Thursday, May 31, 2018

"To Mrs. Otto Borchert... on her Presentation of Deed", 1952

We continue our look at the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History", with a truly special artifact from Borchert Field.

At the bottom of the display, we have a copy of the Brewer News (Vol 2, No. 1, 1944), which we looked at a few years back. The front page features the visage of Brewer skipper Casey Stengel, then in his lone season in a Milwaukee uniform.

Above the newsletter is the real treasure; a cut-out section of bleacher seating, emblazoned with a brass plaque.

The dark green paint is thick and roughly applied, but on a side view the wood beneath shines through. This is a cross-section of the heart of the old wooden ballpark.

The plaque reads:

Mrs. Otto Borchert

Of Her Presentation of Deed
Borchert Field
City Of Milwaukee
Aug. 26th 1952
Milwaukee Baseball Fans
The brass plaque refers to a celebration held as part of the closing ceremonies for the Orchard. The ballpark and the land it stood on had until a few months before been owned by Idabel Borchert, widow of prominent Milwaukee sportsman and former Brewer owner Otto Borchert. Otto had, with some partners he later bought out, purchased the Brewers in January of 1920: land, ballpark and all. When Otto died on the eve of the 1927 season, his widow sold the team but hung on to the real estate. Mrs. Borchert owned the park through the various changes of Brewer ownership, from Phil Ball of the St. Louis Browns to Bill Veeck to the Boston Braves and more in between. All the while, the namesake's widow remained landlady to the Brews, who had them signed to a lease through 1954.

But the coming of County Stadium meant the end of an era, and the team and city settled on an ingenious method of getting out of the last year left on their Borchert Field lease: the city bought the place from Mrs. Borchert. They paid her $123,000 for the land, and in a ceremony between halves of a double-header on August 26, 1952, the lease was publicly burned by Mrs. Borchert, Brewer general manager Red Smith and Milwaukee Mayor Frank P. Zeidler (himself no stranger to public performances in the Orchard):

And now we know Mrs. Borchert was presented with a piece of the old wooden ballpark, one part souvenir and one part appreciation trophy.

What an amazing artifact, and a precious piece of Milwaukee history.

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