton Ruth (1844-1897) and Mary E. (Strodtman) Ruth (1845-1894).  Both were born in Maryland of German heritage.1 John’s parents were born in Prussia, and Mary’s parents were born in Hanover.  

John A. Ruth installed and repaired lightning rods for most of his life.  He was physically strong and a shrewd businessman.  In 1871, he repaired a weather vane and lightning rod on the Gail and Ax Building at Light and Barre streets fronting Baltimore’s harbor.2  The work required erecting a scaffold above a cupola 165 feet off the ground and removing a broken vane weighing fifty pounds.  A newspaper article entitled A Lofty Performance stated:  “These aerial performances always draw crowds of spectators.”  On the day the article ran, Ruth took out a classified advertisement in the Baltimore Sun stating:  “ATTENTION – TO THE PUBLIC – J. A. RUTH, PRACTICAL LIGHTNING ROD ERECTOR, 290 Sharp Street, Baltimore. Fifteen years experience in all kinds of Rods.”  If the advertisement was accurate, Babe’s grandfather had been working on lightning rods as early as twelve years of age.  In October 1880, Baltimore celebrated its 150th anniversary with a huge procession showing its industrial progress.  Babe’s grandfather participated in the celebration.  On a horse drawn wagon, he displayed a house with steeple surmounted with lightning rods and side pictures of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in his electrical experiment.3  

In 1880, John A. Ruth was 36 years old and his wife Mary was 35.  Census records list their five children at the time:  Elizabeth (age 15), John (age 12), George (age 8), Augusta (age 5) and Mary (age 1).4   A daughter and two more sons were soon added to the family:  Annie (born in 1880), Joseph (born in 1883) and William (born in 1884).   The eldest son, John, married in 1889. 5   By 1893, there were three grandchildren.  The second eldest daughter, Augusta, married William E. Brundige, a paper hanger, in 1891.6  Sadly, in February 1893, 14 year old Mary, the fifth child of John and Mary Ruth died.7  The following year, on January 15, 1894, the grandmother of Babe Ruth and the matriarch of this large family also passed away.8

The elder Ruth was a prolific advertiser in the Baltimore Sun during the 1880s and 1890s with regular classified advertisements for his lightning rod business.  The business was advertised at several different locations in southwest Baltimore:  1223 Scott Street, 665 Haw Street (now Melvin Drive) and 622 Frederick Avenue extended.  In September 1884, John A. Ruth was awarded Patent No. 305,020 for inventing an insulator for lightning rods.9 As early as 1890, John’s eldest sons, John Jr. and George, were employed in their father’s lightning rod business.10

Ruth’s lightning rod shop on Haw Street was condemned and taken by the City of Baltimore in the early 1890s to extend Penn Street to Columbia Avenue (now called Washington Boulevard) and to install a needed sewer line through the property.11 Haw Street , now Melvin Drive, is located within a block of Emory Street.  From 1888 until 1904, an upholster named Pius Schamberger lived at 216 Emory Street with his family.  Perhaps the proximity of Ruth’s lightning rod shop to Schamberger’s residence is how Pius’ daughter, Katie, met John A. Ruth’s son, George. 

Both Pius Schamberger (1833-1904) and his wife Johanna Schamberger (1836-1900) were born in Baden, Germany.12  By 1880, the Schamberger’s had five children, Joseph (age 21), Johanna (age 15), William (age 11), Mary (age 9) and Katie (age 6).  The Schamberger family may have had some health issues; two of the children are listed as “paralysed” in the 1880 Census.  Three of their children, Katie, Annie and Gustav, were to die before age 40.

            Pius Schamberger lived primarily in the neighborhood of today’s Babe Ruth house on Emory Street immediately southwest of downtown Baltimore.  Prior to being an upholsterer, he sold liquor.  In his listings in Baltimore City Directories in the 1870s, the word “beer” is found where a person’s occupation is usually provided.  Despite his name, Pius had a few scrapes with the law.  In March 1874, he was fined $20 and costs for selling liquor on Sunday, a violation of the so-called “blue laws.”13 In the prior year, he had been arrested for allowing gambling with cards in his house at No. 385 West Pratt Street (later known as 643 West Pratt Street – today a small parking lot around the corner from the Babe Ruth Museum).  He was fined $10 and costs by Justice Nugent. 14   After these brushes with the law, perhaps he stuck to upholstery.

1 U. S. Census Records 1880; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 503; Page 489D; Enumeration
  District 171; Sheet 16
2 Baltimore Sun “A Lofty Performance,” July 1, 1873, p. 2
3 Baltimore Sun, October 12, 1880, p. 5
4 U. S. Census Records 1880; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 503; Page 489D; Enumeration
  District 171; Sheet 16
5 Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Index T 2426 - 86, BK 2 JTG 1880-90, Folio 377
6 Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Index T 2426 - 13, BK 3 JTG 1890-92, Folio 51
7 Baltimore Sun, February 14, 1893, p. 4
8 Baltimore Sun, January 17, 1894, p. 4
9 Baltimore Sun, September 11, 1884, p. 4
10 1890 Polk's Baltimore City Directory, p. 1042-1043
11 Baltimore Sun, August 28, 1890, p.6
12 U. S. Census Records 1880; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 503; Page 200B; Enumeration
   District: 153; Sheet 10
13 Baltimore Sun “Proceedings of the Courts” March 7, 1874, p. 5
14 Baltimore Sun, February 24, 1873, p. 4

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