Finding Frank Pidgeon

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on October 3, 2011:

The subject of this post is a man famous long ago and vanished since … only to turn up virtually in my backyard, when I lived in Saugerties, New York, as I long did until a year ago. His name is Frank Pidgeon. He was baseball’s greatest pitcher in the 1850s and the founder of one of its fabled clubs. He was a pioneer shipbuilder whose colleague in the Brooklyn shipyards and lifelong friend was George Steers, the man who built the racing yacht America, for which the America’s Cup is named. Frank Pidgeon went round Cape Horn to California in 1849 to make his mark in the Gold Rush, and came back overland across the Isthmus of Panama. He was an engineer, a painter, a musician, an entrepreneur, an inventor. For the last twenty years of his life he lived in Saugerties, where today no one knows his name.

Frank Pidgeon’s descent from fame to oblivion has been complete, except among a handful of baseball savants. The man who followed him as the greatest pitcher of the age, Jim Creighton, was remembered upon his death with a mighty obelisk in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. Where was Pidgeon’s monument? A decade ago I received a good-hearted tip that Pidgeon had not only owned a splendid home in the hamlet of Malden, but that he was also buried there, on the Asa Bigelow property that he had purchased in 1860. My three sons and I clambered up and down an ivy-covered hill that contained a vegetation-encrusted above-ground tomb, but it was not Pidgeon’s.

Readying a new book on early baseball rekindled my interest in finding Frank Pidgeon. I realized that I had a better chance of understanding how and where he came to reside in death if I better understood his life. So let me tell you who he was, to the extent I have learned that, and where he is.

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Originally published: October 6, 2011. Last Updated: October 6, 2011.