Sol White: A Mystery Solved

Sol White, 1930s.

Sol White, 1930s.

When Sol White was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, he had no known descendants. I concluded an earlier column in this space [http://goo.gl/PoQZDl], about the dedication of Sol White’s grave marker, with: “While no family came to Sol’s aid in his last years, his burial record listed his marital state as “separated” … so further research may yet reveal whether he was survived at death by his wife or any children.” Talking about this state of affairs on that day with baseball historian Jim Overmyer, I was hoping that he would pick up the baton. He did [http://goo.gl/Hhg1V8], finding a Marian Ewell  who may have been Sol White’s daughter. Stating the need for continued research, he concluded his story with these words: “Stay tuned.” Here Jim Overmyer buttons up the tale.

When “Our Game” reported last summer on the quest to find out more about the life of black baseball lifer Sol White, a player, manager and journalist who left many words on early blackball, but practically no information about himself, the search for surviving family had hit a wall. A likely daughter, Marian White Ewell, Sol’s only child who lived to adulthood, was recorded as having died in Pittsburgh in 1992. Solid information about her family was sorely lacking. When White was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, no living relatives could be found to accept his plaque from Commissioner Selig.

But recent Internet sleuthing and that move that seals many a deal, a phone call, has solved the White family mystery. Recently the genealogical website Ancestry.com added another set of records to its voluminous collection, Pennsylvania death certificates from 1906 through 1963. White’s estranged wife Florence, born in 1887, had passed in 1962, and her death certificate was in the collection. Other than to offer another confirmation that she was Marian Ewell’s mother, the certificate didn’t do anything directly to advance the search for living White descendants. Except, that is, for the notation that Florence’s burial was in the Merion Memorial Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, a Philadelphia suburb

Sol White's new headstone

Sol White’s new headstone

If Florence White was buried in Merion, perhaps it was in a family plot, and if so, perhaps her daughter was interred there, also. A call to the cemetery office was answered by an extreme helpful fellow who after a short search was able to find that Marian, as well as her husband Charles, was buried there, also. This, of course, still brought the search no closer to Sol White’s living relatives, unless the next question, the jackpot one, got the right answer.

The question was, “Is there anyone recorded as next of kin for Marian Ewell?” The answer was yes, a nephew, William E. Edmondson of Bethel Park, PA, a Pittsburgh suburb. Mr. Edmondson, when telephoned, proved to be a friendly retired educator, more than happy to tell what he knew. Marian and Charles Ewell had no children, and when Charles died in 1969 the Edmondson family looked after Marian, even after they moved from near Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 1980. (It turned out that Marian never left Philadelphia — the Pittsburgh listing of her place of death in the Social Security Death Index, a database that shows when a recipient received his or her last check, was instead the city in which Mr. Edmondson reported her passing to the Social Security Administration when he got home from the funeral).

Sol White card, 1/50 by Ars Longa

Sol White card, 1/50 by Ars Longa

He remembered her well, as his family’s “favorite aunt,” and recalled her saying many times that her father “was a baseball player.” The details of Sol White’s Hall-worthy career were news to him, but he was interested in hearing them.

Mr. Edmondson is related to Charles Ewell’s side of the family, so he and his several children and grandchildren are not direct descendants of Sol White. It’s pretty clear that Marian Ewell was the last of those.

You might ask just why so much effort was spent on this search. The black journalist Alvin Moses linked White with fellow Hall of Famer John Henry Lloyd in a 1936 column that implored fans “to make sure that their old age won’t be spent among folk who’ll never try to understand them and might be cruel to them.” Lloyd never had that problem, spending his post-baseball years as a community icon in his adopted home of Atlantic City, NJ. The city built a community baseball stadium and named it after him in 1948, and his name is still remembered among the older generations of the city’s African American community.

But exactly what Moses was afraid of happened to Sol White. He spent his last years warehoused in a New York state mental hospital. He was buried in an unmarked grave until the Society for American Baseball Research’s Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project provided a headstone in May 2014. It’s hoped that the people at the Central Islip State Hospital weren’t cruel to Sol, but they definitely didn’t understand what he had done. The folks who have spent the last six months searching for Sol White have tried to make his life history as whole as possible, to honor his memory.

2 Comments

Thanks for this update on Sol White and for acknowledging Jim Overmyer’s dogged research. I’ll be certain that Mrs. Patricia Willis of Frederick Douglas Memorial Park where Sol is buried gets to see this story.

Thanks, John, for planting the seed and Jim for doing the digging to put a family to the story. DDD

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