Al Lawson’s Mt. Penn Bungalow

[Between 2009 and 2011, I maintained a TypePad blog, “More Fiends,” intended to update my book Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines. Those posts can still be found in the Wayback Machine, but I stopped updating that site in 2011. Because this WordPress site promotes and updates all my books, I’d like to republish some of those earlier posts.]

Posted 2/28/2010:

On page 108 of Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines, I state that Al Lawson rented a bungalow atop Mt. Penn in Reading, PA from his his local partner in baseball ventures, businessman William A. Witman. The site was not far from the landmark Pagoda building that Witman built a few years later. A recently unearthed article from the Aug. 2, 1903 Reading Eagle describes the abode, but this new information suggests that Lawson purchased the land (and not from Witman); and, moreover built the house himself with his brother Colin.

This article presents a side to Lawson seldom evidenced elsewhere. For one thing, it shows he was still (as of 1903) close to his family. His brother Alexander came to Reading to help manage Al’s team; Colin helped build the house; and their mother and sister visited (which sister? Kate?). Another striking element to the story is Lawson’s attachment to a place–when all other evidence suggests he embraced the life of a nomad.

Angora Rd. on Mt. Penn still exists, set amid a Berks County Park. There are a few private homes there, but it is a wealthy neighborhood. Nothing as humble as Lawson’s bungalow still stands.

The misspelled “Jefferis” is, of course, Jim Jeffries, the then-current heavyweight champion of the world. Another article in the Eagle states that Al Lawson managed Jeffries during a promotional tour he made as a celebrity baseball umpire (something ex-champion John L. Sullivan had done years earlier). So Al Lawson was friends with two of boxing’s greatest champions, Jeffries and Kid McCoy. As it turned out, Jeffries did visit Lawson, but could only stay a day. He beat Corbett and remained champion until he retired in 1905. After six years of idleness, he was recruited out of retirement to serve as the Great White Hope against Jack Johnson. Jeffries embraced the role of defender of racial superiority, but was well past his prime and had to lose 100 pounds just to get in fighting shape. After losing to Johnson, Jeffries gave him due respect, which has led many to suggest that Jeffries’ racist posturing was more hype than reality, and served to help bookmakers rake in foolish wagers made based on ignorant bias. In his prime, Jeffries was a superb athlete, and some boxing experts still consider him as the greatest heavyweight ever.

“Phila. Jack O’Brien” was another Hall of Fame boxer, a light heavyweight champion. There was a baseball player named Jack O’Brien that played for Lawson on different teams of his, but the boxer and ballplayer were probably not the same person. So Al Lawson hobnobbed with boxers John L. Sullivan, Kid McCoy, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, and Jim Jeffries–the best fighters of his generation.

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