Polo, Tennis, Cowboys, and the Folks Next Door

In one online writing class, my instructor and my virtual classmates were skeptical of the 1890s sport I described in my novel-in-progress.  In a class such as this, you don’t have the privilege of meeting the other people.  This instructor lives in New York and the other writers lived in various parts of the country.  I had posted sections of a novel I was writing, and some who read it wrote that cowboys could not possibly have played polo.

We picture polo as a sport played only by the wealthy, and on manicured fields.  Around 1900, polo was popular with cowboys.  Remember, they were good horsemen.  In a historic “saddle-up barn” in Wyoming, polo mallets still hang on the wall.  Around this time, people did not let the absence of courts deter them from fun and exercise.

I have a replica of an 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. mail-order “Catalogue,” published much later by Dover, which reprints all sorts of fun publications from that era.  From this 1895 catalog, people could order croquet sets, all sorts of baseball equipment, and everything to play “lawn tennis,” whether or not you had a lawn.  On farms and ranches, people simply took sporting equipment outside.

This catalog offered lawn tennis nets and poles, balls singly or by the dozen, and “lawn tennis bats,” which the catalog points out that the name for the bats is “racquets.” The handles and frames were of wood, usually white ash, not metal like today.  I remember when tennis rackets were made of wood.  Rackets for children started at seventy-five cents.  Full-size ones ranged greatly in quality and price, from$1.75 to $6.90.

Marking the boundaries was trickier.  One set for this included boundary marking tape, pins, staples and webbing.  I think I would get the set with iron markers, painted white, “with pins for fastening in ground.”  It sounds like your eye connects the dots using these markers and there are special markers for the corners.

Ah, the good old days.  No TV, outdoor fun and a pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade.  One of the down sides, though — in the catalog, the 1895 editors wrote the page filler, “Lawn tennis is a game for everybody.  The best athletes find it requires all their energy, and yet the weakest girl can play the game.”  Another down side — the pounds of clothes the women wore.

Makes me want to play a game outdoors.  At your next outdoor gathering when the weather is warm enough, consider croquet or bocce, or badminton for the fitter folks.  Don’t forget the lemonade.

Hotel del Coronado, Part 5 — Ghost Sightings Compiled by the Hotel

The book Beautiful Stranger‘s Chapter 9 is a delicious read.  Guests have reported all sorts of strange occcurences and apparitions wearing old-fashioned clothes.  Two rooms have been studied by paranormal researchers and their instruments, and designated one a “classic haunting.”

I have a Master of Science degree in Geological Sciences, which has taught me to be open-minded where the natural world is concerned.  I’m a Christian, but I don’t know what to make of these sightings at The Del.  Chapter 9 is pretty darn convincing. Here’s one of my favorites:

A doorman and a female concierge showed off Kate Morgan’s room, a “haunted room” to two young guests.  No guests were staying in the room, and it had been cleaned by the maids.  When the doorman and concierge unlocked the door, they found the room as tidy as it should be except a woman had lain on the bed and left the impression of her body on the bedspread.  The doorman tried to straighten the bedspread, but it did not smooth out — the imprint of the woman’s body stayed exactly the same.  She lay there.  The concierge and youngsters screamed and fled.  Once they were out, the young guests were “intrigued.”

Yeah, pretty cool.

The Hotel del Coronado, Part 4 — The Victorian Ghost-in-Residence

Mid-Winter, Coronado Beach by Louis Betts (1907)

On my first trip to the Del, I was browsing the Victorian Gift Shop, which, I might add, is right up my alley, when a man entered.

“So, have you seen the ghost of Kate Morgan?” He asked the clerk.

“Oh, yes.” The woman seemed dead serious.

Intrigued, I purchased Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Del Coronado. On the cover, it says “The official account of Kate Morgan’s 1892 visit and why she haunts The Del today.”

Over the years, there have been so many “sightings” that the hotel figured it had nothing to lose by publishing what is known of this young woman’s visit and tragic death, and the paranormal phenomena guests and employees have reported.

Kate Morgan had lost contact with her husband. He was a professional gambler, and last she heard, he plied his trade on railway cars. Kate worked as a domestic in Los Angeles when she took the train south and checked into the Hotel del Coronado alone. That in itself was unusual, but her behavior was strange.

She seemed be ill and  said it was terminal. She claimed that her brother, a doctor, would come.  She was not interested in a local doctor,  only in the man she inquired about at the front desk at least once a day for four or five days.

She took a train to San Diego, bought a gun, and  a hotel employee found her body outside early in the morning.   She was twenty-four.

A corner’s inquest was held almost immediately. Newspapers across the country speculated about the young woman, who had checked into the hotel using a false name. Although she had claimed to be expecting her physician brother, it turned out she had no brother. Who was the man she anxiously awaited, and did she end her life because he did not come to her?  perhaps it was her no-good husband or a lover. Had he cast her aside? Had he left her in a family way?

The San Diego Union reported that a hotel guest saw Kate Morgan on the train from Los Angeles to San Diego, accompanied by a well-dressed gentleman, and the two of them had a bitter quarrel, right on the train, which ended with Kate asking for forgiveness and her companion getting off the train without her. This witness saw her again at the hotel, and he was sure it was her. Trouble was, this man said Kate was on his train from Denver to San Diego. Funny that he spoke to a newspaper but not to the authorities.  He may have been entirely made up by the reporter.

The hotel’s heritage department compiled recent sightings in the book Beautiful Stranger, and some of them are in Kate Morgan’s room, and others seem to have no connection. Quite a few have occurred in a different room.

I regret I did not ask the gift shop clerk what she had seen to make her feel that the ghost of Kate Morgan was in her presence. The book describes incidents in the stores — the clerks witnessed books “jumping” or flying off of shelves, and the stories were corroborated by the store’s customers.

The Hotel del Coronado — Part Three

This is not Coronado Beach, on Coronado Island, off of San Diego, California, but this structure is similar to the cabinette my husband and I rented there. I could not write a series about this 120-year-old resort without telling you how wonderful it is in the present.

At the Del, a cabinette is two wooden lounge chairs joined together with a canopy that you pull up if you want shade.  The young people lucky enough to get summer jobs at this wide, wonderful beach brought bottles of water to our cabinette, as well as a bowl of fruit.  All included in the price.

Read a good book, doze, read, swim.

I don’t know how it can be legal, but just across the path, at the edge of the hotel, there is a walk-up bar where you can get wine, beer, or cocktails to go and bring them to your beach chair or cabinette.  Some people had cardboard boxes that held four cocktails per box.

Read, sip, doze.

The Del is presently the largest wooden structure in the United States.  Although it was built in 1888, it was powered by electricity from the beginning.  Other Victorian hotels were lit by gaslight, and the open flames caused fires and destruction.

Although a few days at this beach resort is wonderful, some guests in the early twentieth century stayed for such long periods — they received a substantial discount off the nightly and weekly rates — that the Del opened a school for the children.

With the next post, I will begin the astonishing events of the past and present.

The Hotel del Coronado — Part Two

Pickford, Chaplin, Gable and Katharine Hepburn, as well as movie stars of the present, have been guests at the Hotel del Coronado.  Eleven U.S. presidents have slept here.  Charles Lindbergh was feted at a 1927 banquet for his solo crossing of the Atlantic in “The Spirit of St. Louis,” and a replica of his plane circled above the guests in the dining room.

Clicking this link will open a new window with a website showing a lovely impressionist painting created by artist Louis Betts about 1907. It is of Coronado Beach, and Betts probably painted it while he was outside.  The top of the page has a detail of the painting. Below that is a blank area above a row of small photos (called thumbnails). Click on the thumbnail of this painting, the one on the far lef,t to see the entire painting.

I can almost feel the warmth of the sand. The lady in the white dress carries a yellow umbrella, and the top of it is lit by the sun. The umbrella shades her upper body, and she herself casts a shadow on the sand.

With all the sunshine and bathers enjoying the ocean, I wondered why the painting is called “Mid-Winter, Coronado Beach.” I’ve been to Coronado Beach in summer, which I will write about in a few days, and this looks like summertime to me. This afternoon, it’s 75 degrees in Coronado and the water is 69 degrees. (Yes, the water is this cool off of San Diego, the southernmost city on the west coast of the continental U.S.  That’s because the surface current along the Pacific coast comes from Alaska. Along the east coast of the U.S., the current comes from the Gulf of Mexico, so beach water is warmer on that coast.)

But mid-winter in Coronado? Isn’t the water chilly? The water then averages 59 degrees, but this painting was an advertisement for the Southern Pacific Railway.

This painting will be on display only until September 20, and then it will go into storage. The exhibit is called “Paradise Found.” I will try to see it. Art is worth the drive, and I could use a little paradise.  I’ll bet you could, too.  This is what art is for.

Hotel del Coronado — Part Three will describe the beach in the present, and then I will move on to the amazing events at the hotel, as I promised in Part One.  If you haven’t read Part One, the previous post, take a look at it and view a scene from the #1 comedy of all time.

The Hotel Del Coronado : A Beauty at the Beach – Part One

Image credit: coleong / 123RF Stock Photo

Let’s cool off. What better place than Coronado Island off San Diego, California? I had heard of a grand Victorian beach hotel a couple hours from my home, but when I saw Coronado Beach on a list of the top ten beaches in the United States, I had to go. Later this month, I’ll describe the past and present at the hotel – afternoons at the beach, famous visitors and astonishing events.  Yes, astonishing. I promise.

I’m excited to introduce this resort with a delightful video clip of a famous comedy filmed at the Del. The American Film Institute, based on input from many industry experts, ranked “Some Like It Hot” the number-one comedy of the first 100 years of American cinema.
“Some Like It Hot” stars Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Billy Wilder co-wrote, produced, and directed. Filmed in 1959, it takes place during Prohibition, when speakeasy musicians played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. In order to flee Chicago gangsters, they must disguise themselves as female musicians. They join an all-girls band heading to a resort that is supposedly in Florida.

The clip shows the lovely Hotel del Coronado, where both Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe catch the eyes of millionaires. One of them, Osgood Fielding III, played by Joe E. Brown, flirts with Jack Lemmon.  It’s priceless.

Olympic Medals for the Arts

In the first half of the 20th century, the Olympics awarded medals for artworks. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896, pushed for “muscle and mind” to be honored. Medals were presented to artists from 1912 to 1948.

Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded for music, sculpture, literature, architecture, and two categories of painting, oil painting and watercolor. No, they did not paint in front of a crowd or the judges.

In the first year of the arts competition, American Walter Winans won a medal in sculpture and another in shooting. A true artist-athlete.

You can read more about this in the book The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions by Richard Stanton.

You can also read about a gold-medal winner and the poignant path his life, his art, and his medal took after his victory. “When aesthetes competed at the Olympics” was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 25, 2008.