I guess the recent Ghost Signs got me thinking about the way things used to be in an earlier age. My memory circled back to a time when professional baseball didn’t exist in Washington, DC and we used to travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. This happened a lot when I was a kid, long before the Orioles occupied the beautiful, iconic Camden Yards that so many other ball clubs copied. The Orioles took the field on a much less beautiful and nowhere nearly as iconic Memorial Stadium before that. I even think we saw the Baltimore Colts play (American) football a couple times there too. The Colts left Baltimore in 1983 just to show how far back my mind wandered. What happened to Memorial Stadium after its replacement, I wondered.
Memorial Stadium; Baltimore, Maryland, USA
I drilled into a satellite image and discovered that the old stadium still existed. Well, not really. The city tore it down in 2001. However many fragments remained, spread throughout Baltimore. Its basic shape also remained. A new residential neighborhood occupied much of the land originally part of the Memorial Stadium property. It included a ring-road that approximated the circumference of the stadium itself. Inside that asphalt oval, an open field covered the spot where professional sports teams once played. It offered configurations for baseball, football and soccer.
That made me consider other stadiums wiped from the earth. In many cases new stadiums simply covered the exact footprint occupied by their predecessors. In other instances not a single sign remained at all. However, I enjoyed the ones like Baltimore the most, where people kept their memories alive. Those stadiums continued to exist in an odd ethereal way. The roar of the crowd now silenced, the crack of the bat or the kick of the ball no longer felt, but the stories remained in the landscape.
Some quick searching found several more examples.
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium hosted both the Atlanta Braves of baseball and the Atlanta Falcons of (American) football at various times before a controlled implosion finally took it down in 1997. The brand-new Turner Field rose on an adjacent parcel, and the spot once occupied by Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium became part of its parking lots. The old footprint occupied a large section of the Green Lot (it looked awesome on satellite view). Even more of a bonus, the spot where Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th Home Run continued to be commemorated. Aaron accomplished that feat in 1974, surpassing the lifetime record of Babe Ruth, when Aaron hit a ball over an outfield fence and into the Braves’ bullpen. The memorial in the parking lot replicated the fence and the bullpen at the exact spot where it happened.
I realized that marker made little sense to much of 12MC’s international audience. Just understand that a really great sporting event happened there and its preservation was a nice touch.
The New York Yankees baseball team played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx from 1923 until 2008 (map). The team left for a new Yankee Stadium on an adjacent lot. Then the city demolished the old stadium and created Heritage Field on the same footprint. As the New York Times described it,
… nearly every inch, from the pavement stones underfoot to the three natural grass ball fields, has been elaborately designed to pay homage to the Yankees and their celebrated former home. Even the sod is the same that the Yankees, professional baseball’s biggest spender, chose for their new stadium… Even the old diamond and outfield have been saved, delineated with five-foot-wide swaths of blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod by a Desso Grassmaster machine that had to be shipped over from the Netherlands.
Now amateur and high school baseball clubs from all over the city stand where some of the greatest professionals once played.
Milwaukee County Stadium; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Combine the idea of a parking lot and a small ball field on an original footprint, and that became the fate of Milwaukee County Stadium. Miller Park replaced it in 2000 on an adjacent parcel. Although large surface parking lots grew completely around Miller Park, the former spot of Milwaukee County Stadium became a baseball field. It took the name Helfaer Field with room for 500 spectators in its bleacher seats. People can rent it for "softball, youth baseball, kickball, tailgates, meetings and much more." It looked pretty good on Satellite view sitting there, surrounded by parking lots.
The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota played (American) football at Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis from 1924 to 1981. The stadium became totally obliterated. An alumni center filled its former spot (map). However one vital feature remained, its entry arch, inside of the alumni center. People could still walk through the old entryway, although its passage no longer led to a gridiron. Instead it opened into a large room called the Heritage Gallery, "a multimedia museum … [that] honors the accomplishments of University of Minnesota alumni, faculty, students and staff."
Waverley Park; Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia
I found faded stadium footprints outside of the United States too. A prime example existed in Australia. Waverley Park in Mulgrave, Victoria once hosted up to seventy thousand Australian rules football fans. Concentric ring roads circled the demolished stadium, part of a masterplanned community, with a grassy centerpiece remaining at the spot of the original stadium now serving as a practice facility,
Today, as Hawthorn football players train on the oval, the sound of boots striking balls evokes memories of a sporting past. For some, the ‘Hawks’ are simply part of the scenery, for others they bring new meaning to ‘backyard footy’, with star players running junior clinics for tomorrow’s footy legends. Residents of Oval Front Homes have box seats, cheering on from their balconies during practice matches and training.
The original stadium no longer existed although a grandstand at one end still held room for a couple of thousand spectators.
I found a particularly early example in Scotland, a football (soccer) stadium called Cathkin Park in Glasgow. Professional football there dated back to 1884 when the Queen’s Park club called it home. Third Lanark took over in 1903 and remained there for more than sixty years until the team folded.
Sadly there are no fond memories for Third Lanark fans of that era. They were shattered to witness the Cathkin gates being closed for the final time on 30th June 1967.
Much of the stadium was removed as it fell into disrepair (map). However, terraces ringing three sides of the stadium remained in place, as did the old field. The area became a public park and a home field to various amateur and student teams.
While looking at a map recently I noticed two curious towns in Wisconsin. Their names seemed perfectly fine and normal, Poplar and Maple. Their proximity seemed more than a little coincidental. I never found an explanation for collocated tree towns and the pattern didn’t extend to other settlements in Douglas County. Nonetheless, I felt a connection so I took a closer look. Eventually I realized that I drove through both of them on a trip to northern Wisconsin several years ago. My path took me from the Apostle Islands to Duluth, Minnesota. However, the names never dawned on me for some odd reason as I crossed through them in-person.
More people lived in Poplar (map) than Maple, about 600, even if little happened there during its long history. Even so, the village hoped to celebrate its centennial in 2017 assuming it could form a committee to handle the details. Hopefully people will step up and help recognize the hundred years since its founding. I also enjoyed the interactive cemetery map. It was really well done. Seriously. You should check it out. Yellow rectangles marked veterans’ graves and blue ones marked everyone else.
The website also featured a Lockheed P-38 Lightning airplane on its banner. Those fighters last saw combat during World War II. I’ve always loved the shape of those planes. They’re a bit difficult to describe so…
I wondered if an airplane museum might also exist in Poplar. No, unfortunately one did not. However, the website did memorialize the most famous person ever to come from Poplar, a WW2 pilot named Richard Bong. He shot down 40 Japanese aircraft during the war, becoming the recognized "Ace of Aces" while earning a Medal of Honor. I know this shouldn’t amuse me and I don’t want to take away from this great hero’s accomplishments, but a local historical marker did list him as Major Dick Bong. My apologies in advance for the Beavis and Butthead humor.
Sadly, Bong died in 1945 while serving as a test pilot.
Two Maples existed in Douglas, a township and an unincorporated community (map) within the township. The larger area included several hundred residents and also provided an informational website for its residents. The top item on its Frequently Asked Questions page involved reservations for its baseball field. It must be nice to live in a place where the residents’ biggest concern focused on recreational sports.
If I were to guess, I’d say that the maples in Maple must have been sugar maples. They grew all throughout Wisconsin natively. I couldn’t find any places in Maple selling maple syrup although I bet they’re there if I looked close enough. My wife’s family elsewhere in Wisconsin, knows people who make their own maple syrup so it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Then I looked a little closer and spotted another community called Blueberry.
Blueberries. My Own Photo
Of course, Blueberries don’t involve trees, they grow on bushes. I saw that in person when I went up to Maine a few years ago. Nonetheless it was a plant and maybe close enough to keep the naming convention going? Three adjacent communities, three plants?
Several Blueberries fell within the same area, the Blueberry community, a Blueberry Creek and the Blueberry Swamp Natural Area (map).
A few weeks ago I wrote about Triangle, a name on a road sign that I pondered as I sat stuck in traffic on a drive back from Richmond, Virginia. I also noticed another exit on this fateful trip as I slogged through miles of gridlock. The sign said Ladysmith and my mind began to wander. I figured it didn’t refer literally to a Smith by its occupation, i.e., a skilled metal worker. However, who was this lady Smith and why did she deserve a place name?
I passed Ladysmith about halfway between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The community sat just west of Interstate 95, at the intersection of Ladysmith Road and Jefferson Davis Highway (map). I didn’t bother to stop. My trip had been delayed long enough already.
The answer had to await until I got home. It required more searching than I expected although I finally found something in the Fredericksburg Star, "From Ladysmith to Ladysmith." The article recounted how Ladysmith in Virginia reached out to Ladysmith in Wisconsin in the aftermath of a tornado a few years ago. It also discussed the unusual name.
…Clara Smith, the daughter of Sally Collins Smith and Civil War Capt. C.T. Smith, named the community. Her father donated land for one of the Caroline’s first public schools in the hope that the town would grow up around it. Clara Smith most likely named the town after her mother, although the daughter is the more celebrated of the two ladies Smith in Caroline.
That solved the mystery. It also opened a new door to a different Ladysmith in Wisconsin.
The details actually came easier in Wisconsin. Ladysmith became the seat of government for Rusk County so historians wrote about it. The whole thing involved someone trying to curry favor for a business transaction. The town began in 1885 at the intersection of two railway lines on the Flambeau River. The owner of a local logging company, Robert Corbett named the town after himself. It became Corbett. Then it became Warner because of a railroad station located there.
James Gates, a local land speculator, wanted to make a tidy profit. He knew that Charles Robinson Smith of Menasha Wooden Ware considered opening a manufacturing plant in Warner. If that happened then people would move to the area and buy Gate’s land. Gates probably wanted to hasten that along so he suggested a new name for the town, Ladysmith (map). This honored Charles Smith’s recent bride, Isabel Bacon Rogers Smith.
This lady Smith was an interesting character. Her first marriage ended in divorce and she secretly married Charles Smith before announcing it publicly. She seemed to be quite the socialite, living in high society and frequenting the theater. Smith died a few years later, leaving Isabel with a fortune so she moved into a fancy Park Avenue apartment in New York City. There she met and married Orrin Johnson, a Broadway star and silent movie actor. Eventually she returned to Wisconsin along with her third husband after his acting career faded.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Interestingly, an alternate theory emerged independently in Virginia and Wisconsin. A few sites I consulted listed the town of Ladysmith in South Africa as the source of their names (map). It was much in the news at the turn of the last century. British forces broke a Boer siege of Ladysmith in 1900. This explanation didn’t seem as compelling as the actual ladies Smith that lived in Virginia and Wisconsin so I doubted it. However, I followed the trail to KwaZulu-Natal anyway.
The lady Smith in question went by a rather elaborate name, Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith. She grew up as Spanish nobility, later orphaned as a result of the Peninsula War. The British army sacked her home town during the Siege of Badajoz and one of the British officers helped protect her. Then he married her. The officer rose in ranks over the years, becoming a Brigadier-General and a knight, Sir Harry Smith. Later he became the Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Lady Smith followed along faithfully on his military adventures and the town name honored her devotion.
This Ladysmith might be remembered in modern times less for the Second Boer War than for the musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They formed in 1960 and received worldwide acclaim when singer Paul Simon partnered with them in the 1980’s. The name came from:
…the hometown of Shabalala’s family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means "axe" in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir’s ability to "chop down" the competition.
Lady Smith might have been surprised to see the relevancy of her name a century later.
It didn’t stop there, however. Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, British Columbia actually did name itself after the siege and battle in South Africa.
Ladysmith was an "instant town", founded by coal baron James Dunsmuir. Oyster Harbour, as the area was previously called, became the shipping port for Dunsmuir’s coal mine at Extension, about 12 km to the north. The townsite was planned in 1899 as a tidy grid pattern facing the bay. Streets were named after British Officers of the Boer War, victorious in recapturing the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, in the year 1900.
The streets retain those names today: Symons; French; Buller; Baden Powell; Methuen, and so on (map).