Three cheers for the Monmouth Furnace!
Though it might seem odd to be celebrating a furnace, this term actually refers to a beloved American pastime as popular in the 19th century as it is now- Base Ball. Two words, but the same sport you’ll see represented on hats, jerseys, and lanyards across crowds of thousands of adoring fans in stadiums across the United States. The Monmouth Furnace refers to the club that represents the Historic Village at Allaire, utilizing game rules from 1864, just a year before the Civil War ended. The sport of Base Ball as played in 1864 brandishes a few rule and equipment changes from the modern version, however. For example, today, when we think of a baseball, a clear image of white leather and red stitching comes to mind. But historic rules simply call for a ball “composed of India rubber and yarn, and covered with leather,” as according to the rules from 1864. This means that the actual baseball must have varied in hardness and bounciness from game to game, which could shape how the players responded and the overall outcome of the game.
The rules attempt to outline a basis of standardization to guide the sport as it grew in popularity, which reflects a nationwide attempt to streamline many aspects of modern life like food and labor as America became more industrialized. For example, the rules dictate that the baseball must fit into certain dimensions, and that the bat must be composed entirely of a thick, sturdy wood. The dimensions of the playing field as well as the specific locations of the plates and home base must be exact, and were measured according to their distance from each other. Even more rugged is the fact that many players did not utilize gloves until the rules were standardized, letting the ball bounce against the raw skin of their palms. The love of the game let them ignore their injury. The necessity of specification, even in words written so long ago, to me shows the enthusiasm and love of the sport that has withstood the test of time. Base ball games were a place where local communities could gather, share food and drink, and celebrate or mourn their losses. Games were a place of celebration and uniting against another team, an idea as intrinsically American as apple pie.
In 1864, at a time when America was so catastrophically and systemically separated, maybe some fans looked to the game as a means of momentarily forgetting the problems of modern life. When held in the same space at the same time, the two very contrasting images of a Base ball game and a Civil War battle seem startling, and almost ironically different. But examining American history, as we are right now, means holding two contrasting truths up to light and seeing if they can exist at the same time. There is war, and then there is Base ball. As historians and people who love history, we can examine the rules and images of the war as two sides of the same coin. Two threads of history that, while opposite artifacts, make up the fabric of history and modern American life. War and slavery made us forget each other’s humanity, while baseball helped us to remember it.
Check out the game of Base Ball played here at Allaire Village on June 18th, 2022!