A League of Their Own
Q: With baseball season in full swing, I found myself watching Ken Burns’ Baseball on Netflix again. I am fascinated with Negro League Baseball and wondered if there was ever a team in Westchester.
—Steve Malloy, New Rochelle
A: The “gentlemen’s agreement” that kept baseball segregated began as early as 1867, when the Pennsylvania Convention of Baseball denied membership to an African American team known as the Philadelphia Pythians. Various prominent white players around the nation began to refuse to play against teams with any African American players. There was never a written policy banning African Americans, but it was definitely understood. When Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis caught wind of a plan by Indians owner Bill Veeck to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and fill its roster with African Americans, the sale of the team not-so-mysteriously was awarded to another bidder.
In response to the agreement, Negro Leagues were founded. Though not quite as organized or well documented as MLB, the Negro Leagues had both major-league and minor-league systems, their own world series and were a huge economic force in the African American communities. Black teams played in Yankee Stadium and other prominent fields to capacity crowds when the MLB home teams were away. Incidentally, in the off-season, barnstorming games between all-star teams of white MLB players and all-stars from the Negro League teams were often played. The Negro League teams won the majority of those games.
So, did Westchester ever have a Negro League team? The answer is no, probably because of the county’s proximity to New York City and Brooklyn, which were home to some of the most successful franchises, like the New York Black Yankees, the New York Cubans, and the Brooklyn Royal Giants. Westchester did not have an affiliated team in any of the official Negro League minor-league teams either.
Aboard the Mothershipâ€‹
Q: I seem to recall that Jackie Gleason had some sort of UFO museum in Peekskill. Is it still standing, and what can you tell me about it?
—Roger Guifre, White Plains
A: Known as the Great One, Jackie Gleason is a cultural icon in America. Gleason had a deep interest in UFOs and all things extraterrestrial, though he was reluctant to admit it publicly. He reportedly maintained an extensive library on the subject, but it wasn’t an actual museum he built; it was his home (which actually has a Cortlandt Manor address). He referred to the secluded house on 196 Furnace Dock Road as The Mothership, and it looks remarkably like a classic flying saucer. Everything in the house was circular or rounded, which was no doubt an homage to the subject of his fascination.
There’s an urban legend that one day, after playing a round of golf with friend and fellow UFO fan Richard Nixon, Gleason was treated to a private tour of an alien morgue by the 37th POTUS. Gleason’s ex-wife even spoke of this incident in an Esquire magazine interview, saying that it traumatized Gleason. The two divorced shortly after that, so the veracity of her statements is suspect.
The Fetid Fen of Hen Island
Q: What is the deal with Hen Island? Where is it? Who lives there? And what is all the environmental controversy about?
—Jack Lamb, Larchmont
A: Hen Island is one of the county’s best-kept secrets—and that may or may not be a good thing. It is a 26-acre island that is part of the city of Rye and home to 34 privately owned cottages. Hidden from just about everything, there is no ferry, so you must have access to your own water transportation to get there. There are other, less charming, aspects of the island that have some residents and anyone who cares about the harbor more than a little concerned. There are no phone lines or community-wide electricity and, alarmingly, no formal sewage system. That means the icky runoff eventually winds up in the harbor and Long Island Sound. The residents also have to collect rainwater, which, some claim, is infected with bird feces. Many say that the island has a terrible mosquito problem, and, in 2012, a Mamaroneck man who lived a half-mile from the island contracted West Nile virus.
Hen Island resident Ray Tartaglione has been a vocal critic of the city administration and what he perceives to be a lack of proper oversight of the sewage problem. The Heal the Harbor organization believes that the sewage from Hen Island has only one place to go, and that’s Long Island Sound. The organization has a mascot that they bring to hearings: an eight-foot character named Mr. Floatie, who is a simulation of, well… use your imagination (and, for God’s sake, don’t forget to flush).