It has been nearly 94 years since “Sunny” Jim Bottomley, while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, set a Major League Baseball record for the most RBIs (runs batted in) in a single game: 12. That record still stands.
It was tied by Mark Whiten, also playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1993, but the record has yet to be surpassed.
The Harney Mansion Foundation will celebrate Bottomley’s record with a celebration Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Harney Mansion in Sullivan, where an exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America,” is on display through Oct. 5.
Bottomley, who lived in the Sullivan area after retiring from baseball, raising Hereford cattle, died Dec. 11, 1959, and was buried in the International Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery in Sullivan. The town has a park named for the famous ball player, Sunny Jim Bottomley Park, at 305 Fischer Drive along West Springfield Road in Sullivan.
The celebration of his life will be held on the 94th anniversary of Bottomley’s record-setting game, Sept. 16, 1924, when the Cardinals faced off against the Brooklyn Dodgers, winning the game 17-3.
The Harney Mansion Foundation will have a couple of pieces of Bottomley memorabilia, including his 1928 MVP trophy and his World Series ring, on loan at the Mansion for the one-day celebration.
Admission is free, although donations are welcome, and hot dogs and homemade ice cream will be available for purchase.
Deb Depew, president of the Harney Mansion Foundation, expects the celebration, along with the “Hometown Teams” exhibit, will attract more than just baseball and Cardinals fans, sports enthusiasts or Sullivan residents.
“This has appeal for history buffs too, and anyone really,” said Depew, speaking as someone who isn’t a big sports fan herself.
“If you think about it, everyone gets involved in sports,” said Depew. “Even if we don’t ‘follow’ the teams, when a team is winning, like the Cardinals are now, everybody gets excited and the community spirit seems to go up. It gives you something positive to focus on . . . It’s a unifier, brings the community together.”
Jim Ruble, a board member of the Harney Mansion Foundation, agreed, noting that the reputation of many schools — small schools, in particular — is determined by the quality of their teams.
“If they have a good team, it’s considered a good school . . . and people will come out to the events. Everybody in town will go to the games,” said Ruble.
Depew said that is exactly what she and her husband did.
“We don’t have kids, but we would go to the ball games, just because it was something to do on a Friday night, and it was exciting,” she said.
This Smithsonian traveling exhibit features more than half a dozen multi-sided panels highlighting everything from the fans, the rivalries, the commercial aspects of sports and more. There are interactive components, like a couple of stereoscope viewers, which are goggle-like devices that make photographs of different ballparks appear in 3D.
There also are video components and a section of bleachers with seat cushions featuring sports trivia, as well as an app.
An 1 1/2-hour video featuring highlights of Sullivan-area teams, produced by KTUI, is shown on a loop as part of the exhibit, and an entire room and hallway is devoted to local athletes and teams in a variety of sports, including bowler Elvin Mesger who set a record for the most sanctioned perfect games, with an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Between 1958 and 1974, Mesger bowled 27 perfect games, including three in one day.
“His record has since been broken, but at the time, it was really something,” said Depew. “They actually came out to check the lanes because they thought he must have been cheating.”
A display case on loan from Sullivan High School features trophies from the 1920s and ’30s and class rings from the same era. There also is a wool baseball uniform from the 1940s, letterman’s jackets and sweaters from Sullivan High School, and a table with memorabilia featuring several local athletes who had standout performances during high school, including Gary Biermann.
The exhibit is self-guided, although group tours are available by appointment.
Bringing “Hometown Teams” to Sullivan, one of six Missouri stops for the exhibit, was made possible in part by the Missouri Humanities Council.
Allowing all Missouri residents to have access to the cultural resources of the nation’s premier museum is a priority of the Missouri Humanities Council. Its support has enabled the Harney Mansion Foundation to develop the local additions to the exhibit, as well as public programs and special events.
Add Your ‘Stories From Main Street’
Museum on Main Street invites the public to share their local sports stories through the “Stories From Main Street” website at www.storiesfrommainstreet.org or through the free mobile app available from the Mac App Store or the Google Play Store.
Both platforms record and map the location reflected in the submission and will accept written and audio stories as well as videos and photos. Selected submitted stories to “Stories From Main Street” will be featured on the website and app.
The archived stories will serve as a searchable record of the unique experiences of life in American small towns. Each story can be searched via location or by topic.
Mansion Restoration Is Work in Progress
The Harney Mansion is named for Major Gen. William S. Harney, who between the War of 1812 and the Civil War became one of the best-known military figures in America. He purchased the property in Sullivan in 1869 after retirement.
The home’s original eight rooms were built in 1856 by Dr. Alanson W. Leffingwell, whose older brother is famous for the development of Forest Park in St. Louis.
Dr. Leffingwell sold the home and its 160 acres to Gen. Harney for $10,000. Harney’s main residence was on Lucas Place in St. Louis, and he also owned a 1,000-acre farm called The Hermitage 25 miles west of St. Louis, said Depew.
In 1872, Harney completed two additions to the home, added acreage (totaling 1,900) and planted 85 species of trees around the lake. He retired to Florida in 1884 and died five years later.
The mansion and property changed hands several times and for a long time sat vacant, leaving it subject to neglect and vandalism. The William S. Harney Historical Society took charge of the property in 1980 and began cleaning it up. The mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The city of Sullivan assumed ownership in 1993. Demolition was considered in 1997 before the community rallied behind it. The city transferred the property to the Friends of Gen. Harney House Inc. in 1998, and five years later in 2003 the Harney Mansion Foundation was incorporated.
“The goal of the foundation is to bring the mansion back to life and to maintain it as a social, civic and cultural center for the benefit of the community,” said Depew.
Grants and donations have allowed for modern renovations to the north side of the mansion. Two large bathrooms and a modern kitchen have been installed, making the mansion usable as venue for weddings, parties, fundraisers, concerts and other events.
The capacity inside is around 75 for dinners with tables or as many as 100 for a lecture or presentation where chairs can be lined up in rows. The space rents for just $25 an hour. “We want the community to use it,” said Depew. “I think Harney would be happy seeing it being used. It was his summer home . . . people would come to visit, and he was always having visitors come out.”
The south end of the mansion, which is the original home, will be restored to the 1856 era, but it currently is a work in progress.
“We have to do it in phases because we only have so much funding,” said Depew.
“We just had the soffits finished outside, and we are going to build a porch outside because we received some funding that was specifically designated for a porch.”
After that, the board will have to decide if the next phase of work will be done to the upstairs portion of the mansion or the original lower level built in 1856.
Eventually the entire mansion will be completed.
“I would love to see the upstairs used as a business space for something like an accounting office or lawyer’s office or something,” said Depew.
“Hometown Teams” is the third exhibit that the Harney Mansion Foundation has brought to town. “Key Ingredients: America by Food” was set up in the Sullivan High School theater about 10 years ago because the mansion renovation wasn’t finished, and a Civil War exhibit was on display in 2014 in partnership with the Missouri History Museum.
The Harney Mansion is located at 332 S. Mansion St., Sullivan.
For more information on the exhibit, people can contact Depew at email@example.com or call 314-807-3967.
Sept. 6 — Lori Perdew, Sullivan Regional Library branch manager, will present “Dirt on Their Skirts: Women in Baseball” at 6 p.m.
Sept. 15 — Tailgate pig roast.
Sept. 16 — Sunny Jim Bottomley Day will be celebrated on the 94th anniversary of his MLB record-setting 12 RBIs in a single game in 1924.
Sept. 23 — Gary Thornhill will discuss the life of Morris “Lefty” Martin, professional MLB player and World War II veteran.