25 years ago a circus clown

Here’s an item from the photo page of the January 31 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

Billy Merson (1879-1947) was a music hall performer, songwriter, and manager of the Players Theatre in London. He wrote “The Spaniard That Blighted My Life”, which Al Jolson once performed, and which Merson himself performed in 1935 in this video.

There are a number of other Billy Merson recordings and videos on YouTube, including this one of him singing “Desdemona” in 1927.


The Catalina Kid

During the evening and night of January 15 and 16, 1927, a 17-year old Toronto boy, George Young (briefly mentioned previously in this blog here and here), became the only finisher of a 22-mile swimming race between Catalina Island and California. His feat earned him the nickname “The Catalina Kid” and made him famous.

To say that the Toronto Daily Star was following Young’s exploits with great enthusiasm would be an understatement. The January 31 1927 edition of the paper contained five articles, one photograph, and one ad referencing young Mr. Young.

First, there was an article in which William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate who sponsored the swim, asserted that nobody but Young could have done it. Mr. Wrigley claimed that the young man would soon be worth $100,000:

And there was this photograph of two of Young’s family and his trainer, on their way to join him in California:

And there was this article about a dispute between Young and his competitor and former friend, Bill Hastings:

George Young apparently had William Wrigley’s yacht at his disposal:

And there were articles written (or perhaps ghostwritten) by Young and Hastings themselves:

And, finally, there was an ad stating that Young would be making personal appearances at theatres in Toronto:

Sadly, life did not go as well for George Young as he and others would have hoped. He married another distance swimmer, Margaret Ravior, in 1932. They had a son together, but, as the January 22 1934 edition of the Daily Star recounted, he died shortly after birth:

Young and the former Ms. Ravior eventually divorced. The ups and downs of Young’s life are described in detail in this Maclean’s article from 1949. He passed away in 1972.


When baseball was young

The January 31 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained a column that appeared to be a regular feature in the paper (I’ve seen it in other editions). It was one of the earlier examples of a frequently-employed theme in baseball writing – namely, that baseball was much better back in the day than it is now.

In particular, note the complaint about modern (i.e. 1927) gloves being like “divan pillows”. (For a sample of what a 1927 glove looked like, see this photo of pitcher Walter Johnson’s glove.)

The Baseball Reference website, the definitive on-line source for baseball statistics, has an entry for the 1883 Boston Beaneaters mentioned in this article. It lists twelve players on the team, not eleven – but one only appeared in fourteen games, so he likely wasn’t with the team for the full season.

I also found information on the two players quoted:

  • John Morrill (1855-1932), nicknamed “Honest John”, served as player-manager for the 1883 team for part of the season. His career as a professional player extended from 1876 to 1890. He hit 16 triples in 97 games in 1883.
  • Joe Hornung (1857-1931) played professionally from 1879 to 1890, and was considered one of the best outfielders of the 19th century. He had a habit of shouting “ubbo ubbo” whenever he got a hit or made a good play; this became his nickname.

John B. Foster (1863-1941), the writer of the article, was a sportswriter, the secretary of the New York Giants from 1913 to 1920, and editor of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide.


The small stranger

Here’s a note that appeared in the January 1 1921 edition of the Toronto Globe, 100 years ago today.

I hope that you are safe and healthy in 2021, and that it is a better year for all of us.


May not be heard again

Here’s an article that appeared in the December 31 1920 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, one hundred years ago today. It reported sad news:

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was an operatic tenor. He was one of the first singers to be recorded, which turned him into an intenational star, performing at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, among others.

Unfortunately, his habits of smoking cigars and never exercising, along with a rigorous performing schedule, caused his health to break down. Suffering from pleurisy, he appeared to be recovering by May 1921, but allowed himself to be examined by an unhygienic doctor while recuperating in Italy, which caused a relapse. He passed away in August 1921. The Daily Star article shown here proved prophetic: he never performed again after 1920.

YouTube has a lot of Caruso’s recordings.


Christmas in 1920

The Toronto Daily Star did not publish an edition on Christmas Day one hundred years ago, so advertisers that wanted to wish their prospective customers a Merry Christmas had to do so in the December 24 1920 edition. Here’s the ones that I found:

Mayoral candidate Sam McBride placed an ad that appeared on the front page of this edition:

Despite the non-partisan tone of this message, Mr. McBride still lost the 1921 mayoral election to Tommy Church. (In those days, municipal elections happened every year on New Year’s Day.) He did eventually become mayor from 1928 to 1929 and then again in 1936, passing away while in office.

The Toronto Globe did publish an edition on Christmas Day 1920, but it didn’t contain many ads. The front page did contain a Christmas wish from the Globe:

Both papers included this ad from Eaton’s on their back cover:


‘Tis Christmas Eve

This is my third Christmas Eve posting in this blog. I’m going to post the same image that I did on the last two Christmas Eves, because I like it so much. It’s from the December 22 1928 edition of the Toronto Globe, and was part of the Circle of Young Canada page, which featured submissions from younger readers.

This Christmas, we are dealing with problems that would have seemed unimaginable a year ago. I hope that you and everyone that you care about have managed to stay safe and healthy through this extremely difficult time, and I hope that you have as happy a holiday season as is possible under the circumstances.

Thanks for continuing to read this.



In middle of winter

Here’s a short human interest piece from the December 9 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star about a couple on an epic Canadian walking adventure.

This would have been an epic, and possibly utterly crazy, adventure.

I have no idea whether they got all the way across Canada – I found no reference to Jack Stuart of Favel, Ontario, in any searches. I did wonder whether they bothered to leave Favel again now that they had made it back home.

Favel, Ontario is nowadays listed as an unincorporated town near Kenora, on the main CNR transcontinental line. I saw no reference to its existence on Google Maps. Given that it is such a remote place, it’s not that difficult to believe that Mr. Stuart and his wife were used to walking in uninhabited areas, even in the middle of winter.


A wonderful possession

Here’s an ad from the December 9 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for a collection of the works of William Shakespeare.

This edition included Shakespeare’s sonnets, some uncredited brilliant introductions, and somebody’s unique editorial contributions, but the ad doesn’t actually describe whether any of Shakespeare’s plays were included in whole or in part. $7.50 in cash in 1929 is the equivalent of over $110 today, so this book was not cheap, whatever it contained.

The copywriter for this ad chose hyperbole over linguistic accuracy, as the text refers to “the immortal creations of this myriad mind”. “Myriad” literally means “ten thousand” and is usually used to refer to a countlessly large number. So Shakespeare could have had a myriad of creations, but “myriad mind” makes no sense. So there!

British Books was a new firm at the time of this ad. The 1929 Toronto city directory does not list them. The 1930 directory lists them at units 338 and 339 of 73 Adelaide West; in 1929, this office space belonged to the Presbyterian Church in Canada. British Books eventually moved to 70 Bond Street; they appear in the 1936 directory, but not the 1939 one.


A sunbath every day

Here’s an ad from the December 9 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for an ultraviolet lamp that was advertised as providing artificial sunshine.

This blog has encountered the Chas. A. Branston, Ltd. company before: a 1920 ad encouraged people to use a Model 25 or Model 29 Branston ozone generator to fight off influenza.

The company was listed as late as the 1957 Toronto city directory as a manufacturer of electrical appliances; in the 1960 directory, they repositioned themselves as selling records, televisions and radios. They are not listed in the 1965 directory.

By the way, modern sun lamps emit fluorescent light with the UV wavelengths screened out, as they are considered harmful.