Sunday night we saw the end of the baseball career of Yankee Stadium -- or, as it was sometimes known, "The White Pile," "The Big Barn in the Bronx," and "Colonel Ruppert's Rumpus Room." But in its eight-plus decades of operation, the stadium hosted much more than just baseball and football games. Here is an accounting of some of its lesser-known events.
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Yankee Stadium has hosted all sorts of events over the years.
The Marble Championships of America: Oct. 9-11, 1925
In the time before the NBA existed and before the NFL and NHL were firmly established, plenty of games tried to lay claim to being the second-most popular sport in the country behind baseball. Among them was marbles, the playground pastime that peaked in popularity in post-World War I America. Its promoters booked Yankee Stadium for the biggest tourney ever held. Ticket sales for the first day were brisk. But by the third day, when only 300 people showed up, it had become all too obvious that marbles as a stadium spectacle was never going to take off. "Picture, if you will," wrote Grantland Rice, "sitting in the upper deck behind what is normally home plate, watching two boys playing a game with tiny glass spheres. It strains the eyes and all credulity."
The Alexander-Marzutti Executions: Sept. 28, 1929
Notorious murderers William Alexander and Farlanz Marzutti were sentenced to death for killing their mailman. They committed the crime, they said, to prove that people of their intellectual superiority could easily get away with murder. The plan came undone when they couldn't stop giggling while being questioned by police. They were sentenced to death, and an outraged public demanded the right to "see the eggheads fry." A public execution was scheduled at Yankee Stadium, with twin electric chairs positioned on a platform in the approximate area of the pitcher's mound. It was all for naught, however, when an intense thunder and lightning storm settled over the stadium just as the executions were set to take place. "Somebody could get killed out there," said New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt, before calling off the proceedings. Alexander and Marzutti were later dispatched of indoors, in the more traditional fashion.
The Greater New York Free-For-All: June 17, 1933
In an age when marathon dancing gave desperate couples a chance to earn big money, it should come as no surprise that someone would stage a contest in which 1,000 men were placed on the field at Yankee Stadium and told to fight until only one of them was left standing. That lucky fellow would receive a check for $500, as well as free medical attention. Those who tried to save themselves by not fighting were taken down by a team of enforcers who roamed the field making sure every contestant was giving his all. (For the record, the winner was an unemployed stockbroker named R.K. Vincent.) The "mass melee," as it was called, drew a decent crowd of 35,000, although the event was marred by much fighting in the stands.
The National Convention of the Free Money Party: July 6-7, 1936
The platform of the Free Money Party was simple, and well-stated in its very name: It wanted the government to give everybody money. Lots of money. "We demand $5,000 a year for each and every American currently not making $5,000 a year," thundered the party's presidential candidate, E. Stockton Cabrideaux, to the cheers of 71,000 delegates and followers at Yankee Stadium in the election year of 1936. And where was this money (the equivalent of about $75,000 in 2008 dollars) to come from? Government coffers. And what were people expected to do to earn this money? "Nothing!" roared the crowd when asked that very question by Cabrideaux. In the end, nothing came of the movement however, because Cabrideaux took his party's name literally and emptied its accounts. He then disappeared with his secretary to a South American point unknown.
The Coffin Derby National Championships: Aug. 23-24, 1947
It's hard to believe in this age of video games, but the Soap Box Derby was once one of the most popular sporting events in America. Hoping to cash in on this phenomenon, wherein children race unpowered homemade cars down a slope, an entrepreneurial Bronx mortician named Buddy Slobith booked Yankee Stadium for two days and created his own copycat tournament. The trick here was for children to refashion pine coffins into vehicles. Also, the slope was higher than in the original -- much higher. Slobith built an elaborate ramp which placed the starting line at the very top of the upper deck in right field. It swooped down at an extreme angle, with the finish line right around second base. Momentum was slowed by a pile of pillows placed in the third-base dugout. (Plans for an extra loop were abandoned owing to a disagreement with the carpenters' union.) Speeds were breathtaking, and there were many injuries. Most parents pulled their children from the race upon viewing the track, but Slobith quickly replaced them with locally-recruited orphans, whom he deemed expendable. A good time was had by all (save the participants), but do-gooders made certain there would be no subsequent competitions.
The Yankee Stadium Drive-In Movie Theater: 1966
When CBS purchased the Yankees, fortunes on the field and at the turnstiles immediately began to wane. Looking for new revenue streams, ownership decided to turn the stadium into a drive-in movie theater whenever the Yankees went on the road. "Stadium and drive-in snack bars share a remarkable similarity in quality, pricing and cleanliness," read an official press release, "and a scoreboard is easily transformed into a giant screen." The list of reasons this endeavor failed is much too lengthy, so it is best to mention the single smart decision made in relation to it: stopping the project after three nights.
Woodstock South: Aug. 16-18, 1969
Getting to upstate New York for the famous Woodstock Music and Art Fair was problematic for many. It required the would-be festival attendee to plan ahead and navigate roads packed with traffic. "What a stone hassle," opined Ho Chi Bradley, a small-time concert promoter who seized the moment and organized an alternate festival for those too "disoriented, disorganized and discombobulated" to make the trek to Max Yasgur's farm. With the Yankees on the road in Chicago and Kansas City, the Stadium was free to host those who lacked the ambition or wherewithal to get to the real thing. Bradley booked local unknowns who worked cheaply, placing them on a stage in center field. And he attracted about 40,000 people, most of whom, owing to their state of consciousness at the time, swear to this day that they were actually at Woodstock.
The One-Man Yankee Fantasy Camp: April 19, 1976
"Remember how you were told growing up that money does not buy happiness? You were lied to. Look at me: I'm completely ecstatic, and it's all thanks to money." So said multimillionaire Dripton Threeds upon completing his "fantasy day" at Yankee Stadium, during which he rented out the team and the stadium and played one inning at each position wearing pinstripes alongside Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph and Thurman Munson. The game -- played against the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs -- was not open to the public. Nor would the Yankees say how much Threeds paid them for the privilege. Rumor had it, though, that it was more than enough money to help the team afford to sign Reggie Jackson the following winter.
The Church of the Real True Life Mass Birthing: July 19-23, 1989
The infamous church founded by the Reverend Sipiot Mercule was often billed as a cult, but only because it brainwashed members, took all their belongings and wouldn't allow them any contact with their families. Hoping to one-up the mass marriage blessing held by the Unification Church at Madison Square Garden in 1982, in which the Reverend Sun Myung Moon had handpicked the matches himself, Mercule arranged for all of his pregnant followers to gather at Yankee Stadium to give birth on the playing field over a period of five days. Some 600 women and church midwives showed up at the appointed time, ready to go, with thousands more followers filling the stands to behold the spectacle. Scandal soon erupted, however, when it was discovered that the Reverend Mercule was the father of each and every newborn.
Jim Baker is a regular contributor to Page 2.