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Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
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August 17, 2022 3:00 am

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 17, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, George Armstrong Custer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, T.J. Stiles, casts surprising new light on one of the best-known figures of American history, a subject of seemingly endless fascination. Perhaps no name looms bigger in sports history, or American culture, than Babe Ruth. Here’s Mike Gibbons, Director Emeritus and Curator of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum to tell us why.

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Time Codes:

00:00 - Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

35:00 - Legendary Man Known as "Babe"

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories and we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours.

Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. T.J. Stiles was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer for History for his biography on Cornelius Vanderbilt, a story featured here on Our American Stories. In his biography on George Armstrong Custer, Stiles casts surprisingly new light on one of the best known figures of American history, a subject of seemingly endless fascination.

Here's T.J. Stiles with the story of George Custer. Now Custer is one of the most controversial figures in American history. People love him and they hate him.

These days they tend to hate him more than love him. He was in fact notorious as well as a celebrity during his own lifetime. But whether you love Custer or hate him or have no particular opinion, we all envision him in a particular way, usually alone on a hilltop surrounded by his dead soldiers as Cheyenne and Lakota warriors circle around him as he fires off his last bullet and is slaughtered along with more than 200 of his troops. This Custer is the one that lives in our imagination. He's a man of the West. He's a man who's eternally fighting Native Americans.

He's someone who we can't really imagine anywhere else. Custer is one of the most researched people in American history, and I respect that research. I tried to put together a picture of Custer's life and his significance and his meaning for Americans at the time before he got to the Little Bighorn, before that enormous sun rises over his life and blinds us to everything that came before that stunning death of his, which was indeed significant. Why was it that Custer was a celebrity before he got there? Why was it that he was notorious before he got there?

What was the meaning that Americans saw in him before he took on the meanings that we put upon him? This was the mission that I set for myself in writing this biography of Custer. There's another aspect to Custer as well, one that's a little bit more familiar. That's Custer as the army officer.

Now, many of these are very well known. He was a young boy from a poor background in Ohio who went off to West Point. Very lucky he got an appointment to West Point. There, as one of his classmates said, when he realized he could not lead the class academically, he decided to support it by providing a solid base. He graduated last in his class, but first in demerits. And what does that mean?

Again, this is something I have to do. I have to try to understand the human meaning, the interior state that's reflected in the outer actions. All those demerits are a reflection of his acting out, of his performing for an audience, and that audience are his fellow cadets. Trying to project an image of himself. And this is an important fact about Custer, something we have to understand about him but also see past, which is the fact that he was always telling stories about himself. He was telling stories to an audience and he was also telling those stories to himself. That this ego, this grand performative nature, his elaborate costume he wore into battle, the costumes he adopted when he went West, when he wore buckskin instead of a black velvet uniform as he had during the war. This is telling a story to the public and it's also creating one for himself. That he's not that obscure boy, that no one from nowhere. That in fact he's someone who is great, who is performing on a historical stage. A man who is an antebellum romantic hero. That's the story he's telling.

And he's still performing for that audience. And just days after graduating, he's the commander of the guard for the army encampment, the training encampment for the cadets as they do their military training in the summer. And an upperclassman starts a fistfight with an underclassman, a plebe. And Custer's in charge, he's captain of the guard, he's supposed to arrest them. An army can't function with the soldiers fist fighting with each other at will. And instead he says, stand back boys, let them have a fair fight. Well, you know, nowadays that would be handled administratively, but this was something that he was court-martialed for, convicted. But Custer's luck came in, something that saved him again and again.

The Civil War had broken out. He's terribly fearful that he'll miss the entire thing. And so he pleads for mercy, admits his guilt, pleads for mercy, and they take pity on him. They convict him, the court-martial convicts him, but they let him go off to war. There he finds a new audience. He's performing now for his superiors. He finds a mission.

And suddenly the miscreant of West Point begins to perform extremely well. And there's something charming about him, something that's very hard to capture in the documents. He's got charisma and his superiors are susceptible to it. So during the Peninsula campaign, he's actually plucked from obscurity when he performs very well, taking part in a raid on a Confederate position that comes to the attention of General McClellan, puts him on his staff. Then now Custer is performing for General McClellan.

He performs very well. And interestingly, he worships McClellan, a notoriously conservative general, both politically and in military operations. Custer worships this man who's so accomplished and so esteemed, even though his own personality is so different. He's volunteering to go off on raids. He wants to win in a way that McClellan doesn't. And that's what actually saves him when McClellan falls, the fact that he's a committed soldier who wants to win. But the other thing that saves him is not just his merit.

It's the fact that he's trying to find a new patron. And we have to remember the Civil War was not fought primarily by the regular army, but by an organization that was created for the duration of the war, the US Volunteers. And this is a very political army with regiments raised by the states, with the regimental officers appointed by governors. And it's very much reflects antebellum America, a world of personal connections where there's very few large institutions. And you've been listening to T.J. Stiles and what storytelling? And my goodness, the storytelling about him at West Point, last in his class on grades, first in demerits, acting out for the cadets, acting out for himself, creating in a sense, his own version of himself that he would have to live up to.

And that is a part of the American dream. What is Gatsby all about in the end, the great Gatsby, one of the great American pieces of fiction by Fitzgerald. When we come back, more of this remarkable self-creation, a story of a man we all know, but don't. The story of George Custer continues with T.J. Stiles here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation, culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. And we continue here with Our American Stories and with T.J. Stiles, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner for history. On his biography on Cornelius Vanderbilt, please, by all means, go to Our American Stories and take a listen.

It's a terrific piece of storytelling. Let's get back to T.J. and the story of George Custer. Lincoln himself was a self-taught lawyer. Well, you know, before the end of the 19th century, it's unimaginable to think of a self-taught lawyer representing the largest corporations in America, as Lincoln had. And this is the world, though, that Custer came out of. So he's in the Army, one of the first great institutions of the upcoming America, the Organizational Society. But he's operating very much as a man of the past, looking for those personal patrons. Still current. It's not past yet.

But this is the world that is not looking to the future, but rather one that reflects an older America. And he finds a new patron. Patron becomes the commander of the Cavalry Corps, the Army of the Potomac. And when Lee invades the North, General Pleasanton, who picks Custer for his staff, it's a chance to appoint new brigade commanders. And he takes this 23-year-old lieutenant who graduated last in his class and makes him a brigadier general.

And what happens? Custer performs exceptionally well. He goes straight, practically straight to the Battle of Gettysburg. His men see him in this black velvet uniform with gold braid winding from cuff to elbow.

And they think he's kind of ridiculous. I'd like to point out there were other generals who dressed like that. They were all southern generals. And Custer himself is a product of actually border state culture. He had a Maryland-born father.

He's from southern Ohio. He has very much southern affinities. And, you know, this is kind of the antebellum idea of chivalry, a kind of more southern idea of culture. Again, reflecting an older America, a more romantic ideal. And that's the ideal that Custer represents.

But an interesting thing about that is that it served a practical purpose. And when we see Custer's affectations, it's very easy to dismiss him as merely an egoist, someone who was full of vanity and simply wanted everyone to look at him. But on the battlefield of the Civil War, a brigadier general is in the mix. And by drawing attention to himself, he's both inspiring his men, he's both giving them a rallying point.

They know where their commander is, and he helps to orient his men, especially when he leads them forward. And it's also a declaration about his own confidence in himself as a fighter, a declaration of confidence in himself in his own personal courage. And this is something that we have to remember when we see that grand performance that Custer puts on, that when it comes to battle, there's real substance there. This is a man who actually fought very well. And he wasn't really lucky. He wasn't merely impetuous.

He actually was a real professional. And in all of the chaos of Custer's life, this is where we see him performing with confidence, with self-assurance, and with real professionalism. That's where he's in control of himself, is in battle. The problem for him is that in the future, the battles come fewer and fewer, farther and farther apart.

But in the Civil War, they come thick and fast. And his men love him. They admire him. He may be the last American general to kill someone in a sword fight. And seeing their leader actually fighting and fighting well, not just bravely, but with personal skill, this is something that his men absolutely love. One of his soldiers says, I know I saw General Custer plunge his saber into the belly of a rebel who's trying to kill him. You can imagine how hard men fight for a general who's that brave. So this is something that can seem difficult to repugnant or ridiculous to a modern mind, but to that mind that comes out of antebellum America in a world in which the Civil War is crushing gallantry. It's crushing individual heroics under the massive firepower. Custer is in this little slice of the Civil War, cavalrymen fighting other cavalrymen, in which old-fashioned gallantry actually still serves a practical purpose, in which that romantic image actually lives on and allows him to succeed. And for that reason, he becomes extremely popular. He didn't just win battles.

He did it in a way that captures an older idea of America that people felt was slipping away. You know, at the same time that he's leading a gallant charge against a Confederate charge on horseback and fighting with a sword, at that very moment, Pickett was leading the mass Confederate infantry attack on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. And what happened? Massed rifle fire and mass artillery fire wiped them out. They died by the thousands.

And they went forward with all the traditional martial values, those traditional virtues neatly lined up with their flags in front of them, and they were crushed. Individual heroics are being wiped out. So the Civil War gives rise to Ambrose Bierce, one of the darkest American writers, who came out of the infantry fighting of the Civil War convinced that death comes from everyone at random, sometimes playing cruel, practical jokes on human beings. You have Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose idealism bled out of him through the bullet hole through his neck at Antietam, who comes out and becomes one of the great realists of American law. You have people who didn't fight, like Mark Twain and Henry Adams, who have a much darker, more ironic sensibility. Or Henry Adams's brother, who's a now forgotten, but at the time, very important 19th century intellectual, who fought in the cavalry, and who developed a much darker and more cynical worldview as a result. But Custer is an outlier.

He's a man who actually has all of his illusions reinforced by the Civil War. And yet, by looking beyond just the battle records, we see Custer in another role, which is the institutional man, the organizational man. And the record is full of reprimands from his superiors, especially General Kilpatrick. Custer, for example, would go over the head of his division commander to appeal directly to Pleasanton, his patron. And he's getting written reprimands saying, you are supposed to go through the chain of command.

Don't go around your division commander. He loves his old friends from West Point, who are now on the other side. And he's constantly calling truces to go socialize with his old friends from West Point. And Kilpatrick is saying, you've been told before, you are not to fraternize with the enemy.

We're having a war. And this is something Custer is constantly being told not to do. And this is a theme that runs throughout his life.

His difficulty as functioning as a member of a hierarchical organization, in a sense as a member of a bureaucracy or a large institution, dealing with chains of command, dealing with the institutional requirements, being able to manage subordinates and being able to meet his duties as they're required by superiors. Now, there's much more to it than that. But that is the first point where we see it. Johnson, the Democrats are defeated.

Johnson loses his effort. And Custer goes west. He enters into his first campaign against American Indians.

And it's fascinating in many ways. One having nothing to do with Custer is the fact that he sits in on councils that are being held between General Winfield Scott Hancock, who leads this first great expedition that Custer joins on the Great Plains. And he's conferring with Kiowas and with Cheyennes and Lakotas on the Great Plains.

And they're explicitly telling him what the crisis is. Even before settlers began to move into the Great Plains and occupy lands that the High Plains nations counted as their own. Because you had the California Gold Rush, you had the great migration to Oregon, you had the Colorado Gold Rush, and you had thousands of migrants moving across the Great Plains. And Custer himself doesn't quite grasp it. His first year on the Great Plains is a disaster. And he goes off and is humiliated by the Cheyennes and Lakotas on the Great Plains. And he finally gives up the campaign and rides back to meet his wife and is court-martialed and convicted.

So you know, this is a well-known story. Custer is convicted. But something that people don't realize is that Custer was nearly court-martialed again.

He couldn't accept the fact that he'd been convicted. This is not Custer luck. This is not the way that he's used to being treated.

Rules have always been broken for him. And you've been listening to T.J. Stiles tell a remarkable story about, well, let's face it, someone we think we all know, George Custer, but don't. And I'm a history buff and I didn't know a lot of this. 23 years old, he's a brigadier general and in black velvet uniform, sort of regaling his sort of quasi-southern cultural roots. Parents from southern Ohio and Maryland, he had a bit of that border state culture in him and a bit of that rebel in him. It all served a purpose. And the fact that he's the last American general to kill an opposing soldier in a swordfight, the fact that he would be in battle rallying his guys, there was more here than just a showman. He was a warrior and a soldier. When we come back, more of the story of George Custer here on Our American Stories. And we continue with T.J. Stiles and the story of George Custer here on Our American Stories.

Let's pick up where we last left off. He's always been able to avoid the usual institutional processes. And when he's convicted, quite rightly, even though he's only suspended for a year, he can't take it. And he writes a letter to the press saying it's a trumped up prosecution and that everybody agrees that he should never have been convicted.

And so we find in the records of the National Archives, the judge advocate general writing to General Grant saying everybody believes that he should be court-martialed again. He's refusing to accept the validity of the institutional process of military justice within the army. And he's lashing out. He's brittle. He's defensive. It's that insecurity in Custer that always makes a crisis worse. And so Sheridan intervenes. He says, I know what he did is wrong. It really offends me too.

Please don't do that. I actually want him back in duty. And finally, Custer gets called back into duty to do what? To fight a battle.

A battle that's very controversial, the Ouachita and the succeeding campaign. But as far as Sheridan's concerned, Custer fights well and he fights this battle well. And that's what saves him from himself. His ability to fight. The thing that we think of him as being so bad at.

Now, Custer engages in a lot of other areas that I talk about in my book. He goes to Wall Street. He spends a total of about two years in New York after the Civil War. He loves the Cosmopolitan Center. He loves the theater. He loves literature. He loves fine art. He tries to float a silver mine that he had invested in in Colorado on Wall Street.

He has no interest in running the mine. He just wants to float the stock and sell out and make a killing. And he does a terrible job of it. So he's a celebrity. He sees the world. He's celebrated on Wall Street.

He's treated to fancy dinners. He sees the wealth that the new financial markets are creating. He wants to take part in the new corporate economy, but he doesn't grasp it.

He can't master it. And that's Custer living on this frontier in time, wanting to engage with the new world, yet very much a man of an older world that's beginning to disappear, unable to master the way the world's changing. He finds some success as a popular writer, actually.

He goes on to write articles for one of the new national magazines, and he tries to project himself as a public intellectual, writing about the Great Plains, its natural history and peoples, and then writes his memoir. But it's a very romantic style. It's very, very different from Henry Adams, who takes over the North American Review and gives orders that sound like something an editor would say today. Henry Adams says, cut out all unnecessary words, especially adjectives. It's like straight out of, you know, your creative writing 101.

Custer, meanwhile, is trying to cram in as many unnecessary words as possible. This is a man with a gambling addiction. He writes, in his official report, in responding to an inquiry, exactly what meaning is intended to apply to the word gambling, which is construed differently by different persons. Yes, I'm at a loss to understand.

If by gambling, the act of betting money or risking it on games of chance or contests of speed between horses, and if among games of chance are included that usually known as poker and similar games, my answer is that so far as my knowledge and belief extend, none of the officers of this command have an addiction to gambling except the commanding officer. It's an official report. It's sarcastic as hell. Well, you know, lucky for him, he goes off on the Yellowstone expedition of 1873. But again, going through the National Archives, not just looking at the sort of high profile events, you see that Custer is seen now as a problem officer within the institution of the army. They talk about him as someone who can't they can't get along with him. There's there's a dispute that blows up over really nothing. But people are writing about how you know, we can't work with this guy.

They don't trust anything he says. It's about whether they need more supply wagons or whatnot. But nobody believes Custer because he's such a problem officer.

In the view of the army, the institutional opinion of the army. He goes off on the Yellowstone expedition, escorting a surveying party for the Northern Pacific Railroad, one of the second wave of transcontinental railways through Lakota country. And he's got a brewing fight with his commanding officer, Colonel Stanley. And Stanley's writing about Custer's reputation, how he's living up to his reputation as a problem officer.

And there's obviously the tension between the two is brewing to a boiling point. But what happens? He has two battles with the Sioux and he actually performs very well. Something we have to remember when we get to the Little Bighorn. He's not impetuous. He reads an ambush of the kind that led to the Fetterman defeat by the Sioux during Red Clouds War. He reads it and avoids it. He keeps his men well in hand.

He's not reckless and impetuous. And suddenly Stanley is writing about how proud he is of Custer. And so once again, Custer has created a crisis for himself, unable to work within the institution of the army, unable to catch on to the changing times.

But he has a chance to fight and that's what saves him from himself. Well, he plunges himself after the Yellowstone expedition into one more great crisis. When there is a revolutionary election in 1874, the Democrats come into control of the House of Representatives and they do something which may be familiar to you. They launch a wave of investigations of the administration and they call on Custer to testify.

Now, as I point out, prosecutors or committee chairmen don't call witnesses unless they know what they're going to say. Somehow Custer has been in touch with them. And so Custer testifies about corruption in the Grant administration, which he doesn't know about personally. A high profile, regular army officer openly allying himself with the political opposition of the commander in chief, something the army would not tolerate today. Custer does it. And guess what? President Grant is a little upset about this.

And I think justifiably, actually. And so he says Custer cannot be the field commander of the Seventh Cavalry in an upcoming campaign to drive in the suit so that the government can seize control of the Black Hills. And again, Custer sees a chance to fight is escaping him and he becomes desperate and he pleads and he manages to get General Terry, his immediate superior to plead for him. And finally, reluctantly, Grant allows him to be put back in command of his troops and to go off to fight in an attempt to save himself one last time from a crisis that he's created for himself.

But that time the situation had changed. The Lakotas and Cheyennes, they are the ones I think that deserve the credit for that victory. In dismissing Custer as an arrogant fool, we can diminish the magnitude of that victory, not simply in numbers, but fighting skill and the most amazing combination of tactical leadership among the Lakotas especially. They defeat Custer. Custer lost. He made mistakes.

But they won. And Custer rode into something he couldn't luck his way out of and he couldn't fight his way out of. And Custer's luck finally ran out at the Little Big Horn. And the reason that that was such an event for Americans is not simply the scale of the defeat.

That's very true. Not simply that the cream of the American Army, such as it was, was wiped out by a bunch of pre-industrial nomads, but that it was led by this great, loved, notorious celebrity whom Americans had put so much meaning on, still as controversial as ever, and yet in that bright sunlight of the Little Big Horn, we can forget all of the great crises that ran through his life and all of the meaning he had for his fellow Americans and how much his life tells us about the way our country as it exists now came into being. And a superb job on the storytelling and production by Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to TJ Styles for remarkable storytelling on the life of George Custer. His book, Custer's Trials, A Life on the Frontier of a New America is available on Amazon and all the usual suspects.

Heck, go to a bookstore and buy it. Again, TJ Styles, Custer's Trials. What a life. Multiple court-martials and somehow his fighting ability and his connections always saved the day. Of course, until it didn't, as TJ said, until one day his luck ran out at Little Big Horn. The story of George Custer, the story of General George Custer, the side of his life that you probably didn't know. We love doing that here on this show, here on Our American Stories.

This is Our American Stories, and as you know, we tell stories about everything. Very few athletes, let alone celebrities, have achieved the legendary status that has been given to George Herbert Babe Ruth Jr. Here's Mike Gibbons, director emeritus and curator of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, to tell us just a little bit about what made the Babe a legend. Well, today I'd like to talk to you about one of my favorite topics, and that would be Babe Ruth, the guy that I've spent most of my lifetime studying and celebrating. He is arguably the most celebrated athlete ever, and certainly the greatest baseball player of all time. Now, people ask me all the time, they say, well, how can you say that? How can you say he's the greatest?

And it's an easy answer. He is the only player who starred both as a pitcher and then as a position player, not to mention being the major's all-time slugger. With a.342 batting average, when he retired in 1935, he held 206 major league pitching and batting records. His talent certainly puts him on the Mount Rushmore of sports, but his bigger-than-life personality and the timing of his move from Boston to New York in 1920, the beginning of the Roaring Twenties in America, helped make him into an American cultural icon, right up there with the likes of JFK, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe, Honest Abe Lincoln. So all these years after his death, 72 to be exact, virtually every American and countries in Latin America and Japan where they play baseball, they know the name Babe Ruth. His autograph, the most valuable and recognizable of all.

What contributes to this unprecedented celebrity? Certainly, it's his baseball accomplishments, but also something legendary, the tales, the myths, the legends that helped to mold that legendary aspect into the man. Let's start at the beginning, right here in Baltimore and how he got to the point of having the most famous nickname in all of sports. Ruth grew up on the west side of Baltimore along the waterfront, came from a modest family, blue-collar workers. They were saloon keepers, mom and dad. They were so busy trying to run the shop that at the age of seven, his father threw up his hands and said, George, we're going to be taking you to St. Mary's Industrial School. And there he stayed until he was 19 years old. So 12 years, he stayed at St. Mary's and was raised by the Zverian brothers, most notably a guy by the name of Brother Matthias. And Brother Matthias instilled in Ruth a little bit of discipline, a lot of religion, and taught him the game of baseball. Ruth went on for the rest of his life thinking that Brother Matthias was really the man that he admired more than any other. And Matthias gave him the gift of teaching him how to pitch, throw, catch, hit, all those things. Ruth excelled at St. Mary's to the extent that when he was 19 years old, he caught the attention of the Baltimore Orioles minor league owner and manager, a guy by the name of Jack Dunn.

Now here is where the nickname comes in. So Dunne goes out to St. Mary's and signs Ruth on Valentine's Day, 1914, to a contract that would pay the youngsters $600 a month. Ruth said, that's more money than I've seen in my whole life. So Dunne takes Ruth, along with his minor league Orioles, down to spring training in Fayetteville, North Carolina. And there word spreads about Dunn having to sign guardian papers to get Ruth to be a professional baseball player. St. Mary's Industrial School would not have released Ruth until he was 21 without someone else signing over for the legal guardian rights to George Jr. So off they go there and word gets out that Dunne is his legal guardian. And the players and reporters covering the team started referring to George Ruth as Jack Dunn's baby.

And this is in mid February, 1914. Within a month, the Baltimore Sun is referring in print to Ruth as Babe Ruth. And the nickname obviously stuck forever. Now the next thing I wanted to talk to you about occurred on his first stop at Major League Baseball in Boston, where he was a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. As a matter of fact, he was so good that in the five full seasons he played in Boston, he helped deliver three World Series championships to Boston and the Red Sox, and was just a burgeoning star.

His name was known nationwide by then. Babe Ruth was, everybody thought that he was the best left-handed pitcher in the game. But he got sold to the Yankees over the winter of 1919, 1920, and headed off to New York, the Yankees who had never won a championship. So he goes to New York, plays there 16 years, and in that time delivered seven World Series appearances for the Yankees.

In the meantime, the Red Sox totally dried up and over the next 86 years failed to win a World Series championship. And that became known as the curse of the Bambino, something that is still talked about to this day, especially in Boston. A lot of people know that Babe Ruth loved children maybe more than any other athlete ever, at least that we have seen. Babe went out of his way throughout his career, throughout his life, to visit children in orphanages and also hospitals. He always would be trying to bring some joy to children down on their luck or in some kind of trouble. And on one of those hospital occasions, that's where the story of little Johnny Sylvester comes from.

The year is 1926. The Yankees are playing the Cardinals for the World Series and word gets out. And this supposedly came from Johnny Sylvester's father, who was a big Yankees fans, that little Johnny is dying of a rare blood disease.

And is there anything that the Yankees could do to lift his spirits? Well, the story goes that Babe Ruth predicted he would hit a home run for Johnny in the next World Series game. So Johnny listens to his radio and Babe hits a home run and lifts Johnny's spirits.

But in fact, that day, Ruth hit three home runs. So he must have really lifted Johnny's spirits to the extent that Johnny got better and went on to live a long and productive life as a banker up in Connecticut. In 1986, 60 years after the event at the museum, we decided to celebrate the little Johnny's story. And I went looking for Johnny Sylvester. I found him and I asked him, I said, John, do you have anything to prove that Babe Ruth predicted he'd hit a home run for you? And Johnny says, not only can I prove it, I'll bring it to Baltimore and show you. And Johnny came down to Baltimore and he presented a baseball to us. And on the baseball, Babe Ruth wrote, I'll knock a homer for you in Wednesday's game. And that ball stayed on display with us for about 20 years.

It was one of our most popular artifacts. She was just a great story, but it just shows you just how incredible Babe Ruth really was. Next up is the 1927 barnstorming tour. The Yankees had defeated the Pirates four straight games in the 27 World Series and Ruth and Lou Gehrig went out and toured the country going to small towns to play baseball games. Well, this was a big deal because back in the 20s, it was rare when Americans could see their favorite athletes or movie stars or things like that.

They pretty much had to go to a movie theater to watch movie tone reels to get a glimpse at these stars. So Ruth and Gehrig take off on a six weeks tour and give their fans an experience that they would remember for the rest of their lives. It was so big when they came to town. The only thing I can liken it to in today's world is when the Beatles hit America in 1964. We had never seen anything like it back then.

This was equal to that. Ruth was the biggest thing that ever happened in America. The last thing I want to talk about is the called shot home run. This is where Babe Ruth supposedly points and then where he's going to hit a home run and on the next pitch he does.

It occurred in the 1932 World Series Game 3, October 1, 1932. Ruth is with the Yankees. They're in Chicago playing the Cubs.

They're up two games to none. And in the fifth inning of that game, Ruth comes to the plate. The Cubs had been giving him a lot of grief throughout the game, throughout the series actually, and he was pushing back. And with a two and two count, he stepped out of the box, supposedly pointed either to center field or at pitcher Charlie Root, but said to Root, I'm going to hit the next pitch down your throat. And Ruth hit the ball to center field on the next swing and the ball became the longest home run in the history of Wrigley Field. So there you are.

Just some examples. The indelibility of Ruth's celebrity and his mythic status in this country. He is an American icon.

He's an all American dream come true. The big fellow, the Bambino, the Babe. In World War II, and I'll leave you with this, the Japanese, when they charged American positions, they shouted to hell with Babe Ruth, knowing that Babe was precious to them, maybe more precious than anything else. And that's the way Babe Ruth was, bigger than life. And great job by Robbie and a special thanks to Mike Gibbons, the director emeritus and curator of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. The story of the legendary man known as Babe here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 10:55:26 / 2023-02-17 11:09:45 / 14

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