First Babe Ruth Yankees jersey sells for $4.4 million

Babe Ruth Yankees jersey, 1920The wool jersey Babe Ruth wore the first year he played for the New York Yankees sold at auction today for $4,415,658, the highest price ever paid for a piece of sports memorabilia. The previous record was set in December of 2010 when James Naismith’s founding rules of basketball sold for $4,338,500. It was sold by online auction specialists SCP Auctions to sports memorabilia specialists who plan to resell it privately.

Doubtless several of their deep pocketed clients will be keen to spend even more millions to secure the jersey. Babe Ruth memorabilia is the Holy Grail of sports collecting, and Babe Ruth jerseys are the Holy Grails of the Holy Grail. There are only four unrestored jerseys extant that are known to have been worn by the Sultan of Swat, and this one is the earliest of them all. Manufactured by Spalding, the jersey is in exceptionally good condition, complete with all the details of the 1920 style, like the “Y” in New York embroidered on the button placket between the second and third buttons and the “sun collar” that slopes up the side of the neck and around the back. Inside the collar is the name “Ruth G.H.” (for George Herman Ruth) stitched in what was once red thread but which has now faded to a lovely shade of raspberry.

"Ruth G.H." stitched into the collarThe only change made to the jersey after its manufacture was its sleeves were cut shorter. This isn’t a negative, however, because there are pictures of Ruth wearing the jersey in 1920 and the sleeves are already short. It’s therefore likely that he had them altered to his preference, which makes the cut sleeves a point in favor of the jersey’s authenticity.

Its provenance is impeccable. It’s been in the possession of a northeastern private collector for decades. He loaned it to the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore where it was on display from 2004 to 2009. It has never before been offered for public sale.

Babe Ruth wearing the jersey at the Yankees' spring training, March 1920Then there’s the year, a momentous, even legendary year in baseball history whose repercussions were still being keenly felt as recently as 2004. On December 26, 1919, Harry Frazee, theatrical impresario and owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000. According to the urban legend that grew around this disastrous trade, Frazee made the sale to finance the Broadway musical No, No, Nanette, but that show debuted in 1925. He did use money from the Ruth sale to finance a play called My Lady Friends from which Nanette was later derived, but that’s not why he sold Ruth, or at least it’s not the sole reason.

Ruth was a giant pain in his ass, not to put too fine a point on it. His salary demands were outrageous (after the 1919 season he refused to play again unless his salary was doubled to $20,000), he partied all the time, sometimes showing up at the field on game day still drunk, and he was a no-show at important games. Ruth was delighted to be sold to the Yankees. He got what he wanted salary-wise — a two-year $41,000 contract — and he became the toast of the town.

The Boston Red Sox did not fare so well. Before the sale they had won a third of all the World Series, five out of 15. After the sale they wouldn’t win a pennant again until 1946, and they wouldn’t win a World Series again until 2004. The Yankees, on the other hand, would play in 39 World Series and win 26 of them after they bought Babe Ruth.

So this jersey isn’t just the first shirt Babe Ruth wore as a New York Yankee when he showed up for spring training in March of 1920; it’s also the jersey that inaugurated the Curse of the Bambino. Given that, it’s actually rather surprising that it made less than a hundred thousand more dollars than Naismith’s basketball rules.

Ancient curse/cure stone found on Hebrides island

Top stone of Canna bullaunAn early Christian bullaun and turn stone have been discovered on the Scottish Inner Hebrides island of Canna. A bullaun is a large rock that has one or more depressions into which stones were turned as part of a folk ritual that started in prehistory and continued well into the Christian era. Bullauns are common in Ireland, but rarer in Scotland, and this is the first Scottish one that has been found complete with its matching top stone.

Carved Celtic cross on Canna; pieces have broken off and are now in the island museumThe island was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland by Gaelic folklorist John Lorne Campbell in 1981, and the organization maintains it as a conservation area. NTS ranger and Canna native Geraldine MacKinnon found the turn stone first in Canna’s graveyard. The round stone is approximately 10 inches in diameter and engraved with an early Christian cross. The NTS head of archaeology alerted manager Stewart Connor to the find and that it might be linked to a stone with the characteristic bullaun depression next to Canna’s Celtic Cross, an unusually carved stone cross that dates to the 9th or 10th century.

top stone and socketToo excited to wait until the next morning, Connor went out at 9:00 PM and found that the stone fits perfectly into the depression. Bullaun, despite their pre-Christian heritage, are often found next to early Christian churches, monasteries and artifacts like the Celtic Cross. Canna was owned by the monastery of Iona by 1203, and historians believe it may have belonged to Iona as early as the 7th century.

In Ireland, folklore attached magical significance to bullaun stones, such as the belief that rainwater collected in the stone’s hollow could have healing properties. The St Brigit’s Stone in County Cavan in Ireland was used as a “cursing stone”, and locals would turn the stone while cursing a sworn enemy.

Katherine Forsyth, based at the University of Glasgow and a leading expert in the history and culture of the Celtic-speaking peoples in the first millennium AD, said: “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the first pictures of this beautiful stone. Stones like this are found in Ireland, where they are known as ‘cursing stones’, but this is the first to be discovered in Scotland. […] This exciting find provides important new insight into religious art and practice in early Scotland and demonstrates just how much there is still to be discovered out there.”

There are a number of archaeological remains on the island dating from this period, including a series of highly decorated cross shafts and the hermitage site Sgor Nam Ban-Naomha, or Skerry of the Holy Women, a remote location hidden below steep cliffs which was discovered in 1994.

The Fraterville Mine disaster of 1902

The entrance to the Fraterville Mine, 5/23/1902On May 19th, 1902, an explosion in the coal mine at Fraterville in Tennessee’s Coal Creek Valley claimed the lives of 216 men and boys. Only 184 of them were ever identified. It is the worst mining disaster in Tennessee history and one of the top five worst in the nation’s history.

Before that fateful day, the Fraterville Mine had been operating without incident for over 30 years. Its owner, former Union Major Eldad Cicero Camp, had been a U.S. District Attorney for Eastern Tennessee and was widely respected as someone who treated his employees fairly and ran as safe a shop as possible considering the inherent dangers of the job.

Major E.C. CampMajor Camp was one of the only industrialists who refused to utilize the state’s appalling convict leasing system, a post-Civil War pretext for Southern states to re-enslave African-Americans using the 13th Amendment which outlawed involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime. When the war was over, black men became targets of law enforcement, arrested for petty/fictional crimes so that they could be leased to private industry for a small fee and the cost of their upkeep. The latter was insignificant because the leased convicts were often starved to death when they weren’t beaten or worked to death, and the former was far cheaper than free workers.

Instead, Camp hired expert miners, most of them Welsh immigrants, and paid them in cash per tonnage, not company scrip, and never scammed them with credit schemes and company stores. Fraterville miners were members of the United Mine Workers of America within years of its creation in 1890. Excited by the opportunity to make real money and own their own homes, the miners often encouraged their family members to join them.

Camp’s son George had learned the mining trade by going down the shafts himself, so he knew the miners and the work intimately. He had been promoted to supervisor by the time of the explosion but was very much hands-on. Had he not returned home to get a coat because it started raining, he would have been in the mine when the explosion occurred.

Bodies of miners being loaded into a trainAccording to the Commissioner of Labor report, at 7:20 AM, no more than an hour after the miners had begun their work day, a thick billow of black smoke and particulate matter poured out of the mine entrance and ventilation shaft. Although the mine was reputed to be generally free of methane, some may have leaked from an abandoned, unventilated nearby mine which the Fraterville miners had recently tunneled into. (Perhaps not coincidentally, that mine had been worked by leased convicts.) Another possibility suggested at the time was that the Fraterville mine’s ventilation system had been negligently shut down over the weekend by the ventilation furnace operator, Tipton Hightower, allowing toxic gases to build up in the shafts. (George Camp vouched for his diligence and Hightower was later tried and acquitted of this charge.)

West Virginia coal miners and mules with open flame lamps, 1908Whatever the source of the gas, the miners’ oil wick lamps — open flames hooked into their hats — ignited it causing a massive explosion. That in turn ignited the coal dust, spreading the fire throughout the mine. George Camp organized a rescue party. They tried to go down the main shaft to find any survivors, but they only made it 200 feet when the afterdamp, a toxic mixture of gases produced by the explosion, forced them to turn back. It wasn’t until 4:00 that the rescue party was able to jury-rig a venting system and reach the main site of the explosion.

They found total devastation.

Brattices [(wood partitions erected in mines to help ventilate the shafts)] had been destroyed, and along the main entry the force of the explosion was terrific, [sic] timbers and cogs placed to hold a squeeze were blown out, mine cars, wheels, and doors were shattered, and bodies were dismembered. In other parts of the mine no heat or violence was shown, and suffocation had brought death to those whose bodies were found there.

Twenty-six miners survived the blast and immediate choking aftermath. They barricaded themselves in a side passage where the afterdamp and lack of oxygen slowly suffocated them to death. Some of them lived for at least seven hours. We know this because Jacob Vowell, Powell Harmon, John Hendren, Harry Beech, Scott Chapman, James Brooks, R.S. Brooks, George Hutson, Frank Sharp, and James Elliott all left heart-wrenching notes behind for their loved ones, some of which recorded the time. The letters were found on their bodies when the rescuers finally reached them.

Jacob Vowell with his daughter LillieJacob L. Vowell, husband of Sarah Ellen and father of seven children (one of whom, Eddie, had died in early childhood), penciled several notes as time passed. With him dying slowly was his 14-year-old son Harvey Elbert.

We are shut up in the head of the entry with of little air and the bad air is closing in on us fast and it is now about 12 o’clock. Dear Ellen, I have to leave you in bad condition. But dear wife, set your trust in the Lord to help you raise my little children. Ellen take care of my little darling Lily. Ellen, little Elbert said he had trusted in the Lord. Chas. Wood said he was safe if he never lives to see the outside again, he would meet his mother in heaven. If we never live to get out we are not hurt but only perished for air. There is but a few of us here and I don’t know where the other men is. Elbert said for you all to meet him in heaven, All the children meet with us both.

Ellen, darling Good Bye for us both. Elbert said the lord had saved him. Do the best you can with the children. We are all praying for air to support us but it is getting so bad without any air. Horace, Elbert said for you to wear his shoes and clothing. It is now 1/2 past 1.

Page of Jacob Vowell's notePowell Harmon’s watch is now in Andy Woods hand. Ellen, I want you to live right and come to heaven. Rais the children the best you can. O how I wish to be with you. Good Bye to all of you Good Bye. Burry me and Elbert in the same grave by little Eddy.
Good Bye Ellen
Good bye Lillie
Good bye Jimmie
Good bye Minnie
Good bye Horace

We are together. Is 25 minutes after Two. There is a few of us are alive yet
Good bye

Oh God for one more breath. Ellen, remember me as long as you live. Good Bye Darling

Ellen lost not just her husband and son, but also two brothers in the disaster. The entire community was devastated. Only three adult men were left alive in the town. Hundreds of women were widowed and between 800 and 1,000 children were orphaned.

Fraterville Miners' Circle in Leach CemeteryAll of the recovered bodies were laid out next to the railroad for the families to claim. Eighty-nine of the miners were buried in the Fraterville Miners’ Circle in Leach Cemetery. The obelisk in the center records all 184 names of the identified miners. Some of the other victims were buried at Longfield Cemetery.

The bodies of 30 itinerant miners remained unclaimed and were buried next to the railroad spur line, marked by fieldstones or not at all. That land would eventually become the backyard of Owen Bailey, a retired Briceville miner who is now 96 years old. When the non-profit Coal Creek Watershed Foundation was established in 2000, Bailey told them about the miners buried in his backyard.

On Friday morning, archaeologists from the University of Tennessee, accompanied by students from Briceville Elementary, used ground-penetrating radar to confirm his story.

The foundation has erected a historic marker next to the itinerant miners’ graveyard.

“Early Welch [sic] miners in the area had many superstitions, and spirits of the itinerant miners are said to still be calling for family members to identify them,” the marker reads.

“On a clear night when the wind is blowing and the moon is full, listen carefully and you may hear them whispering their names.”

George Eastman in glorious 1914 color

There is a beautiful set of early Kodachrome color pictures in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, including a portrait of George Eastman himself that was taken by photographer Joseph D’Anunzio in 1914 but looks like it could have been taken yesterday.

George Eastman, 1914

Impressive isn’t it? The flesh tones are particularly accurate. That was probably the strongest part of Kodak’s early experiments with the Kodachrome process, which entailed taking two glass plate photographs through green and orange-red filters, then dying the developed images and sandwiching them together with the emulsion sides in the middle. The process resulted in beautifully life-like skin and decent greens and reds, but could not produce a full spectrum of color.

The Eastman Kodak Company was trying with these Kodachrome experiments to create a color process that amateur photographers could master easily with limited equipment. The first attempts at color photography in the late 19th century required that three cameras with different color filters be used to record the identical subject. The three images would then be superimposed upon each other to produce a final picture.

In 1903, French inventors Auguste and Louis Lumière patented the Autochrome process which reduced the number of cameras to one, but it was far from amateur-friendly. Autochrome pictures were created using three batches of potato starch each dyed red-orange, violet or green. The starch was then applied to a newly varnished glass plate which was pressed through steel rollers to embed the colored starch particles into the surface. The gaps were filled with carbon black, the plate varnished again and brushed with a silver bromide emulsion. Once that was done, the photographer could put the plate in the camera and take a color picture. The subject had to sit completely still for 60 seconds, thus ensuring that the subjects were mainly landscapes, architecture and still lives.

Inside the Tower of Jewels at the Panama Pacific Exposition, 1915Despite its complexity, Autochrome appealed to photographers for the beautiful color and painterly look of the finished product. There are some gorgeous examples in the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History. See some otherworldly views of the 1915 San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition here. Some of the Kodachrome portraits were on display at that same exposition.

Despite its facility with portraiture and the lack of dyed potato starch, the Kodachrome process with its limited color range couldn’t really compete with the full spectrum Autochrome. Eastman Kodak abandoned the process but kept working to find a new way to bring color to the photographic masses. In 1935 they succeeded, introducing the color Kodachrome film we analog old-timers remember well.

Speaking of groundbreaking old-timey photography, a Leica 0-Series camera, one of only 12 surviving 1923 prototypes of the Leica A, the first commercially successful camera to use 35mm film, sold at auction last Saturday at WestLicht Photographica in Vienna for a world record €2.16 million ($2.75 million).

Invented by optical engineer Oskar Barnack who worked in Leica’s microscope division, the Leica 0-series was the product of 15 years of trial and error. Barnack, an asthmatic and avid amateur photographer, wanted a lightweight camera with a collapsible lens that was easy to wield and could utilize 35mm film. Leica made 25 of them for testing and even though the feedback they got from photographers wasn’t entirely positive, in 1925 they took the plunge and built a first run of 1,000 Leica A cameras. By 1932, there were 90,000 of them sold.

1923 Prototype Leica 0-series sold for $2.8 million

Thousands watch as 19th c. shipwreck found in Gulf of Mexico

Copper sheathing from 19th c. shipwreck in the Gulf of MexicoScientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used remote-operated submersibles to discover a 19th century shipwreck in the northern Gulf of Mexico before an enthralled audience of 2000 watching via online streaming video. The wood of the hull had long since rotted away, but the high definition cameras captured gorgeous images of the surviving copper cladding that once protected the hull under the waterline. Cameras also revealed the anchor and a vast number of artifacts including cannons, boxes of muskets, glass bottles, ceramics and a rare ship’s stove that is one of very few surviving examples worldwide and only the second one ever found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Artifacts from the shipwreckThe ship’s name was not discovered, but the ceramic plates with a green pattern around the edges were popular between 1800 and 1830, and the copper sheathing suggests the ship dates to the first half of the 19th century, a busy time in the region. The War of 1812, the Mexican War for Independence, the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War all saw copious naval action in the Gulf during that period. The presence of muskets and cannons on board indicate that the ship was involved in wartime activities.

An anemone makes its home on a musketOne of the things that make this find so spectacularly photogenic is that the artifacts are perched on the sea floor, exposed to submersible view. The shipwreck site is deeper than 4,000 feet; it’s also 200 miles off the United States Gulf coast and the mouth of the Mississippi which is constantly depositing sediment into the Gulf. That not only makes for crisp images and exposed artifacts, but also allows researchers to figure out from the placement of the artifacts how the ship was used.

Until recently, the area has been relatively unexplored. The wreck first pinged in 2011 when the Shell Oil Company surveyed the area for sources of oil and gas. The sonar information was vague, but was of sufficient interest for Shell to alert the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of something worth exploring. The BOEM asked NOAA to investigate this site and others during its mapping and diving missions this spring.

Little Hercules spies squids mating on April 21The NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer set out for a 56-day mission in March of this year. They used multi-beam mapping sonar and a remotely operated submersible named “Little Hercules” to explore four potential shipwreck sites in the Gulf of Mexico. Little Hercules made a total of 29 dives, recording the wrecks and a great variety of underwater life, including some corals that the scientists watching on board and online had never seen before. This shipwreck was the last of the four and the most historically significant.

Now the BOEM has to decide whether to give Shell a permit for oil and gas exploration/extraction that will disturb the seafloor. Here’s hoping the natural and historical wealth documented by Little Hercules will remain unmolested.

Below is some of the footage the live viewers witnessed on Little Hercules’ April 26th dive, including the discovery of the anchor. For some truly jaw-dropping HD images of marine biodiversity captured during the mission, see NOAA’s photo and video log page. They are not to be missed, seriously.