Pieces of History
"[. . . the scrapbooks] helped in the successful production of the picture.”
The scrapbooks serve as an apt reminder of not only his remarkable career, but also of his wife’s painstaking effort to create a memento of their public life together.
An article from 1937 portrays the couple viewing one of the scrapbooks, and explained, “Winter time is play time for Gehrig, but also time to clean up those odd jobs that accumulate through the year. One is bringing the Gehrig scrap book [sic] up-to-date. Charming Mrs. Gehrig has gathered plenty of materials about her famous spouse and this is the time of the year when the paste pot and the shears are brought out and Lou’s historic American League baseball exploits are presented for the future.”
That the artifact evolved from a private souvenir to – in essence – a eulogy in scrapbook form, adds to the poignant tale of Lou and Eleanor Gehrig.
Soon after Gehrig’s death, the scrapbooks were sent to Los Angeles to assist in the preparation of the script for The Pride of the Yankees. In a letter dated June 9, 1942, Christy Walsh, Gehrig’s agent, wrote to Eleanor, “The scrap books [sic] also appear to be in good order, allowing for certain unavoidable wear and tear due to the fact that the books were frequently used for reference by [story writer] Paul Gallico and other Studio departments.” He also noted that the scrapbooks “helped in the successful production of the picture.”
Fourteen years later, on Nov. 7, 1956, the scrapbooks were accepted by the Hall of Fame as a donation from Eleanor, along with numerous other items, including the last glove worn by Gehrig as a player, his last road uniform, and his right baseball shoe. Sid C. Keener, then the Director of the Hall of Fame, wrote Eleanor on Nov. 30, 1956, “Your gracious donation of Lou’s mementos is deeply appreciated by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. A special display of some of the memorable relics will be arranged shortly, on a tentative basis, because it is our desire to exhibit as many of the souvenirs as possible later on.”
After several decades of use, it had become apparent the deteriorating condition of the scrapbooks warranted further attention. In the fall of 2005, the two scrapbooks were sent to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass., and separated into four large “books,” and a smaller volume comprised of 13 loose pages. Among the notes from the preservationists were descriptions such as, “The full cloth binding had no spine,” the “support leaves were dirty, discolored, and acidic,” and the “photographs were cockled and beginning to detach from the leaves.” In order to remedy some of the problems, the tears “were mended where necessary with Japanese kozo paper and wheat starch paste,” and the “support pages and scraps were dry cleaned where necessary.” The volumes were also microfilmed and each page was sealed with a plastic laminate, ensuring their preservation for viewing by future generations.
• For journalism historians, the articles feature publications such as the New York Journal and American, New York Mirror, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, and The Sporting News. They also document the work of prominent sports journalists of the era, including Bob Considine, Dan Daniel, John Kieran, Sid Mercer, Westbrook Pegler, Jimmy Powers, Rud Rennie, Grantland Rice, and J.G. Taylor Spink.
• For fans of Lou Gehrig, even avid ones, there are numerous unique tidbits contained in the articles. For example, in a New York Daily News article dated May 3, 1939, columnist Jimmy Powers wrote, “…Lou is only 35. He is rich. He is blessed with a beautiful wife. His reflexes have slowed a trifle. He cannot get the jump on ground balls. And his eyes don’t focus curves or fast ones as well as they used to. But otherwise he is all right. As the fortunes of men go, Lou is one of the luckiest men in the world.” The last line echoed the exact sentiment of Gehrig’s farewell speech, given two months later.
• For those wishing to further explore the nature of the relationship between Lou and Eleanor, the selection and placement of the articles and photos reflect their lives as seen through Eleanor’s eyes.
• The last article on the last page of the scrapbooks is a short clipping from the New York Times dated April 22, 1943, which reported, “The scrapbook of the great Yankee first baseman, used in preparing the film ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ has been presented to the museum by [film producer] Samuel Goldwyn. It is a duplicate of that which Mrs. Gehrig kept during the career of her famous husband.”
Jon Arakaki is an assistant professor of mass communication at SUNY Oneonta