The Mystery of the Tournament Park Postcards
I enjoyed reading the Hardy Boys series of mysteries as a kid, but I have solved few crimes in my day and only a handful of mysteries until recently. While researching Fields of Friendly Strife, I stumbled across several stories that needed disentangling, and one of my stumbles solved a mystery that had dogged me for a few years.
The Mystery of the Tournament Park Postcards started five or six years ago while searching eBay for items connected to Tournament Park, the playing site of the Rose Bowl games before Rose Bowl Stadium opened for the 1923 Rose Bowl. One of my searches led to the postcard below showing a Pasadena stadium that I recognized as Tournament Park.
Before going further, I should explain that this postcard is an example of what collectors call a Real Photo Postcard or RPPC. For many RPPCs, families hired the local photographer who, using a large wooden camera sitting atop long-legged tripods, took a few shots and printed the results on postcard stock so the families could send the cards to friends and relatives. The personal RPPCs were akin to the Christmas greeting cards that are common nowadays. Other RPPCs were produced commercially and sold in local shops, allowing everyday folks to buy a postcard and send a message on to others. The examples included here are commercial RPPCs.
Regardless of why they were printed, most RPPCs were printed without a description on the back regarding the image on the front. In the postcard above, there is no description to tell you what is pictured or why someone saw fit to commemorate the event. Like many RPPCs, The Navys – 220 Piece Band. Pasadena Calif 1921 notation is the only information provided on the postcard itself.
While the postcard itself did not reveal why it was printed, I could exclude several possibilities. First, I knew that the Naval Academy’s only Rose Bowl appearance came in 1924, and that game was played in one-year-old Rose Bowl Stadium, not Tournament Park, so there had to be another reason for the Navy band's appearance. Second, I also knew the West Point - Naval Academy game had always been played at East Coast locations with two exceptions. The 1926 meeting was the inaugural game at Chicago’s Soldier Field, and the teams played at the Rose Bowl in 1983, but not in the Rose Bowl, if you know what I mean. Despite various searches, I was left with a postcard displaying an event I could not identify.
A few years later, I found a similar postcard but failed to notice the three soldiers in the lower left in Army uniforms (boots, jodhpurs, and campaign hats). Had I noticed the soldiers, I might have searched a different path, but I didn't, so I remained clueless about the event portrayed in the two postcards.
Then I found and bought a third postcard with the image shot from the opposite corner of the stadium showing more Navy rooters and what appear to be cheerleaders just off the sideline. Still, the third postcard did not provide enough additional clues to solve the mystery.
While I never lost sleep over this mystery, it gnawed at me, knowing there was likely an obvious explanation for an event that warranted the production of multiple postcards. Whatever it was, I simply could not see it, and I doubt many readers are faring better in solving the mystery.
Fast forward to my research on Fields of Friendly Strife. Late in the process, I was chasing a loose string concerning Harry J. Craig, a Camp Lewis player from the 1918 Rose Bowl, and the loose string suggested he remained in the Army after WWI. Changing some terms in a query string led me to a newspaper article telling me not only that Harry Craig was a member of the Army Reserves in the early 1920s, but that he played in a football game with the Ninth Army Corps against the Navy’s Pacific Coast Fleet at Tournament Park in 1921. Hmm…
Army-Navy Football in the 1920s
As discussed in Fields of Friendly Strife, virtually every military base in the country formed a football team during WWI, and the best service teams played in the 1918 and 1919 Rose Bowls. Service football continued on a limited basis after the war. On the West Coast, the Navy formed an all-star team with men pulled from the entire Pacific Coast Fleet. The Army created an all-star team for its Ninth Army Corps based at Camp Lewis, which oversaw all active Army and Reserve units in nine Western states. In 1920, the two teams started an annual series with a game played on Armistice Day at Tournament Park in Pasadena. The Army-Navy Armistice Day game became a big deal almost immediately. In a nation fresh out of war, the locals celebrated the armed forces in a festive atmosphere and capped the day with a society ball organized around the event. (The annual series moved to California Stadium in Berkeley in 1926 and continued until 1941.)
The series did not start well for the Army, given the 124-0 loss suffered in 1920, but the Army entered the 1921 season with a different mindset and, more important, a different set of players. The 1921 Army team included a player from Brown’s 1916 Rose Bowl team, four former West Point players, another from Cornell, and Everett May and Harry Craig from Camp Lewis’ 1918 Rose Bowl team. The Ninth Army Corps team’s schedule included a 24-7 loss to Washington and a handful of games against amateur athletic clubs and lesser college teams.
On the other hand, the 1921 Pacific Fleet team played a tough schedule with games against Nevada, Stanford, and St. Mary’s, suffering a 24-10 loss to a California team that played in the 1922 Rose Bowl a few months later. Navy’s team included several former Annapolis players, including Bill Ingram, a Naval Academy All-American quarterback that played in their 7-6 loss to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1918, a victory that sent Great Lakes to the 1919 Rose Bowl.
The newspaper articles tell us Navy had a 200-piece band at the game, while the Army supporters included a band comprised of Civil War veterans, all of whom would have been in their 70s or 80s by that time. Ultimately, the 1921 game saw Navy sail away with a 24-0 victory, with the difference coming from Navy's aerial attack and the play of Bill Ingram.
An Army of One
Nothing in the newspaper articles covering the 1921 Armistice Day game provided a direct link to the mystery postcards, but they gave me information to both widen and narrow my search. Those searches brought another postcard into my greedy little hands. (Please, no jokes about my little hands.)
The fourth postcard has the same handwriting, image quality, and format as the mystery postcards of Navy rooters, but this one shows the Army’s mascot mule and a bunch of soldiers on the field at Tournament Park. So, I could place Army and Navy personnel at Tournament Park in 1921, but none of the postcards provided evidence of a football game being played that day. That's when the continued search for evidence located postcard #5.
The fifth postcard shows the Pacific Fleet football team on the field at Tournament Park. The skeptical could argue that the postcard shows the team on the field in a different year, but our expert forensic specialists, meaning myself, examined the banner seen at the top of the stands. They concluded that it dips on the right side just as it does in the background of the second postcard. Scroll up and check for yourself!
With all that said, I submit these five postcards as evidence and conclude that each shows a scene from the 1921 Army-Navy Armistice Day game. Mystery solved.
As a final tidbit, my searches identified another item tied to the game that was up for auction and was far cooler than any combination of postcards I might find. It turns out that the sterling silver trophy from the 1921 Army-Navy Armistice Day game was up for auction recently (shown here). The auction ended with a $1,600 price tag that was inconsistent with the width of my wallet, so some other lucky devil now owns that beauty.
Despite not winning (or even bidding on) the trophy, I have the satisfaction of having followed in the footsteps of the great Frank and Joe Hardy by cracking a mystery and, as one of my learned friends used to say, "It don't get no better than that."
A year or two after publishing this article, I found another postcard from the same day.
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