November 2011

Baseball’s Lost Chalice

This article from the forthcoming Fall 2011 number of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game appears here with the courtesy of the publisher. For more information about purchase or subscription, see: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/baseballsubscriptions.html.

The strange story of Helen Dauvray and baseball’s first world’s championship trophy will be published at Our Game in three parts this week. Ballplayers and entertainment stars have always had a lot in common. Both expect and enjoy the limelight; both are separated from the rest of us by the adulation and money we pour on them. Sometimes in their separation from the rest of society they reach out to each other in matrimony: Rube Marquard and Blossom Seeley, Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. In the 1880s John Montgomery Ward and Helen Dauvray had all the star power of any of them. Prior to their marriage Miss Dauvray had established an eponymous loving cup as the reward for winning the World Championship in 1887 and succeeding years. The Cup has been lost for so long that no one alive has seen it. Recent discoveries in the archives of the Gorham Manufacturing Company reveal much new detail about the cup; however, recent discoveries about its donor are even more interesting. 

Whatever happened to the Dauvray Cup? The game’s first World Series trophy, it was commissioned and funded in June 1887 by actress Helen Dauvray—before it was known that she cared for baseball or for New York Giants shortstop John M. Ward, whom she would go on to marry. The cup has been lost for so long that no one alive has seen it; no one can say when or how it was lost, or what fate may have befallen it—until now. Picking up an old, cold trail, I can report what the cup actually looked like—contemporary newspaper woodcuts were wildly off—how much it cost to make, and what may have happened to it between the baseball campaigns of 1893 and 1894. Even more interestingly, however, in the quest for baseball’s lost chalice I stumbled upon the true story of Helen Dauvray’s romantic, fabulously embroidered, self-invented life. The Dauvray Cup was, then and now, all about her.

Let’s start at the beginning. Helen Dauvray was born Ida Louisa Gibson on St. Valentine’s Day—in, according to various published sources, 1856, 1857, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861, or, as engraved on her tombstone in a final blaze of vanity, 1862. Her parents were Charles H. and Sarah Louisa Gibson, née De Young. Miss Dauvray’s birthplace has been supplied as Cincinnati, Ohio; Virginia City, Nevada; and San Francisco, California. Census documents and passport applications offer intriguing but not definitive variants on every bit of her biography to 1887, when she first enters the baseball world. What follows is this writer’s best synthesis of swirling data discrepancies.

In the 1850 census both of Ida’s future parents are listed with Maryland births, but Sarah Louisa (she dropped her first name after this), was probably born in Louisiana on December 8, 1833, as she declared in her passport application of 1877.1 Charles, too, may have been born in Louisiana rather than in Maryland, for in 1840, at age 25, he resided in Natchitoches Parish. M.H. De Young, father of the future founder (bearing the same name) of the San Francisco Chronicle and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, also lived there.2

By 1850 Charles and Louisa Gibson had married and relocated to Louisiana’s Union Parish, the birthplace for daughters Amelia and Laura. However, this residence represented a return to the state after a sojourn in Missouri, where a son—listed as Andrew in the 1850 census but surely the same boy subsequently known as Adolphus or Adolph—had been born two years earlier, when his mother had been 15.

Charles H. Gibson was identified by turns as a farmer, a baker, and a miner, but truly he was always a struggling itinerant laborer, ready to pack up his family in the pursuit of gainful employ. By 1855 the family resided in Ohio—Cincinnati by several accounts—and it was there that Ida and sister Clara were born. Two years later the peripatetic Gibsons picked up again, this time for Virginia City, Nevada, and then San Francisco. Louisa’s De Young relatives had, in tandem, moved to Cincinnati and then San Francisco. But when the golden sluice gates did not open for the luckless couple, they relocated yet again, to Portland, Oregon.3

In 1861–1862 Charles found work in the Salmon River mines and sent his family back to San Francisco. Presumably he supported them with nuggets now and then, as Mossman’s Express was providing armed escort for messengers from the mines.4 While some biographical notices of Helen Dauvray mark her acting debut as Little Eva in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Virginia City in 1862, in fact she was still at that time Ida Louisa Gibson, a girl of six with no idea of taking the stage. How she actually became an actress—“Little Nell, the California Diamond,” an infant prodigy frankly modeled on the popular Lotta Crabtree—is a story she successfully hid for all the remaining years of her life.

On February 10, 1863, a classified ad appeared in San Francisco’s Daily Alta:

ANY PERSON KNOWING THE WHEREABOUTS of CHARLES H. GIBSON, or whether he is dead or alive, would confer a favor on his wife and children by addressing a few lines to MRS. LOUISA GIBSON, San Francisco. When last heard from, July 6th, 1862, he was at work two miles from Florence, on Miller’s Creek, Salmon mines. Fe 10-1m. Oregon papers please copy.5

As the trailing code indicated, the ad was to run (and did) every day for a month, until March 10. One can only imagine the stress of Louisa Gibson’s straitened circumstances. Whether Charles died or deserted his family is not known, but some months later his wife elected to list herself as a widow in the city directory for 1864.6

In the following year’s San Francisco directory, and ever after, the name of Mrs. Gibson disappeared, although we know that she continued to reside in the city because her daughter made her theatrical debut at Thomas Maguire’s Metropolitan Theater on March 25, 1865.7 Following the evening’s dramatic offering of Mathilde: The Lone Chateau,8 starring Matilda Heron, our Ida, as “the Infant Prodigy, Little Nell,” performed the lachrymose “Where Is My Boy To-night?”, a Civil War song “dedicated to the mothers of our volunteers.”

Sometime before this event, Ida’s mother, not yet 30 and still pretty, with dark eyes, hair, and complexion,9 appears to have been comforted by a San Francisco printer named John L. Williams. He surely had read—if not actually set into type—her plaintive notice in the classifieds. (Louisa’s cousin Charles De Young was also a compositor, at the Alta.) While they may have wed in 1864, no marriage certificate survives (perhaps owing to the 1906 earthquake). Williams resided on the south side of Vallejo Street between Montgomery and Kearny, a mere two blocks from Maguire’s Opera House. This was where, on October 30, 1866, Little Nell would make her dramatic debut as Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.10

In real life Ida now began to be called Helen—like Ellen a back-formation of Nellie—and her last name began to be rendered Williams as often as Gibson. Her stepfather became her theatrical manager, and surely was the one responsible for expanding her repertoire in emulation of Lotta Crabtree, who had begun her long career in 1853 at age six; advanced to become “Miss Lotta, the San Francisco Favorite,” by age 12; and then departed for Broadway in 1863.

Soon Little Nell was a sensation with the homesick emigrants and rough sorts of the mining camps, attaching to herself the vacated nickname of “the California Diamond” once bestowed upon Lotta. Nell’s variety act, too, was modeled upon hers, with dialect songs and “Irish Jig, Dutch Wooden Shoe Dance, Drum Solo, and Banjo Solo.” Critics tended to commend her vigor more than her art. An old-timer reminiscing about the versatility of the theatrical company at Maguire’s said they “could play anything…I have seen them support even Little Nell, the California Diamond; but that was only under violent protest.”11

Aging out of her infant prodigy roles, by 1868 or so she took to the road as a “protean star”—one who could play multiple parts in a drama and fill out the evening with variety skits as well—with her own touring company, playing Fidelia, the Fire Waif in one-night stands. In each town a local fire company, prevailed upon to take part in the potboiler, awarded Little Nell an honorary membership.12 It was a living.

After a few years of this she traveled east. She made her New York City debut at Wood’s Museum in June 1870, where she played twice a day in the forgettable Popsey Wopsey. The critic for the Evening Telegram observed:

The plot is merely routine, and denotes very little. Little Nell in this play assumes four characters, a Country Girl, Little Popsey; an Irish Boy, singing “The Wearing of the Green” and dancing a jig; a Dutch Girl and a boy in Greek costume, and as such plays the banjo rather artistically, and is very clever in imitating bell chimes.13

Sisters Laura and Clara joined her on stage. Little Nell was as yet a long way from becoming the Parisian-styled actress Hélène Dauvray.

Returning west, she added another protean vehicle, No Name, to her portfolio and was greeted warmly in San Francisco. In 1875, once again a local celebrity, she planted a rumor that she would soon marry and leave the stage. After her stepfather/manager took out an ad in the Alta to deny it, the New York Daily Tribune observed, “The stage would gain by the retirement from it of all the ladies whose stock in trade consists of a light pair of heels and a pet name.”14 Ouch.

Departing for Australia and New Zealand in 1876, where she garnered (or more likely provided her own) rave notices, Little Nell is said to have invested some of her earnings in a Pacific Slope or Comstock Lode mine. Lotta Crabtree had already become a millionaire through her mother’s shrewd real estate investment of her earnings, and Little Nell may have sensed that her time before the footlights was drawing to a close. Her talents had always been more vaudevillian than dramatic and, increasingly buxom, her juvenile outfits by this time bordered on the absurd. Upon her return to America she departed the stage and began to pursue the education—first in New York and then in Europe—that as a child star she had been denied.

The casual investment she had made before departing for Australia proved a lucky strike, according to the press, and now she was worth by some accounts half a million dollars. In the 1880 census John L. Williams, former printer and stage manager, declared himself as being in the mining business. His wife Louisa, all her sons and daughters, and a grandson, lived together at 49 Park Avenue, a spacious New York City dwelling equipped with four servants. However, the purchaser of the mansion, valued at $110,000 in 1887, was not Helen but sister Clara, the widow of wealthy sporting man James Helm.15 On July 7, 1880, Helen Gibson/Williams married Leonard F. Tracy, a certified cad and bounder who had left another actress at the altar. They split more or less amicably some months later, and formally divorced in 1883.16

No longer in demand as a soubrette and no longer Little Nell, the wealthy divorcée once again looked for inspiration to Paris:

Her old fondness for the stage reviving, she determined on an appearance abroad. Paul Ferrier adapted for her a French version of “Nan the Good-for-nothing,” which he called “Miss Maggie” and on 1 Sept., 1884, she acted at the Folies Dramatiques in Paris, under the name of Mlle. Hélène Dauvray. Her engagement lasted over three months, after which she returned to the United States.17

[End of Part I; more tomorrow!]

Notes

1. Year: 1850; Census Place: Union, Louisiana; Roll: M432-241; Page: 349B; Image: 209; also, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, 1795–1905; ARC Identifier 566612 / MLR Number A1 508; NARA Series: M1372; Roll #215.

2. Year: 1840; Census Place: Natchitoches, Louisiana; Roll: 127; Page: 137; Image: 285; Family History Library Film: 0009689.

3. Year: 1860; Census Place: Portland, Multnomah, Oregon; Roll: M653-1056; Page: 474; Image: 199; Family History Library Film: 805056.

4. Oregon Weekly Times: June 21, 1862. [Oregon Historical Society Microfilm] [MCK]: “Mossman & Co.’s now run their express through to the mines, running regularly. It is their intention to establish an armed escort to accompany their messengers in and out of the Salmon Mines.”

5. Daily Alta California (San Francisco): Feb. 17, 1863, p. 4.

6. San Francisco Directory, 1864, p. 44.

7. Sacramento Daily Union: Mar. 25, 1865.

8. So titled in the above advertisement in the Sacramento Daily Union, but likely the same warhorse known as The Old Chateau, or a Night of Peril.

9. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA),Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, 1795–1905; ARC Identifier 566612 / MLR Number A1 508; NARA Series: M1372; Roll #215. That Louisa Gibson/Williams and her daughter Ida/Helen may have been partly Jewish is hinted at in the text corresponding to Note 27. A further clue, by no means definitive, might be provided by her benefit performances in San Francisco for Congregation Shaari Zedeck on Mar. 25, 1875, and Congregation B’nai Israel on July 15, 1875. Her cousin, M.H. De Young, was indeed Jewish, although he converted to Catholicism upon his marriage in 1880.

10. Daily Alta California: Oct. 30, 1866.

11. The Pacific Monthly: July 1908, p. 11; edited by William Bittle Wells, Lute Pease.

12. The Evening World: Oct. 26, 1893. Ultimately (in 1871 and again in 1872), Fidelia was copyrighted by Little Nell thus: “a protean sensation drama in 4 acts, from Frank H. Stauffer’s story of that name, published in the Philadelphia Saturday Night, dramatized expressly for Little Nell, the California Diamond, by H. A. Weaver.”

13. The Evening Telegram: June 21, 1870.

14. Daily Alta California: July 25, 1875; New York Daily Tribune: Aug. 9, 1875.

15. Year: 1880; Census Place: New York City, New York, New York; Roll: 880; Family History Film: 1254880; Page: 417B; Enumeration District: 296; Image: 0774. “A Domestic’s Story of Abuse,” The Sun (N.Y.): Oct. 15, 1887, p. 1. James Helm entry, Year: 1870; Census Place: Township 1, Fresno, California; Roll: M593-72; Page: 156B; Image: 313; Family History Library Film: 545571. “Probate Court,” Daily Alta California, July 7, 1874. “Clara A. Helm, administratrix of the estate of her husband,” Sacramento Daily Union, Feb. 16, 1875. Finally, this, from San Francisco Call, May 11, 1890: “The real facts in the Dauvray-Ward case are these: Helen Dauvray’s dramatic schemes have been hitherto backed by the money of her sister, Mrs. Helen [i.e., Helm]. Mrs. Helen [Helm] married Tim Keefe. Tim Keefe looked for a while with disfavor on his wife’s ‘giving up’ any more of her inherited cash. Ward resented Keefe’s interference. Trouble began all round the family, and now the Keefe-Helen [Helm] boodle will back Helen once more, with the understanding that John Montgomery is to be frozen out.  Accordingly, John Montgomery occupies a retired position in the refrigerator.—Dunlop’s Stage News.”

16. “Ward Dauvray Marriage of Two Noted Professionals,” Sporting Life: Oct. 19, 1887: “In answer to the usual interrogatories he [Ward] said that Helen Gibson…had married before, but on October 18, 1883, had been divorced by the Supreme Court of California.”

17. Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography, Vol. 2, pp. 80–81, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske. D. Appleton and Company, N.Y., 1887.

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