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Green Bay Packers history becomes a mix of facts, fiction

Oct. 31, 2011
 
This picture was taken in Joannes Park, where the Green Bay Packers practiced in 1923, with the photographer facing northwest. Green Bay East High School was under construction at the time and the far west end of it is visible on the right. The homes to the left of the old Hagemeister Clubhouse at center were located on Walnut Street, just west of Baird Street. Neville Public Museum photo
This picture was taken in Joannes Park, where the Green Bay Packers practiced in 1923, with the photographer facing northwest. Green Bay East High School was under construction at the time and the far west end of it is visible on the right. The homes to the left of the old Hagemeister Clubhouse at center were located on Walnut Street, just west of Baird Street. Neville Public Museum photo
The ballpark at Hagemeister Park was located where Green Bay East High School stands today. The photographer who took this picture was facing east and shooting from more than 125 feet away from the fence on the ballpark's west side. The building on the right is the Hagemeister Skating Rink, which ran alongside what today would be the north side of Walnut Street, east of Baird Street. Neville Public Museum photo

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The Green Bay Packers might have the most compelling history of any pro sports team in North America. It’s a story so unique and so fascinating, it doesn’t need to be fabricated or embellished.

But that seems to be the latest craze.

Even the Packers have gotten into the act. In a scoreboard tribute to their 1961 championship team, presented at the Denver game, they repeated the utter nonsense that when Vince Lombardi put the ‘G’ on the team’s helmets, it stood for great.

Even more outlandish is a story about how Curly Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun, co-founders of the Packers, hatched their plans in 1919 in Shamus O’Brien’s bar on Main Street, now the Top Hat Club. The story appeared in both “Green Bay: A City and Its Team,” a beautiful book with great pictures but rife with incorrect captions and other mistakes, and Scene, a local arts and entertainment newspaper.

Yes, O’Brien’s was one of Calhoun’s favorite hangouts. But O’Brien didn’t open his bar until 1934, 15 years after the Packers were founded. That’s based on city directories, minutes from city council proceedings and the word of a surviving daughter. O’Brien was a cutter for Frank Kress’ horse-collar business through the 1920s.

Two years before Prohibition ended, O’Brien went to work at Joe Feldhausen’s soft drink parlor and, in turn, tended bar for Feldhausen — at what is now Van Boxel’s — before opening his own place down the street. Five years later, Sham’s Emerald Isle Tavern was pictured in Life magazine as a hangout for Packers fans.

Calhoun wrote on several occasions — as did many of his close colleagues — that the idea of forming the Packers was first discussed when he ran into Lambeau at a street corner. But Calhoun never provided any details until he said in an interview shortly before his death in 1963 that the conversation took place while he was walking back to the old Press-Gazette building on Cherry Street from the Baltimore Lunch, which was located next to the Orpheum Theater, later the Vic.

Here’s more fact vs. fiction about early Packers history, which was told only in bits and pieces. The facts are based on a day-by-day search of Press-Gazette papers for more than 30 years and other documentation found in city and county records.

Lambeau’s boyhood homes

At least four books placed Lambeau’s boyhood home at 1205 Cherry St. Local attorney Ken Calewarts and his son, John, previously discovered that Lambeau’s birthplace home was located at what is now 615 N. Irwin St.

Based on city directories and U.S. census information, Marcel and Mary Lambeau, Curly’s parents, resided at six different addresses at the very least from the time Curly was born until he graduated from high school. But there’s no record that the family ever lived on Cherry. Also, the Lambeaus never owned any of the homes, according to Brown County tax records.

First meeting of the Packers

The Packers date their birth to an Aug. 11, 1919, meeting at the old Press-Gazette building. Coverage of the meeting was limited to a single phrase in the paper two days later. It read: “The first meeting of the Indians was held on Monday evening in The Press-Gazette editorial rooms …”

The paper ran no advance notice of the meeting and never shed any more light on it for more than 30 years.

Jack Rudolph, perhaps Green Bay’s foremost historian and a colleague of Calhoun’s, finally addressed the subject in the 1950s when he wrote more than once that “no roll call was taken” and “nobody is exactly sure” who was in attendance. Calhoun, a member of the paper’s editorial staff from 1917 to 1957, finally said after his retirement that he thought there were maybe 20 to 25 players on hand.

But that was all he revealed. Anyone who has written in more detail about the meeting is guilty of guesswork.

Hagemeister Park

Hagemeister Park was where the Packers played from 1919 through 1922. Today, it’s where East High School and City Stadium stand, plus the surrounding land north of what is now the east end of Walnut Street to the East River. Back then, Walnut ended at Baird Street. Moreover, what is now Joannes Park was connected and often referred to as being part of Hagemeister from 1899, when Henry Hagemeister was put in charge of the entire grounds, until late 1919 when the Joannes family donated its section to the city.

The book “A City and Its Team” used a 1923 picture of the Packers posing in a T-formation to try and pinpoint the location of the team’s field at Hagemeister. But the book wrongly concluded that the picture was taken from behind what is now East High by a photographer facing southwest. In reality, the picture was taken in Joannes Park, where the Packers practiced in 1923, with the camera pointed northwest toward the old Hagemeister Clubhouse, located at the corner of Walnut and Baird.

The book also identified a picture taken in Hagemeister Park with Model Ts in the foreground and a ballpark in the back with a fence and bleachers as the Packers’ first home in 1919. That caption was wrong, too.

In 1919, the Packers played on an open field, according to several stories written over the years by Calhoun and Rudolph. There was no fence or any bleachers. In 1920, local volunteers built a fence around a 400- by 200-foot area in Hagemeister Park so the Packers could charge admission and make money. Some bleachers also were erected.

The lumber was donated by the Indian Packing Co., the Packers’ original sponsor. But when the season ended, the fence and stands were torn down, and the lumber was returned to the packing company.

In the spring of 1921, a fence and stands were rebuilt for the local baseball team. Then when the Packers were admitted to what is now the NFL in late August, workers rushed to increase capacity to 3,600 by building box seats and bleachers extending between the 20-yard lines on both sides of the field.

The ballpark was located roughly on what today would be the eastern half of East High based on survey maps in the Brown County Planning Dept., city fire atlases, Press-Gazette stories and various pictures.

In the spring of 1923, the Green Bay School Board ordered that the Hagemeister ballpark be torn down immediately so construction could start on East High. The wood from the stadium was cut into sections, moved and used to build Bellevue Park, which was put up in less than three weeks to accommodate the local baseball team. “A City and Its Team” erroneously stated Bellevue was built five years earlier.

Bellevue Park

Located on Main Street near where Jauquet Lumber is today, Bellevue Park was the Packers’ home in 1923 and ’24. A plaque located in the west concourse at Lambeau Field refers to it as an old minor league baseball park. Not true.

Green Bay had a minor league team from 1905 to 1914, but it played in Hagemeister Park. The team’s small wooden ballpark was often referred to as the W-I (for Wisconsin-Illinois) or simply League Ball Grounds and also was used for football, notably for the annual East-West game. It was torn down in 1918. Bellevue Park was razed in 1928 and replaced as the city’s baseball park by Joannes Stadium.

Indian & Acme Packing Plant

Two buildings that were part of the Indian Packing Co. when the Packers were founded in 1919 — Acme purchased it in late 1920 — are still standing and can be seen from Morrow Street — from the middle of three railroad tracks west of Henry — or from the George Kress Trail.

The Packers practiced at the plant in their first two seasons and that’s where their first team photo was taken. But contrary to “A City & Its Team,” the practice field was located west of the plant on Morrow, not east, and the picture was taken in front of an 11-stall garage that was torn down, not in front of one of the existing buildings.

Jim Thorpe

“A City and Its Team” said Thorpe played on “numerous occasions” in Green Bay. He’s one of the few NFL legends never to have played here.

One last point

There’s no way to prove there was never a metal goal post in Hagemeister Park and that the plaques with rings from it that were offered by the Packers Hall of Fame for $395 are a hoax. But two action pictures from different games at Hagemeister provide views of wooden goal posts.

Cliff Christl is a former Packers beat writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
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I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
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I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
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It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
34%
1271 votes

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