The year 1887 was a different time for sports. With the national 19 hour work day, there was little time for leisure. If it wasn't removing a shredded mangled child from a combine, your free time was otherwise absorbed by the four to five hours of fitful sleep you got in between sessions in the coal mines, on the farm, or worst of all, shaving pigs to acquire bristles for the artificial mustaches all men of distinction wore at all times. 1887 sucked. Don't ever go on vacation there.
So a series of sports cards from that year may seem impossible, but remember that a middle class was developing worldwide, a middle class that demanded no less than two hours of free time a day. Hounds were released and blood was shed, but at the end of it all the plutocrats gave in and awarded everyone 17 minutes of free time a day.
Seventeen minutes isn't a lot of time to work out and become good at sports. This explains much of what is going on in these cards, but if that doesn't cover it we've included a historical explanation of some of what is going on in these.
DUNCAN CROSS, CHAMPION ALL-AROUND ATHLETE OF THE WORLD
Remember that people were easily impressed in 1887, by our standards. "A street without corpses! Why, you're putting on airs now, Philadelphia." Duncan Cross appeared to earn this title by being a.) magnetic, and b.) in close proximity to European nobility, who were amazed and outraged when their medals flew off their jackets and onto this dashing Scotsman. Carrying them with ease was his main athletic accomplishment. His other was lifting bowling pins. No one got enough to eat in 1887, so if you could lift a bowling pin you were like the strongest man in the world. It was like the world's biggest retirement home, basically, except lunch was always cholera.
JAMES O'NEIL, CHAMPION BASE BALL BATTER
Baseball was an important part of American life in 1887, though the rules were very different. "Batters" got their names from the wooden sticks they used to fend off rabid dogs while standing in the "batter's box." "Batters" then got "drilled like Custer at Little Big Horn" by the "pitcher," often while a huge man in a striped fez peered over the horizon at them in silent judgment of their deeds.
And no one, we repeat NO ONE was better at taking a base-ball to the chest than the Irish James O'Neil! He endured over 1,800 balls pitched before succumbing to a combination of the pleurisy and being devoured by wolves in a match in Framingham, Massachusetts. As Mitch Albom wrote at the time: "Let's ban the eating!"
DELL DARLING, CHAMPION BASE BALL CATCHER
Darling set what was then a record by surviving 14 assaults by batters, who, if they did not flinch upon contact with a pitched ball, were then allowed to swing freely at the "catcher" until their arms grew tired and the wood of the bat itself grew soft. The 1887 matchup between Champion Base Ball Batter James O'Neil and Dell Darling was described by the Providence, Rhode Island police department as "sportive, thoroughly entertaining, and most certainly manslaughter of the first degree." Be not confused! Dell Darling in this picture is not pleading for his life, but is most certainly taunting the batter with his trademark phrase, "A butter's whore is bread's mistress, and your mother is the entire sand-wich!" Being a catcher was stupid in 1887, and still is.
MASTER RAY PERRY, CHAMPION BOY BOXER OF AMERICA
I'll be honest. I don't even know what to do with this one because in 1887 people seriously considered juvenile boxing to be a sport, a sport you could watch on pay-per-view 1887 style. The way pay-per-view worked in 1887 was simple. You entered a building for free. Two children--undoubtedly immigrants dosed with morphine, Indonesian herbal anger dust, and cocaine--squared off in a humanely arranged 700 round bout decided one of three ways under Arkansas Rat-Trapper's Rules:
- First to 28 falls
- Survival of the Ordeal Of The Weasels, an unleashing of voracious mink-creatures in the 382nd round.
You watched this with wooden box on your head, one with slat along the front to allow you to see. Paying by the minute, you gave an urchin a nickel to operate the slot and leave it open so you, the viewer, could watch young rapscallions like Master Ray Perry. If you failed to pay by the minute, the slat was closed until you coughed up a nickel. Then, after the match, the match where you just paid to watch children pummel each other, the slat was closed, and you were impressed into the United States Navy for five years, something you totally deserved for paying to watch children fight.
I do wonder if kids were ever matched up against adults. This being 1887, I suppose that and "boy versus ape" fights are both just forgone conclusions. Also, the title "Master" looks hilarious here, as in "Bow to Master Perry! And go get him a juice box before he beats you unconscious."
JOHN WESSELS, BOY CLUB SWINGER
Nope. Not with a hundred foot pole. Not touching "1887 Boy Club Swinger."
JOHNNY KANE, CHAMPION BRONCO RIDER
Johnny Kane thought that if two legs were good enough for a man, they were good enough for a horse, and I'll be darned if he didn't get his horses to believe it, too.
CHAS P. BLATT, CANNONBALL CATCHER
Some people say it was his sheer determination and grit. Others credited his forward-thinking embrace of Russian Kettlebell training. Some have even said it was his trademark red silk evening dress that helped Chas P. Blatt catch four cannonballs in the year 1887. We may never know the secret to his success, but it is certain how Blatt died: by trying to catch a cannonball and being blown apart in the process, because it is a cannonball, and one should never try to catch one because it's a cannonball. Stupid crossdressing Chas P. Blatt.
PAUL BOYNTON, CHAMPION DEEP SEA SWIMMER
In 1887 people were so poor they used themselves as kayaks. Paul Boynton was the best kayak-person. You bought him at REI one weekend and took him out to the lake, and your wife was like, "Honey, you're gonna use that like one time, and then forget about it, and it'll just sit in the garage forever and you and I both will feel bad about it." And you were like, "You're wrong, and I'll prove it! I'll take Paul Boynton to the lake every weekend, and I'll be XTREEM and learn sweet eskimo rolls and compete in the Olympics!" And Paul Boynton would nod, and sometimes ask for seltzer water with lemon and a lobster roll, if you had one perchance, good sirrah.
Just the other day, when you found the skeleton of kayak-person Paul Boynton in the garage, where you left him for like four years without so much as a lobster roll or seltzer water? Boy, your wife is gonna get so many right points for this! Next time just rent a kayak, not a kayak person. We repeat: 1887 was really stupid, y'all.
ISAAC MURPHY, CHAMPION COLORED JOCKEY
Now, before you say "My, this is a very racist card," I'd like to you to pause. Is this man supposed to be African-American, or a depiction of a purple zombie midget Steve Buscemi? I'd argue the latter, since I've never seen anyone that color, much less an actual African-American person who could make horses fly. Jockeys wore velvet lampshades on their heads not for protection in 1887, but because the fifteen evil wealthy people who owned everything found people wearing lampshades to be hilarious.
PATSY CARDIFF, CHAMPION GIANT PUGILIST
1887 was not without irony. For instance, the parents of the greatest giant pugilist of the era gave their tremendous 32 pounds newborn the name "Patsy," thus underscoring his seventy foot frame with a dainty woman's name. Patsy punched both into the aether when he was but three for their insolence, but a thousand days' revenge on this earth is more than most get, and Mother and Father Cardiff both knew this, and accepted their fate.
There are seventy thousand men and four giants in that picture depicting Patsy "The Appalachian Leveler"'s match with Georg "Der Maulenstahler" Hanober. Cardiff would win in the 874th round, but his career was ruined by the match's length, and he spent the remainder of his years on this mortal coil digging the Panama Canal with a sequoia tree for US government pay of three thousand pounds bacon and one heca-gallon of Cubano Rum a month. Like everyone in 1887, he died of cirrhosis, syphilis, and getting hit by a train all at once.
DANIEL O'LEARY, HEEL AND TOE PEDESTRIAN
Daniel O'Leary, champion of the pavement, did walk 200 metres through the streets of London without so much as a speck of goat, sheep, pig, cow, or human feces bespoiling. His figure, a feat described by the Daily Mail at the time as "the preeminent athletic feat of our century, and more surprising still that O'Leary, and Irishman, did it all in what was a straight line indicating sobriety, and condition previously thought impossible among the people of the Emerald Isle." O'Leary fell into an open sewer at the 201st meter, but his record walk and unique technique lived on for years in the lore of London as "O'Leary's Walk."
Also, everyone stopped tiptoeing or just walking on their heels after this, because that was stupid. Nothing made sense in 1887.
ADA WEBB, CHAMPION WATER QUEEN
"How does she look wet?"
"Fairer than any other lady who has gotten wet in the year 1887, my good sir!"
"How many women would that be in the New York area?"
"At least seven, sir!"
"THEN IT HAS BEEN DECIDED! CROWN HER QUEEN OF ALL WATER!"
"Are we sure? Have we not tallied up those who have bathed in other states, like those in the Commonwealth of Virginia?"
"Bathing is illegal in Virginia, sir."
"Then proceed with the coronation!"
(1887 was filthier than you can possibly imagine.)