Thursday, July 25, 2013

About that "1921" Photo...

You may remember this photo, which sold at auction in November of 2011.

It was billed as "the earliest known action photo of the Green Bay Packers franchise", purporting to show a 1921 game.

You may also recall that I expressed skepticism at the time, based on the "Packer" uniforms. As it turns out, I was right in that.

Yesterday, Green Bay Press-Gazette scribe Cliff Christl (who knows a thing or two about early Packers history) blew the lid off of this story.

With thousands of Green Bay Packers shareholders descending upon our city for their annual meeting Wednesday and swarms of other fans preparing to make their annual pilgrimage to training camp, now might be a good time to remind them that when buying Packers memorabilia, buyer beware.

That may be especially true when purchasing early Packers pictures, many of which are unmarked in the Neville Public Museum collection but have been tagged with incorrect captions in a number of books and publications about Packers history, including the team’s own 75th anniversary book.

The picture that appears along with this column was sold on Mears Online Auctions site in 2011 for $4,674, including a buyer’s premium.

Mears claimed the picture was an original from 1921 and that Curly Lambeau was the one about to take the pitchout and run with the ball; in turn, “making it the earliest action image of Lambeau known” and also “the earliest known action photo of the Green Bay Packers franchise.”

Too bad for the proud owner, but here’s the bad news: You were fleeced. You bought a picture of a high school football game and Lambeau is nowhere to be found in it.

Mears also stated in its online description that the picture was commissioned by Buff Wagner of Marinette and remained in his family until about 2000. Wagner played for the Packers in 1920 and ’21.

The picture alone should have raised at least three red flags.

One was the Allouez Water and Beverages sign. It appears to match the sign that stood in the old minor-league baseball stadium in Hagemeister Park, which also doubled as a football field.

What doesn’t add up is that Green Bay lost its minor-league team following the 1914 season and that ballpark was torn down in the spring of 1918, the year before the Packers were born.

Two was the snow. The Packers played 18 games, including exhibitions, at Hagemeister Park in 1920 and ’21, but only six after Nov. 1. Those were the only two seasons that Lambeau and Wagner played together with the Packers, although they also participated along with a number of their teammates in a local benefit game at Hagemeister on Dec. 5, 1920.

The problem is that of those 19 games, including the benefit, the only one in which there was snow on the ground was played Nov. 13, 1921, based on National Weather Service records reviewed by local meteorologist Roy Eckberg.

Three was the jerseys. If the game was played in 1921, that was the year the Acme Packing Co. sponsored the Packers.

Here’s the flag-raiser: The Packers’ 1921 team picture shows that at least a handful of players, including Lambeau and Wagner, wore jerseys with Acme Packers written in large bold letters across the front. Only two of the jerseys worn by players on the team with the ball are clearly visible in the picture in question, but there’s no sign of any lettering.

What’s more, the Packers’ jerseys were darker than their pants in their team photo and it’s just the opposite in the action photo; and the players’ socks differ in the two photos.

Mears’ online description also suggested an ignorance of Packers history.

It noted that Wagner played for the Packers in 1920 and ’21 and that Lambeau joined the team in ’21. As most every Packers fan knows, Lambeau helped found the team in 1919. The description also stated that it was the Packers’ second professional season when, in fact, it was their third season and first league season, and whether they were a professional or semipro team in their first two years is a debatable point.

So who was playing and where’s the proof that it wasn’t an actual shot of Lambeau and the Packers?

The $4,600 picture was of a high school football game played at Hagemeister Park between Marinette and Watertown on Dec. 8, 1917. That was long before high school football playoffs — back when any successful high school team in the state could challenge any other to play for the state championship.

Marinette claimed to be champions of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and invited any of four other undefeated teams in the state to try to prove otherwise. Watertown accepted and Green Bay made a strong pitch to serve as host. The local promoters — Brown County Red Cross chapter, Green Bay Association of Commerce and Green Bay Press-Gazette — then went all out to hype the game.

Wagner was Marinette’s captain and fullback, and the game was played in zero-degree weather with about an inch of snow on the ground. As for Lambeau, he went to Green Bay East High School and graduated the previous spring.

Proof that it wasn’t a Packers game can be found in Snapshots, Green Bay West’s 1918 Yearbook. The picture appeared there on page 100 more than a year before the Packers were born.
Amazing, amazing work from Mr. Christl.