Feature Story

From Ebay to the Colchester Village Cemetery

For several months a real photo postcard had been offered on Ebay with the following description:

Mailed Oct. 10, 1910 at Philadelphia. THIS RPPC (real photo postcard) OF A STREET SCENE IN PHILADELPHIA IS VERY NICE BUT THE REALLY INTERESTING ASPECT OF THIS POSTCARD IS THE END OF THE MESSAGE: "SEND THE PAPER (PROBABLY THE BURLINGTON, VT FREE PRESS) THAT HAS THE BOSTON AMERICAN (AKA RED SOX) GAME AT BURL. (BURLINGTON, VT)." OBVIOUSLY, THE AMERICANS PLAYED A BASEBALL GAME IN BURLINGTON.

I collect antique postcards of Burlington. Although this one didn’t have a Burlington picture, it piqued one of my other interests: The Boston Red Sox. I asked my son about it and he explained that in the early part of the century when Boston had two major league baseball teams, the Sox were often referred to in print as the Boston Americans, referencing their membership in the American League; the Braves, who represented Boston in the National League, were referred to as the Boston Nationals. He also speculated that the postcard was about a barnstorming game. After the season back then, players returned home and put together exhibition games to make some extra money.

At the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, I found these October 11, 1910 Free Press sports headlines: Red Sox Day in the Queen City. Fully 3,000 Lovers of the National Game Flock to Centennial Field. Greatest Crowd On Record. Ray Collins and Larry Gardner the Particular Heros – Friends Present Them with Traveling Bags.

The lengthy article related how Collins and Gardner, both Vermonters and former UVM players, were feted before the game with speeches, gifts, and trophies. In the exhibition game, Collins captained a nine man team which included the regular Sox outfield plus their substitute infield. Gardner captained the opposition with the regular Boston infield and the Boston pitchers in the outfield. Batting leadoff in the bottom of the first, Gardner hit a single to right field, taking second on Clyde Engle’s sacrifice, and scoring on Hugh Bradley’s single to center. As a side note, Bradley went on to hit the first ever home run at Fenway Park two seasons later. The game featured double plays by both teams, multiple rundowns on the base line, a superb defensive play by pitcher Collins, and two hits by Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, who batted third on Collins’ team. In the end, Gardner’s team won 4-1 before a large crowd that included such dignitaries as Vermont Governor John Mead and Burlington Mayor James Burke.

I copied the article and brought it home to further absorb the details.

“Does Ray Collins or Larry Gardner ring a bell,” I asked my son.

“Yes,” he said, “they were old time Red Sox players, weren’t they?”

I went to Wikipedia and found an article on each player. My son, who is familiar with these things, looked up articles on Collins and Gardner through an online archive and found them in Sporting Life, a weekly newspaper published from 1883 to 1924 which provided national coverage on sports.

Ray Collins was a starting Major League pitcher who played his entire career for the Boston Red Sox. A native of Colchester, Vermont, Collins played from 1909 to 1915. After his playing career, Collins returned to the University of Vermont as baseball coach, was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives, and served on the University’s board of trustees.

William Lawrence "Larry" Gardner was a third baseman in Major League Baseball. From 1908 through 1924, Gardner played for the Red Sox, Athletics, and Indians. Gardner was born in Enosburg, Vermont, played baseball at the University of Vermont and became its first player to make the American League. In his 17-season career, Gardner posted a .289 batting average with 1931 hits and 934 RBI in 1922 games.

My third area of interest now took over and I wondered if they were buried in a Vermont cemetery. Gardner died in Saint George, Vermont, was cremated, and the location of his ashes are unknown. Collins was buried in the Colchester Village Cemetery. Last week we hopped in the car and drove over to Colchester. The cemetery is located behind the public library. I cruised down the lower section of stones and my son cruised the upper section. No stones with the name Collins. I went into the library and the folks had a listing. As I looked through the listing, my son leaned through the door, “Found it!” Ray and his wife Lillian Lovely Collins are resting in row 16, plot 1 with a beautiful gray granite rectangular marker. Noting the stone needed some lichen removal, we planned a return visit with the necessary materials to conserve the stone.

Coincidentally, Ray made his presence known to us later in the week. Last Saturday afternoon, we were traveling back from the Grand Isle Ferry on Rt. 2 south of Chimney Corners. My wife blurted out, “Roy Collins!”, as we passed a farm where we often buy our Christmas tree. She had heard us discussing Collins over the past few days and remembered the name when she spied it alongside the road.

“Ray Collins?” My son and I responded in unison.

“Yes, Ray Collins on that Vermont history marker.”

I caught sight of one those green Roadside Historical Markers in the rearview mirror.

The next morning we returned to the Ray Collins Roadside Historical Marker to find: A descendant of one of Burlington’s original settlers, Ray Williston Collins was born on this farm on February 11, 1887. After graduating from Burlington High School and the University of Vermont, Collins joined the Boston Red Sox in 1909 and soon established himself as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the American League. In 1913-14 he won a combined 39 games for the Red Sox, and his lifetime ERA is an impressive 2.51. When his career was cut short by an injury in 1915, Collins returned to this farm and for 35 years struggled to make a living as a dairy farmer. He was active in community affairs; among other things, he represented Colchester in the Vermont Legislature from 1941-43 and served as a University of Vermont trustee in the 1950s. Ray Collins still lived on this farm when he died on January 9, 1970.

Continuing on to the cemetery, we carefully removed several decades of moss and lichen from Ray and Lillian’s resting place. As we washed down our work and stood back, we contemplated our new found connection with that autumn game one hundred years ago.

Barry Trutor