Shortly after Harry Wright’s death in the fall of 1895, baseball league ‘magnates’ set up a committee to arrange a day in the spring of 1896 to be called “Harry Wright Day.”
On that designated afternoon of April 13, 1896, exhibition and old-timers games would be played around the country with revenues going toward building a monument to be erected above the grave of the deceased veteran.
When the idea was first brought up, it was believed that the monument would be erected with money contributed directly by the league magnates, but that plan never materialized.
The selected date was not well received, though.
It was criticized because it was thought that the weather and scheduling conflicts would curtail attendance. Newspapers worried how upsetting it would be if the plans for Harry’s day were not successful.
The Eastern League decided to go with April 25 for their own ‘Harry Wright Day’.
Journalist O.P. Caylor and Fred Stearns, the former owner of the Detroit Base Ball Club, were some of the most ardent critics of the plan.
When all was said and done, Caylor began shooting through his newspaper column.
From the May 4, 1896 ‘Caylor’s Ball Gossip’ column:
Harry Wright Day and the Public’s Fleeting Flavors.
Harry Wright day cannot be called a success. The result, however, was not a surprise to those who gave the plan conservative thought. The idea was a good one, but it was badly carried out. The committee on arrangements blundered, first, by naming the day too close to the championship opening, and, secondly, by not requiring National league teams to play against each other. It would have been better if the League itself had taken money out of its treasury and erected a suitable monument over the dead man’s grave.
The game would then have been saved from the humiliation of a partial failure of the public to respond to the call for contributions.
That New York should not have 1.000 people willing to contribute to the good cause shows a lack of sentiment. But what shall we say of Cincinnati, where the dead beneficiary made the city’s name celebrated wherever baseball has been played.
- Cincinnati with extraordinary attraction drawing less than 2.000 people to its ground on that day, with ideal weather!
Even Philadelphia. where Harry spent ten years of his life building up its great team, did nothing in honor of his memory commensurate with his life work.
I presume this is only one more proof of the lasting quality of Rip Van Winkle’s philosophy, “How soon we are forgotten when we’re gone!” It applies more emphatically to baseball than to any other profession. The names of Kelly, Ferguson, Williamson, Flint, Whitney, Pike and O’Brien, which only a few years ago were on the lips of multitudes of enthusiasts, are now scarcely ever spoken. It is only when heroes die that their memories remain green.
Fred Stearns a couple of weeks later:
So the league had Harry Wright day to raise a fund to put a big stone over his grave. Well, the league would be doing a more worthy deed if it looked after Harry Wright’s family, instead of buying monument. Harry Wright’s 16-year-old boy, I understand, has just gone to work, and he ought to be going to school. The league’s philanthropy is misdirected. What good will a monument do Harry Wright? Why didn’t the league think of doing something for him when its wealthy men were kicking him from pillar to post two years ago?
And Caylor one more time:
That Harry Wright day plan, as I predicted, was a failure. Over 30 games played for the fund did not net quite $3,000. What a shameful page that will make in Baseball history! If the National league wishes to discharge its debt to the dead Nestor of the game, its 12 clubs will by donation double the pitiful sum realized front Harry Wright day games and provide a monument…
The Memorial committee met and on January of 1897, they commissioned Edmond Thomas Quinn to sculpture and cast a bronze statute of Old Harry ‘standing in citizen’s dress, with glasses in one hand and hat in the other.’ The monument was to be completed on or about May 15 of that year.
Initially, the Association had hoped that the monument would be set in a place like Fairmount Park. Public pressure and newspaper editorials exerted whatever influence they could mobilize to lobby the Philadelphia Park Commission, but their efforts were in vain, and the Association decided to erect the monument over Harry Wright’s grave in the West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
The monument was finally unveiled in the Cemetery on the June 20 and in the presence of a large crowd of persons, and even though it was expected that the National League would be represented at the unveiling by a number of the officials of the various clubs, only Reach and Col. Rogers of the Philadelphia Club were present.
The ceremonies were simple and brief. Mr. P. Reinhalter, the contractor, and Mr. Edmond Quinn, the sculptor, turned over the monument to the Harry Wright Memorial Association.
The 6 feet 6 inches in height statue was mounted on a 7 feet 6 inches high pedestal of Barre granite, making the full height of the memorial, 14 feet.
Can’t help wondering what would O.P. Caylor’s Ball Gossip column would have said about the monument after it was unveiled.
Oliver Perry Caylor had developed tubercular tumors in his throat and moved to Winona, Minnesota for treatment and recuperation after living in considerable pain and discomfort during that year. He died just 4 months after the monument unveiling on October 19, 1897.
When the Henry Chadwick monument was unveiled in Green-Wood cemetery in 1909, among the thirty or so persons present at the ceremony, was O.P. Caylor’s daughter. She performed the unveiling.