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.


Annual physical examination

Here’s an ad from the November 30 1927 edition of the Toronto Globe for a medical practice:

The Canadian Health Service Institute did not last long into the Great Depression – a listing for it appeared in the 1930 Toronto city directory but not in the 1931 directory.

Searches for James W. Barton in the city directories revealed that the Canadian Health Service Institute was in existence in 1925; before that, Dr. Barton was just listed as a physician. But I also discovered that Dr. Barton was the president of the Matheson Mining Syndicate; apparently, he ran a mining operation when not tending to his medical practice or providing twice-yearly medical examinations at the Canadian Health Service Institute.

I expected the Matheson Mining Syndicate to also have been a casualty of the Depression. But it actually remained in existence for a while, as I found an entry for it in the 1938 city directory. The mining syndicate didn’t survive the outbreak of war, though – the 1940 city directory just lists Dr. Barton as a physician. He continued his medical practice at least until 1951; the 1956 directory lists him, but with no occupation, so presumably he had retired by then.

Just for the heck of it, I also traced Dr. Barton in earlier city directories. I discovered that he had started his professional life as a physician and the physical director for the University of Toronto. He was listed as such in the 1908 and 1910 directories; by 1915, he had moved on to private practice.


Fat is now a folly

Here’s a patent medicine ad from the November 30 1927 edition of the Toronto Globe for a product that claimed to provide weight loss.

Marmola apparently consisted of “a little desiccated thyroid and a lot of laxatives”.

The Federal Trade Commission went after Marmola in 1931, claiming that the false claims of its positive effects could be considered unfair competition. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Marmola, since there was no record of its competitors being harmed by its claims. (This, ironically, was probably because all of Marmola’s competitors were doing more or less the same thing.) The FTC was more successful when they tried again in 1935, at which point Marmola was driven out of business.

Marmola was an invention of a man named Edward D. Hayes, who had been creating patent medicines of dubious effectiveness for over a quarter of a century by the time this ad came out. Hayes was a serial offender: in 1915, he was arrested, fined, and had his mailing list destroyed for advertising “Dr. Robinson’s Prescription for Nervous Debility, Lack of Vigor, Failing Memory and Lame Back Brought on by Excesses, Unnatural Drains or the Follies of Youth.”



Here’s an ad for guns and sporting goods from the November 10 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star.

Besides selling various devices for killing pheasants, the R. S. Williams & Sons Co. Limited also sold “hockey clubs”. This might say something about how hockey was played in 1927.

When I looked up R. S. Williams & Sons in the Toronto city directories, I discovered that sporting goods was a sideline for them. Their primary business was musical instruments. The 1927 city directory included this ad for them:

This ad stated that they were established in 1849. I couldn’t find them in the 1850 city directory, but I did find R. S. Williams in the 1865 directory:

Moving back to 1927: the entry in that year’s city directory listed Richard S. Williams as the president of R. S. Williams & Sons. I am assuming that he was one of the Sons, unless the original R. S. Williams was extraordinarily long-lived.

Going forward: the 1932 directory lists R. S. Williams & Sons at 468 King West. In 1934, they are at 468-474 King West, but R. S. WIlliams was no longer in charge – a J. H. Biggar was running the show. Mr. Williams was listed but with no occupation; he last appears in the 1936 directory. I don’t know whether he moved or passed away in 1937 – I checked his home address of 57 Cluny Drive, and the wonderfully named Augustus Clements now lived there.

R. S. Williams & Sons lasted a few years without any actual Williams running the show, though their management changed a few times. They appear in the 1952 directory, but not the 1957 one – I didn’t narrow it down any further.


Doctor represents

Here’s a photo from the November 11 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star that caught my attention:

Out of curiosity, I traced Dr. Philp in the Toronto city directories. The 1927 directory lists him as a physician living and working at 607 Sherbourne Street. By 1932, he was listed as a physician and surgeon, and had moved to 603 Sherbourne, which was on the corner of Sherbourne and Howard.

He remained at 603 Sherbourne for the rest of his life. He is listed in the 1951 city directory, but the 1952 directory lists his widow at 603 Sherbourne. The buildings at 603 to 607 Sherbourne still stand, but have fallen into disrepair and have been boarded up for some time. (The 2009 Google Street View photo of the buildings shows that someone had spray-painted “Shame” and “Restore Me!” on the boarded-up entranceways.)


Balloon tragedy

Here’s a photo from the November 11 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a man who passed away while trying to set an altitude record in a balloon.

Hawthorne C. Grey (1889-1927) made several attempts to set altitude records during 1927:

  • On March 9, he set an unofficial record of 28,510 feet. He passed out while up that high, and regained consciousness in time to slow the fall of his balloon as it descended.
  • On May 4, he reached 42,470 feet, but parachuted out at 8000 feet because his balloon was descending too quickly. According to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, this disqualified him from achieving the altitude record, as the balloonist had to land inside the actual balloon.
  • On November 4, Grey made it to somewhere between 43,000 and 44,000 feet, but lost consciousness and was found dead in the balloon the next day. It is still not entirely clear what caused his death. His last journal entry was “Sky deep blue, sun very bright, sand all gone.”


Here’s a photo from the November 10 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a young woman who was about to sing on radio station CFCA:

I did a search, and I could find nothing on Winnifred L. Hayward or her teacher, Miss Louise Risdon. They are both seemingly lost to history, which makes me a bit sad.

I did find Louise Risdon in the 1927 Toronto city directory – she was listed as a music teacher at Moulton College. She was also listed in the 1932 directory (as “Louisa Risdon”), but she was not in the 1937 directory. I could not find Ms. Hayward in either the 1927 or the 1932 directory.


Prince George of Serbia

The November 10 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this photo of a Balkan royal out on a visit:

The caption for this photograph mentions that George, Crown Prince of Serbia (1887-1972) renounced his rights to the Serbian throne in 1909, but it did not say why. It turns out that the reason was ugly, to put it mildly: in a fit of temper, Prince George kicked his valet to death. He apparently tried to take back his succession rights after that, but was refused – which is understandable, given the circumstances.

Prince George’s Wikipedia page states that he was arrested in 1925 after his brother was crowned King of Serbia, and that he was in an asylum from then until the start of the Second World War. This contradicts the photo above, which claims that he visited Cherbourg in 1927. I have no idea what is going on here.

I can tell you that Prince George did not marry Mrs. Dorothy C. Cochrane (about whom I could find nothing). He did eventually marry Radmila Radonjić in 1947.