The Niagara River Claims a Baseball Great

It was a shocking discovery! Around 8:30 on the morning of July 9, 1903, William LeBlond was working at the Canadian Maid of the Mist (now Hornblower) landing opposite the American Falls when he suddenly saw a gruesome sight. Floating in the river was the body of a man. It was badly bloated, partly decomposed and naked except for a necktie, shoes and socks. As well, the stomach was torn open and a leg had been almost severed from the thigh. There was little doubt the body had come over the Horseshoe Falls. LeBlond notified the police who arranged for the remains to be taken to the Morse Funeral Home in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

When news of the grim discovery reached the off ices of the Cataract Journal in Niagara Falls, New York, one of its reporters had an idea about the identity of the victim. He went to view the body and felt his suspicions were confirmed when he examined the dead man’s fingers. They were bent, with abnormally large joints while the little finger of the left hand was very crooked as though it had been broken a number of times. They were, the reporter realized, “baseball hands.” He was sure the body was that of Ed Delahanty, one of the best known professional ball players of the day and who had been missing since the July 2. Later, a younger brother of the victim, also hearing of the discovery, came from Buffalo and made a positive identification.

“Big Ed” Delahanty had enjoyed a remarkable career in baseball. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1867, he began playing the game at a very young age. After working his way through the minors, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League and, at the time of his death, was with the American League Washington Senators. He became one of the game’s greatest sluggers – the “King of Swat.” He could hit the ball so far that home runs by other players were referred to as “Delahanty bunts.” Legend had it that on one occasion he had hit a ball so hard it split in two. His career batting average of .346, recorded between 1888 and 1903, is still among the best ever. He was also one of the first players to hit four home runs in a single game.

On Sunday, June 28, 1903, Delahanty and his Washington teammates arrived in Detroit for a series with the Tigers. For some weeks Ed’s behaviour had been very irrational. Often his hands trembled and he raved incoherently. At other times he seemed to be hallucinating. Once he threatened to kill himself and another time chased a fellow player with a large knife. To complicate matters, he was drinking heavily. At some point during the afternoon of July 2, Delahanty left his Detroit hotel and completely vanished. After his body was discovered at Niagara Falls seven days later, the pieces of the puzzle quickly came together. It was learned that on the day of his disappearance he had boarded a Michigan Central Railroad passenger train bound for Buffalo and New York City. The Michigan Central line ran from Detroit to Buffalo by way of Southern Ontario, passing through Windsor, St. Thomas and Welland before reaching Fort Erie alongside the Niagara River opposite Buffalo. Delahanty’s behavior while on the train was drunk and disorderly. At one point he attempted to pull a lady passenger out of a berth by her ankles. Conductor John Cole and the other passengers had all had enough so when they reached Fort Erie, at 10:45 p.m., Cole gently forced him off the train. It then moved on across the International Railway Bridge over the Niagara River and into Buffalo. Sam Kingston, night guard on the bridge, watched the train go by and then a few minutes later began his patrol. He was almost to the centre of the bridge when he suddenly saw a man standing alongside the tracks. When Kingston demanded to know what he was doing, the stranger threatened to “break his face.” As the guard made a move toward him, the man ran off into the darkness towards the Buffalo end of the span. A moment later, in the distance, Kingston heard a splash followed by a cry for help. But Ed Delahanty was beyond help now and nobody would ever know if he accidentally fell or deliberately jumped into the fast-f lowing Niagara River. His body was sent to Cleveland for burial. In 1945 Ed Delahanty was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He is one player, however, remembered not only for his accomplishments but because of his mysterious death at Niagara.

By: Sherman Zavitz

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